At 45, former lawman finds
a new road as an agent for God
By Bernadette Sedillos Self / El Paso Times
Greg Muse may be a rookie preacher, but he practices what he preaches.
"I'm a born-again slave of Christ -- that's all I strive for now, to be a slave for God," said the 45-year-old pastor of Fort Hancock Baptist Church.
That may sound like normal "pastor speak" but Muse isn't a typical preacher. And he's not speaking only figuratively either.
The former counterintelligence agent and Texas state trooper has eschewed his previous professions, and life's possessions, to follow a calling that's tugged at his heart for more than 20 years.
Muse isn't out to build his own "megachurch" or megaministry, either. He has taken on the pastorship of the small Baptist church in the tiny rural community of Fort Hancock, 70 miles east of El Paso.
"I've seen cities in Third World countries that look better than Fort Hancock," said Muse, who grew up with his missionary parents in Ecuador. "But we're very happy to be here. This is where the Lord has called me, and I'm very blessed to be here -- the people are wonderful."
Muse and his family moved to Fort Hancock about a year ago. Despite facing a future with a fair amount of uncertainty, Muse and his wife, Cathy, say they've found a great sense of peace in their still-new life that is simultaneously exhilarating and calming.
"The Lord has always been faithful to us," Cathy Muse said. "After you've been where we've been, driving the 40 minutes into El Paso is no big deal."
The perspective the two have gained comes from walking a road that has not always been smooth. Many couples, when they reach middle age, begin enjoying the fruits of their labor and often buy nicer cars, a bigger home or take exotic vacations.
Instead, the Muses dropped their proverbial nets to follow their master's call. They continue to live their lives on a day-to-day basis.
"I feel freer than I've ever felt," Muse explained, when asked about the difficulty of leaving behind a beautiful home, a good paycheck, job security and even health insurance. "Sometimes you can get so caught up in all of that that you get bound to it. I've been there; I know. But I can see now that I'm fully in God's hands."
These days, changing careers in middle age isn't uncommon. Many companies are downsizing and forcing early retirement on employees. Some people, too, simply want to pursue an unfulfilled dream.
Few though, are willing to give up everything they own to make a dream a reality. In Muse's case, he isn't chasing a fantasy.
"I'm finally listening to God," Muse says. "I ran away from this when I was younger. I questioned my calling a lot. I turned my back on it."
A Texas native, Muse was born in Wichita Falls in 1960, the middle of three children. His parents became Baptist missionaries, and when Muse was a toddler, his parents packed up the family and moved to Ecuador.
It wasn't an idyllic experience.
Muse was picked on by native children who viewed the missionaries as outsiders. He was pelted with rocks, called names and threatened.
When he turned 18, Muse returned to Texas and enrolled at Southwest Texas State University (now called Texas State University) in San Marcos.
Muse wanted to major in physical education, but at 19, the young man felt that God was calling him on a different path. So, Muse changed his degree plan from P.E. to speech and communications, which he figured would improve his ability to preach.
Muse became a youth minister during summers. After graduating from Texas State in 1982, Muse enrolled at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth.
For two years he was devoted to his studies and to his calling, but then he began to be plagued with doubts.
"I started wondering if I was doing this because of my dad," Muse said. "I started thinking that maybe it wasn't at all what I was supposed to do."
A different path
Muse, who had already married Cathy, heard her father, who was in the Air Force, talk about opportunities in the Department of Defense.
Muse became intrigued by the excitement of a career as a special agent working for the government in counterintelligence. He decided to pursue a career in the Defense Department, and he left the Baptist seminary.
Muse was accepted for the training and became a spy buster. But though he excelled at his work, Muse felt something stirring in his heart.
"I knew I wasn't doing what God called me to do," he said. "I would think about it, even though I was getting paid very well, bought a nice home and had everything that I wanted."
The still, small voice that beckoned him at 19 continued whispering. Muse said he knew he couldn't ignore it any longer.
After 12 years in counterintelligence, Muse told his wife he wanted to serve God as a missionary. "I knew when I married him that he had a calling," Cathy said. "I knew he probably would be a missionary, so I knew I had to support him."
So in 1997, while living in San Antonio, the Muses sold their home, their furnishings, their vehicles and became missionaries in China.
"All we had left was 13 duffel bags of clothing and pots and pans and a few other things," Cathy said.
At the time, the Muses had two daughters -- a third was born six years ago -- and the two girls could pack only one duffel bag between them.
"It was tough on them," Muse said, a tinge of sadness in his voice. "They had to choose just a couple of things that they really wanted to keep. We had a garage sale, and a couple of times they would run back to the table to get something after having second thoughts. It was very hard for them."
Greater challenges were ahead for the family.
The Muses moved to an area near Beijing, China, and found themselves in very spartan, primitive conditions.
"We had no car and we had to walk to the grocery stores," Cathy said. "It's real interesting grocery shopping in China."
After four months, stress and numerous trials took their toll. "I was having a hard time," Cathy conceded. "To be honest, I just couldn't live there anymore."
The Muses packed their bags and moved to Costa Rica and later to Panama. They worked as missionaries until 2000. "We had some difficulties, and I started feeling doubts again," Muse said. "I just sank into a pit of depression."
Muse said he became overwhelmed with anger, unresolved anger from his childhood. He had been bullied so much as a child that, upon returning to similar environments in Costa Rica and Panama, old resentment boiled within.
"I thought, I don't want to be a missionary here," Muse said.
After the family returned to the United States in 2000, Muse decided he would return to work in the secular world. He jumped around at a few jobs and in 2003, he went to work for the Texas Department of Public Safety. He became a trooper in El Paso County.
"Everything was going well, but I felt God calling me in my heart," Muse said. "I knew that I had a good job. I knew that the work was honorable and important. But I would go home every night and I'd be in tears. I was not doing what God wanted me to do."
While still a trooper, Muse began preaching occasionally in Fort Hancock in 2004. But it wasn't enough.
In June 2005, Muse resigned from the DPS. Again, he and his wife sold their home. They moved from East El Paso to Fort Hancock and are living in a small parsonage.
Is he feeling doubts or regret?
"Absolutely zero," Muse said, confidently.
The preacher is coming up on his first anniversary at Fort Hancock Baptist Church in June. There are about 40 people in his congregation, and Muse said anyone who "hungers for God" is welcome.
"I don't have a specific plan, really," Muse said. "I told the people, 'I don't really know what I'm doing, but I hope you'll take me as I am.' "
They do. And so do others in Fort Hancock.
"He's a wonderful person, he's very nice," said Maria Franco, a waitress at Angie's Restaurant in Fort Hancock.
The small diner, the only real sit-down restaurant in Fort Hancock, is a popular meeting place for friends and neighbors.
Franco, who has lived in Fort Hancock for 30 years, says she's impressed with Muse's ability to speak Spanish so well. "Both he and his wife are very nice people," Franco said. "He's a good father, too." Muse and wife Cathy, who has a part-time job with the Hudspeth County Conservation Irrigation District, both say they will continue to "walk in faith."
"I'm just taking things day by day. Seek the face of God -- that's what I'm trying to do," Muse said.
"I think that's what most of our congregation wants to do, too."