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A friendship ruptured by drugs finds forgiveness, restoration

TULSA, Okla. (BP)–Emilio Castillo and Lonnie Vaughn put the phrase “together again” in a whole new light.

The two men went to school together, worked together and were best friends.

However, it was the working together that eventually separated them and then brought them together once again. And the work then and now are eons apart.

Castillo was born in Texas and moved to Oklahoma in 1966 as a migrant worker. He found success in the landscaping business, married, had a family and was a respected businessman in Bixby.

“Everybody loved Emilio,” Vaughn said. “He had a heart for people, and they came to him for whatever they needed.”

Vaughn, who married young and had a large family, was in the appliance business, reconditioning and reselling appliances.

Both men, however, were leading secret lives.

“I was an upstanding citizen and never caused a problem,” Castillo said. “But I had two faces.”

Vaughn said his “secret” life really wasn’t so secret.

“When you’re driving new cars and dressing to the hilt, everybody in your family knows the money isn’t coming from the appliance business,” he said.

Vaughn said during a period of eight years, he and Castillo put millions of dollars in their pockets. They were both involved in a successful drug ring, and Castillo was the kingpin of the operation.

“I got started in the drug business when I was about 32 years old,” Castillo said. “A farmer I worked for asked me if I could get drugs in Mexico.”

Castillo said he knew how to get drugs out of Mexico, knew people on the Texas border and knew the underground. He said in Mexico, food was put around the drugs and sealed so it would never be opened at the checkpoint. Hispanic illegal aliens crossed the drugs over for Castillo. Vaughn often picked up the drugs in Dallas and brought them north.

“We told ourselves it was innocent,” Vaughn said. “We were only dealing in marijuana, and we knew if we got caught, we would just get probation.”

However, it got to a point where there was a lot of anger among the 15-20 people involved in the operation because there was too much money flowing, and greed and suspicion of each other set in.

Castillo said he decided to give up the operation after a couple of their people were arrested.

“When authorities start picking up people, they start snitching on others in the operation to get themselves off,” Vaughn said. “Emilio was the one they were after.”

In the meantime the drug laws changed, and perpetrators were getting 10 years to life in prison.

When Vaughn was picked up, he admitted he was dealing in marijuana.

“U.S. Customs, IRS, DEA and FBI all questioned me,” Vaughn said. “They asked about the Mexican man who was dealing in drugs. When I didn’t tell them about Emilio, they let me go, but picked me up again.”

This time, Vaughn said, authorities put up two hands and said, “This hand is your family and the other hand is Castillo. If you don’t choose Castillo, you don’t go home.”

“I had always worked hard at getting people to have respect for me,” Vaughn said. “The authorities told me they had five people who had turned state’s evidence against Emilio, but if I would admit his involvement, they had him.”

Castillo said he had a feeling he was going to get picked up because everything was going downhill and everyone was getting busted.

“I knew when I was given indictment papers, that it was Lonnie who turned me in,” Castillo said. “I trusted Lonnie more than anyone in the group.”

Vaughn said it was six months between the time he fingered Castillo and authorities picked him up.

“It was hard seeing him during that time,” Vaughn said. “I tried to avoid him.”

Castillo said he was tired of doing drugs, and almost felt at rest when he was taken to prison, but his first thought was that he wanted to kill Vaughn.

“I wanted to kill him, put him in a refrigerator and send him down the Arkansas River,” Castillo said. “He was my best friend. I left a wife who didn’t speak English, and four children. My wife started working two jobs to support the family, and sold tamales on the side.”

Because she didn’t speak English, Castillo’s wife had a rough time in the work force. Her children helped her learn English so she could get a better job. Castillo said she started studying an English Bible, although she didn’t know it was a Bible, but she began to understand it and to explain it to her children.

Castillo, facing 10 years to life in prison, gave his life to Christ after a year of being incarcerated.

“I got on my knees and said, ‘God, I’ve always heard if I pray, you will hear,'” Castillo recounted. “The next day, a pastor from Sallisaw came to the prison in Texarkana, Ark., and something told me to ask him about salvation.”

Soon afterwards, Castillo was transferred to the Fort Worth Medical Center, where ill prisoners are taken.

Castillo said while he was in Texarkana, he was mad at Vaughn and the whole world.

“I wanted to kill,” he said. “I didn’t care who it was. Then I had a vision of people, all of them talking, but I could hear God above them, and He said I wouldn’t serve all my time in prison.”

Castillo served only four and a half years, which Vaughn said is unheard of.

Castillo said he didn’t want to leave prison “because you have a better relationship with God in prison. I got to study the Bible seven days a week. If you listen to the Lord’s Word while in prison, you can be trained.”

Castillo said while in prison, God taught him to forgive, and he wrote letters to everyone he had wanted to kill.

Vaughn said he thought about Castillo a lot, and even more about his family.

“When they made me choose between my family and my best friend, that was the day my innocence was lost,” Vaughn said. “My best friend was separated from his family, my wife had stomach problems and I filed bankruptcy. I was paying for those eight years of success.”

When Castillo got out of prison, he went to Parkview Baptist Church in Tulsa, Okla., where Victor Orta was pastor of the church’s Hispanic mission. Years before, Castillo had taunted Orta as he drove his pickup to preach to migrant workers.

“I would come down the road, stop my car by his pickup and pull out a case of beer and stand there drinking it,” Castillo said. “But the Lord told me to call Victor, and when he found out I had accepted Jesus, he encouraged me to start a ministry in Bixby.”

Castillo, who had received training in prison to start churches, noted, “A lot of good things can happen in prison if you grasp them.”

Castillo’s family, however, was skeptical of his life-altering change; he said it was like his family didn’t need him anymore.

“It was like they expected me to come out of prison and do the things I had done before,” he said. “I told my wife that we might have to split up, but the next woman will get a better man than she did because I’ve changed.”

Castillo started New Beginnings Church in Bixby, and soon his wife and four children accepted Christ. In fact, 40 of Castillo’s family members gave their lives to Christ.

Southern Hills Baptist Church in Tulsa began talking to Castillo about starting a Hispanic work there, and one Sunday pastor William Hester told the congregation at the end of the service that God was working on starting a mission there and that he had a prospect for the mission’s pastor.

In the congregation that Sunday was Lonnie Vaughn.

Although he was saved when he was 9, it is obvious his lifestyle had kept him from church activities.

“The whole time I was selling drugs, my five kids were attending Christian schools,” Vaughn said. “God covered me even when I was living that kind of lifestyle.”

Vaughn had started going to church about two years earlier, but always attended a big church so he could slip in and out without being noticed. This particular Sunday, he had come to Southern Hills because his brother was playing in the church’s band.

“I kept having dreams about Emilio,” Vaughn said. “The shame of what I’d done would hit me and I’d wake up. God was preparing me to meet Emilio. When the pastor mentioned the prospective Hispanic pastor at the end of the service, I knew who he was talking about.”

Vaughn said when the pastor asked the congregation to pray about what the church should do, God told Vaughn He was going to bring him and his wife to Southern Hills.

“I would never have guessed what was happening in Emilio’s life,” Vaughn admitted. “God said, ‘I’m bringing you two back together.'”

Hester said Vaughn came up to him after the service and said he knew he was talking about Castillo, and wanted to meet with him and ask his forgiveness.

“I told him that Emilio and I talked about the situation with Lonnie, and while Emilio was in prison, he forgave him,” Hester said.

“I realized how important I am to God,” Vaughn said. “He cared enough and knew how much I loved the guy. He brought us together and made our relationship stronger.”

Today, Castillo is pastor of Southern Hills’ Hispanic mission and Vaughn is his assistant. The mission has baptized 42 people since its beginning on Sept. 10, 2000, and on a recent Sunday baptized 10. Attendance is around 75, and 60-70 percent have been saved less than a year.

“Our church is not just about coming together,” Castillo said. “We go out and share what God has done in our lives.”

And that is a lot.
(BP) photo posted in the BP Photo Library at http://www.bpnews.net. Photo title: A NEW FRIENDSHIP.

    About the Author

  • Dana Williamson