Two years ago on a very sad day in August, as Joshua lay sick and dying in a hospital in New York City, a very special woman who also bore cancer in her body and whom Joshua and I were extremely privileged to meet and eventually call our good friend said to me: “We both know who Joshua is, how he has lived his life, and the faith that has grounded him throughout his life. If we know there is something beyond our life here and Someone is in charge of the plan that decides when we get to begin the new life we’re promised, then we can never say that we ‘lost our battle’ to cancer. Cancer is only the vehicle God may use to bring us home. It was how Joshua lived his life that enabled him to win the victory over cancer before it ever invaded his body. Cancer is actually irrelevant in the assessment of our lives or our deaths, if we look through the lens of what we know to be true.”
There is no doubt that Joshua’s personal victories were a result of free gifts from God, of faith and grace, which empowered him to do what he did. Whether it be in Iraq facing his supposed enemy and choosing to see him as a man in need of redemption and love no different than himself, writing and speaking about the true nature of God’s design for his creation achieved through faith, hope, and love helping to produce true justice and peace, or ultimately winning his personal and final battle demonstrating great courage in the face of great suffering and ultimately death. It is that grace put into action and fueled by the passion of love that we want to see carried on through the Joshua Casteel Foundation.
Since Joshua’s death we have seen God use his life and legacy to carry on the work that he so passionately lived out while he was still with us. We are currently working with a publishing company to publish a second version of Letters from Abu Ghraib and hope to reach a new and expanded audience. Stanley Hauerwas has agreed to write an additional forward which we are very excited about.
We are also beginning negotiations with a young composer in the UK who is interested in turning Joshua’s first play, Returns, into an opera. This will be an extremely creative, interesting, and exciting project to see come to life.
In addition, we have reached out to an excellent organization called Preemptive Love Coalition that has been on the ground in Iraq for years. PLC provides lifesaving surgeries for children with major heart defects caused from the many environmental hazards of war. Their motto is, “Pursuing peace, one heart at a time”. We are very interested in their philosophy of loving unconditionally those who agree with us and those who don’t. In Jeremy Courtney’s words, “Love first and ask questions, later”. Jeremy, the co-founder of PLC, is Joshua’s age and how I wish they could have met!! Whether it is PLC or other organizations on the ground in Iraq, we plan to become involved in projects that will continue to aid the Iraqi people. This would be a specific dream of Joshua’s realized, thus hopefully bringing about a measure of reconciliation.
I have also recently been contacted by a writer friend of Joshua’s from the University of Iowa who is interested in writing an article for a major magazine about the military’s use of burn pits, using his story. We’re very happy to see that the issue of the burn pits and its effects on soldiers has not gone away yet and we very much appreciate the opportunity to help her in her efforts to raise awareness. We continue to believe that enough public awareness and pressure put on those responsible for their existence will bring their use to an end. It is certainly still one of our goals.
Lastly we are in the process of setting up a new and informative website that will serve our interested supporters and onlookers in a more concise and organized way. We hope it will be inspirational, educational, and informative, as well as offer ways for you to get involved in helping to change the world in ways you never thought possible … to become dreamers with us, following in Joshua’s footsteps.
I have lately come to the realization that it is Joshua’s generation that is bringing a genuine, powerful, fresh, and deeply compassionate vision back to the church with an inclusive love that Jesus himself taught much more clearly than we have focused on for generations. And I see a fearless but passionate commitment to live out, rather than just preach, the truth of Christ in a way that has real power to change people and ultimately the world. But it is hard and demands sacrifice and oftentimes suffering. And yet I oftentimes still find myself feeling overwhelmed and afraid to move out into arenas that I’m unfamiliar with, especially at this stage of my life. And yet I have to ask myself: “Isn’t this the heritage of the ‘church alive’ that I long for and what I want my life’s legacy to be as well, regardless of the cost?”
With all of the above goals in mind our first official fund raising letter will soon be sent out to draw into our circle those people who also have a desire to follow through with such dreams and the works that Joshua had to leave unfinished but that we now have the opportunity to carry on.
So we hope this August 25th (the second anniversary of Josh’s death) you will maybe take some time to think about Joshua and the passions you shared to see the world become a more loving place. We also hope you take the time to ask yourself (and God) if you feel called to join us as we endeavor to bring hope and help to those in need and make the dreams of helping to create peace and justice in the world more of a reality. Joshua was very convinced that he could not achieve his dreams alone, that he needed community to help him on his journey. And we are convinced as well that it will take each of us doing our part – but doing it together – to see the world change.
Lastly, on August 25th in memory of and upon reflection of Joshua’s life and your relationship with him, I want to invite everyone who would like to join us to release balloons up to the heavens. And if you so wish tie on a personal note to Joshua or maybe your dreams or commitment of what you hope to do to bring about change in the world. If you do decide to take part in the balloon release it would be wonderful to receive pictures from you so we can post them as encouragement to everyone who may see them. Posting on Facebook would be great as well.
In the same way that our friend refused to look at her cancer as something that she would ‘lose her life to’, I believe Joshua refused to lose his life to mediocrity or in the end believe that he ‘lost’ at all. Rather he believed his suffering and death served a purpose and we hope to continue to carry out that purpose. I hope you’ll join us in doing so.
I want to end this annual tribute to Joshua by linking to a song that I used in a talk I gave at a peace conference in Maryland where I chronicled his life and the heart of a ‘peacemaker’. The song, so worth listening to, encourages us all to move beyond our comfort zone in faith and ‘refuse to play it safe or do nothing’. I hope it inspires you and brings back fond memories of your encounters with Joshua.
It’s entitled “I Refuse”…by Josh Wilson: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6B1Lv8k5pEc