Son devotes life to serving God, community

Manuel Castillo talks about his mother, Candida Castillo, and her journey from being orphaned and uneducated to donating a church, La Iglesia Sinai, to the believers of Victoria.

As young as 5, Manuel Castillo can remember his father manhandling his mother, Candida. His father, Joe Castillo, struggled many years with the bottle, spending his weekly paychecks on booze and trips to the bar.

"Dad came in drunk, speaking abusive things to her. We knew that every Friday, every payday, Dad was going to come in and hurt our mother," Castillo, 62, said. "It got so bad one night, they were throwing pans and skillets. He hit her with a high heel and busted her head open."

Joe's drunken tirades, and squandering of the family's income, often left Castillo's mother and seven siblings to fend for themselves, picking cotton for $50 a week and surviving many nights on bread and sugar.

"She suffered a lot from Dad, simply because she loved her children very much. She would have never divorced him," Castillo said. "It irritated me. It took away my trust from my dad. Not only me, but all my brothers. It would affect us badly."

His parents married young: Candida was 14 years old; Joe was 19 and newly released from the U.S. Army.

By the time Castillo's mother was in her mid-20s, she had eight children, a drunken, philandering, abusive husband and no education to assist her in finding a job.

"She grew up on a ranch. She was raised up without school. She never went to school, not one day, so she never learned how to read or write," Castillo said. "All she knew was work."

Castillo said his mother was sent to live at her aunt's Kingsville ranch when she was about 7 years old, after her own mother was murdered and her father died of cancer.

Castillo said his parents met at the Kingsville ranch. And the marriage turned volatile soon after they wed.

Castillo's mother and children experienced nearly 20 years of domestic abuse from their father before the family's life changed forever.

"Everything was different when Mama met Jesus," Castillo said.

Castillo was nearing 25 years old when his mother suffered an illness that paralyzed part of her body. Half of her body was dead, he said, and many of his siblings had to take care of her.

Janie Houston, Castillo's sister, recalls when her mother fell ill.

"I remember when Mom was paralyzed because I used to be her nurse," Houston, 60, said.

Castillo said while his mother was still sick and relying on a wheelchair to move around, she went to visit her brother, who told them of a man preaching about Jesus from a revival tent.

"They said he could heal people," Castillo said.

After attending the tent church service, Castillo said his family witnessed his mother's paralysis heal itself.

"They prayed over her and she could walk again," he said.

"Her healer was Jesus," Houston said.

That was the night Candida gave her heart and life to God. And a few months later, Joe Castillo also became a follower of Christ.

"He never drank again after that," Castillo said. "He never hit her again after he was saved. He gave up everything after that. He didn't drink, or smoke - nothing."

Candida and Joe decided they wanted to do more for God. And a year later, they converted their Victoria house on Laurent Street into La Iglesia Sinai Church, opening it to the community for prayer and worship, Castillo said.

There, the homeless were fed and housed, and it became a place where people knew they could come for help with their spiritual and financial troubles.

Castillo said his father eventually found stable employment, earning enough money to support the family. In time, both Candida and Joe became preachers, and the family started taking mission trips to Mexico twice a year - driving across the border in a van filled with clothes, food and prayers for the needy.

And with no way to read the Bible, Castillo said friends and family would read the scriptures aloud to her, and she'd memorize verses in Spanish and English.

"Her mind was very sharp," Castillo said. "She never learned how to read the Bible."

One by one, each of the Castillo children became followers of Jesus.

Castillo admitted his earlier years mimicked much of his father's youthful temperament and bad habits. But when he became a follower of Jesus, he too, gave up his life for the Lord and eventually became a minister himself.

The Castillos spent the rest of their lives serving the Victoria community, and preaching about the miracles of God.

"Mom would go to the jailhouse, and preach to the women and would bring in hope about salvation and miracles. She would tell them, 'I know about being an orphan. I know about being lonely and poor. I know what it's like to be abused,'" Castillo said, about his mother's regular trips to the jail.

And even though Castillo's early years were spent growing up hungry and poor, in an abusive home watching his father hit his mother, he said God transformed the hearts of his mother and family. Castillo ended up witnessing his parents spend the rest of their lives together enjoying marriage and working together to spread the love of God to the Crossroads.

Joe Castillo died eight years ago, and Candida died in December. She was 80 years old.

"There are too many people to count that Mom brought to salvation. And she has a lot of disciples who became preachers because of her," Castillo said. "She was strong. She really believed in the community, and helping her brothers and sisters. And they didn't have to be saved for her to help them."

Castillo, a resident of San Antonio, returns to Victoria twice a month to tend to his Victoria-based ministry, "I Am My Brother's Keeper," which continues to spread the love of God from the same house his parent's converted to a church years ago.

Houston said each of her siblings clings to the gospel their mother introduced to them about 40 years ago. And they will never forget all she did and all she went through to teach others about God's love.

"I feel she was a fabulous example - a prayer warrior. She set a wonderful example we should all follow. She's now in a better place," Houston said.