On the afternoon of January 12, Bill Nathan, director of the St. Joseph Home for Boys in Port-au-Prince, went up to the home’s roof to watch the sunset before calling the children to prayers.
When he arrived, he found five boys playing. “Run downstairs lickety-split - you have chores to do before the bell rings,” he told them. A former child slave who had found refuge at St. Joseph’s, Nathan stayed behind, aware that the children might be tempted to come back and resume their game. He had no idea then that by sending them down, he’d save their lives.
Suddenly, he felt the building shaking. “It was going back and forth, like the waves on the ocean. I heard people screaming and saw them running, and I asked God, ’God, what’s happening? Please help me - my life is in your hands.’"
As the building collapsed, Nathan was thrown from the 7th floor to a neighbor’s roof. When he came to, he couldn’t move. “My whole body hurt,” he recalls. “I was lying on broken bottles, rubble, and concrete."
He managed to roll himself off the roof to the ground, where he again lost consciousness. He awakened covered in blood and in excruciating pain, but found that his cell phone was working. He reached a friend, who got word to St. Joseph’s that he was still alive.
Several men, including the home’s co-director Walnes Cangas, found Nathan and carried him to an empty lot. There was no room for him at the hospital, but at a crowded Baptist mission he was given a pain shot and left lying in the hallway.
Word of Nathan’s injuries spread quickly. Miles Wright of Raleigh, a longtime volunteer with Hearts with Haiti, managed the next-to-impossible, arriving aboard a twin-engine plane to bring his injured friend back to North Carolina for medical treatment. Helping Wright were a nurse and journalist E. Benjamin Skinner, who wrote about Nathan’s life in his 2009 book, A Crime so Monstrous: Face-to-Face with Modern-Day Slavery. Together they got Nathan to the airport, where, after a long wait, the group boarded the plane for the United States.
Despite injuries including several broken ribs, a bruised liver, a torn knee ligament, and cracked vertebrae, Nathan made quick progress after a month of recuperation and physical therapy. An avid drummer, he was cleared to join a month-long U.S. tour of the Resurrection Dance Theater of Haiti that was planned before the earthquake hit. (The drumming/dance group will return in the fall and perform September 19 at Duke’s Reynolds Theater.)
In a phone interview from Georgia, Nathan expressed gratitude to be alive. “My Lord has kept me alive for a reason,” he says. “I’m going to go back home and work hard to raise money to rebuild St. Joseph’s and Wings of Hope. I want to share my story with others. By God’s providence, I have risen from the rubble, and I can go on."