Andy Castillo, Samaritans Purse staffer, shares how a kidnapping led him into full-time ministry and how simple shoeboxes are helping to transform lives in the Americas and around the world.
Andy Castillo, Operation Christmas Child regional director for North and Central America, was interviewed during a recent trip to his native Honduras. He and his team took part in several festive outreach events while there.
You became involved in full-time ministry, and specifically children’s ministry, in a unique way. How did that come about?
Castillo: I was in the U.S. studying business management and planned to work in my family’s business in Honduras. My wife, Carmen, comes from a missionary background. Her parents were missionaries in Honduras. Since she was 13, she prayed that her future husband would be involved in full-time ministry. When we met, she told me that, and I said, “Well, I don’t think that’s for me. ” So, we stopped dating.
A couple of years later, we started dating again, and she was more flexible about me being involved in ministry. We got engaged and came back to Honduras to plan our wedding. A missionary friend of Carmen’s family showed up and told me that he knew that Carmen had been praying that her husband would be involved in full-time ministry. I told him that I was going to serve the Lord, but not as a pastor, not as a missionary, not as a church planter. He said, “God will deal with you at the right moment.” I didn’t know that moment was going to be the very next day.
Castillo: I was with Carmen and her little sister. We were driving to their house for dinner. This was in January 2001. We stopped at a supermarket, and two men jumped in our car and held us hostage at gunpoint. They took us down the road and released Carmen and her sister, but they took me and held me hostage for 10 days. It was during those 10 days that I asked the Lord, “Why me? I want to serve you. I want to honor you. I’m about to get married. Why me?” And there was no answer. Not the first day, not the fifth day.
But, on the ninth day I felt like the Lord was really speaking to my heart. I was lying in bed with my hands tied up, a mask over my face, and not knowing what was going to happen next. I then heard a child playing on the other side of the wall. The Lord seemed to be saying to me, “Look at the irony here. Here’s this kid who is thinking that he has a long life ahead of him and look at you on the other side of the wall not knowing if you are going to live or die in the next few hours. I’m in control, Andy. Not you. Not the police. Not the military. I am in control.” And at that moment I surrendered my life totally to the Lord. I said, “If your will is for me to die, I am ready to stand before you. If your will is for me to live, I will serve you. I will go to seminary and get trained and serve you in ministry.” A few hours later, the kidnappers picked me up and sat me down in a dark corner. They ripped the mask off of my face and they left. I was released just like that, by God’s grace.
What did you do after you were released?
Castillo: Carmen and I got married. I finished my B.A. in business management. I then went right into seminary. I became a pastor and was pastoring a Hispanic church in Grand Rapids, Michigan, when the Lord prompted us to return to Honduras. It was the last place we wanted to come back to because of the kidnapping. But we were obedient to the Lord’s call and returned to Honduras in 2007. The church where I began working had only one position open and that was in children’s ministry, which I was not interested in. I wanted to make an impact in my generation, not the next generation. But when I started to work with kids I began to see that they could make an impact in the lives of adults in a way that I never could.
Did something in particular happen that helped you realize this?
Castillo: Yes. Some kids in the church encouraged their mother and father to come with them one Sunday. The parents came, heard the Gospel, and gave their lives to the Lord that day. The dad, who was a former drug dealer, saw the remarkable change in the lives of his children, who went from being wild and disobedient to being committed to the Lord and being loving. He said, “I want that.” Three days later, he was shot and killed. The impact his children had on him changed his life and his eternity. Soon after that, a pastor at the church told me about Operation Christmas Child. I interviewed with Samaritan’s Purse and started volunteering in 2009.
What impact has Operation Christmas Child had in Honduras?
Castillo: It’s had a huge impact. On average, Honduras receives 350,000 shoeboxes each year. That’s 350,000 children who hear the Gospel on a year-to-year basis in the country. But the impact goes far beyond that number because many of these kids go on to share their faith with others. When people think of Operation Christmas Child, they tend to think that the impact is just on the boy or girl who receives a shoebox. But the children are the keys that the Lord uses to open the hearts of the adults. For us, to reach out to adults with the Gospel message can be really hard. But the children, after they go through The Greatest Journey and become followers of Christ, become missionaries. They share the Gospel with their friends, but they also share the Gospel with their parents and with their neighbors. They help transform their own communities.
What’s been the effect on the local church?
Castillo: God has used Operation Christmas Child to strengthen and encourage local churches throughout Honduras to take the Gospel outside of their four walls and reach their communities for Christ. Churches are using our materials to share the Gospel, not only with children, but with adults and teenagers, too.
Some churches have been stuck for many years thinking that they must wait for people to come inside the church building to hear the Gospel. Operation Christmas Child takes them outside of that mindset. They are learning more effective ways to do evangelism and discipleship. These churches are becoming beacons of light in their communities. One of the things I love most is seeing pastors from different Christian denominations come to a location for training and realize that what unites us—the Gospel—is much greater than what divides us. They come in and join forces. We’ve seen pastor fellowships begin. We’ve seen churches planted. And all of this is the result of a simple shoebox.
Why would you encourage someone to pack a shoebox?
Castillo: Some may think that packing a shoebox is not significant. But it is. Whether a person packs one box or 100, each box makes a huge difference in the life of a child. Many of these kids come from broken homes. As they come to outreach events, they bring with them tremendous challenges and heartaches. Many of them have never received a gift before. And while that is important, the most important thing is that these kids hear and learn about Jesus, the Greatest Gift.
Can you share one memorable example of how God used a shoebox to change someone’s life?
Castillo: Whenever I think of that question, I always come back to a story about a boy here in Honduras who attended an outreach event. When the shoeboxes were given out, everyone excitedly opened their box, except this boy. He didn’t open his box. He just looked at it. The pastor noticed it and sat down next to the boy and asked him why he hadn’t opened his box. The boy told the pastor that his dad was an alcoholic and that his mother had left. He said he had made only one request of his father. He wanted his dad to buy him a toy car. But the dad spent all of his money on alcohol. The boy so badly wanted a toy car to be in his box but he was afraid to open it and be disappointed. The pastor said to him that even though his father hadn’t provided what he wanted that his Heavenly Father knew him and perhaps had a surprise for him in the shoebox. The boy then opened the box. Inside there wasn’t just one toy car, there were eight of them.
The boy immediately closed the box, quickly got up, ran out of the church, and ran all the way home. When he got there, he said to his dad, “Dad, you have never been able to provide me with a toy car, but my Heavenly Father gave me what I wanted the most.” And he showed his dad the cars. Now, here’s the impact. The boy gave his life to the Lord when he heard the Gospel at the outreach event before he received the shoebox. But because of that shoebox gift and the boy’s courage in going to his dad and showing him what God gave him, the father gave his life to Christ, stopped drinking, and totally changed his lifestyle. The boy and his dad are now actively involved in the local church. One simple shoebox can change not just a child’s life but entire families and communities.
As regional director for North and Central America, what are your key responsibilities?
Castillo: I work with leadership teams in Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras, Panama, and the Dominican Republic. We have over 700 volunteers in our region. I have the privilege, along with our regional managers, to oversee them. I’m also responsible for our resources, which includes around 1.5 million shoeboxes per year, along with The Greatest Journey, the discipleship course for shoebox recipients.
That’s a huge responsibility. How do you do it?
Castillo: Prayer. Each church partner in our region has at least five people involved in praying for the ministry. For example, in Mexico each church partner has seven adult and seven children prayer partners per location, which means there are upwards of 30,000 people regularly praying for Operation Christmas Child in Mexico. Here in Honduras, there are over 15,000 people specifically praying for the ministry. And that’s true throughout the region.
What an amazing opportunity to share the Gospel and disciple children throughout Latin America! Any final thoughts?
Castillo: Keep packing shoeboxes!
We give God the glory for what He is doing through Operation Christmas Child around the world. National Collection Week is Nov. 13-19.