Fighting in the Name of the Lord

"A good portion of our people are military or prior military...and with that comes ... a more aggressive rough type of person that maybe your typical Sunday, sing Kumbaya," Fulton says. "This is a church where they feel like they can be who they are and be totally comfortable with that...God doesn't want us to be a cookie cutter mold."

Catering to their clientele, upcoming events advertised on the church's Web site include a "Passion of the Christ" viewing party and football Easter egg hunt.

Fighting or Finding God?

When Mike Thompson, 32, showed up at Xtreme Ministries a decade ago, finding God was the last thing on his mind.

"I first came in and I said, 'Hey, I'm a bad dude.' I said. 'I'm tough.' I said, 'I'll fight anybody, I don't care -- any weight, anytime, anywhere; I'll fight, I don't care,'" Thompson recalls. "And all the guys who were here, who were trained fighters, they snickered at me, a lot."

Thompson's parents separated and his mother became involved with a violent man, Marvin Waye Eddy, who abused alcohol and drugs.

"It was 1984, and me and my brother, of course, we're dirt poor… [Eddy] decided that it would be a good idea to go to one of his buddy's trailers and rob it of all the alcohol and drugs that were in there," Thompson says. "And he decided to bring me and my brother as pack-mules and help him carry more alcohol back."

'I Declared War on God'

Thompson was 8 years old and his brother Jesse was just 5 when they headed out in the middle of the night. When Jesse would not stop crying, Eddy decided to shut him up.

"He started hitting him and hitting him, and of course that made him cry more. And he kept beating him and eventually he picked him up by his legs and swung him up against a tree until he quit crying," Thompson says.

Jesse never woke up from a coma and died three days later. The event made Thompson renounce his belief in God.

"For a lack of a better term, [I] declared war on God. I could not wrap my mind around how he could let that happen to my brother, let that happen to me," Thompson says. "I decided to take my anger and frustration out on anyone that I could get a chance to."

Thompson trained with Renken for years, but refused to set foot in a Sunday service. Three years ago, Renken's other message finally got through.

"He said, 'God loves you.' And he said, 'And I'm going to show you.' And he asked me to come to church and at least hear him out. And I started coming to church and the message got through," Thompson says.

Thompson has been going to church for three years. Putting his violent past behind him, he's now married with a 7-month-old girl.

"He enjoys [fighting]. It gives him an outlet for any frustrations that have been building up," Thompson's wife Joy says. "He's growing with the guys, and that's a really big thing."

Thompson, who weighs in at 203 pounds, has an impressive track record: 19 wins, 17 by knockout. Renken considers him a success story.

"We take people, regardless of their life, regardless of what's happened with them, and we're going to give them a channel in which to focus those energies and that aggression and that hurt and that pain in a positive way," Renken says. "Not only is it changing the way they function in life, but now they have a greater meaning to their life because we've introduced them to Jesus."

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