On a Tuesday, for no clear reason, my mother came to school to pick me up early. In Haiti, you don’t usually leave school until your homework is done. The fact that my mother came and picked me up that particular day is a testimony for me that God loves every one of us and watches out for us. That day was when we had the big earthquake. I was 16, and she brought me to one of the orphanages that my father ran. I went in and was sitting and talking with the little children when suddenly the building started shaking and it collapsed on top of us. It was a three-story building full of little children, and I was on the bottom floor.
I didn’t know what had happened, and at that time, I didn't know much about God even though we were Catholic. While I was in that collapsed building, I remember hearing people screaming and I spoke to God. I told Him, “If you save me, I will serve you.” I was crying and screaming to get out. A voice came to me, telling me to stop screaming because I would use up all my energy screaming and I would die if I didn’t stop. I actually heard that voice telling me to be calm. Over the next 29 hours, one by one, all the little children in that collapsed building stopped crying and screaming. One by one, I could almost hear them passing away. My arm was broken and blood was all over my face. I could hear people digging and praying and looking for survivors. There were no tractors or tools to get people out. They used picks and knives and machetes to dig me out.
All the time I was buried alive, there was someone there with me, keeping me calm. I was close to dying; I was so tired and hungry. I kept hearing that voice that gave me hope. I didn’t know much about God, and I had never said a personal prayer to Him. I used all the faith in me and offered up my first sincere prayer. I asked God to save my life. I promised Him that if He saved my life, I would serve Him for as long as I lived. My mom was outside at the time, talking to God. She received a confirmation: “You’ll find your son!” My dad stayed the whole night close to where I was alive and kept talking to me; even though he couldn’t hear me when I tried to talk to him, he believed that I would be OK. They found 15 bodies before they got to me. They dropped a rope down a hole and a man came down to get me and he got stuck. They had to pull him out before they could get to me. The moment they got me was when I was sure I was going to die. It was the last possible moment.
Haiti was devastated by that earthquake in 2010. Over half a million lives were impacted, with deaths in the tens of thousands.
The saddest part of my story is that all my classmates who stayed in school to do their homework, like we always did, were all dead. If my mother hadn’t come to get me from school like she did, I would have been killed that day. Even then, we still thought life was over. There was no water, no food, no work—but there was still hope. That was the beginning of a new chapter in my life. I reached out to God to know why He saved my life. Three months later, I met a man who taught me about Jesus Christ. He invited me to church and introduced me to two missionaries, and I was baptized in July, on my birthday, six months after the earthquake. When the missionaries invited me to read the Book of Mormon, I was so thirsty to know for myself that I read it in 15 days. It felt like God had guided me to the place I needed to be in order for me to serve Him. I thank God every day for the earthquake and the way it changed my life and made me a better person.
The earthquake had changed my whole perspective on life. Why was I the only one from my school who left early and survived? Why was I one of the only ones from the orphanage who survived? Why did God spare my life? What was my calling in life that I needed to fulfill? How was I going to keep the promise I made to God when I told Him I would serve Him if He saved my life?
I ended up serving a mission in Haiti and then came to Brigham Young University. I’m working hard to get where I want to go. I have my wife, my baby, and my own house. I started a project called ARISE: Project for Humanity. I want to empower new generations, especially in Haiti, to believe that, in spite of hard times, there is always hope and that we can create what we need to be successful. My dream is to see Haiti become an example of standing on its own and to prove that we can all make a difference. We all have something to do, something to give, and something to create.
I constantly think of the promise I made to God, and I hope I have made Him proud. My service to Him is not done. I still have much more to do in my life in order to serve Him, but I am constantly striving.
Williamson Sintyl is a husband and father and has lived in the U.S. since 2015, when he moved to go to school. He owns a nonprofit organization that teaches youth in his native Haiti to believe in themselves and change their own community. Williamson was one of the narrators in the event “Be One: A Celebration of the Revelation on the Priesthood.”