‘I could sign and go quietly. I could stay with my land and my home,’ thought Casto to himself. ‘But if I do that, the Gospel is finished in this place.’
It was March 12th, 2015, and Casto sat overwhelmed on the cold dirt floor of the rustic Chichiltepec prison.
He took solace and strength from the words of Christ in Matthew 28, “Behold, I am with you all the days until the end.” He gleaned courage remembering the songs of Paul and Silas in the prison of Philippi. He gave thanks that his nephew Juan was sitting by his side.
He thought and meditated over the series of events which had brought him to this place.
Casto had given his life to Christ less than five years beforehand, in the Baptist Church of Huejutla, Hidalgo. Although he had participated in the Catholic renewal movement for several years, he had been captivated by the Gospel, and his first call to repentance. He eagerly cast off his old way of living, and returned to Jesus Christ. He felt enlightened to the gap between good and evil, and shared his new found passion with his neighbors and friends.
Within weeks a few of his relatives had given their lives to the Lord, and Casto was spurred on with the need to pursue his village of origin. His village was an isolated community in the mountains above Huejutla, a place where nobody knew the good news of the Gospel. It was a two hour walk, with limited Spanish, and many other cultural obstacles. But driven by passion and conviction, Casto knew he had to go.
Together with his pastor, the pair climbed up the mountain to share the good news, and on December 24th in 2012, a small congregation of three people was officially born again. Casto gave his home for church meetings, as his little church grew.
A few months later however, a rumor was started by the head of his community. He was told and threatened that he had to stop preaching, or else he would be tied up. Undeterred, Casto continued to enter the community in secret, as more and more people came to hear and be changed by the word of God.
By April 2014, upon the baptism of the first community believers, Casto was indicted. His pastor friend was forbade from coming to the community again, and his home was no longer allowed to be used for church activities. The community leaders asked him to sign a document renouncing his faith, and upon his refusal they made an accusation to the authorities under the guise of contempt. Under the Mexican Constitution however, the courts ruled in his favor for the right of religious freedoms.
From that time, stones were thrown during his worship services. When he bought in brothers to celebrate the second anniversary of the mission, anger bloomed within the community. As twelve families from the community joined with him, he was threatened with, and feared for his life. ‘Even if they beat me, don’t let me die,’ he prayed, ‘because I want you to serve you in this place‘.
While at work and at the beginning of March in 2015, a subpoena came from Chichiltepec, that required him to be present in the community to ‘solve an agricultural issue’. Suspecting problems, he took his nephew along.
When they arrived, some 50 men were waiting for them. They presented the men with a document to sign, promising to cease all religious activity. In return, he would be allowed to keep his house and grounds.
The Catechist accused him of many things, including visiting the sick without authorization, and praying for them. They locked him up, and shortly returned to bring him before the Assembly. When the authorities saw that he would not yield, they locked them up all night and all of the following day, in an effort to make them reconsider. Casto and his cousin encouraged one another, refusing to renounce their faith in the Lord.
The following night, when the men were exhausted, hungry and cold, they returned to bring them to an Assembly of more than 300 people. The people were shouting: “Sign it! If you don’t want to sign, we will run it. We are going to burn your house, and the houses of the others “.
Hearing the threats, some of the believers were terrorized and ran out of the meeting, causing Casto and his nephew great despair. Amid sobs, Casto said, “I cannot sign. It would deny my faith and deny Christ. I am not going to give up my eternity, I prefer heaven”.
When they saw that the men would not budge, the authorities wrote another document which read: “Casto Hernández withdraws voluntarily from this community. His house and his land belong to the people…” To this document, Casto signed.
After this, the young men were freed. With little time to pack and leave the community, the men returned to Casto’s home. There, they found their entire church family. He stood and spoke to his congregation, “this is the last time that I stop here. I can leave my house and my stuff, but the souls that Dios has rescued is what most hurts me to leave. I will strive to put this House of prayer, to fight to rescue the most valuable thing I have.”
He encouraged them with texts of the Bible, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted“.
Please join us in praying for Casto and the congregation of Chichiltepec. Also against the widespread persecution of Christians throughout Mexico.