Former IUS student finds peace in helping others

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A woman cries at the dedication ceremony of her new home in Juarez, Mexico.

Joel Stinnett

I don’t have a lot to give you for a going-away present… my jumper cables, three bandanas and a cross. But like I told your brothers when they left the state: live your life so that if we don’t see each other in this world again, we’ll see each other in the next one.

Love, Mom

 

Wayland Dietrich heeded his mother’s advice.

 

He spent the next three months laboring in Mexico’s summer heat. The sun had stained his skin a dark khaki and a bushy mess of hair hung from his face.

The man next to him, a third shift security guard from Acuna, Mexico, was helping Dietrich frame walls for a new home for himself and his family. Dietrich was exhausted, but he knew he had to work quickly, because there was another house in Juarez that needed to be built.

“Ventana?” the security guard asked, pointing to a large square hole in the wall.

“Si,” Dietrich said. “That’s where your new window will be.”

The man smiled as a tear began to swell in his eye. His old house had dirt floors and was made of plywood with no windows to let in light. The home that Dietrich and his fellow missionaries were constructing for him would have three rooms, insulation, electricity and plenty of windows.

Dietrich goes over the building plans for a home in Juarez, Mexico with another volunteer.
Dietrich goes over the building plans for a home in Juarez, Mexico with another volunteer.

Mission work had been a desire of Dietrich’s since he was a senior at Scottsburg High School. He said he looked into some opportunities, but nothing stood out, and his parents were strongly against the idea.

“People and teachers would ask me what I want to be when I grow up and I would half-jokingly say, ‘I just want to go to Africa and build houses,” Dietrich said.

That desire turned to urgency in the early spring of 2013.

Dietrich, 23, was a sophomore at IUS majoring in psychology, but learning how the brain works seemed like an impossible task when he couldn’t control his own.

“I was sitting in class just thinking, ‘I could die tomorrow,’” Dietrich said. “I couldn’t really absorb what the teachers were telling me.”

It had been an unimaginable few months for Dietrich. He was partying too much too often, culminating in an arrest for public intoxication after crashing his car into a ditch. In December, his best friend, Sawyer Pulliam, died from a drug overdose, followed only a few weeks later by another friend who was killed in a drunk-driving accident. To top it off, his parents were splitting up.

Dietrich had become close to Pulliam in high school, but their families had known each other even before the two were born.

“We stood outside the funeral home for hours sharing funny stories about him,” Brandon Pulliam, Sawyer’s older brother, said, “Wayland just told me that my brother wouldn’t want us to be sad.”

The death of his two friends left Dietrich shaken. He was still on probation for being drunk behind the wheel, and losing two of his closest friends caused Dietrich to question what he was doing with his own life.

“If I die right now it’s not going to bother me that I didn’t finish school,” Dietrich said, “but it will if I don’t pursue this passion.”

Dietrich said he began surfing religious and charitable websites looking for the perfect opportunity to help others, but most cost too much money. Finally, he came across Casas por Cristo, a Christian missionary organization that builds houses for needy families in Mexico and Guatemala.

Casas por Cristo relies on volunteers who usually stay for a week and build one house. Dietrich took a summer internship that would last three months, during which he would build over a dozen houses.

“I wanted to spend some time away and really get some work done,” Dietrich said.

According to their website, the families that Casa por Cristo serve typically earn an average of $60 per week or less and live in structures made of cardboard, wood pallets and scraps. The organization builds two- and three- room homes that are paid for with money raised by the volunteers.

Once in Mexico, Dietrich became part of a group of interns who slept, ate and prayed together. They usually spent the night in local churches and were often fed by the families they were building for. Each week, every intern would lead a different team of volunteers on a build before moving on to a new project.

“The house is a great gift,” Dietrich said, “but it’s really about the connection you make with the families.”

After each home was completed a dedication ceremony was held. The family was presented keys to the house, two heated blankets and a Spanish Bible. The local pastor was always present, as were tears.

“I remember the dedication for the first build I led with another intern was really intense,” Dietrich said.

Everything that could have gone wrong that week did. The ground wasn’t level. Even after reinforcements showed up to even the dirt, there was not enough concrete to finish the slab. Then there was the heat. Four of his team members had already passed out, and the elderly man whose house they were building was complaining that the doors and windows were in the wrong place.

Dietrich and his fellow intern worked double time, often skipping lunch, to finish the house by the end of the week.

At the dedication, Dietrich said the usually stoic old man broke down in tears and hugged the pastor.

“I don’t cry often,” Dietrich said, “but I put so much into that house. That was the first time I cried since my buddies died.”

Almost as important as the families were the relationships formed within the group of interns, Dietrich said.

Andy Davis, who has gone on mission trips with his family throughout childhood, said Dietrich was like the father of the group.

“He has a big body and a big heart that allows people to open up to him,” Davis said. “I feel like God sent him on this trip more for his testimonials than his building skills.”

Testimonials were given on Thursday nights and were a chance for each intern to tell the group how and why they became a part of Casas por Cristo. When Dietrich told the story of the death of his two friends, and his own personal struggles, there was hardly a dry eye in the room.

Davis says it took a leap of faith for Dietrich to leave school and home for an opportunity he found on the internet.

“He went apart from what was leading him astray and followed what was right in his heart,” Davis said.

Dietrich is back in Indiana now but plans to leave in March for a five-month mission to Guatemala. He says he hopes to one day re-enroll at IUS and eventually do some type of counseling after graduation.

Dietrich is still in contact with Sawyer Pulliam’s brother Brandon. They, along with a few of Sawyer’s other friends, meet regularly to catch up on each other lives and to reminisce about the ones they lost.

“All of Sawyer’s old friends are really trying to do something with their lives,” Brandon Pulliam said. “Wayland is so passionate about these projects and helping other people. I think my brother would be proud.”

Wayland Dietrich is currently raising funds for his mission trio to Guatemala. If you would like to contribute, you can reach him through his email address. wdietric@imail.iu.edu.

A woman cries at the dedication ceremony of her new home in Juarez, Mexico.
A woman cries at the dedication ceremony of her new home in Juarez, Mexico.