Bill is now the director of St. Joseph’s, where he was given refuge as a 10-year-old after an American nun learned of his plight. He and his older sister had been separated after their mother’s death and each taken in by neighbors. The story of Bill’s three years of confinement as a restavék, a Kreyol euphemism for child slave that translates as “stays with,” is included in Ben Skinner’s book on international child abuse, A Crime So Monstrous: Face-to-Face with Modern-Day Slavery (Free Press, 2008).
Neither Nathan nor Cangas, his assistant and co-director of the St. Joseph Community Arts Center and the Resurrection Dance Theatre of Haiti, knew what to expect when they arrived to live with peers from across the United States in the Youth Academy’s intentional Christian community.
But within a few days they were immersed in the community’s monastic structure, praising the other participants, the Duke faculty who led the daily plenary sessions, the beauty of the campus, and even the quality of the food. They were already speaking of aspects of DYA that they would implement back home.
Because of his leadership experience, Nathan was named a DYA Fellow, and Cangas, a talented dancer who is academically gifted, was invited as a student participant. While at Duke, they performed their music and drumming for their peers and even volunteered, along with other DYA participants, at a fund-raising carnival to benefit a Durham center for disadvantaged children. On the final Sunday of DYA, Nathan served communion at Duke Chapel, where he was amazed by the large number of people in attendance.
Undaunted by the intense pace of the DYA schedule (or the policy banning electronic devices), Nathan and Cangas admitted that the small-group and plenary sessions exposed them to the most challenging and rigorous theological discussions of their lives.
Nathan enjoyed his involvement with the other five Fellows in his small group. “It’s amazing—there are people from many different religious backgrounds… One of my group is a youth director at a church; he tells us how he works with kids and how he tries to motivate them. I’m really learning from him and the others about how to work with our boys at home. I want to instill in our boys the kind of pride and hope I see here.”
Another favorite time for Nathan was the morning Bible study. “I understand more about the Bible, and how the Old and New Testaments are connected. I really loved it.”
Cangas, whom Bates calls a “contagiously joyful person,” says he learned “a lot about Jesus and how he wants us to live our lives and be better Christians” in the daily plenary sessions. He was also intrigued by the fact that during open discussions, “everyone”—even the youngest student at DYA—had something to say and wasn’t shy about jumping in to say it.
In the end, despite the differences in setting, the most important similarity between DYA and St. Joseph’s, the young men agreed, is that both “are places of God.” And now, they have family both in Haiti and across the United States.
“This was the perfect place for me,” Cangas says with a grin.
Debbie Selinsky is a freelance writer who lives in Durham. A former deputy director for Duke News Service, she covered the Divinity School for 12 years.