Joe Castillo Bio
"Art can steal past the watchful dragons." – C.S. Lewis
It all began innocently enough. A simple “honey do” list sent Joe Castillo to his local home improvement store. But Joe has always been able to see beyond the mundane. With his church’s upcoming Easter service on his mind, Joe strode through the aisles wondering how he could tell the story of Christ’s resurrection in a fresh, new way. As he made his way down the sand aisle, he noticed a bag had opened and spilled on the concrete floor. Shoppers had scuffled through the sand, leaving lines and patterns. “I found myself dragging the toe of my sneaker through the sand,” recalls Joe. “I made it home with my ‘honey do’ list, but I also had a bag of sand, a kitchen light fixture, a piece of glass, and four table legs. And a SandStory was born.”
That ordinary "honey-do" trip was the catalyst that eventually took Joe into the living rooms of over 23 million viewers around the world as a finalist on the hit television show, America’s Got Talent in 2012. It was an experience of both highs and lows for Joe, who admits, there were some daunting moments.
“Being given only 90 seconds per Sand Story challenged me to condense some of my favorites,” says Joe. “The show also had final say on my content and they limited my ability to share my faith openly with the more Christian-themed Sand Stories that I wanted to use. But the response from viewers was always very positive and encouraging.”
Despite the obstacles, as the weeks on the show went by, Joe realized his original desire had already been fulfilled. He was using his talents to draw more people to God.
“Being on television was never a dream of mine,” admits Joe. “I know that fame and visibility comes with a price. It is the responsibility of living your life in a way that will honor Christ. But the exposure from America’s Got Talent has increased the number of people that would like to know me and have a minute or two of my time. One night in the green room as we waited for our dress rehearsal, I struck up a conversation with about ten of the young kids in the dance group ‘The Untouchables.’ The discussion began with them wondering why I had eight different Bible apps on my phone. It continued for an hour with questions about different religions, why God allowed evil, how did Noah get all the animals in the ark and what a person needed to do to have eternal life. It was the kind of opportunity that never would have come about were it not for this journey that God has ordained in my life. Right before they went on for their final performance, one of the young men in the group asked if they could pray before they went out. That was a special highlight of the whole America’s Got Talent experience for me.”
Born in Mexico City, Joe was strongly influenced by his artistic family and the international art community. His mother taught painting, and his father owned a graphic design and display company. By age five, he was enrolled in his mom’s art class for the neighborhood children. By the time he was eight, his father was teaching Joe to hand letter brush script. Then, at fourteen, he attended an artist’s chalk talk at a Christian youth camp in Mexico. Joe was so moved by the drawing and the powerful message that he accepted Christ that night. A year later, Joe’s dad passed away and his family moved back to the U.S. where Joe finished high school and enrolled in Florida Bible College, earning his Bachelor’s degree in Bible. Joe combined his love for writing, teaching, and art to create what he called a WordStory and soon began speaking regularly at youth camps and churches, becoming a favorite of Youth Specialties’ events. His ability to speak both English and Spanish also helped extend his reach into places where others could not go.
Joe hesitantly began using his talents in commercial arts, and started an advertising agency which he built over the course of 20 years. But after his first wife died of breast cancer, Joe reassessed his life, gave up his agency and went back to school, graduating from Asbury Seminary with his Master of Divinity. He became a pastor and started to teach scripture using an ArtStory technique, telling stories and incorporating scripture while drawing on a 4’ X 8’ canvas. His most well-known drawing, “The Face of Christ,” uses scenes of Jesus’ life to form His face. The drawing became a favorite gift item for Christian retailers worldwide, selling more than one million copies on plaques, prints and greeting cards.
Joe has created SandStory performances for Fortune 500 companies such as CBS, Walt Disney Company, NBC, Mercedes-Benz, P&G, and Apple as well as over thirty other corporations. And though he has used his talents to entertain world leaders in more than 18 countries around the globe, Joe remains humble and appreciative of the opportunities he has been given.
“I believe that everyone has within them the gift of divine creativity,” says Joe. “It is not always manifested throughout the arts on a stage, but it always begins with the willingness to share the gift with people within your sphere of influence. If you share first with your family, your neighbor, your coworker, fellow student or friends, the stage can expand. If you deepen your relationship with God and share what He gives you, He will expand your ministry.”
As more doors open for Joe to impart his unique talents, he admits he didn’t always understand God’s timing. But he now looks back and realizes that even when he was taking part-time jobs airbrushing t-shirts, God was directing his path, allowing him to hone his skills and preparing him for bigger things.
“Despite the fact that I was an artist,” says Joe, “it took me a long time to realize how powerful the arts were in being able to inspire, reach and heal people who were in need. As I began using art in ministry, I discovered the response was always greater when I could tell the story using visuals rather than words. I am now convinced that, ‘Art can be the finger of God that touches the soul.’”
Sand Story artist Joe Castillo