Trust and obey
"Trust and obey — that's how I live," insisted Barbara Casteel as we sat in the living room of her small apartment in Houston, Texas. With temperatures nearing 80 degrees outside that day along with the area's normally high humidity, Barbara quickly realized her air conditioner wasn't working. However, that small setback, and the warmth in the apartment, didn’t affect her optimistic attitude.
"God has been so good to me," she asserted, while cheerfully relating the unusual story of how she and her husband met and fell in love in France. As a young woman, she and a friend had volunteered to go work in France as secretaries on the Army Air base supporting U.S. troops during the Korean War. Unbeknownst to her, her future husband was serving there in the Chaplains Division.
Albert Casteel began his pastoral ministry at a young age and was already serving a church when he received his draft card requiring him to join the military. Because he was a pastor, he was eligible for a deferral, but on his way to the draft board, he realized he hadn't prayed about the decision.
"Albert quickly pulled to the side of the road for a serious talk with God. Feeling as though the Lord wanted him to serve, Albert joined and was eventually sent to France — where we finally met at the chapel on base!" Barbara added, chuckling at the memory.
Marrying once they returned stateside, Albert then delved into completing his graduate divinity degree from Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. In 1958, he and Barbara began their mission work in Helena, Montana, where they helped start many new churches.
"It was a wonderful time in the ministry. So many people came to know Christ during our work there," Barbara noted.
Later, the Casteels moved to Texas to become certified in Spanish. While there, Barbara encountered several health issues that initially prevented her from traveling. "However," Barbara assured us, "with God’s grace, I overcame and Albert and I went on to serve four years in Puerto Rico."
Barbara never expected to lose her husband when he was only 42-years old. Felled by cancer in 1971, Albert had started a dozen churches in rural Montana and Puerto Rico over the course of his short life. Those churches helped lead to more than 2,000 persons professing faith in Christ (Home Missionary Dies After Battle With Cancer, Baptist Press, December 21, 1971).
After Albert’s death, Barbara was eventually appointed as a missionary to serve in Harlingen in the language missions department of the Home Mission Board (now North American Mission Board).
"It was rare for widowed women to be appointed as missionaries in those days," she told me. "But I was persistent in wanting to use the Spanish speaking skills I had gained to share the gospel with others, and in 1978 I was appointed and set out for Harlingen with my four children in tow."
Barbara also taught English to students in China for several years. While in China, she got very ill and was hospitalized for a time. During her stay, a doctor who worked in the hospital related his own story of how missionaries had impacted his life. As a small boy he had run errands for the doctors in that same hospital and missionaries there had told him the story of Jesus. When he learned she was leaving for the United States soon, he hurried to tell her to pass along the word to the missionaries how much their witness had helped him.
Several of her students from China still keep in touch with her today through the use of a donated computer. Her small apartment is full of mementoes from her time in China, helping to keep the fond memories close to her heart.
In reflecting on how God had used her to impact the lives of others, Barbara declared, "Many people think you have to be special for God to use you, but I know God takes ordinary people from ordinary backgrounds and uses them in extraordinary ways."
Now in her 80’s, Barbara knows another blessing — that of receiving. "Receiving is a blessing. Pride often gets in the way for many people," she quietly noted. "But I know others are blessed through their ability to help me."
In addition to the Mission:Dignity grant she receives, Barbara gets some help from the North American Mission Board to help cover the cost of her medical insurance. The Baptist General Convention of Texas also provides some additional funds. And, of course, friends and family often pitch in to help cover the unexpected.
"I hope donors know they are truly helping those of us in need. I would love to hug each one!" Barbara proclaimed as we were wrapping up our visit.