Historically, Mexican Protestants have been poorer people. This unusual church has broken the class barrier.

Fifteen miles south of Monterrey, Mexico, rising above the sand and scrub along the National Highway, stands a huge building topped by a mosque-style spire. It looks like a castle. Curious motorists often drive in for a closer look and discover that El Castillo del Rey (Castle of the King) is a church.

And an unusual church it is. Some 1,000 people worship at the Castle every Sunday, and the congregation is growing by about 25 converts each week. The church sponsors 100 weekly Bible studies in and around Monterrey, and has about 150 people enrolled in a Tuesday night Bible institute. It has a staff of 60 who teach Sunday school, and a group of university students who live in the Castle as part of a three-year discipleship institute.

Church members have made an impact in Monterrey through prison, orphanage, and street evangelism ministries.

Historically, Protestant Mexicans are linked with poor, storefront churches. The Castle is unique not only in size and outreach, but in its predominantly middle-and upper-class congregation.

The six-story, 17-room structure was started about 20 years ago by a wealthy philanthropist who wanted to gather students from all over the world to debate and seek answers to the world’s great problems. After battling labor union disputes and suffering the death of his wife, the founder moved on to the U.S., his dream unfulfilled.

Several years later, Roger and Maria Wolcott, missionaries to Peru, returned to serve in Monterrey where Roger, the son of a Union (English) Church pastor, had grown up. Their ministry started growing when Maria led the owner of the city’s Holiday Inn to the Lord. The excited woman invited friends to her hotel suite and asked Maria to present the gospel to them also. Several committed their lives to Christ, thus forming a solid nucleus for a women’s Bible study.

Later, a couple’s study started meeting on Sunday nights in a corner of the Union Church sanctuary and eventually expanded to standing room only. Thirteen young people meeting for discipleship opened the doors to friends, and attendance jumped to 150. Attenders of the various groups began asking for all the services of a church—marriages, funerals, baptisms.

With this in mind, Wolcott pulled together a group of spiritually mature men to study biblical principles for forming a church. Six elders were elected from within this group.

Agustín Villarreal, who now owned the abandoned castle, attended services held at Union Church. When he learned of the elders’ search for a church home, he gave them a free lease on the property, with the option to buy.

A massive facelift began. Years of disuse had turned the castle into a spooky hangout for bats, rats, and vandals. Ray Bedwell, who was discipling the young people, began taking in church work groups from his home state of Indiana. Mike Dragon, also from Indiana, directed the maintenance, construction, and remodeling. “Every castle needs a dragon,” he quipped.

Donations of money, materials, and labor flowed in. On Easter Sunday 1979, the congregation met for its first worship service in the restored castle, filling the 250-capacity meeting room.

In the weeks and months following, worshipers filled adjacent rooms, listening to the sermon on portable speakers. In 1982 a new sanctuary was opened, with the capacity to seat 700. Since then the Castle has had to offer two morning services, and plans are under consideration for a yet-larger sanctuary.

What has taken place here?

The Castle definitely has a family aura, which blends well with Latin culture. Members hug and share together. Bedwell calls the church “mildly charismatic.” There is freedom within the worship service for the exercise of spiritual gifts, but the church leaders require that biblical principles of order be followed.

A typical service at the Castle may last three hours, with the congregation standing for song and praise during the first half. Members of the congregation range from the city’s most popular TV personality to a gypsy patriarch and his clan.

The future of the Castle remains to be seen. Such rapid growth may bring some headaches along with the blessings. Weekly elders meetings are indispensable, says Bedwell, because “things are happening so fast. We’re just trying to keep on top of it.”

After all these years, the Castle is fulfilling the original owner’s vision in a way he never envisioned.

“They were going to talk about the world’s problems,” says Bedwell. “We talk about the answers.”

JOHN MAUSTin Monterrey, Mexico

In Singapore, Vandals Turn To Evangelism

Fifteen years ago Peter Chao was the leader of the Eagles, a gang of Singaporean teenagers organized for the purpose of vandalism. At the time, Singapore’s youth were battling the frustrations that accompany modernization.

Now the transition is over. Prospering Singapore—at the tip of the Malay Peninsula in Southeast Asia—hardly fits the stereotype of a Third World nation. And the Eagles have changed as well. Chao is still the leader, but the group’s purpose has switched from vandalism to evangelism.

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Chao’s conversion to Christianity at the age of 14 was followed by the conversion of several members of his gang. The former vandals launched a successful indigenous Christian ministry that continues to make the gospel relevant in Singapore.

The former gang leader and his new Christian brothers and sisters began to hold informal gatherings for worship.

Those gatherings led to evangelistic meetings and concerts that filled some of Singapore’s largest hotel ballrooms. In 1975 they sponsored a massive city-wide crusade. Those who became Christians were channeled into local churches. Still teenagers, the Eagles carried on their evangelistic ministry with little guidance from established Christian organizations.

Chao and three members of his group eventually earned degrees from Bible schools, and in 1977 the group was incorporated as Eagles Evangelism. Since then the ministry has continued to expand.

In Singapore, where Buddhism and Taoism predominate, Christians make up only about 10 percent of the population. But Christianity is the country’s fastest-growing religion. According to government publications—and considering the work of groups such as Eagles Evangelism—its prospects for continued growth are good.

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