The thing about bad news is that you rarely see it coming. Life is moving along, you’re caught up in the minutiae, and BAM! Tragedy strikes. When that happens, many grab ahold of their strength, or their family and friends, or modern science, and do whatever is in their ability to get through the tragedy.
If you’re a Christian, you pray. If you’re a pastor, you pray, all the while hoping that you are a living testimony to the power of prayer.
Pastor Hernan Castaño of Rios De Aceite church had a life that was moving along nicely. He was in his sixth year of pastoring and was celebrating the construction of a new church building. It was 2006 and he was excited about his growing ministry. Then he asked God what was next. He specifically asked God to provide miracles within the church. Six months later, God provided a new spiritual journey for Castaño that would test his faith and eventually provide just such a miracle.
It began when Castaño went to the doctor for what he believed was a sinus infection causing congestion just below his left eye. His doctor diagnosed a sinus issue and told him he should feel better in a few days. A week later, he felt worse. He consulted his sister, a nurse, who encouraged him to visit an asthma specialist. That doctor was concerned about a possible blockage and sent him to a specialist at West Houston Medical Center. The results confirmed the blockage and a biopsy was immediately performed. The diagnosis: Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma.
From there, it was a whirlwind of full-body testing for further affected areas, and visits with doctors at MD Anderson. The news got worse. Castaño was diagnosed with a very aggressive cancer, Stage 4, below his eye and on his forehead. He was alone when he received the news.
“You would think I would have immediately called my family when I got the diagnosis,” Castaño explained, “but I didn’t. Instead, I went directly to the church, right up to the altar, and I cried. I surrendered my heart to God. The doctor had told me there was a chance I would lose all my teeth and my ability to speak. I told God, ‘If you want me to continue speaking, my mouth is yours.’”
His treatment was to begin immediately, but Castaño asked for three weeks to fulfill his preaching obligations on Channel 21’s Vision Celestial. In doing so, he was reminded of what he had preached all his life: If he had to go through the fire, he would give God the glory. With that peace of mind, he announced his diagnosis to his church and asked them to pray with him. He stressed to his congregants that while it was okay to be shocked and sad, as he had been, he did not want any sadness or worry to overcome them. “Here is where we actually prove whether we really believe in God in times of trouble,” he told church members. “I’m asking for prayer, but I’m asking for normalcy in doing God’s work. Don’t let this bring a negative spirit or doubts into your mind.”
The church members heeded his message and offered support and ongoing prayer as Castaño began his first cycle of treatments. To his church, the only obvious change was his loss of hair. Castaño was determined to not quit. During the course of his treatments, he didn’t miss a single service. He preached four services a week, relying on the strength of God to get him through. After just 9 weeks of treatment and only a third of the way through his plan, he was tested. All of the cancer – every trace of it – was gone.
It was a miracle, and Castaño was elated. In his eyes, God had cured him and there was no need to continue with further treatments. The doctor disagreed, urging him to take the extra precaution. “At that moment, God spoke to me through the Scripture, specifically 2 Kings 13:17, when the prophet told the king of Israel to shoot the arrows. The king hit the ground only 3 times, but if he had hit it 5 or more times, the enemy wouldn’t come back.” Even though Castaño did not want to continue his treatment, he felt the direct word of the Lord telling him to finish going through the fire. So he did, and 11 years later, he remains cancer free.
No one comes out of a miracle story unchanged. Castraño feels that he is much more adept at ministering to others through tragedy and loss. “Anyone who is going through the impossible, the overwhelming, the uncomfortable crisis in life, if they keep their eyes on the greatness of their God, not the greatness of their situation, they will see a breakthrough. The God in the Bible will become real to them in their own environment and life. In a time of no answers or hope, they will receive what they cannot find by other means.
“I’m so thankful He gave me an extension of time and I want to use it to serve him better. I thought the biggest thing was building a new sanctuary. I didn’t realize he had bigger plans. I’m so grateful to be his servant.”
The thing about miracles is that you never see them coming. And when they arrive, you’re so grateful – so surprised that you were spared a tragedy – that you might be tempted to grab ahold and not question how the miracle came about. Castaño’s story reminds us that all the praise goes to God.