Apologetics Index

Encountering G12 – The Encounter

The Encounter

The G12 Encounter appears to be intentionally patterned after the Cursillos de Cristiandad — the three-day spiritual retreats for lay Catholics which began in Spain in 1944 and gained popularity around the world. A number of Protestant programs — such as Walk to Emmaus, Tres Dias, and other so-called fourth-day groups — have been developed along similar lines.

For many, the Encounter is the most controversial component of the entire G12 system. One of the chief objectives of G12’s centerpiece retreat is to facilitate a powerful, life-changing personal encounter between each participant and God. (Castellanos has called this the “Peniel” experience, a reference to Genesis 32:30 in which Jacob “saw God face to face.”) The effectiveness of the process depends, in part, on the element of mystery — even secrecy; thus, in many cases, churches forbid those who have taken part in an Encounter weekend from telling others exactly what takes place. In Latin America, if someone asks a graduate how the Encounter was, he or she is instructed to simply say: It was tremendous. Given the number of disturbing reports we have received, it’s not difficult to see why.

Castellanos explains:

Only those who have gone through the Pre-Encounter should take part. The group should be homogenous [sic] men, women, young men or young women or married couples. Boys and girls can participate in the Children’s Encounters. [27]

The Unforgettable Weekend

So, what does happen during an Encounter? Here, again, we must make it clear that some of the aspects we describe can vary from country to country and even church to church. Nevertheless, based on interviews we have conducted with a wide range of men and women who have taken part in the G12 retreats in Latin America, the following elements appear to be common to most Encounters at least in that part of the world.

Beginning of the Encounter

Encounter participants are not to be told where the retreat will take place. (Castellanos notes that “It is peferable to be away from the city.” [28]) Participants are transported to the event on Friday afternoon and arrive at the retreat site only after sundown. Upon arriving, Encounter participants are instructed by their leaders to surrender their wristwatches, cell phones, cameras, video recorders, etc. with the explanation that those devices could be a distraction. What if one changes one’s mind? Castellanos makes it clear that “no one may leave before it ends.” [29] Even if someone should resolve to go home, they often cannot because they have no idea where they are. (We even have reports of youth Encounters at which the organizers padlocked the doors in order to prevent anyone from leaving.)

The Sin List

Castellanos emphasizes that early during the Encounter each participant must be confronted with his sin, its causes, and its consequences; thus, it is necessary to create a “sin list” (often called a clinica in Latin America). [30] In some Encounters, this list has been prepared beforehand so that, throughout the three days of the event, each participant can carry it with him and check off every sin he has committed as soon as he remembers it. (In some cases, participants are given a list including sins so grotesque and perverted that they never would have entered the person’s mind until then.) Typically, each participant is expected to write his name on his personal sin list and indicate what church he belongs to.

Genuine Repentance

Participants also undergo what Castellanos calls “genuine repentance.” The goal is to cause them to feel unclean and miserable for their sins. Castellanos teaches “It is necessary for the new believer to understand that genuine repentance means feeling pain for having done what was wrong…” [31] What’s more, it has been consistently reported that during the “Breaking of Curses” session, participants — nonbelievers, new converts, and longtime believers alike — are treated as though they are on the very same spiritual level. [32]

Castellanos doesn’t clearly define what methods local leaders should use to make Encounter participants feel the pain of their sins, but organizers have often gone to extraordinary lengths. For example, participants in Central America have described “repentance” sessions in which an audio recording was used to portray a scene of family abuse. First, the screams of a child were heard as she begged her drunken father not to beat her mother. Then, the terrified mother’s screams are heard as her husband attempts to strike her. According to independent witnesses from two separate Encounters, this recording lasted at least ten minutes and was played at a deafening, almost unbearable volume. In this atmosphere of artificial hysteria, the participants’ emotions finally broke so they might seek God’s forgiveness.

This spiritual shock treatment can take other forms. During one Encounter session, the heart of a large animal was produced by the leader, and each participant was asked to pass by and stab the heart. The leaders taught we wound the heart of Jesus in just the same way when we sin. In another Encounter, participants were presented with a heart made of fabric, which was immersed in a container filled with red paint. Next, the heart was thrown to the floor where it was trampled by the session leader, thereby teaching participants this was what they do with the heart and blood of Christ each time they sin. As the leader stomped on the heart, the participants — and the entire room — were spattered with red paint. In yet another Encounter, participants were told to sniff excrement so they would know how badly their sin stinks before God. The goal of these grotesque practices is to persuade the participants that they are terrible sinners and greatly in need of God’s forgiveness.

At some Encounters, the participants’ “sin lists” are burned in a bonfire on Saturday evening as they make “a firm commitment to live a life completely surrendered to Jesus Christ.” [33] In other Encounters, each participant’s sin list (still bearing his name) is surrendered to retreat leaders, who then nail it to a wooden cross to symbolize that these sins nailed Jesus to the cross.

Inner Healing

Another Encounter session, “Faith to Heal Our Souls,” focuses on the participant’s need for “inner healing” (also called soul healing, complete healing, or healing of memories). [34] Castellanos says:

The following are examples of bondages that may have to be broken during a person’s three-day Encounter retreat: Injuries caused by rejection during childhood, traumatic experiences, past sinful experiences, the influence of occult practices, conflicting love and family relationships, and curses made by one’s parents or other superiors. [35]

Each participant should identify, in each stage of his life, how the traumatic experience took place in order to enter and “heal the wound.” An Encounter leader helps participants to identify their inner hurts through the power of suggestion, mentioning traumas of rejection that each individual may have experienced in his life. This regression takes them from the womb all the way to the present, with the guide making troubling suggestions such as:

  • You were the result of an unplanned pregnancy
  • When you were born your parents expressed disappointment that you weren’t the sex they’d hoped for
  • Nobody was happy that you were born
  • Nobody wanted to take care of you
  • Your parents preferred your siblings over you
  • You were sexually molested
  • Nobody ever helped you
  • You never succeeded at anything
  • You believed you were worth less than everyone else, giving you low self-esteem

Participants are often asked to make a list of the people who have mistreated or harmed them in one or more of the ways mentioned. The session leader may use regression to return to the moment when the trauma took place. The participant is asked to recreate the hurtful act through visualization (“the eyes of faith”), then to pray and ask Jesus to take upon Himself the offense or harm inflicted. In this way, the participant is made “free from this oppression.” Having asked the visualized Jesus to take in His body the rejection or humiliation someone has caused you, one must transmit forgiveness to the offender. This can be done by another participant taking the place of the person who harmed you in order for you to forgive them.

Not Optional

Castellanos teaches that the Christian who desires to be a “committed” believer and “develop a productive Christian life” (i.e., bring growth to his or her church), should undergo inner healing:

[Encounters] are weekend spiritual retreats that allow each new believer to experience a closer relationship with God and to experience the Holy Spirit’s influence in their deliverance and inner healings so that they can develop a productive Christian life. [36]

Leaders and pastors may have ministries of immense proportion and influence but may still harbor unresolved bitter wounds in their souls. If they desire to serve God in a meaningful and lasting way, those wounds must be healed. In order to minister to others one must first be healed. [37]

Demons and Deliverance

Castellanos teaches that all Christians including pastors need to be delivered from demonic bondage in order to be surrendered to the work and bring numerical growth to their congregation. “It is a reality,” he explains, “that evil spirits control people’s lives and hinder their Christian development.” [38] Escaping demonic bondage is not limited to an unfortunate few; Castellanos writes that “ALL OF US HAVE NEED OF DELIVERANCE,” [39] and even Jesus practiced deliverance on His twelve. [40]

“Generational curses” are believed to be passed down from one’s ancestors (unto the third and fourth generation). Castellanos teaches that believers need to be delivered from any occult curse or involvement by their forebears by explaining that we must “confess each sin of our ancestors and repent, thus breaking any relation with the occult, forgive others, and renounce every curse.” [41] Deliverance from such curses is essential for church growth:

One of the first steps for a new believer to reproduce and be a blessing to the work, for him and for his family, is to be delivered from all curses. [42]

A ministry will not prosper and live in fullness unless the curses that bind each member are severed. [43]

Immersed in His Spirit

Once participants have been delivered from their demons, they are prepared to receive the filling of the Holy Spirit with the sign of speaking in tongues. Taking interpretive liberties with the Scriptures, Castellanos says:

It is important to note the original order [of the signs Jesus describes in Mark 16:17]. In order to speak in tongues freely, people must first have curses in their lives broken and rebuke all demonic influences in the name of Jesus. This is exactly what we do in our Encounters. [44]

As a research group of the Assemblies of God in Cuba observed, “To achieve this objective, the [Encounter] guides hold forth in lengthy prayers, manifestations of ecstasy, and neurolinguistic manipulation all so that the participants will speak in tongues. The pressure is such that many pretend out of fear that others in the group will look down on them. Prayer with laying on of hands, along with shoves so that people will fall on the floor ‘under the power of the Spirit’ is a given.” [45]


During one Encounter in Central America, the leaders sought to illustrate purification by setting up a barbecue grill in front of the participants. They pulled out a container holding the organs of various large animals and first removed a tongue and placed it on the grill. They then instructed participants to literally grab their own tongues and symbolically cast them on the barbecue so that, just as the tongue is burned on the grill, so their tongues would be symbolically burned so they might only be used for edifying words. Next, the leader removed a pair of eyeballs from the container, placed them on the grill, and asked the participants to touch their own eyes and symbolically toss them onto the barbecue so they might be purified by the fire and only look upon good things. After this, a large pair of animal ears were drawn from the container and placed on the barbecue as the participants were told to touch their own ears and cast them into the fire; so they might be used only to hear edifying things. Next, the testicles of an animal were brandished and thrown on the grill as the participants were told to symbolically grasp and toss their genitals onto the grill so that, in like manner, they would be faithful to their spouses or abstain from illicit relations before marriage.


During the course of many Encounters, a memorable feature of the final day is a series of offerings. First, an offering is taken from whatever money the participants have on hand. Then, the session moves to a new level, in which participants are urged to give any possession of value they can bring forward even being urged to bring all that you have. Witnesses from two different Encounters in El Salvador said they were instructed that, “If you don’t give, your finances will be cursed.” To manipulate participants into giving still more, a leader came forth and gave his testimony of how God prospered him after he gave everything he had brought with him to an Encounter. Then other leaders went to the front of the room and started giving all kinds of valuables. In response, participants went forward and surrendered wallets, valuable jewelry — even the shoes on their feet. This session lasted over an hour.

A Vision for Success

As the retreat ends, participants are indoctrinated with the “cellular vision” of Castellanos. Specifically, they are taught that every person is a potential leader and should seek out the twelve disciples he or she will lead — just as Jesus did — so each one of them might do likewise with his or her own group of twelve. The twelve should be chosen through the cells each person will open. All should follow and obey the cell vision given through Castellanos and commit themselves to invite another person to participate in an Encounter.

We have heard the testimonies of Encounter participants who were obligated to make a special covenant with God — even signing a contract promising to send at least three people to an Encounter. The person making the invitation is to cover all the expenses of the people he or she invites. In some countries, the pressure to get others to Encounters is so strong that the one required to invite must not only pay each person’s expenses, but also compensate each invitee for any lost salary while attending the Encounter.

When participants return to their original meeting place at the end of the Encounter, they are often greeted with a celebration as fellow church members congratulate them, and they share testimonies of how God has changed them, during the weekend.

After the Encounter

Soon after the Encounter, participants are to undergo the Post-Encountera series of studies lasting one hour per week over the next three months. The phases are:

  1. Fundamentals of the Faith
  2. Growing in Christian Service
  3. Christian Character

By successfully completing these lessons, the convert is prepared to take part in the School of Leaders, which is held each week for two hours over an entire year. One requirement for graduation is to begin a cell by the third trimester. Next comes the Re-Encounter, a three- or four-day retreat designed to reaffirm the participants’ initial Encounter commitments. The Re-Encounter emphasizes the believer’s position in Christ, victory over sin, personal deliverance, and the vision of the Church.

God revealed to Castellanos that this training is not optional. [46] Everyone must take part who desires to achieve growth in his or her church. Results are rapid: Castellanos says that with his program, it takes no more than six months to prepare a new convert to bear fruit (i.e., to make converts). [47]

Influence of the Faith Movement

Another emphasis of Castellanos’s cellular vision is the much-debated positive confession or word of faith doctrine. Castellanos believes that through the power of one’s words things can simply be declared into existence. This can be seen, for example, when Castellanos cites (and misinterprets) Proverbs 6:23:

Man entangles himself in what he says because his words attract spiritual forces. Therefore a person can be tied to his words in blessings or curses. [48]

Castellanos further explains:

Everything we desire already exists, is in the spiritual dimension, the dimension of divine blessing. But it is necessary to enter into the supernatural and transport them that is, take and appropriate them by faith, making them reality in our lives. [49]

A sick person …, who believes in God’s Word, begins to confess his healing because his faith enables him to see the miracle immediately. [50]

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First published (or major update) on Thursday, November 15, 2007.
Last updated on November 15, 2007.

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