The leader of a Pacific Northwest church is gaining national attention for praying over pugilists.
Canyon Creek Church's Lead Pastor Brandon Beals started his congregation in Everett, Wash., seven years ago. An avid mixed martial arts (MMA) fan, he's since taken on the role of "Fight Pastor”" for many of the region's MMA fighters. Boosting brawlers' confidence and faith in Christ through support and prayer, he now counts nearly two dozen fighters among his 1,000-member flock.
"I view myself a missionary to the MMA community," Beals told The Christian Post. "Missionaries go to people groups that are unreached and untapped. God gave us a platform so we thought we'd try reaching this community."
Beals said his love for MMA began when he saw an advertisement for the first Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) pay-per-view in 1993, and decided to try it out. Instantly hooked by the sport's technicality, he said he's remained steadfast in his fandom and seen MMA grow by leaps-and-bounds. Most MMA bouts let fighters use multiple fighting styles to knock out, submit or win by points over their opponent over a period of either three or five rounds, each five minutes long.
"In MMA, anything is possible," Beals said. "You never know what's going to happen. These guys are exceptionally disciplined only to lay it on the line for a few minutes every three months."
By 2008, Beals had built a reputation among Washington's fighting community as a devout MMA fan and an even more zealous Christian. He soon started a blog at FightPastor.com and chronicled his challenges comforting competitors as they trained, won and lost matches. Though he typically ministers to local grapplers, he said he's also served as a chaplain for the UFC's Jeremy Stephens and Demico Rogers.
"Our MMA guys appreciate the frankness with which we approach the Bible," Beals said. "We preach the Gospel and don't pull punches. It's a continuation of the heart of our church."
Current TV is bolstering the reach of Beals' message this week by placing him in an episode of its investigative reporting series "Vanguard." Titled "Cage Fighting in the USA," the episode originally aired last night and will repeat on Wednesday and Friday as well.
Savant Young, a fighter and trainer who also appeared on the show, said the work of MMA fans like Beals shows the sport's growing appeal.
"People have accepted the fact that we're professionals and this is what we do," Young said. "There are so many people from different walks of life that can connect to a sport like MMA."
Beals said some of his sermons now contain references to his favorite sport alongside more common topics like family and faith. He's quick to point out he doesn't personally fight, that his church doesn't host matches and that most of his congregation doesn't compete in MMA. All the same, he said he still receives negative feedback from Christians confused by his ministry's relationship with a combat sport.
"Many Christians are against things they don't understand," Beals said. "The majority of fighters are good men and they're not picking fights in bars. A healthy church is diverse culturally, economically and in terms of its interests."
More importantly, the "Fight Pastor" continues, is reaching anyone and everyone with Christ's love. Beals said that at day's end, his passion for MMA is such that it seems like a gift from God meant for sharing with others.
"I'm a man who likes MMA and I'm a man who wants to represent Jesus well," he said. "God has taken my love for this sport and my love for him and merged the two into a cool, fun opportunity for me to preach to others."