“Why do we label theology Black theology or Latino theology and when it’s White theology it doesn’t get a qualifier?” Is one of the many questions Greg likes to ask the 6-12 month short-termers that come to El Carmen, Nuevo Leon, Mexico. Greg and wife of 26 years, Jan, have lived in Mexico for 11 years. They’ve been on the “mission field” for over 14 years with their first three years in Nicaragua.
“In the long run of being here, we’ve become that bridge between the people who are here short-term—including Búho staff and year-long teachers.” El Búho is a nonprofit coffee shop ministry that started in 2010 and works to bridge the international rock climbing community with the local Mexican community. Greg serves as the executive director. “We have a lot of short-term people here. It’s our joy and pleasure to see them rounded out and experience Mexico, and we hope our engagements with them are positively challenging.”
Greg said that he hopes to make the short-termers consider ideas of imposing dominant culture. “We want these cultures to cross pollinate with each other. We want them to have a true cross-cultural experience, of us putting them in a position to let them interact with the culture. It’s like we are curators of the environment: safety, logistics, housing, but then once the environment is in place, Mexico does it’s thing and it’s beautiful because we just get to sit back and watch it,” he said. “This is why we are still here, to see transformed lives. The people who come here, they grow spiritually, and hopefully they have a new recognition that the American Church isn’t the only Church around. When they experience the panderistas—tambourine dancers—in our Mexican church and ask, ‘Why are they here?’ Then we can talk to them about the cultural differences.”
The Millsaps plan to be in Mexico indefinitely. “At some point we’ll have lived here longer in marriage than we ever have lived. This is our home, we are going to live out our lives here. It makes me question is it really missions at that point?” Nonetheless, Greg recognizes that he’ll always be a foreigner. “We certainly believe in the value of mixing cultures, crossing cultures, but at the end of the day we are in a Mexican living room as guests, even on the long, long-term, we are always going to be foreigners. I could be 80 years old living in El Carmen, and I’m still that American guy.”
“What we are trying to do is build a community, and not trying to control it or Jesus-i-fy it, just letting God be God and letting everyone know what we are about. We are willing to work and live in shalom with people who hold different beliefs. God is big and able to open things. There are some people who have come to us and say, ‘I’m drowning in addiction and I need help.’ The Búho tribe—not the staff but the regular customers who hang around—often come around every day. There’s a spiritual side of ‘it takes a village’ of healthy relationships all around. We are conviviendo—spending unlimited time with—we are a part of each other’s lives. We are watching some unhealthy thoughts/tendencies and addictions wither and die. That’s why I’m still here; why I firmly believe in what we do, and the more people that come in and experience it I’m happy.”
There are fewer short-term mission teams that come to where Greg is now than when they first started. “The STM teams, they are only here for a week, so everything is super-sized, and they are not really in true community. By the time they get an idea of everything, then they leave.”
Greg also helps educate and train Mexican pastors as a professor of New Testament Studies at Insituto Ministerial El Calvario. “But my most important role is grandfather,” he said gushing. Greg and Jan have three sons, and the eldest and his wife became parents last year.
Greg has struggled a lot lately with the American Church. He finds himself in the middle where he’s too conservative to his liberal Christian friends and too liberal for his conservative Christian friends. “I’ve been deeply and profoundly disappointed in the Conservative American Church; I feel abandoned by her especially as she has become embodied by Franklin Graham and Jerry Fallwell Jr. Graham and Fallwell Jr. are heroes to evangelical friends of mine. Whatever faith they have and believe … the god they believe in is not the same one I believe in. I am an atheist to that god. The Jesus I find in scripture, I am 100% with. That’s who I worship and serve and follow,” Greg said and suggested he aligns more with Christians like Wendell Berry and Brian Zahnd. “There are multiple christianities at play here,” he said citing Graham’s alignment with MAGA and Joel Osteen’s prosperity gospel. “It feels so isolating, like we are spiritual misfits and orphans, but we have each other. We’re still in the faith, we aren’t going anywhere. I’m not ready to relinquish the rights of Christianity to those who blatantly misrepresent the Gospel,” he said.
Greg has been participating in #JustMissions regularly, and he has a big question for the group. While he enjoys the conversations we have, he wonders who is listening and how things are changing. He wants to be weary of the echo-chamber effect that these conversations can have.
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