Agnus Dei

By Lindsay Casillas

In the summer of 2000, I came face-to-face with Jesus in the sweltering heat of a shack filled with Filipino orphans. They were following my voice and gestures to the VBS classic, “Deep and Wide.” Led to Southeast Asia to escape from a college break-up (and by a persuasive choir mission leader needing a soprano), I unexpectedly fell deeply in love with the mission field. The raw emotion, beauty, adventure, danger, and, quite frankly, the simplicity of living each day with the label of “missionary” lit my heart ablaze. For almost three months, I sang to deformed lepers, forgotten widows, beautiful orphans, and the mighty Christians who truly sacrificed everything for Christ…and they changed me. 

For years, I longed for the “spiritual adrenaline” that pulsated through my veins in Southeast Asia. When you arrive at a clearing in the journey of life and God meets you there in all of his glory, you want to stay and build that shelter Peter talked about on the mountain with the Bible heroes. I totally get him. 

Two years after Asia, I met an amazing, godly man, Tim (whom I would marry), and his friend Zach at a church in Southlake, Texas. The first time I saw my husband, I was leading worship and might have been slightly distracted when I saw him enter through the back doors of the church. Zach* was by his side that Sunday.

As Tim and I began to fall in love, I also began to learn more about his dear friend with a warm smile, big personality, love for Jesus, and gift of music. Zach and many of his family members were brought over to the U.S. from Thailand and settled on a large plot of land outside of Keller, Texas. Zach was only a baby when he moved, and grew up beneath the shadows and influence of a grand Buddhist monastery on the property. At home, he was accustomed to traditions and the culture from Southeast Asia, but at school where he met my husband, he had completely adapted, thrived in his environment as a popular athlete and musician, and was ultimately led to Christ by his friends.

Zach typically kept his two worlds separate. When he met me, however, I eagerly shared with him stories of the Christians in Southeast Asia who were also walking parallel paths between faith and culture. He slowly began to open up about his struggles in having to choose between the acceptance from the family he adored, and the transparency of his faith that could sever ties with them for eternity. Literally. Suddenly, I found myself back in the sweeping waters of a mission-land relationship, but not with the backdrop of jungles and smells of smoked egg and fish sauce, but in Southlake Town Square.

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Zach’s smile would light up the room; Zach’s gift of listening to others made him so special to many; Zach gave away his possessions to anyone he even slightly believed was in need; and Zach’s worship in authentic brokenness and thanks would give you chills. When I saw this young man, fluent in Thai and Lao, and wrestling with the Lord for his grace and will for his life, I saw someone who could lead his people to Christ. Over great meals, late night talks, game nights, and celebrations, Tim and I “did life” with Zach and dreamed of our futures. 

After witnessing the beautiful Julie (McQuitty) Rhodes float down the aisle in her wedding to “Agnus Dei,” I asked Zach to sing it in mine. I remember seeing him standing on the IBC stage under the spotlight and large cross, as his voice carried me down the aisle to join his childhood friend in marriage. I will never forget him in that light. “Agnus Dei” means “Lamb of God” in Latin; Zach had indeed been led and guarded by the true Lamb and ultimate Shepherd. 

Zach began pulling away from us after Tim and I were married. Though we reached out to him relentlessly, he was silent. We learned that, one day, some immigration oversights caught up with Zach, and despite the fact that he had spent almost his entire life in the States, he was deported back to Thailand. We finally reached Zach via text message, and he told us that in order to survive, he had become a monk. A monk! Our Jesus-loving, sports-car driving, poker-playing, all-American Zach was now wearing an orange robe in one of the ornate Buddhist temples I passed by on the Mekong River years before. He told me that while in isolation, he would text his friends in Texas, and pray to Jesus that he would get back home. 

Recently, his then-girlfriend shared with me that before Thailand, Zach asked for a song from Michael Bublé, “Home,” to be played at his funeral if he didn’t survive; the lyrics made him long for his true home with Jesus — the only place where he felt he truly belonged. Had he had a premonition? While I was beginning my career and praying for God to lead me to the right company, Zach was kneeling before foreign idols, praying to Jesus for spiritual and physical rescue. 

Zach was able to return to Texas, but when he did, he pushed his brothers and sisters in Christ away. His family says that he fell into depression and the trappings of alcoholism. When he discovered he had a heart condition, he failed to seek treatment. This past summer, at the age of thirty-six, while he was checking on a sick elder in the “village” (his childhood Buddhist community in the D/FW area), Zach sat down in a chair and instantly passed away.

His family reached out to the few of us that knew Zach before his deportation. They invited only four non-family members out to the village during their week of mourning, and the Holy Spirit was there. We turned on to the dusty road with the towering gold summit of the monastery on a Sunday night. It was the evening after Pastor Andy had preached about just “showing up,” and the Spirit would do all the heavy lifting. (I’m sure that the IBC family heard great, applicable truths from Andy’s sermon on the Holy Spirit that morning, but I’ll just go ahead and say that his words were actually, specifically for me.) With crouched monks in the warm, crowded house, gambling and whiskey on the porch, and the incredible smell of grilled food and Southeast Asian dishes cooking in the Texas heat, we entered into a space of spiritual warfare. 

Zach's family was so proud that he had become a monk in Thailand. The pictures, memories, chants, cremation and services were orchestrated to celebrate him as such. Even so, a young cousin of his, wearing a necklace with Buddha around her neck, pulled up a metal folding chair next to mine and said, "The best version of Zach, when he was most happy, was when he went to church. We are Buddhists. I want to know if you think he kept his Christian faith when he was a monk." 

(Andy, here it goes…) 

In his parent’s driveway, I told Zach’s family about his love for Jesus and for them.

It was at the same church, on the same stage where I first met my husband and Zach almost fifteen years before, where I sang the first part of “Agnus Dei” at his Christian memorial service. His girlfriend Ashley had organized it with those of us who knew him as a brother in Christ. He had sung this song for me, and now I was singing it for him. And the family he adored so much was hearing about the great love of Jesus. 

Since college, I have lamented the fact that my life has not returned me to the mission field in Southeast Asia, but I tell you that as I looked out at that group of Thai and Laotian American faces sitting in church pews, warmed by the Christ-light that their loved one had introduced in the shadows of their temple, I was amazed. This was Texas. God had brought the mission field to me. Zach’s testimony was finally heard, and I was singing, once again, to those who needed Jesus. 

It’s been a few months since Zach found his heavenly home. This fall, I will begin a new job as a sales executive in a multinational company with a global mission to improve the quality of life of senior citizens. At this point in my life, I am learning the hard, beautiful truth that we are not in control, that God, our great Shepherd, is the author of our mysterious stories, and his love is deeper and wider than we could ever imagine. I don’t have to be in a Filipino shack to be a missionary…at least for now. 

“‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you a hope and a future.” (Jeremiah 29:11)

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