The Word Among Us

Advent 2005 Issue

Mission to Haiti

An Advent Family Adventure

By: Betsy Cavnar

A Florida family sent two Christmas letters to relatives and friends a few years ago. They weren't the typical annual reports of milestones.

Dear Friends,

Recently our family had a meeting to discuss how to celebrate Christmas this year. We realized that all of us were struggling financially. Someone suggested just "canceling Christmas."

Then Nathan piped up with, "You know, we all have too much stuff. We really have everything we need. Let's find some poor family and make Christmas for them!" Every word rang true. Christmas is a time of bringing Christ's salvation to birth in our lives and sharing it with others. We remembered the Scripture verse: "Let him who has two coats share with him who has none; and he who has food, let him do likewise" (Luke 3:11).

An idea was born. Peter, a third-year pre-med student, and Betsy, a veteran registered nurse, would represent our family and spend the second week in December caring for the poorest of the poor in Haiti. They have no Salvation Army to prepare Christmas dinners for the homeless, no Toys for Tots program, no Christmas "adopt an angel" tree at the mall.

Violence is rampant in the slums of Haiti. Many people cannot walk far enough or are too ill to even go to a free medical clinic. The hospital and medical clinics in the slums have been disbanded due to politically motivated death threats on the lives of the doctors. Women sit on the side of the road holding children racked with fever, dying of AIDS. We can't cure their AIDS, but we could give that little child a bear to cuddle at night, when darkness and fear surround her. We could bring antibiotics, ointments, wound care, pain medication, and do whatever we can do to make life more bearable.

Through Food for the Poor, a Christian aid organization, we have made arrangements to serve the people of the slums and work at a hospital. Whatever money we can raise beyond our expenses will go toward medical supplies and shoes.

If you too have too much stuff and would like to help us bring the good news of the birth of our Savior to the poorest of the poor, we and the people of Haiti thank you. What you do for the least of these, you do for the Lord.

The Cavnar Family

Jim, Betsy, Miriam, Nathan, Bobbie, Peter, Susan

Dear Friends,

Peter and I have returned safely from our trip to Haiti, but not without a gamut of emotions to sort through.

The trip was exhilarating, stressful, emotional, and humbling. Thanks to your generosity, we arrived with six duffel bags filled with new shoes and socks and shipped an additional four large boxes. We also took some much-needed medical equipment. Thank you for making this possible.

Peter and I spent most of our time in Haiti "scrubbing in" to assist the hospital doctors during surgery. For six hours a day we were in surgical gowns, gloves, masks, and shoe coverings. It was hot and exhausting. A simple hysterectomy that might take thirty to forty-five minutes in the States took a good three hours because of the lack of proper equipment, the limited education and skill of the doctors, and the fact that the patient was fully awake.

One day, we assisted a doctor who did about twenty procedures in which a large tube is passed through the mouth, down the esophagus, then into the stomach. Back home, we spray the patients' throat to deaden the gag reflex and to fully sedate them. These patients received no anesthesia; supplies are limited and must be saved for surgeries.

As I reflected on each day's events, I felt more and more thankful for all the blessings God has given me. The amount of suffering I saw the Haitian people enduring was overwhelming.

Doing medical work in Haiti was much harder than we ever anticipated. By the end of the day, Peter and I were drained. We were also filled with respect for the Haitian doctors, nurses, and others who choose to remain in Haiti. Peter asked several of them, "Why do you stay here when you could work somewhere else?" The answer was always the same: "Because this is our country, these are our people, and we are committed to helping them."

These men and women are faithful and persevering in the call that God has given them. May they inspire us to remain faithful with perseverance in the call God has given each one of us.

In Christ's Love,

Betsy L. Cavnar, RN

The Cavnars remain committed to helping the poorest of the poor. Since 1999, Susan too has volunteered in Haiti. Betsy has made several trips there and says that each one has brought her new graces. Peter—now married and working on a doctorate in cell biology at Florida State University—credits his Haiti trip with helping him to a less materialistic view of life. It's a perspective he and his wife, Katie, want to pass on to their two young children. Jim Cavnar is president of Cross International, which serves people in Haiti and other countries (

Ideas for Christmas Giving

Though few of us can go to serve in Haiti, all of us can do some work of peace and justice this Advent.

£ Buy Christmas cards and gifts that benefit monasteries, convents, and worthy relief organizations.

£ Eat at local restaurants and leave good tips.

£ On your Christmas wish list, suggest a donation to a relief organization of your choice.

£ Shop for handcrafted items from developing countries. Look for organizations that guarantee workers a just wage for their labor and skill.

£ Give a goat for Christmas. Heifer International ( provides farm animals to families worldwide.

£ Choose a country to study about and pray for on a regular basis.

£ Extend help to women in crisis pregnancies.

£ Volunteer in a program that serves the elderly, the homeless, the jobless, the sick, the imprisoned.

£ Provide funds for education and basic needs through a reliable "adopt a child" or "adopt a seminarian" program.

£ Befriend a new family in the parish or an immigrant family in the neighborhood.

£ Make a meal, do yard work, or clean house for someone in need.