Declaring God's glory
For more than a decade, Karen Del Castillo has served in the Diocese of Fort Worth, most recently as youth coordinator for her tri-parish community.
The mother of four — two of them grown — has long felt that spreading the faith was her calling.
The parish employee could have been content with the lay position that allowed her family the comfort and security of living in a humble home near her church, Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Decatur.
But something greater was calling out to the 42-year-old Fort Worth native — a pull in her heart to go to the unreached corners of the world and tell others about Jesus.
“All along the way God had been preparing me for a life of service to God and His people,” Del Castillo said.
Committing to a lifestyle change that will take her for at least the next two years to a small village south of Tarapoto in northern Peru, Del Castillo has given up nearly everything to become a missionary.
In late January, Del Castillo and children Julianna, 15, and Gabriel, 7, embarked on a new journey.
“I will be preaching the Gospel to the poor,” Del Castillo said in an interview with the North Texas Catholic.
It was not a decision made without prayer and discernment, she acknowledged.
“Over the course of a little over two years, God made it known to me of His will with clear and visible signs,” the former youth coordinator said. “Even more profoundly, He spoke very clearly through the Gospels that He needs His testimony to be heard throughout the land.”
She was led through prayer “and this wonderful invention of the internet” to Family Missions Company.
Founded in 1997, the Catholic apostolate has trained and sent families and individuals to share the Gospel and serve the poor in countries including Haiti, India, Costa Rica, Mexico, Peru, and Taiwan.
“The three of them have committed their lives to sharing the Good News and the love of Christ to the poorest of the poor as foreign lay missionaries,” according to a brief biography of the Del Castillos on the Family Missions Company website.
The program requires training and education before a missionary is sent into the field. Del Castillo completed hers in Abbeville, La., last fall.
She held garage sales to rid the family of their material goods and the three lived out of suitcases while staying with a family friend before their departure.
Her daughter wanted to take her sewing machine. Julianna learned to sew — she made her own quinceañera dress — and planned “to take my sewing machine to teach the ladies another way of income.”
The family’s decision was met with admiration from Father Tom Craig, the director of the diocesan Office of Pontifical Missions and chair of the Diocesan Mission Council.
“It was such a joy to meet Karen, Julianna, and Gabriel in person before Christmas and share their enthusiasm for their journey,” Fr. Craig said. “Their thirst for responding to God’s call to experience His presence in our sisters and brothers in Peru is overwhelming.
“I would like to bottle it for everyone to have. I pray that their zeal for the Good News of Jesus will inspire all of us to be missioners of Good News wherever we are and for all of us to have the courage to ask where God would like to use us!”
But not everyone has been encouraging or even receptive to Del Castillo’s plan.
Some ask how she can find peace leaving the security of a Western country and taking her children to a region that has greater possibility of political unrest and life-threatening illness.
“It was not easy to go,” the missionary said. “People said, ‘You’re crazy. You’re broken.’”
Her response: “Lots of times you have to dust off your sandals and walk away.”
She left on Jan. 25 and has already said goodbye to those she served as youth coordinator in her tri-parish community that is comprised of her Decatur parish, St. John the Baptizer Parish in Bridgeport, and St. Mary Parish in Jacksboro.
“God reeled me in and here I am,” Del Castillo said.