Jan Milburn, whose business sells beautiful handmade woodworking arts and crafts made by the Tarahumara Indians, cave and cliff dwellers in the area near Copper Canyon, Mexico who descended from the inhabitants on Mesa Verde, said he experienced many miracles that helped him, to a gathering of the International Business Initiative, live from Creel, Mexico. In 1969 after working to help drug addicts in the Height- Asbury of San Francisco as a pastor in California, he moved to Chihuahua for 7 years, then to Creel, near Chihuahua and the Copper Canyon, 8x the size of the Grand Canyon. He set up 22 Drug Rehab Centers in Mexico, which the government took over. Now there are 130. He established the Center for Counselling and Advice to Business in an effort to help the peoples survive financially and still retain their cultural heritage and the 5 elements that keep a culture distinct: language, music, legends, clothing and beliefs.
Programs he established were so vigorously opposed by those in power that he has been incarcerated 4 times, deported twice and kidnapped twice. He was tortured with electric shocks and waterboarded. In 1989 he was kidnapped and put in a hole and severely beaten. The assassin, Mano Negro, a legend in Mexico, left 1-3 bullets with his name on them on his pillow several times, but later rescued him where he was subject to a torture in which the victim is let to run and shot at after 15 seconds. He was on hit lists but all who tortured him have died. Some asked him to forgive them for what they did in the 1980s and 1990s. He forgave them all.
The natives can ply trades like basketweaving and remain with their families on their land. 1000’s of people are benefited as their crafts are exported. He taught them how to enter into lumber contracts for which he was put in jail. Over 2 million acres was stolen from them and he helped get it back with a favorable decision of the Supreme Court of Mexico. He is working with the U.N. to establish ecologically sustainable housing retaining 75% as common land, and is raising funds for infrastructure. The project will retain the natural beauty yet help provide local jobs. His business practices, based on the teachings of the bible, have been successful: 1) donate 90% of what the business earns and live on 10%; 2) reinvest in people: profits go to people who remain in their area in the culture to provide them cash to live; 3) teach them how to use money wisely; 4) make good relationships as important as profits. He is now an Advisor to the Government of Chihuahua State on Indigenous Affairs.
When he arrived the Catholic Church had 72 priests in the region and his challenges began. The Tarahumara did not allow white people to their ceremonies. A man with a white beard was called the devil’s first cousin. Priests were allowed to baptize and read scripture but not preach. Now only 7 priests remain. The Catholic influence has dwindled but protestant churches are growing in influence and numbers. The people want to be respected, loved and for people to care about them personally. He has been mistreated by many, even because he was part of a different Protestant denomination. He is a missionary and businessman who derives income from donations, conferences, lectures, arts and crafts, furniture building and from property he owns. He lectures at no charge. He wants to use the rest of his life to expand the kingdom and let people see they can live a life that is much more interesting and wonderful than the average life. He is happily married to a Tarahumara woman. The story of their courtship and marriage reads like a romance novel—she walked for miles to his cabin on the snowy winter night and surprised him wearing wedding clothing she made herself–is an example of the many ways he has been richly blessed.
Now 71, with 50 years in the ministry, he has lived a life of miracles. He has had miraculous healings from many beatings, although he still has some pain. He was rear-ended by a band of assassins who “quartered” him—each pulling at one limb. Another time men pulled a chain between his legs and women nearby pulled out guns from their bras and rescued him. Another time a man pulled the trigger on a sawed-off shotgun a foot from his chest with both shells in the gun. The trigger malfunctioned and to test if it was working he pulled it again and it obliterated a small pine tree. On November 2, 1985 a large band of people appeared with blankets and candles at a police station where he was being held. He said “The Lord is with me and takes care of me.” He feels sorry for people who do not believe in miracles or have angels that protect them as he does. He has had many experiences with mountain lions who act as guides for him. One brought him a fresh deer he killed when he needed food and was living in a mountain cabin in the winter. His biography Lion Eyes is available on His practices are being used as a model to help indigenous peoples thrive, retain their culture and remain independent of the government.
He can be reached through his web page at The Milburn Foundation International.
J. Michael Considine, Jr. is the Chairman of the International Business Initiative, a task force of the Philadelphia Bar Association.