Struggling to get back up!

September 18th 2014

Face in the dirt, kicked, beaten and still struggling to get back up.

    A city fallen, hard pressed and abused, Detroit choked down more than its share of financial reversals, bankruptcies, crime sprees, corruption, mismanagement. I was there last weekend. The day of the event was my own, so I walked through the abandoned, graffiti-spattered brick buildings looking down on me from broken out windows.

DetroitAround a corner, a small group of people stood. The bedraggled, mournful group had the empty eyed look of the buildings I had walked past; empty, homeless, hopeless, helpless. They stood outside a stone church. "Spirit of Hope," was the hand-painted sign leaning up against the wrought iron gate surrounding an ancient gothic stone, stained glass church building. "Everybody eats," also read the sign.

Spirit of HopeAround back, the open door spilled the aroma of hot food. Inside a shorthanded group of kitchen workers filled plates, handed out trays, cool-aid and smiles. "Thanks for coming." "Need another helping?" "Glad to see you today."

    "Anything I can do to help for a couple of hours?" It was an easy group to join. "Sure, grab that towel, wipe trays and pour juice." I worked alongside Emily. She was twenty two... maybe. A struggling artist that had moved into an ancient crumbling 'Crow Manor' - the artist commune of painters, sculptors, musicians, - next door. Selling hand made jewelry was her only means of support. Her story was a sad children's tale of getting kicked, beaten and abused. Running away. Running again. Finally running into Pastor John at the Spirit of Hope church. First she just needed to receive. To heal. Then slowly began to contribute. It was a good story.

DetroitAfter the last pot had been washed, Emily showed me around back where she pulled weeds, tended, harvested an overflowing garden. Giant tomatoes, squash as big as two liter coke bottles, green beans, lettuce, kale, melons, grew abundantly. And chickens. Eggs. Pigs. It was an abandoned, empty lot that tilled, watered, planted and cared for was yielding a harvest. Growing the spirit of hope. Detroit is being redeemed one empty lot, one abandoned house, one recycled church, one broken life at a time.


Hello Human Kindness

November 3rd 2013

Where does it start? A chain reaction? Dominoes knocking over dominoes? Paying it forward? A Rube Goldberg arrangement of sequences that nudge and push and lift and cause one event to precipitate another? Not many have seen or remember the cartoons of Pulitzer prize winning artist, Mr. Goldberg. They were clever intricate drawings that always started with an action which triggered a complicated series of events, resulting in a final consequence. His cartoons almost always had an action and a result.* What is so important about this concept is that everything we do has consequences. Good actions, produce good results. The opposite is true as well. Even small, seemingly insignificant unkindness can affect people for their entire lives. 

I can distinctly remember standing next to my mother at the end of the year, hearing my third grade teacher, whom I knew didn’t like me, say, “Little Jose is very bright, but he is just lazy.” For decades I struggled with the notion that I was a slacker. Finally, in my mid forties, I realized the truth. I was not lazy. Not even a little bit.

And kindness, has long lasting results. Cindy and I had breakfast last week with a man we had both been kind to almost fifty five years ago. She had gone with him to the High School prom. I had taught a Bible study he attended. He got teary eyed as he spoke of our kindnesses.

A hospital in Tennessee commissioned me to film a SandStory highlighting their new name, “Dignity Health.” It was all to be centered on a theme entitled “Hello Human Kindness.” The theme described qualities that really resonated with my desire to live like Christ. “Kindness is: sharing the good times and the bad, Giving without expecting to be repaid, helping someone less fortunate, taking time to just be there.” 

Rube had it right. Every action has a result. Good, produces good. Kindness breeds kindness. One generous gift will be rewarded with another.

Heavy Lifting

August 20th 2013

Heavy Lifting


Doing the heavy lifting. Flat-gray back stage metal door, Ice-Grey sky, blue-white snow-covered ground, bone-twisting cold, frosty-breath February-winter in Bloomington, Minnesota. I was performing for the Child Neurology Foundation, raising funds for the care of severely handicapped children that nobody else wanted to help. They were serving those, who most times could not serve themselves. My gloved hand pulled hard at the door. With a gritty salted-sidewalk scrape it groaned open. Magic seemed to happen. The golden glow of the banquet hall spilled out all over me and the ground beneath me. It was liquid gold pouring into a frozen world. Warm music and enticing food-fragrances enveloped me. The memory of that event warmed me for a long time.


 Now it is summer, but last week Cindy and I were warmed again. The Salvation Army goes places and works with people that have fallen or been pushed into the darkest cracks in our social machine. Almost a thousand of these willing workers from the SouthEast Area gathered to grow and be encouraged at a conference in North Carolina. With them were about two hundred and fifty of the men and women that were helped to their feet by these tireless, cheerful servants. It requires heavy lifting. It takes real emotional work to help people who have fallen and cannot get up. We smiled, laughed, embraced and were encouraged by them all. It is a reminder that the very best way to get warm when we are cold, to be filled when we are empty and find reason to hope when everything looks grey is to reach out to help someone who cannot help themselves. 


  "Don't be concerned only about your own needs, but the needs of others as well"  Philippians 1:4  


I try to help by telling their stories in sand.

Until next time, I'll be playing in the sand.


A Giant Influence

March 31st 2013

After my performance at Mount Pleasant Community Church, a man approached me, took my hand and leaned well within my personal space and began whispering in my ear.  “Two of the members in my family told me some time ago that they would never walk into a church again. They are here this Sunday because they came to see you.” 

Since my success in reaching the finals on America’s Got Talent, the number of people I am able to touch has increased dramatically.  With it comes the weight of responsibility to make my influence count. 

I am also reminded that I am still a very small grain of sand on a very big beach.  The new Pope, now he has some influence and a huge weight of responsibility.  How do you lead a church of almost one billion people, many of whom will hang their lives on your every word? I pray for him as I do for other world leaders. I also pray that Pope Francis could point many to Christ. I pray that he could proclaim the gospel in way that many will understand the Christ’s love, the sacrifice He made for us and receive Christ as their savior. I pray that he would point to the resurrection and encourage Christians to live a new life in Christ. I pray that he would promote peace and unity in the church, the body of Christ. I pray that he would encourage us to live out the prayer of Saint Francis of Assisi.  

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.

Where there is hatred, let me sow love;

where there is injury, pardon;

where there is doubt, faith;

where there is despair, hope;

where there is darkness, light;

and where there is sadness, joy.

O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek

to be consoled as to console;

to be understood as to understand;

to be loved as to love.

For it is in giving that we receive;

it is in pardoning that we are pardoned;

and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life. 


I hope you enjoy this SandStory video about the selection of Pope Francis. With the University of Pretoria Choir singing the prayer of St. Francis. 

“Spring is supposed to be here,” I mumble as I wipe Kentucky snow off my glasses while packing our car in 28º temps for our next trip. But I smile, Orlando Florida (72º), Las Vegas, Nevada (82º) and Honolulu, Hawaii (sweetº) are on the Itinerary.  God is Good! 

Please check our calendar to see if we are going to be near you and follow our adventures on FaceBook or Twitter. 

Two Views, Two attitudes

February 27th 2013

Two Views, Two attitudes

How would you handle the "Nightmare" on the Carnival Cruise ship? What would you do when you stepped ashore from that ill fated vessel? I heard that within twenty four hours of docking, someone had already filed a lawsuit agains the Cruise Lines.

Difficulties, hardships and tragedies eventually interject themselves into every life. First and most important is getting clear perspective on the event. After all, finding a lump in your gravy is not the same as finding a lump somewhere in your body. Your appraisal of the situation is critical in how it affects you. 

In all of it though, there are really only two vantage points. Only two major world views. Which camp do you fall in?

First is believing that everything is an accident. Life is a roll of the dice. No God, No plan. You make or break your own fate. Something bad happens? Tough. No point in going to the complaint department. Nobody can answer the why of it. 

Secondly is the belief that somehow, something is in control of what is going on and it's outcome. Call it karma, destiny or God. Things happen for a reason. There is a plan. It might not always be clear but someday you will know why.

Regardless of which side of the philosophical fence you are on, there are only two attitudes that come in to play. Which attitude do you choose?

Somebody is going to pay. You are going to gripe, whine complain and if you are shaking your fist at God, so be it. If it is all silent and dark out there. If nobody is home and there is no one to ask or blame, you are still going to be cranky, angry and make as many other people miserable as you can.

Or, If I would rather be glad than sad; If happy is better than crappy, then put a smile on your face, grab a mop or a broom, sing a song, pray a prayer, choose to be a force for good rather than evil, and make a difference. 

You can always be glad you weren't on the Titanic.  

And let the peace of God rule in your hearts, since to this you are called along with the whole body and be thankful.  Colossians 3:15

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About Joe Castillo

Joe Castillo

Joe Castillo is an internationally known artist, author, and storyteller.