On Sunday morning, my friend Joy woke me up at 5. We slipped outside, met up with Dwight and Tim, and headed down to the water. A steep hill shelters the Zanglais beach, creating a miniature bay. We followed the beach to the bottom of the hill and, still barefoot from walking in the sand, climbed to the top. Breathless and sweating, we arrived on the summit and beheld an awe-inspiring sunrise. Standing there with my friends, wondering at the beauty before us, I could only get one thing to come out of my mouth: "How great is our God. Sing with me, how great is our God!"
For the graduating seniors, the tradition at Zanglais is to hold a mock "funeral", where each student is given a chance to say their good-byes. All weekend, the seniors spent time filling out a questionnaire that asked them what their dreams were, who they would like to say good-bye to, who they would apologize to, and what their last message would be. On Saturday evening, we built a large bonfire and put two "caskets" beside it. Two by two, the seniors were laid down and covered in a white sheet. While they lay "dead", a leader read their last words and then opened up the floor to anyone who would like to share something about the senior or say a good-bye.
It was deeply moving to hear the seniors' good-byes to their friends and families. Boys who I had never seen act serious openly told their friends that they loved them. Sisters apologized to their brothers for harrassing them, and brothers spoke freely of how they had been taken care of by their sisters. Boys and girls alike cried as they talked of leaving Haiti and all their friends behind.
I got to read the last words of 3 incredible young people. Arianna lives in my neighborhood at an orphanage that her family runs. She is a true servant who will do anything to help you out. I've seen boys and girls, Haitians and Americans, going to Ari for advice, prayer, and love. What Ari will not tell you about herself is that she is the reason her family came to Haiti in the first place. When she was just a little girl, Ari learned the sad story of the island and started raising money to help. She also started telling people that she was going to move to Haiti and work there herself. Eventually, her parents caught the Haiti bug too and now the whole family is here.
I was surprised when Tim asked me to read his last words. Tim is from Les Cayes, and since there are only a few English speaking youth in the area, he, his sister and a friend joined us for the weekend retreat. They were so out-going and personable, however, that by the end of the first day, we felt like they'd always been part of the group. Tim is an athlete who uses his skills to make friends with the young Haitian men in the village near him and to organize sports teams and tournaments. He is the only boy in a family of girls and hearing him talk about how beautiful his sisters are and how much he loves them made me cry. On top on those qualities, Tim is not ashamed to let everyone see how serious he is about following Jesus. In his questionnaire, Tim wrote that he wants to make a difference in eternity. As I prayed over him at the end of the funeral, I thanked God for the difference that the young man has already made. Tim turned to me crying and just whispered, "Thank you".
Reading Joy's last words was like reading my own. I had met Joy very briefly last year when I was visiting my friend Kim and I had immediately thought to myself that she and I were very alike. This year, as we have gotten to know each other, we have been amazed at how similar we really are - our personalities, our study habits, our mannerisms, our speaking style, our passions. Joy is the youth worship leader and the unspoken leader of the entire youth group. Everyone listens when Joy says something. She is a role model to the younger girls and an encouragement to the boys to step up and be leaders as well. She has this incredible quality of making you feel as though you are the center of her universe when you are talking to her. Even when I know that she is stressed, tired and overworked, I still see her taking time to love the other kids. It was a true privilege to share her final words with the youth.
If I had stuck with my original departure date, I would have missed the trip to Zanglais. I'm so glad I changed my ticket! I wouldn't trade the memories of Zanglais for anything.