Denise Castillo was seeking God, but she didn’t know how to find Him.
Raised in a non-practicing Vietnamese Buddhist home, her parents accepted her decision to seek out her own faith.
She went through her high school and college years like any other Orange County teenager – getting into a little trouble, but mainly just trying to find where she belonged.
But inside, Denise wanted more. A few of her attempts at seeking God fell flat. “I had attended a student led ministry in high school called ‘Rebels for Christ’ but it did not answer my questions. In fact, it left me with more questions. ‘What do these kids know, that I don’t?” She continued her pursuit during her college years, studying World Religions, hoping to find answers to her questions.
All this left her more confused than ever. After college, she married her high school boyfriend and started a family. It wasn’t until her second daughter was born that disillusionment really took hold. “I was overwhelmed as a working mom with a toddler and newborn. I was angry and carried so much resentment for my husband. I felt that I carried most of the responsibilities in our family and the pressure was getting to me,” she said. “We were like strangers living in the same house.” Divorce papers were signed, but not yet mailed.
During the holidays, when family, happiness and laughter filled the air, Denise was broken, afraid and alone. With little other options, Denise turned to prayer. Wanting to give Christianity a fighting chance, she decided to pray and ask the God of the Bible to show her 5 things. “I prayed, ‘God, if you’re real and if there is ANY hope left in my marriage, I need 5 things: 1). Find me a church that I can call home where I can entrust my children in 2) Teach me about Jesus and who He really is; 3) Save my marriage and let us love one another again; 4) Help with our finances and give us peace; and 5) Bring me to a decision about You.”
Not knowing what to expect, she thought, “How is He going to answer my prayers?” So many questions bombarded her. She decided to hold off mailing the envelope. That’s when the craziness started. “I was looking online for churches and ran across something about Eastside Church in Fullerton moving into a new building, so I told my husband, let’s give this a chance.” The first two events they attended were a concert and a Christmas program, what happened next caught Denise’s full attention. “In the first series of that year, the stage was set up as a courtroom and ‘A Case for Christ’ was the theme. Pastor Gene delivered a powerful message with compelling evidence of Jesus’ existence and who He is, not just who He was.” Denise held her breath in amazement at God’s answer to her about Jesus. “So this is Jesus,” she thought to herself in excitement.
She knew she wanted to know more about Jesus. She decided to make Eastside her church home and, miraculously, finally she and her husband were on the same page and agreed. The next series was called “For Better, Not Worse”. Learning the meaning of the biblical blessings of a marriage, it compelled Denise and her husband to renew their wedding vows as a symbol of a new beginning. The next series included the opportunity for children dedications where Denise and her husband once again came together and knew that they wanted their young daughters to follow Christ. Soon after, Financial Peace University was being offered at Eastside. “How could this be?” Denise thought to herself. This was too much of a coincidence to be called a coincidence. “How could all of my prayers be answered in the exact order that I prayed them?”
But even with all this spinning around her, Denise wasn’t yet 100% sure that it was real. “I felt bad that even though I was seeing all this proof of God at this big, wonderful church, I needed Him to be real to me – in a more personal way. So I asked Him to show me one more thing.”
She prayed, “God, give me an encounter with an animal that is something I don’t see every day.” Thinking this was silly, she eventually forgot about the prayer and went on with her life. Then, one day in her backyard, a huge yellow and black butterfly came fluttering toward her and she thought, “You don’t look like you belong here, little fellow!” It wasn’t until a few days later that she realized this was the answer to her prayer.
But doubt returned and her husband was not as impressed as she was with this small miracle. So she prayed again, “God, show my husband an unusual encounter with an animal too!”
Days later, a sparrow had flown into their house on a Saturday afternoon when they were all working in the backyard. Denise sent her husband in to coax it out and he used a small blanket to capture the creature. After he caught it, Denise and her daughters gathered around him to watch the bird. But instead of flying away, the bird stood contently in the palm of her husband’s hand and jumped up onto his finger. After that, the bird allowed him to pet him several times – they were all amazed, but nobody was more amazed then Denise. With tears in her eyes, she knew God was showing Himself to them.
Almost immediately after that, there was a Baptism service at Eastside with the theme, “Come as You Are.” They were baptized together that weekend, knowing that, although they weren’t perfect, God was making Himself real to them and they wanted more.
Denise is now singing on the worship team at Eastside and praising God for saving her marriage, her life and her soul. Denise is grateful and amazed, “Weird things continue to happen to me. I stopped calling them ‘weird moments’ and started calling them ‘Jesus moments,’ and I love to tell others about them and how real God is when you honestly ask Him to show Himself to you. I don’t believe in coincidences any more. Everything is on purpose.” She explained, “All these years of trying to understand religion! Reading, studying, questioning…… I didn’t need a religion, I needed a relationship.”