Pat Bristor, the associate dean of students at Waynesburg University, has watched Karla Lucilia Pet Diaz grow from a child into a young adult. She has learned, played, worshipped and laughed alongside her and has recently helped to facilitate a dream for both of them.
After months of praying and planning, Karla visited the United States for the first time at the beginning of December 2013. While growing up in Patzun, Guatemala, at the Centro Nutricional y Hogar de Ninos, Karla looked forward to the Waynesburg University mission trips to the center each year. Since she was 14 years old, Karla has enjoyed Pat’s warm smile and looked forward to seeing her year after year.
This year, Karla finished her studies and applied for a Visa to travel to the United States and visit Waynesburg – the place where so many familiar faces waited to see her. Waynesburg University faculty, staff and students paid for Karla’s plane tickets through the Guatemala project fund, an account bolstered by the fundraising of any student who has traveled to Patzun throughout the University’s 14 mission trips to the Center.
“This is the first opportunity that one of the children from the center has been able to visit Waynesburg University. The opportunity is one of what we hope will be many,” Bristor said. “I know that she was meant to come here. We ran into many issues but it worked out.”
From her arrival Tuesday, Dec. 3, to the beginning of the University’s Christmas break Saturday, Dec. 14, Karla spent as much time as possible with Waynesburg University students who have participated in the Guatemala mission in the past.
With them, she practiced her English, attended the Waynesburg Christmas parade, participated in sled riding, watched movies, viewed the Oglebay Festival of Lights and completed community service at St. Ann’s soup kitchen. With great joy, Waynesburg students took her to campus events, introduced her to their friends and professors and invited her to attend game nights and dinners at the University.
“The focus at the beginning of December was on the students she’s come to know and love. She wanted to spend time with them, and they with her, before many of them left campus for Christmas break,” Bristor said. “The remaining time was spent serving the community, meeting with alumni and participating in regional customs.”
Pat arranged for Karla to either telephone or meet with a number of Waynesburg University alumni who visited Guatemala through the years. Karla also spent time with Brandon Szuminsky, instructor of communication at Waynesburg and his wife, Heidi Szuminsky, director of donor and alumni relations at the University, both of whom have led mission trips to Patzun multiple times.
Tearing up, Pat explained that her passion for the Guatemala mission has been very evident, but that though her husband supported her, he didn’t always understand why she returned home each year with a heavy heart – missing the people of Patzun.
“My husband didn’t understand that passion until he met Karla,” she said. “Now he understands why I love her and the mission so much. He is even interested in coming with us in the future. It’s been a wonderful experience for us to share our home. Having a child in our home who I have come to love has been a dream come true. The laughter fills the house.””
Indeed, as Pat and Karla spoke to each other using a translation app, gestures and slowed-speech, they generated quite a bit of infectious laughter. They both said that the language barrier has been an enjoyable and even helpful issue.
“I don’t know much Spanish. She’s very good at English even though sometimes she’s too shy to admit it,” Bristor said. “But I think the barrier has been a blessing; if she were in a home that spoke fluent Spanish, Karla wouldn’t be as challenged to speak and learn English. It also forces me to learn Spanish, which I’ve wanted to do for years.”
In January, Pat will return to Patzun for the seventh time alongside a team of Waynesburg University students, staff, and, of course, Karla. Though the journey will be bittersweet, Pat knows that the new bridge of communication built at Waynesburg University will help them to communicate for a lifetime.