“I Went From Fighting in a Cage to Living in a Hut”
(…continued) After Jesus helped me overcome my depression and addiction, my dreams for my life changed. I wanted more than MMA fame; I wanted to serve God however I could. I started volunteering at local ministries and prisons, sharing my story with anyone who would listen.
I also knew I needed a break from MMA (Mixed Martial Arts fighting). Even though I still loved the sport, the temptations were too great. But without fighting, I didn’t know what to do with my life. In desperation, I prayed: God, I’m yours. Is there anything you want me to do? I desire to do your will, not mine.
That’s when a strange vision flooded my head. I watched myself weaving through the jungle. Among the forest’s white noise, I heard the faint sound of lively music, unlike anything I’d heard before. As I stepped into a clearing, I saw 150 people, living in a cluster of twig-and-leaf huts.
I took a step forward, and the vision changed. I was bombarded by flash-fast images of malnourished children and starving old men. I saw a man dying from a disease eating him alive. For some reason, I could tell these people were oppressed and outcasts.
I sobbed so uncontrollably that I left a puddle of tears on my Bible. I wondered if I was crazy, but I knew I couldn’t have imagined what I saw on my own. I didn’t know who these people were, but I knew I had to help them. Turning suddenly to Isaiah 58, my eyes locked onto verses 6–12 (see below), about God’s heart for the poor and oppressed. The passage started a fire in my heart.
I shared my vision with my mentor, Caleb, and he immediately knew I was describing a Mbuti (or Pygmy) tribe in the Congo. He told me he was leading a group there in a month with his high-risk missions ministry, Unusual Soldiers, and he encouraged me to go with him. Our goal on this trip would be to find the most remote Mbuti villages in the jungle, form relationships with them, and learn more about their needs.
I saw firsthand that circumstances there were graver than I had seen in my vision. And after several months back home, I still could not shake my burden. Caleb connected me with Shalom University, a Congolese Christian school dedicated to serving the Pygmies. I knew I couldn’t help them unless I understood them first, so I lived with them for a year. I slept in a twig-and-leaf hut, ate their food, and suffered from the same diseases. One bout with malaria nearly killed me. But no matter how tough things got, I felt more at home than I ever had in the gym.
I was soon adopted into the Pygmy tribe and given a new name: Eféosa Mbuti MangBO. “Mbuti MangBO” means “The Big Pygmy,” which is appropriate, since at six foot three I tower over the average (four-foot-seven) Pygmy man. “Eféosa” means “The Man Who Loves Us.”
Recently, after a five-year hiatus, I returned to the MMA cage with the goal of raising money for Fight for the Forgotten, the organization I founded to help serve the Pygmies. The drive to fight is still there, but I’m no longer fighting my inner demons. I’m fighting to fulfill God’s call on my life.
For more about Justin Wren and Fight for the Forgotten, go to:
Justin Wren (on the left)
6 Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen:
to loose the chains of injustice
and untie the cords of the yoke,
to set the oppressed free and break every yoke?
7 Is it not to share your food with the hungry
and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter—
when you see the naked, to clothe them,
and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?
8 Then your light will break forth like the dawn,
and your healing will quickly appear;
then your righteousness will go before you,
and the glory of the Lord will be your rear guard.
9 Then you will call, and the Lord will answer;
you will cry for help, and he will say: Here am I.
If you do away with the yoke of oppression,
with the pointing finger and malicious talk,
10 and if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry
and satisfy the needs of the oppressed,
then your light will rise in the darkness,
and your night will become like the noonday.
11 The Lord will guide you always;
he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land
and will strengthen your frame.
You will be like a well-watered garden,
like a spring whose waters never fail.
12 Your people will rebuild the ancient ruins
and will raise up the age-old foundations;
you will be called Repairer of Broken Walls,
Restorer of Streets with Dwellings.
O Lord, our Savior, you have said that you will require much of those to whom much is given. Grant that we who have been so richly blessed may strive together to extend to others what we so richly enjoy, to the fulfillment of your holy will and the everlasting salvation of all; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
–St. Augustine (354-430)