This post was originally published in May 2016
In 2010, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints unveiled an newly overhauled Duty to God program for the young men around the world. The Duty to God program is designed to encourage the youth to develop certain attributes and skills in their teen years. For example, the previous version of the program included areas of focus such as spiritual and physical development, educational and career exploration, and citizenship and social activity. As a young man went through the various booklets over the six year program, it was the goal that he would enter the real world better prepared in each of those things. This is the program I completed, and I consider myself to be all the better for it. That being said, the latest version of the Duty to God program certainly has its merits.
In the new booklet, the youth are presented with a much more consolidated set of requirements. In just one booklet to be used for the duration of the program, the young men cover themes rooted in spiritual strength and Priesthood duties paralleled with the physical health, education, and family and friends sections of the For the Strength of Youth pamphlet. The underlying purpose of these emphases is a pattern known as Learn, Act, and Share. The young men are to learn their duty, act on what they know, and share their experiences with others.
Last year, my friend Wade Fox was diagnosed with Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, otherwise known as ALS or Lou Gehrig’s disease. This disease attacks the neurons and muscles of the body resulting in the decreased functionality of processes like walking, swallowing, breathing, and talking. There is no known cure, and a diagnosis means imminent death or severe debilitation, degenerating over time.
But Brother Fox is the man for the challenge. This man has been our home teacher since we moved into the ward in early 2015, and he hasn’t missed a month. Here is man of true American grit, raised on the land as a cattleman working sun up to sun down. With physical strength being that of legend, one tells that he once accidentally killed a restless cow with one straight punch to her head. As a business man drawing from skills on the ranch, he traveled the whole world over providing services in livestock management. He has always been that guy at every church activity, every service project, fulfilling every responsibility given to him and making those feel welcome by getting them involved. This is someone who knows what the most important things in life are, no matter the cost.
Anyone in our congregation and community wouldn’t hesitate to identify or describe Brother Fox as a man of mighty influence, testimony, and subtle exhibition of Christlike attributes. A man of few words, he speaks volumes with his example and character. His quiet persistence and spiritual strength is probably comparable physically only to that of…well…a rancher. His stalwart commitment to the work of God goes without comparison, but many will agree that the heaviest weight of his legacy in the Church is with the young men. Having spent years in the young men organization, attending countless camping trips and scouting events, weekly activities and leadership trainings, Brother Fox never failed to let anyone observing him know what, or better who, his priority was. It is the influence he had on young men over the years that causes so many to revere his efforts. Not one young man standing before the ward before embarking on his mission left Brother Fox off of his list of people to thank for their successes.
Awhile back Brother Fox was called as a Duty to God mentor in the ward. His responsibility was to encourage the young men and help them work fulfilling the requirements to advance in the program. Because of his dedication, many of the boys take the activities seriously and have completed the requirements and received their advancement certificates. But in addition to that, Brother Fox takes the time to make each of them who achieve advancement a small wooden brick piece with an engraving on each of the four sides. On one side it has their name, and on the other three it has in bold letters the words LEARN, ACT, and SHARE. It’s a tangible reminder of the underlying purpose of the program that they should be carrying on throughout their lives into adulthood.
Since I graduated from the young men’s organization in 2011 having earned both the Duty to God and Eagle Scout awards, and having since served a full time mission and began fulfilling other Priesthood responsibilities, I have come to understand more fully the impact my involvement in those programs has had on my life. I learned invaluable truths and developed essential skills. Much of what I accomplished in the mission field and succeed at today is built upon the foundation of the Duty to God program. I don’t think the young men really understand that yet due to their lack of experience, but that’s normal. If they do their part now, I am confident that one day they will look back like me and realize the importance of it all.
Brother Fox’s disease has escalated rapidly in the past several months. When he once was teaching us from a Church magazine or sharing an experience from his life, now he carries a whiteboard to write down his thoughts because he has lost his ability to speak due to muscular atrophy in the throat. Since I have been able to see Brother Fox in action for quite some time now both in his duties at Church and in my own home as a home teacher, I have come to understand that his voice isn’t necessarily one of volume or clarity, but of example and action – sharing the gospel as he lives his life and lifts where he stands. His previous lessons given in our home were always meaningful, but now I feel like his teachings are all the more profound seeing him fighting this disease and still coming around to do his Duty to God. Each month, he leaves a print out summary of his thought that we can keep on the fridge as a reminder of a given principle. It’s been a profound example that I will never forget.
It’s uncertain how much longer Brother Fox will continue his battle with ALS. We don’t know how much longer he will be in his pew on Sunday or how many more monthly visits he will make to our house with his whiteboard and print outs. We don’t know how much longer he will be there in Priesthood meetings or loading his truck for camping trips or service projects. We don’t know how many more young men in the ward will receive their LEARN, ACT, and SHARE bricks upon completing their Duty to God requirements. For that reason, though I’m not a youth in the ward, I asked Brother Fox if he would make a brick for me with my name on it. I requested it not just to serve as a reminder of my Duty to God, but of a man who actually did his. I will always have it as a tool to aid me as I act and share messages throughout my life. My experience knowing Brother Fox has allowed me to better comprehend what it means to learn, act, and share. He has taught me what it means to seek first the Kingdom of God, and the essence of selfless service. My testimony has increased of the truths taught in the Duty to God program, and I know that if the young men take those things to heart and apply them in their lives, they are only setting themselves up for success in the future. I can only hope to one day be as Brother Fox is. He may have lost his vocal voice, but his spiritual one speaks even louder still.
Wade Fox passed away at his home after an 18-month battle with ALS on October 22, 2016