Making Progress Personal in Panama
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“Making Progress Personal in Panama,” New Era, Aug. 2006, 18–21

Making Progress Personal in Panama

These young women have learned how to improve their lives through Personal Progress.

In 1671 pirates left the city of Old Panama in smoldering ruins. Today, from its crumbling walls, Melissa Bethancourt can point out the towering skyscrapers and sweeping cityscape of modern Panama City. The city’s progress over the past 335 years is impressive.

But the progress Melissa has made in the past six years is inspired. And it’s a change that more and more young women are making happen all around the world, thanks to Personal Progress.

“I always thought the worst of myself,” says Melissa, 17, who is about to complete the Young Women program in the Cincuentenario Ward, Panama City Panama Stake. “But the Personal Progress program has helped me realize that I am worth something.”

According to Melissa: “It doesn’t matter who you are or where you are, these experiences can help you become a better person. This program is inspired for us. The world changes, temptations and challenges change, and this program is for our time to help us progress to meet today’s challenges.”

Stretching toward Heaven

Still standing among the ruins of Old Panama is La Catedral (the Cathedral). Built of stone, its tower still stands about four stories tall. It was likely one of the more imposing structures of the old port city. Since the times of Old Panama, Panama City’s skyline has changed dramatically. Skyscrapers earn their name, towering over La Catedral.

That kind of progress is also reflected in the lives of the young women in the Church in Panama. Personal Progress is helping them see that just as the high-rises reach into the sky, understanding who they are and living the Young Women values can help them stretch toward heaven.

“Personal Progress hasn’t taught me only about the Church,” says 16-year-old Andrea Navas of the Cincuentenario Ward. “It has helped me realize who I am, that we’re daughters of God.”

Secure in that knowledge, these young women are more comfortable trying new things because they aren’t worried about what others will think if they try and fail. Knowing their value in God’s eyes also helps them reach out to others.

That knowledge motivated Andrea to write a thank-you note to a sister missionary serving in her ward who helped teach her to play the piano. It motivated Melissa to spend time at a local care facility for older people, talking with them and doing things for them that they can no longer do for themselves. And it gave Mayka Moreno of the Marcasa Ward the courage to teach a school friend about the plan of salvation.

“We are of infinite worth,” says Mayka. “The soul is great in the sight of God. Personal Progress has changed the way I look at myself and others. Sometimes we judge others as not as good, but God loves each of us.”

A New Foundation

After Old Panama burned down, the people of Panama chose a location a few miles away that was easier to defend and started building their city from scratch. It probably wasn’t easy, but the results soar above Old Panama’s ruins.

Mayka and Minerva Moreno’s personal progress has followed a similar course. When the sisters joined the Church, Mayka was the age of the Beehive girls, and Minerva was only a few months away from entering the Young Women program. They were essentially starting from scratch in the gospel, without the benefit of a foundation built in Primary. Now, several years later, they look back at what Personal Progress did for them as new converts.

“We didn’t get to go through Primary,” Mayka says. “Personal Progress helped me to understand the doctrines of the gospel. It strengthened my testimony a lot about Christ’s Atonement and other things I didn’t understand.”

“I’ve learned so much more about the gospel and about Joseph Smith,” says Minerva. “I’ve been able to figure out what are the lies some say about the Church and what is the truth.”

Their mother, Justa, has noticed their progress as well. “I’ve seen a great change in them,” says Justa. “It’s been complete, 100 percent, but for the good—in their daily lives, their behavior, their friends, in school.”

“I have learned so many things,” Mayka says. “I’m not the same person I was. I’m better.”

Making Progress Personal

Mayka’s friends who have grown up as members of the Church believe the program has changed their own lives too.

“Sometimes we grow up in the Church but without the testimony our parents have,” says Melissa. “But Personal Progress and the value of faith, specifically, have helped me develop and strengthen my own testimony.”

Each of these Panamanian young women agrees that Personal Progress has strengthened her testimony and changed her life for the better. They believe it can do the same for any young woman who gives it a chance.

“For something to change your life, it has to be personal,” says Beatriz Martinez of the Bella Vista Ward. She believes the program is inspired because it can be adapted to everyone. “It’s for all of us,” she says.

“The Lord wants us to be better, shine brighter. He wants us to develop our talents, to be a light on the hill,” says Mayka. “That’s why we have this program.”

The First Presidency has said:

“You are a beloved daughter of Heavenly Father. … Your loving Heavenly Father has blessed you with talents and abilities that will help you fulfill your divine mission. Through personal prayer, scripture study, obedience to the commandments, and service to others, you can develop these gifts. …

“As you participate in Personal Progress, you join with thousands of other young women who are striving to come unto Christ and ‘stand as witnesses of God at all times and in all things, and in all places’ (Mosiah 18:9)” (Young Women Personal Progress [2001], 1).

As Panama City continues its progress, adding new skyscrapers to its skyline, young women who make Personal Progress personal will continue to develop their talents and stand out as examples, helping others grow with them as they come unto Christ.

Photography by Adam C. Olson; background © Shambhala Publications

In the past 335 years, the progress Panama City has made from stone to steel is impressive. But the progress made by young women like Beatriz Martinez, Mayka Moreno, Andrea Navas, and Melissa Bethancourt (left to right) through the Personal Progress program is inspiring.

Just as Panama City has stretched upward over what it was originally (inset), Latter-day Saint young women like Mayka and Minerva Moreno (top to bottom) are using Personal Progress to stretch themselves.