‘Beacons of Hope’ from Port-au-Prince
Haitians are First International Members of Duke Youth Academy

By Debbie Selinsky

Photo by Megan Morr / Duke Photography
Walnes Cangas and Bill Nathan lead the St. Joseph Home for Boys in Port-au-Prince, Haiti.

There are striking parallels—and similar rhythms—between what goes on at the Duke Youth Academy for Christian Formation each summer and what happens daily at St. Joseph’s Home for Boys in Port-au-Prince, Haiti.

In both places, participants start the day early with prayer and praise, share meals as a family, and worship God in many ways, incorporating music, art, study, and community service.

That’s why, when Duke Divinity Chaplain Sally Bates talked to Bill Nathan, 24, and Walnes Cangas, 22, about coming from St. Joseph’s to the summer 2008 Duke Youth Academy (DYA), they were a bit puzzled. Both young men had enjoyed various youth events in the States in recent years, says Bates, who became unofficial godmother to the 20 or so young boys at St. Joseph’s after leading teams of Divinity School student and faculty volunteers to work at the home during the past six spring breaks.

Photo by Duke Photography
Divinity Chaplain Sally Bates, who has become the unofficial godmother for the children at the St. Joseph Home for Boys in Port-au-Prince,
calls Director Bill Nathan and Assistant Director Walnes Cangas
“beacons of hope.”

“They were, of course, excited and had lots of questions, but they didn’t seem to quite grasp the significance of the experience they would have here, since basically, this is the way they live all the time,” Bates says. “But I thought it was a perfect experience for their ages and situations.”

Bates, who describes Nathan and Cangas as “beacons of hope,” says she’d observed over the years the ways in which they serve their “family” of orphans and other homeless boys from their native Haiti, the Western Hemisphere’s poorest country.

“It’s amazing to watch Bill work: he supervises the business, and is in charge of discipline and education for the boys. He’s an artist—a very talented drummer. Plus, he goes to school and leads worship services and helps his neighbors,” she says. “Even though he’s only 24, he really is a competent administrator. And he is actually a parent to the boys there, who have the normal complicated adolescent problems.”

When DYA Director Fred Edie heard about the young leaders at St. Joseph’s, which was established in 1985 by Michael Geilenfeld, a Catholic missionary who once worked with Mother Teresa, he could see how they would benefit.

“We thought that the Youth Academy’s similarly patterned community might provide Bill and Walnes with opportunities for extended reflection upon their ministry with children in Haiti,” he says. “Of course, we also knew that their stories and witness would challenge and inspire our students and that their gifts for music and dance would enliven our communal life.”

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