Lastra came to Cleveland in 1965 from Tabasco, Mexico, to attend Lee University on a scholarship.
Since he had attended college in Mexico before transferring, Lastra thought he would be able to finish his degree before his scholarship funding ran out. This was not the case.
When his scholarships ended in 1968, he still needed a year of credits to complete his degree, Lastra said.
“During the years, I just went on with my life,” Lastra said.
Lastra and his wife, Renee, later moved to California.
In 1980, Lastra received his pilot’s license and began working with Christian Missionary Pilots Incorporated.
“I flew small airplanes, six passengers,” Lastra said. “The missions that I flew, there were missions to fly doctors and nurses and patients to Mexico ... I was in a group of 200 pilots.”
He said he and his wife would also fly to visit missionaries and take them supplies.
“We were missionaries to the missionaries,” Lastra said.
He was also involved with Youth with a Mission. His missionary travels have taken him to more than 35 countries.
“So my life has been really fulfilled in a lot of ways,” Lastra said.
Despite all his adventures, Lastra still wanted to return to Lee University.
“When I was in California, I had a dream. I said, ‘Lord, let me go back to Lee, just to sit in one of the classrooms one more time. ... I didn’t know that the Lord had a plan for us to move here,” Lastra said. “We moved to Cleveland in 1999.”
Lastra said he had not wanted to leave California, but felt God had given him a sign that it was time to move.
“God gave us a new love for Cleveland,” Lastra said. “We have never complained about anything here.”
Once here, he began taking a few classes a year at Lee while working as an interpreter in the schools and court systems. Renee is now the assistant to the dean of students at Lee University.
Lastra said Philip Barber and Dr. Ben Pérez in the Division of Adult Learning at Lee University were instrumental in encouraging him to complete his degree.
“Dr. Pérez said, ‘Are you going to graduate?’ and I said, ‘Not really. I’ve already retired. I’m not looking for a job,’” Lastra said.
However, these professors assured that Lastra stayed on track to graduate.
Both of Lastra’s daughters and his wife have graduated from Lee University.
“Now, I feel like I belong to Lee. I belong to the family of Lee,” Lastra said. “I used to say I attended Lee, but it wasn’t fulfilling.”
He said he encourages anyone who has not completed their degree to find a way to make it happen.
Every graduate of Lee University has the opportunity to sign a Graduation Service Pledge promising to serve others in their life after graduation.
Lastra said graduating has meant a lot personally.
“This is something that I have done throughout my life,” Lastra said.
It is also something he plans to continue, both in his everyday life in Cleveland, and through establishing a safe place for victims of domestic violence in Mexico to recover.