A Mixed Martial Arts fighter who became a Christian about six years ago is using his skills as a professional fighter to help an impoverished Congo-based tribe.
Justin Wren, an MMA fighter whose record currently stands at 13 wins and 2 losses, explained at the 2017 Parenting Teens Summit on Tuesday that he uses his bouts to help fund and spread awareness for charity, specifically those benefitting the Pygmy people of Congo.
Wren emphasized that unlike the bouts he fought before becoming a Christian, now that he uses his earnings to help better the lives of others in the Congo, there is greater meaning to the sport he has always enjoyed.
"When I win, I get to give the win money, the bonus to drill more wells. And if I don't win, then I don't get that. So there is a lot more pressure," said Wren.
"How cool would that be to be able to give? To fight and win, and say, I didn't just win a fight, but I actually won for them. I won so we could drill wells."
Wren went on to detail some of the harsh treatment that the Congo Pygmy people face, as many consider them subhuman and often deny them basic humane services.
The MMA fighter spoke about a disturbing practice by some local guerilla groups to eat Pygmies in order to gain strength, echoing the findings of a United Nations investigation in 2003.
Wren's charity, Fight for the Forgotten, centers on helping to develop sustainable living for the Mbuti Pygmy people.
There has been much debate about how compatible Christianity and professional fighting are. Adam Groza of Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary wrote a column for Baptist Press expressing his strong opinion against Christians partaking in MMA.
"UFC and MMA amounts to violence porn, a term which has been applied to movies with wanton violence such as 'SAW,' where violence is not part of the plot, it is the attraction," wrote Groza.
"Violence for violence's sake, as opposed to instrumental or redeeming violence, desensitizes the viewer to the graphic horror of watching two people pummel each other for the sake of entertainment. UFC and MMA offer exactly the kind of violence condemned in Psalm 11:5. Ezekiel 7:23 decries, 'the city is full of violence.' Why are Christians supporting violence in the city?"
By contrast, Dave Hatfield of Victory Christian Fellowship, a ministry that does MMA outreach, told The Christian Post in a 2011 interview that it can be used as an evangelism tool for young men.
"I believe God has given each one of us a divine desire to conquer and overcome ... that's why I believe guys are so into sports like football and MMA," reasoned Hatfield.
"We use our MMA outreaches to tap into guys' natural desire to conquer and compete and point them to their Creator and the fact He has plans for them to become not only beloved sons, but also warriors for Him."
Wren explained that he believed the MMA environment was a good place to be a witness, or as he put it, "be a light."
"There can be some really cool things that happen in this sport and for people that won't ever step foot into a church. They won't step foot there, but we get to go there kind of have camouflage on and just encourage them," he said.
Wren's comments were part of an online conference called the Parenting Teens Summit, which is being hosted by Axis Virtual and the Colson Center for Christian Worldview until June 15.
"Faithful Christian authors & thought leaders will provide practical talks to help you parent your teens. Know their culture, develop their hearts, and connect the generations to build lifelong faith," noted the Summit's website.
In addition to Wren, other notable speakers include Southern Baptist Convention's Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission President Russell Moore, apologist Ravi Zacharias, and best-selling author and theologian Timothy Keller.