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  • "If I am bound to the belief that God is in control of the cosmos, and miracles can and do happen, then there is no 'hypothetical situation' wherein God's ability to perform miracles through the faithful actions of the merciful ceases to be a possibility."

    Joshua's above words continue to resonate with us, his family, friends and acquaintances seeking to live out that same belief. Though he is no longer with us bodily, we strive to faithfully remember and testify to Joshua's witness among us, through the establishment of The Joshua Casteel Foundation and other initiatives on which we will continue to provide update through this website. Thank you for joining us.

    "The just man, though he die early, shall be at rest." (Wisdom 4:7)

    Joshua was diagnosed in early November 2011 with stage IV lung cancer (adenocarcinoma), which ultimately took his life on August 25, 2012 at the age of 32. The many of us who survive and love him will continue to pursue the heavenly justice to which Joshua (in life, and now in death) testified.


How do I, a mom of a veteran turned conscientious objector, turned advocate for peace, justice, and non-violence honor our veterans in a way that is consistent with not only his transformed beliefs concerning violence and war but also my own? Showing love and concern for all the men and women who have put their lives on the line many times over and even given their lives as my son did, was his desire as well as my own, offering them our love and respect, in spite of our ideological or theological differences.

While believing that our calling as followers of Jesus Christ is to do what He said, “Do not return evil for evil but overcome evil with good” (one of many teachings on non-violence) we believe just as strongly that we are to follow all of Jesus’ teachings which includes making love the core and the cornerstone of all that we do and say. So it is with genuine compassion and gratitude that we honor the good intentions and the courage necessary to act on the those intentions and the courage every soldier in battle has to call upon. Each person is responsible before God to act according to his or her own conscience and it is not our place to judge those who believe differently from us but rather to live according to our own.

We also believe that it is a blessing that our government offers the option of conscientious objection to soldiers. And we are grateful that after years of struggling with the moral and spiritual issues surrounding the issue of war and violence as it relates to followers of Jesus Christ, when that time of crystallization of conscience came for Joshua during his tour of duty at Abu Ghraib Prison in Iraq while working as an interrogator, he was offered the opportunity to present his position upon returning home in the CO application process. His commander, who confessed that he had never believed there to be any good reason for becoming a conscientious objector, until he met Joshua, knew of his emotional and spiritual struggle while in Iraq. He not only commended him for the way in which he handled himself as an interrogator while at Abu Ghraib in the midst of his very real ethical and moral struggles, but also for then taking a stand that upheld his genuine beliefs. His words of encouragement were a real gift to Joshua.

Joshua’s journey to look at these issues differently than he ever had before, growing up in our Protestant Evangelical Christian home, sparked my own journey towards change. It is true that we came to believe that violence is not only incapable of bringing about peace, but instead incites more violence actually causing the cycle of vengeance to increase and continue. And it is also true that Joshua saw first hand the devastating toll that war takes on everyone involved, the soldiers as well as so many innocent citizens, communities, and as was true of Iraq, the entire country. The Iraq War was not unlike other wars that have been fought throughout history. They are a kind of ‘hell on earth’ to everyone directly involved. One walks away asking, “was the cost of all the lives taken and devastated for generations to come worth whatever it was we were told we were fighting for or against”?

Joshua Casteel 1979-2012

Maybe there is something deeper that we as people need to examine within ourselves to answer this question. Maybe we need to look behind the research carried out by the military after WWII that revealed that only 20% of soldiers actually fired their guns at the enemy. They either pointed them away or didn’t pull the trigger because of a personal aversion to killing. Hence, the military instituted what is now called ‘reflexive training’ to get soldiers to act reflexively, bypassing their minds and conscience. It was an efficient choice, but was it a good one, a healthy one for all those whose lives are changed forever because of the results of such training if put on a battlefield?

Could it be that we were not created to kill and it is our human weaknesses lived out that blinds us to who we were meant to be and how we were designed to live with one another? Or is there a better way to settle our disputes and deal with our differences, an answer which continues to evade us? We talk about wanting ‘peace on earth’ but doesn’t the history of war itself tell us that war and killing has done nothing to stop the cycle of vengeance that has simply taken different forms down through the centuries?

There are many sophisticated and complex theories out there that try to explain the dilemma of why man continues to fight wars at home and abroad, in our homes, and in our streets. But I want to speak about these things in a simpler more understandable way from not only a mother’s point of view but from the viewpoint of one who has looked deeply into the lives of others through intimate conversations as a counselor and a helper, one who has had the privilege to view the needs, desires, hurts, and struggles of the human heart.

If we’re honest with ourselves and allow a deeper examination of our own heart’s desire for love and understanding to surface, it isn’t quite as hard to acknowledge that as human beings we’re not that different from each other at the core. We all need and desire love and affirmation. We need to believe that we matter, that our lives have value. Even those who have been taught unhealthy, destructive, and even evil ways to define and achieve that sense of value are seeking the same affirmation and significance. Why? Because they are human beings with a body, soul, and spirit created to receive and give love. But more times than not hurt, anger, bitterness, and fear of vulnerability keeps us from seeing the common thread that binds us all together, the reality of being human and flawed. So we flee (in any number of ways) or we fight. Each of these responses separates us from each other, but violence, in particular destroys our desire to see the common bond. So we point fingers and throw blame on the ‘other’ causing hearts to harden, which makes greater violence more probable and easier each time it is perpetrated. What we don’t allow ourselves to ‘feel’ negates our conscience and the purpose it was designed to play in our lives. The desire to seek or offer forgiveness or believe that redemption is even possible where wrong has been done or evil is present is no longer seen as an option. So we feel justified in resorting to violence, whether it be on a small scale in the form of insult or revenge or on a large scale in the form of war to try to eradicate evil and wrongdoing.

Joshua wrote in his book, Letters from Abu Ghraib, “Evil cannot be destroyed, it can only be redeemed.” When we objectify evil as being incarnate in the ‘form’ of humanity, we tell ourselves that destruction of the people/groups/society etc. will rid the world of certain evils. This ideology is the foundational thinking behind war, violence, and in particular the terrorism we see today carried out by radicals.   But it is evil ‘within’ a person that produces evil actions and evil within always has the ‘potential’ of redemption.   That was at the heart of Jesus’ message and reason for coming to earth, to offer us the possibility of redemption.

But I realize that not everyone accepts the teachings of Christ or believe in a God at all. They look at life through a very different lens. For those who do, however, it seems to me that we have but one choice, to hold on to not only the truth and promise of redemption but also to the rest of Jesus’ teachings, which is summed up in that one and only life changing word, ‘Love’.

Our only hope for moving towards something different from what we’ve seen throughout mankind’s history of division, violence, and wars is to simply do what Jesus says, find ways to show love where there is hate, offer acceptance where there is prejudice, and give hope where there is despair in our sphere of influence, where we live and work. Another quote from Joshua’s book, Letters from Abu Ghraib, I believe is a question worth pondering.

“What would it look like if the same determination to defeat the enemy was used to redeem the enemy?”

Imagine, if you can, what the world would look like if every person who professes to believe in a loving God in our world took that question to heart and determined to live it out.

Joshua believed he was far from having all the answers to our world’s complex problems, as do I, but even in his last days on this earth, suffering from extreme pain from a cancer caused by just one of the many tragic and unethical inequities of war, the burn pits used by our own military to dispose of waste, (*see the book, ‘The Burn Pits: The Poisoning of America’s Soldiers’ by Joseph Hickman) he refused to succumb to anger and bitterness. Instead his focus was on requesting that we help eradicate the use of the burn pits in an effort to prohibit the poisoning of other soldiers, as well as helping the Iraqi people who suffered and whom he knew would continue to suffer for generations to come because of the war. Joshua chose love over hate, acceptance over prejudice, and hope over despair, a legacy worth contemplating.

I am trying to do the same, but I have to admit that after losing both my husband and son in a very short period of time, and looking at the daunting task of carrying on the message of love and non-violence in a world that seems to be slipping into a black hole of violence, hatred, and despair, I’m quite sure I could have easily chosen the same, just in different form than some, had I not had the presence of Jesus Christ in my life. I can truly say with David from the Psalms;

“If the Lord had not been my help, my soul would soon have dwelt in the place of silence.” (Psm.94:17)

But I will, by the grace of God, do my best to continue to speak out and carry on what I believe to be Jesus’ teachings which are revealed in part in what Joshua left behind. One of those things being his book, Letters from Abu Ghraib, revealing his struggle to come to that place in his heart and in his life where he would choose to follow his conscience before God, with the hope that it would inspire others to think deeply about their lives and how they wanted to live in this world.

In addition to his book he left behind a play entitled, ‘Returns’, showing the impact of PTSD and moral injury, which is still ravaging the lives of thousands of soldiers. Returns will continue to be produced as a play/workshop in the US and as an opera in Europe with the hope that it will help others to understand these difficult and painful issues, so they can better help those who come back from war. He left other writing, plays and speeches given here and abroad that we trust will continue on in the minds and hearts of those that were touched by them and beyond as we share them on the Joshua Casteel Foundation website. And yet, more important than all of the creative gifts he left behind is the legacy of love, acceptance, and hope, he lived out, gifts he was given by the One whom he loved and served.

So, I return to the question I asked at the beginning of this writing. How can I best honor those veterans who have given so much of their lives or those who gave it all? The only answer that makes any sense at all to me or gives me any hope for the future for them and the world we all live in is to commit myself to furthering the message that radiated from Joshua’s life in a world that is still struggling to find peace, within themselves and with each other. And I will try to live that message out in the ways God calls me to until the day comes when Jesus will cause all wars to cease and will Himself reign as the Prince of Peace. That is our promise and our hope!

Kristi Casteel

Joshua Casteel Foundation

November 10, 2017 - 9:18 AM

Br. Michael St. Jacques - Thank you!

November 13, 2017 - 4:23 AM

robert - Thanks for the powerful statement …Love is the answer…unfortunately all we hear from the govt and overlooked by the church is war is the answer…Military spending is big business and the leadership of this country except for Eisenhower,Kennedy and a very few others is war…I admire your son’s courage but even more his ability to write inspire and most of all to love…remarkable ! peace to you

Bob Eiden

Five Years … But Who’s Counting!



Not unlike other years, this August and especially this week has been difficult.  Yes, it has been five years since Joshua passed away but time is pretty meaningless when we lose someone significant in our lives.  Hours at times feel like days, feels like months, feels like years and vice versa.

I’m sure you can all relate to some degree. But we’re still here and God continues to bless the foundation by furthering Joshua’s creative work and acts of mercy through The Joshua Casteel House.  His book, ‘Letters From Abu Ghraib’  Second Edition is out and we’re in the process of trying to promote it.  The first event will be at the Univ. of Chicago on October 25th with Jim Forest as main speaker.  How fortunate we were that he planned a trip to the States and was available and willing to speak at our event.  The second promotional event will be the weekend of Oct. 27th at the Joshua Casteel House in Alliance, Ohio.  I will fly to both events. Some of his other work is being organized to hopefully create a teaching manual of sorts to use on the college level and potentially High School or alongside his other productions. His play ‘Returns, The Opera’ has been completed and is in the final stages of production in the UK and is getting a very positive response from the artistic community.  We’re also discussing the possibility of taking the play Returns, as is, on tour again as well as working more closely with Catholic Peace Fellowship, a great organization that Joshua worked with as well.  And finally we should also have the official website up and running by late September.  Be sure to check it out still at

So all of this is definitely enough to keep me busy and at times overwhelmed.  But, knowing that I needed some additional encouragement , especially this week, I will share one other significant gift that God gave to me and ultimately I believe to the Foundation and all of you.  It is living proof of how God revealed a part of His plan for Joshua and now the JC Foundation right prior to his deployment to Iraq.  It shows us clearly that God’s hand has been directing and guiding Joshua from the beginning and still is.  This encouragement came by way of a letter from one of Joshua’s friends from a church he attended while in Monterrey, CA for language school while in the military.  The letter is quite self explanatory and I believe gives us reason to continue to work hard to carry on what God started through Joshua’s writing and life so we can experience together what He has planned, which I’m trusting will be far and beyond what we might think or expect.  While this letter sat in an e-mail account (which Rebekah set up for the foundation about a year ago) for nine months before either of us saw it, I have a feeling the timing was also exactly as it should be.  PLEASE READ IT!!  I think you’ll be blessed and encouraged, as were we.

Blessings on us all,



My name is XXXX, and I attended church with Joshua in Monterey CA. Everything I wrote in the accidentally sent email was true. On Joshua’s last Sunday at our church, he seemed troubled. As we gathered as a faith family to pray for him, I felt this urgent / oppressive need to tell Joshua that his writing would be important. More important than he could ever know. That he had to write and find time to write.
I didn’t know Joshua very well, but we had a lot of mutual friends and saw each other at church functions and gatherings once or twice a week. Although our Real Life group was tight knit, our schedules didn’t often allow us to hang out together all the time.
That’s how I knew without a doubt the message I was to deliver to Joshua was from God because I could never have come up with that ex nihilo. That was the first time God “spoke” something to me and it was the first time I was given a message to give to someone else. And it hasn’t happened since.
Despite feeling like I could be misconstrued as a person who is out of her mind (!!!), I quietly and dutifully delivered the message as we gathered in the hallway to give Joshua hugs and pats on the back. He received it warmly, and I think by the wetness in his eyes, the deep swallow, and his resolute nod that the message God delivered through me was merely a confirmation of something already in him that he already knew.
I stored that memory away, deep, and wrote if off as a practice of obedience… until one day, maybe five years later, when I saw Joshua on tv. It must have been CNN, and again, it could only be divine that I happened to be flipping through the channels at just the right time. I felt like it was a little nudge from God to me. God saying something akin to, “Look what I’m doing. Be awed.”
Ten years later…
This morning, I was sitting in my van, desperately trying to finish up a Bible study that should have been done days ago. The question in my workbook inquired if I had ever “heard” God speak and if I had told others. I instantly remembered the night, now 15 years ago, that God had me tell Joshua to write. I thought, “Let me Google him because I’m sure he’s written a book that’s going to be a movie by now…”
Wikipedia is where I landed, with his date of birth and death right up top. My mind reeled as I raced to read what had happened. That was not what I had expected God to do through Joshua. That is not how I thought Joshua’s writing was going to be used. Even now, hours later, I’m still processing, but mediating on “to God be the glory”. As I relayed the bits of Joshua’s story to the women in my Bible study, one of them suggested I write to Joshua’s mother to tell her the anecdote about the message I got to deliver. I don’t know if that will be helpful or what… but again, in obedience, I will. I did. Hello.
To Joshua’s family and friends, I’m so sorry for this unimaginable loss. I hope you are still finding his memory alive and are comforted by how God is STILL using Joshua’s life to further His kingdom. It’s funny; I’ve been at a crossroads, personally, and had only yesterday decided to finish my B.A. in religion so that I could work full-time in ministry (primarily as a writer). Just as God had nudged me all those years ago to deliver a message to Joshua, I feel that God is now using Joshua to nudge me and affirm His work in me. Thank you for your continued work toward his cause.
With highest regards and deepest sympathies,


How can you help?

As you think of Joshua today I hope you will also consider ways that you can continue to help us “fight against evil and pray for healing.”  God knows it’s all around us throughout the world and we need healing like never before…at least in our lifetimes!  (I’ve listed a few practical ways you can become involved below just to give your mind a jumpstart)

* volunteer to host a short book promotional event for his recently published 2nd edition ‘Letters From Abu Ghraib’.  (You’ll receive a personal copy and helpful guidelines on how to organize a simple event)

* Spread the word about his book on Facebook, Twitter, or whatever your favorite mode of internet communication is.  We can forward you a picture of the book and brief description if you’d like.

* Pray for the success and expansion of ‘Returns, the Opera’ debuting in Yorkshire, England in Sept. 2018 and potentially in Northern England, Denmark, and eventually in the U.S.  Funding is a huge project for its expansion.  Initially we hope to break even as it is not at this point a ‘commercial’ project.  James Cave has done all the fundraising in England to produce the first production at the York Minster but we are hoping to help him in that effort in order to expand its audience and bring it to the U.S.  The hope is that it will eventually become self supporting but that is not the case yet.

* Volunteer to help the foundation in fundraising efforts for the book promotional events and for the Opera and Play.  We will also be looking for venues to take the original play Returns on the road. This will take some expertise in putting together an acting troupe that will be able to travel to different locations and is a big endeavor though not out of reach.  Pray for the right people and the funds to make it happen.  If you have any experience or knowledge in fundraising/grant writing etc. we would love to hear from you and use your expertise.

* In addition we are working to get our new website up and running in September which also requires a significant investment.

* Donate towards any or all of these projects as all of them require a significant investment to continue to get Joshua’s work and message out there.   (With every donation of $25 or more we’ll send you a copy of the new edition ‘Letters From Abu Ghraib)


If anyone has good resource material for the website please consider sending it to us on an ongoing basis… writing of Joshua’s, photos of him with or without you,  recorded talks that he has given, e-mails or letters that reveal his heart and passions or any content that you believe may be of interest on the site.  This might include:   Resource material on the topics surrounding, non-violence, issues of justice and reconciliation, effects of war on individual soldiers, countries and society as a whole, Peacemaking efforts, etc.

Some of you ‘writer and/or professors friends’ of his we know have excellent thoughts on these subjects and we would love receive submissions from you.  This also goes for some of Joshua’s artistic friends.  We’ve received some art already and will attempt to use this on the site with your permission but we would like to see as much creativity as we can in getting out his message of love and mercy championing over violence and war.  And we would also love to receive music or beautiful photography from those of you whose gifts reside there.

As you all know Joshua was an artist at heart and loves all forms of expression to speak to the world and to simply bring joy!  So please, jump in and join us with the offering of your gifts.  Don’t be surprised if you feel a nudge from him.

We’ll look forward to hearing from many of you and sharing in this exciting journey that God has us all on, looking expectantly for Him to do above and beyond all that we can think or imagine in the years to come.

August 28, 2017 - 4:24 PM

Karla Goettel - Hi, Kristi. I think of you often and hope your work inspires and continues to heal you. I know I feel inspired by Joshua often. Instead of retiring I have become the vice chair and next year the chair of the board at Horizons. We work hard to help seniors with Meals on Wheels, child nutrition during the summers, mental and financial counseling, Neighborhood Transit System that provides rides to work for people without transportation and to all the homeless children in the area and the Survivors Program, which provides support to family, friends and witnesses to homicide. I applaud all your efforts and am curious about “Returns, the Opera.” I would love to know more about it and to see if I could promote this work with the Cedar Rapids Opera Theatre.
I send my love to you!

September 25, 2017 - 3:26 PM

Elle Oh - Hi – I have something I wanted to email to the family. Before Joshua passed away, I was making collecting videos from his peers at Middlebury. I only have two videos, but they were meant to cheer him up while he was receiving treatment. I’d love to send them over if you can send me your email address.

Thank you!

August 25th Four Years Later

Each August since Joshua passed has brought with it such a mixture of emotions, memories, and thoughts. And thankfully they are changing and becoming more hopeful and redemptive with each passing year. I have tried to honor him by carrying out some kind of special project each year that expresses love and compassion to others, carrying on life as he lived it. But this year circumstances have brought more than a few challenges and it has been all that I can do to just keep my head above water, this time more physically than emotionally. So, instead of a direct or tangible “Love In Action” project this August I am going to simply pass on a powerful truth God reminded me of last night (Aug. 24th) through a movie.

Surprisingly it was from a movie I thought I would most likely never watch and which understandably I haven’t been able to even think of watching during these last few years. The movie is entitled, Lone Survivor. I have some connection to it, however, as a friend read a review about it while visiting New York City, a few years after Joshua’s passing there, and relayed to me that the review said some things that reminded him of Joshua. And I have also come to know the author of the book, Demon Camp, about a soldier she met and wrote the book about who was supposed to be with the men sent to rescue soldiers on a mission in Afghanistan which is what the movie describes. That mission is the main plot of the movie. So there was some interest in watching it but I just didn’t think I would ever be able to. Then I saw that it was going to play on TV so I recorded it for some possible future viewing, thinking that it would most likely be far off in the future if at all. However, last night I felt a surprisingly strong desire to watch it as well as strong enough to do so. I jumped in, but holding my breath, ready to jump out immediately if I felt like I was going under. I was in for a surprise and a blessing.

What I found out is that the movie possessed a profound message that I believe did characterize Joshua’s life and beliefs, and what led him to live the life that he did. It is not about conscientious objection or a person who leaves the military to work towards peace and non-violence, as Joshua did. Quite the contrary. It is about a group of Navy Seals sent on a mission to ‘take out’ a leader in Al Queda in a region of Afghanistan. It’s a story of a mission gone wrong and an ambush which eventually took the lives of all but one man, Marcus Luttrell. (real name) Hence the title, Lone Survivor. But there is a reason that Luttrell survived several gunshot wounds, multiple injuries from jumping off of cliffs and rolling down rocky terrain, as well as near death from an Al Queda group in the midst of a small village in the mountains. And that is because of the care and protection of a ‘local’ man and his son, following the teaching of their religion which calls for its followers to protect at all costs a man from his enemies.

In the movie, when the soldiers were first found on the mountaintop overlooking the village by a small group of farmers including children, there was some discussion about what they should do with the group. It was Luttrell who, in opposition to others in his squad, stood up for humane treatment of the people, stating that it was not right to kill innocent unarmed civilians, needless to say, children in order to protect themselves from potential future harm, the possibility of one of them tipping off Al Queda of their whereabouts. The squad leader eventually agreed with Luttrell and let the men and children go. As feared, a young man in that group did tip off Al Queda leaders which caused the ambush. But miraculously Luttrell survived unbelievable odds until Mohammad Gulab (real name) and his son found him and took him to their village for safety. Mohammed and his people argued just as the Seals had up on the mountain whether it was too dangerous for them to keep him, as they too would become targets of Al Queda for helping the US. But like Luttrell, Mohammed also chose to protect this unknown wounded US soldier at great risk to himself and his family. Both men made humane choices and both would face consequences.

The two men seemed to be worlds apart in culture and religion, but turned out to be very similar when it came to matters of the heart. A message finally got through to the US base headquarters of their location and Luttrell was rescued by fellow US Seals. In the last scene Luttrell, being carried out by his fellow soldiers, turned and looked at Mohammed and his son and said “Thank You”. The son then ran up to him to embrace him and say good-bye. At the conclusion of the movie, displayed on the screen was a picture of a reunion of Marcus Luttrell and Mohammed Gulab in 2010.

The last scene of the two men looking at each other, everything stripped away between them but life itself, remains so vivid in my memory. And I can’t help but think that seeing another as part of our own humanity is what Marcus and Mohammed experienced because they both chose love and life over hate, self preservation, and death in those crucial moments in their lives. Their beliefs on killing and violence were circumstantially selective as the movie depicts, but the beauty of even their one choice was powerful and moving, showing two men who might have become enemies bonded for life by acts of love.

This over riding sense of humanity and the desire to choose love over hate is what I believe Joshua not only experienced in his interrogation booth in Iraq while talking with the young Jihadist, but finally saw as the heart and soul of the Christian message. When he saw himself in this young man, it was then that he realized that ‘enemy’ is a man-made label and it only has the power and meaning we give to it. How we define it is the difference between life and death and a more violent or a more peaceful world. When Jesus said to “love our enemies, and pray for those who persecute us”, he did so knowing that man is not capable of doing so outside of the grace of God. He commanded us to do the impossible so it would draw us to Him in deeper and stronger ways causing us to become more like Him. It takes divine enlightenment and transformation to enable us to make the hard choices of love.

The movie was exceedingly inspiring and caused me to reflect on this truth and question:

Where would we be if God was like us?

“And while we were yet sinners (enemies of God) Christ died for us” (all of us)

Joshua looked beyond his reputation, acceptance, and even safety to follow Christ’s teachings, taking Him at his word to lay down the sword and choose to love becoming a peacemaker. Taking unpopular stands makes us vulnerable and open to the unknown as it did for Marcus Luttrell, Mohammed Gulab, and Joshua. And yet they all experienced a freedom that no one can ever take away…and that is the freedom to love…whether it ends up saving our life or costs us our life…But in the end we are assured that…

“Love never fails”

Love to you all,

August 27, 2016 - 7:03 AM

Helen Schwietert - Thank you for sharing this with us.

August 27, 2016 - 12:51 PM

emily - Hi Kristi ~ I drive by your house several times a day and God often brings you to my heart. I am driving by because I am taking my son to and from activities… I can’t imagine how you must miss Joshua. It only seems fitting that God would put you on my heart during those drives. I’m so sorry to gather that you are struggling so physically. I will pray for you. I don’t know if you recall me writing to you last year. I am a member at Maranatha and I know you have several friends in our body. I also stopped by your sale a couple of years ago and introduced myself. I just wanted to let you know that Joshua’s life, through your writings, has impacted me as well. Be blessed, sweet sister in Christ ~ emily

August 30, 2016 - 6:23 PM

Stacey - I appreciate you theme of “love”. I feel it is a message often lost in the noise of daily life and politics. And, I feel sad to be the one to share the following with you under these circumstances. But I think we need to be honest with ourselves and eachother if we are to truly love one another, and better describe who Joshua was and how we can just be good and kind people – to recommit and find resolve in our walk with Christ despite the tragedies that test and can even break the strongest of us.

Marcus Luttrell abandon Mohammad Gulab (the man that saved his life) and lobbied to block his asylum to the US. It’s hard to accept, and I imagine more so as the fictional story seems to have brought you a degree of clarity and peace. The book and the movie “Lone Survivor” were made to solicit the kind of emotions that caused you to draw comparisons to Joshua. It is unfortunate, because “Lone Survivor” was written by an author of military fiction, and both the book and movie are largely a fictional and politically bias account of what occurred. The only stand Marcus Luttrell has made since deciding to move forward with telling his sea story, is for himself (even as he as he stood on stage for Donald Trump). And, the only person who took an unpopular stand was Mohammad Gulab (a Muslim) who chose the path untraveled, who saw Luttrell as a fellow human, and who put his livelihood, life, and his family’s lives at risk to rescue, shelter, and protect Marcus Luttrell. The Luttrells tried to bribe Gulab for his silence about what actually happened. They lobbied to have Gulab’s asylum blocked. And yet, this Muslim man from Afghanistan would still choose to save Luttrell if he had to do it all over again. Learning how to be Christ like through the kindness of a Muslim. There is some thick irony in that. Marcus has no love for Gulab, and yet Gulab has love for Marcus. There is a degree of irony in the truth of this story that makes you realize why we can’t find more peace in this world. If we are to call ourselves Christian, how often do we look in the mirror, reflect on our own actions and lives, and resist casting stones or cutting off those in need?

On a side note, “Demon Camp” is very self-indulgent and largely fictional piece of writing. You had a emotional reaction to two fictional stories designed to solicit those very emotions. I feel like they both may have helped you cope with understanding Joshua’s life and/or death. But I find it very dishonest, and destructive to being true to both yourself and Christ, if we draw anything from these stories as if they represent reality.

I don’t know anything about Joshua to be fair, but I would like to think he is nothing like Marcus Luttrell, and a lot like Mohammad Gulab. God Bless.

September 11, 2016 - 12:39 PM

jennifer rasin denniston - Hi,
I taught Josh at U of Iowa. He was in my freshman rhetoric class. I am looking to reach out to his parents or siblings — if they are reading this, could you please contact me? Thank you.

My Day with Robert

As promised I am writing to let you all in on the very special day I had with Joshua’s friend, Robert, whom we decided to honor this year with our “Love in Action” initiative which we began on the first anniversary of Joshua’s passing.  “Love in Action” so fits what Joshua was all about in his desire to make his faith real by living it out in very relevant ways.  And it is that same desire which we hope always defines the Joshua Casteel Foundation. So this year we decided to attempt to make life a little easier and a bit more fun for this friend who Joshua knew in high school and who faced some very real challenges in life.

I picked Robert up on a sunny afternoon at the assisted living residence he calls home.  I was somewhat prepared for a change in his appearance as I hadn’t seen him for several years.  I remembered that he was taller than Joshua, but when I saw him walk into the room where I stood I was more than shocked.  It seemed as if he had grown another 5 inches.  I told him so and he replied, “I don’t know, maybe I did”, and then smiled as he gave me a hug like I haven’t had in a long time.  It felt very good.

I also met the man who supervises the men who live in the home and I cleared with him as I had Robert’s mom that this would be a safe and allowable mode of transportation for him.  He thought it would be fine IF we could find a bike big enough for Robert.  I replied that I was sure there must be a bike out there for Robert and together we’d find it.

As we drove away from his home we had not been in the car but a few minutes when Robert said, “I really miss Josh”.    He says this every time we talk, oftentimes several times within one conversation.  This time in response, however, I asked him what he missed most.  He responded, “Everything, but mostly because we talked a lot.”   The feeling in his words made the hole left in his life feel almost tangible.

Strangely enough there is something almost comforting in his admission of the loss he feels each time we talk because I know how genuine his words are and I feel comforted knowing that I’m in the presence of someone who (unfortunately) shares the same deep grief because of his absence.   Such a strange paradox in life.  We talked a bit more about his life now and some of the struggles he faces on a day to day basis until we reached the store.   As I began preparation to exit the car I could tell he wasn’t ready to stop our conversation, so we sat out in the parking lot and talked for awhile longer.  I know he also understands loneliness and I tried to lesson his just a little.

We then went into the store and looked at all the bikes and sure enough they had two 29″ bikes for him to choose from.  I asked him which one he wanted and he said, “I want you to choose”.  This repeated itself with everything we bought including a bike helmet, lights, a padded seat cover, and a lock .  I gave my opinion, but followed it up with, “Is this the one you like the best?”   I so wanted him to pick out exactly what he wanted, but I realized that might not be something he was capable of doing in this situation.  We checked out and wheeled the bike out to the car, and miraculously it fit into my car, something I had failed to think about until my drive to his house to pick him up, a little too late to change plans!  A week earlier I would not have been able to physically pick up the bike with Robert’s help or maneuver it into the car, because of neck pain.  God’s provision and timing were perfect.

I dropped Robert off and we unloaded the bike, showing his supervisor all that we had gotten.  Robert was smiling with that shy smile of his while expressing his thanks to me over and over.  He walked over to me to hug me and say good bye.  The hug was very very long.  He pulled away, thanked me yet once more, and hugged me long again.  And then the same, two more times.  I must have heard twenty “thank you’s” before we said our very last goodbyes.

I drove away with tears in my eyes, feeling a little closer to Joshua in the moment, and thanked God that He had brought Robert into our lives.

When I got home I heard my cell phone beep.  It was a text from Robert.  “Thank you for the bike.”


Today, the 25th of August, will have been three years since Joshua left this life for another, one that will have no end and is beyond any and all of our imaginations. He is without pain, sorrow, fear, or anything that would make his world less than perfect. How very hard it is to conceive of that as we attempt to go on in a world where sorrow, fear and death reigns in most parts of our planet. We hear or see glimpses in the news of the hatred, anger, and death around our globe where children have never seen nor cannot even imagine a world of peace where love and compassion are a part of common existence. Instead, parents have to watch them die, some through starvation while others become the victims of horrendous acts of savagery. Hatred, violence, and war are realities that these children and their families live with or die because of daily.

Joshua saw and experienced a small portion of this insanity and it not only changed his life forever, but took it as well. He became part of the collateral damage that the military talks of as the unfortunate necessity of war. He was not a civilian, but collateral damage never the less. We all know that this aspect of war is understated at best but more often than we would like to admit, the collateral damage incurred in war is a result of direct decisions made by the institution that had committed to protect their own as well as innocent civilians.. This was Joshua’s experience as well as thousands of others who lived and worked near the burn pits and were exposed to depleted uranium as well. As far as all those affected by war around the world hundreds of thousands to millions of people have become part of war’s collateral damage. Unfortunately there are more than I ever imagined in my company, a mother who had to watch her child die. Those of us who have experienced this tragedy knows that time seems to stop the moment we had to say goodbye, never to have the same relevancy in our lives again.

As others in my situation oftentimes say, “It seems like three days and yet thirty years ago all at the same time since going through the trauma of our loss. I understand that. Three days because the pain is still so raw and deep. Thirty years because it seems that long since I’ve seen his great smile or been able to talk with him face to face. But then again It feels like a hundred years since I’ve been able to hug him and hear him say “Hey Mamma”, his somewhat humorous but affectionate name for me. And harder yet, it feels like forever before I will be able to be with him again.

I know when I get to heaven and all the years of sorrow are behind me, my life and the sorrow and pain that filled it will actually appear to me as only a moment in time. That’s a promise from God that I believe fully and am so thankful for. But at present I’m still on this side of ‘forever after’ and locked within the bonds of time, so that very real ‘forever after’ still feels like an illusion, because I’ve not yet experienced it. That is simply reality and what I and so many others around the world live with day in and day out. I’m sure that sounds depressing and very honestly that part is at times. But thankfully that’s not all there is. (“We grieve but not as without hope.”)

But I have to remember that not everyone has the hope I live with which breaks my heart. I don’t know how they go on. The last few months have been hard for me for many reasons, besides the countdown to August 25th. I won’t go into all the reasons why, but two things have taken place this week that have given me yet another glimpse of that ‘hope’ we have in Christ, causing me to feel very grateful for the life I’ve been given.

This gratefulness exists in part because of what Joshua left behind He didn’t own much of anything besides books, ( lots of them), clothes, some keepsakes, and a truck. He was a graduate student when he was diagnosed with cancer. The truck went back to the bank, the clothes that I didn’t give away still hang in my closet or fill his suitcases, and the books, all still in boxes, fill up a big portion of the storage room in my basement. The books were some of his favorite earthly treasures. And the best part of them, somewhat like the body and the soul, he took to heaven with him (in his mind and heart), while their ‘bodies’ stayed behind in my basement. If you knew Joshua well at all you’ll understand the correlation.

So with possessions not of much consequence, the only other thing of real significance that he could have left behind is that which is not material, and can’t be seen or touched in a material kind of way. It is simply a ‘legacy of love’ possible only because of people and relationships that made his life meaningful and also gave him the opportunity to give and receive love. During his illness and after his death there were more people than we could have ever imagined that responded with love for him while also expressing appreciation for what Joshua had meant to them. We experienced that ‘circle of love’ throughout his illness and right up to his passing, finding out how powerful love is. It moved, inspired, and even helped to hold broken hearts together. People and love…the two most important things we can acquire, we found out, made him a very rich young man in life. And as heir to his ‘estate’ I have been the very fortunate recipient of those riches.

This week I had life changing experiences with five of the people from his ‘circle of love’ who continue to impact my life in deep and positive ways, which also allows me to feel something of the life of my son in the here and now. At first glance one might look at the external appearances of these five people and quickly categorize one as “the least of these” and the other four as “the best of these”. And in the way that Jesus pointed out this difference in the scriptures I suppose we could say that it is true of these five men. Four were given many gifts to use in this world while the one was given mostly obstacles in terms of his ability to succeed in making a living or impacting the world with the gifts and talents admired by our success driven culture.

The four are Joshua’s best friends whom he met while studying at Oxford in England while in college. Being young men of similar minds (intelligent and creative) and heart (all hold a strong faith in God) the connection was immediate for Joshua and a true gift from God. They created a strong bond that lasted until his death, and I might add to this day. They all serve on the Joshua Casteel Foundation Board. They are writers and lawyers, college professors and pre-med students. We could easily say that they are all succeeding in using their gifts well and are a success in their careers and in life.

The fifth young man I interacted with this week, Joshua met and befriended in high school. His name is Robert and he is a special needs young man who is two years older than Joshua. I believe I’m correct in saying that Joshua was one of the few good male friends he had in high school and most certainly the best friend he had during those years. They would talk often and we were able as a family to get to know him somewhat, thus seeing his fun sense of humor as well as his soft heart. He had a saying that he would often repeat to Joshua when he felt Joshua had something good happen in his life. He would say in his very genuine and yet funny way, “lucky… duck”, drawing the words out for emphasis. We all loved to hear his endearing tease and it became something we said to each other as well for fun and recollection of Robert.

I’m not quite sure when Robert’s faith journey began but he ended up attending the same church as our family attended during their high school years. He lived with his mother for many years and at present he is residing in a semi-assisted living situation and has a part time job. He is oftentimes sad or bored when I talk with him now. Joshua’s death hit him very hard. It is sometimes hard to understand his words, especially on the phone, where words can sound muffled and unclear. I imagine some may look at him in pity or silently give thanks that they are not in his position in life. A few may even make fun of him. And it might be hard for some people to say that he is succeeding in life. But, I have a very different opinion.

From the outside looking in, Joshua’s four college buddies and his high school friend seem to be on opposite ends of the spectrum of life, but if one looks closer he or she might see that they are much more alike than they might appear at first glance. And in fact all five have something very powerful in common. I’m quite certain that they will ‘all’ leave what Joshua left behind when they leave this world, a very powerful ‘Legacy of Love’. (the kind of love we read about in the Bible)

“Love is patient, love is kind, is not jealous or boastful, it is not arrogant or rude. Love does not insist on it’s own way, it is not resentful or irritable, it does not rejoice in wrongdoing but rejoices in the right. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends.” (1st Corinthians 13: 4-7)

Most of us who read that chapter in the scriptures usually walk away feeling fairly small in our attempt at achieving that kind of love. And I’m not suggesting that all of these guys epitomize this description of divine love. There was only one man who walked this earth who could fill those shoes. And He still died on a cross shamed as a common criminal. But I will say that each one has exhibited many of those qualities over the time that I have known them and in particular this last week in relationship to me. Let me explain.

As a board for the JC Foundation we have to make many decisions concerning Joshua’s life and legacy. And after a year or two of meetings I began to feel a certain attitude coming from the four guys towards me relating to our decisions about Joshua’s image. It surfaced again as we were discussing an issue concerning the republication of his book, ‘Letters from Abu Ghraib’. So after what I felt had been a long period of time involving a series of things said that i felt justified my feelings, I decided to write the guys a letter. And I did so, in a direct and justifying way, asking for clarification of their feelings or respect for my opinions and the realization that I wanted the same things that they did. It was a rather strong letter and I was a little apprehensive in sending a confrontational e-mail, as we had not had any real problems up to that point. But as I told them, they meant too much to me to let resentment begin to build and ultimately hurt our relationships.

It took only a few hours for the first response to my letter to come back to me. He began his response by ‘thanking me’ for trusting them all enough to be honest with them about my feelings! The next thing he did was express his love for me. And then he went on to say that he was sorry that I had been feeling the way I had, but it was not how he felt about me or my attitudes and he didn’t know of any feelings from the other guys that would substantiate how I was feeling. There were more thoughts expressed and also helpful suggestions for the issues we were discussing concerning the book that really helped me see some things in a different light.

My offended heart melted immediately and I was so touched by his letter that I felt the effects for days. First Corinthians love… he had hit about four or five of its qualities in the first two sentences in his reply to me. I immediately felt an inward rebuke that it was I that had missed an important quality of love in my interactions with them… “love is kind and “believes all things” or in other translations “believes the best of others.” His response made me look at my own heart and realize that I didn’t “assume the best” about them. I could have just shared my feelings with them and simply ‘ask’ if what I was perceiving was accurate. That would have been much ‘kinder’ and would have offered respect and trust. I experienced the power of love from his words to me. It built me up and made me feel valuable and heard, but it also caused me to look at my own heart and learn.

The Power of Love

The 2nd response came about a week later. He had been out of town. His response was equally as gracious. He expressed sadness over the fact that I had been carrying the feelings I had and apologized for anything he had done to cause them. He also expressed his love for me and then went on to discuss the issues with the book in a way that did not demean my ideas nor did he try to defend his opinions. “Love is patient, love is kind, it is not arrogant, and does not seek it’s own”.

Then came my third response which was every bit as kind and gracious as the other two. He also expressed his love as well as acknowledging that he would never assume to know Joshua like I do as his mother and that he would always want to defer to me when it came to issues pertaining to him. He then reiterated how fortunate he felt to be a part of Joshua’s foundation. While I never want to depend solely on my own opinions in our decisions for the Foundation, I so appreciated the love and respect he gave to me in his response. Again, “Love is patient, love is kind, is not resentful, arrogant or boastful”.

By then I was feeling heartbroken that I had not trusted them, and that I had forgotten who they were as people, men of great kindness and integrity. My repentant heart led me to apologize to all of them. And refreshing my memory of who I had known them to be gave me a renewed sense of gratitude to God for the friends He had given to Joshua and then to me. Their love took me from feeling offended and distrusting to grateful and convinced of their love and respect for me. I could do nothing but thank God for the amazing relationships I am blessed to have with these four remarkable men, part of the riches Joshua left behind. I’m sure Joshua is smiling as he sees that I now know them even better and can see them as he does.

The power of Love!

A few days later Joshua’s friend from high school called me while I was doing some work on the computer. When I explained that to him he said, “Well, I’ll call you later then”. About ten to fifteen minutes later he called back. And to be honest I felt a little frustrated at being interrupted again. But just then I could ‘feel’ Joshua and almost hear his words. “It’s important that you talk to him, Mom”. So I began to talk with him and he told me that he was a little depressed and bored. And as usual he asked how I was doing, and said that he was praying for me. And then like always, he asked about each of the girls and reminded me that he was praying for them as well. We talked about it being the month that Joshua passed away, and he added that like me, it is a hard month for him as well. He reiterated again just how much he misses Joshua. We shared our grief together and I told him I’d be praying for him too.

After talking for about fifteen or twenty minutes, I thought I heard him say that he would be praying for me (again) and I responded with how much I appreciated his prayers. But he replied, “No, I mean, Can I pray for you right now”?

A little surprised I responded, “Yes, Robert, please do”. I was heartened but mostly humbled because it is something that he has done on other occasions. After he prayed for me and my family I prayed for him. And then we said our goodbyes.

As I have mentioned, it is oftentimes hard for me to understand Robert on the phone, BUT NOT WHEN HE PRAYS! I heard every deeply personal, specific, and sweet request he made to God for me and on our behalf as a family of three women. (and their families). Once again I was humbled and so touched by the love of this sweet young man who has stayed in touch with me since Joshua passed away, always reminding me of his prayers for me. This time, however, I realized how precious and needed his prayers really were, especially during this difficult month, but also because of the many months of physical pain that I had been going through. I was more discouraged than I had realized.

When I heard Joshua say, “It’s important that you talk with him”, I have to admit I felt it was probably for his sake, because his life is so hard and there are so few people in it. But after that call I realized how important the call was for me as well and all that Robert has to offer me, a compassionate, genuinely caring heart, with a childlike faith in God, that Jesus Himself said is “precious in the sight of God”. And might I add, his is a life that has meaning and love that is powerful.

The Power of Love

Jesus said, “When you do this unto the least of these, you do it unto Me”. I wonder when I think about that verse if the poor, the disabled, or the mentally challenged are really “the least of these”…especially when it comes to Love.? Who really are “the least of these”? I have to say that after I hung up the phone that morning I felt like it was me. I didn’t offer to pray for Robert first. He led me in the right way! He was my teacher. Robert doesn’t have a high profile job, he can’t drive a car, and he has a select few friends, but when it comes to love, he has it all. Like Joshua, he is rich in what matters. And he shared his riches freely and genuinely with me just as Joshua’s other four friends had. They all loved in their own ways.

As I reflected on all that had happened as a result of the phone calls with Robert I also realized a prayer had been answered. I was inspired to do something that I might not have thought about without talking to Robert that day. I had been thinking of a way to honor Joshua on August 25th by giving to others and showing love, something we started doing on the first anniversary of his passing which helped transform a very dark day in many people’s lives into a celebration of who he was and a realization that his life and love will still go on. And as a result of my conversations with Robert about his transportation, which is walking for him, I decided that it might be helpful and fun for him to have a bike to ride around town. So I mentioned the possibility to him and he said that he would like that, but that he would also need a helmet. He’s not only loving but also wise!!

So, hopefully on August 25th we will go on a bike and helmet purchasing expedition and the pictures will follow this writing. (If by chance that day doesn’t work out, keep a look-out in the next week or so for the pictures).

I can think of no better way to honor Joshua this August 25th than to continue doing what he did while he was on earth, loving others… from his friends to the Jihadist prisoner claiming to be his enemy. It was a heart of love and compassion that led Joshua to live the life he did while on this earth and the message I believe he wants us to continue to share with our words and our actions.

One way I’ve chosen to do that is to extend love to his friend Robert with a special gift and honor the love that he gives to those around him. In addition I know Joshua stands with me as I express my love and appreciation for his other four friends by honoring them as the men of God that they are and that he knows them to be. The JC Foundation will become what it is meant to be because of the bricks of love they have laid as its ‘foundation’.

So, thank you, Joseph, Jacob, Chad, Tim, and Robert! I love you all.

And thank you to all of Joshua’s friends and family whose love has continued on in many and various ways from that first dark day to the present. You have all shown clearly;