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UFC's Justin Wren Fights for the Forgotten

FINDING HIMSELF
When Justin was in middle school, he was bullied.  “It can be a brutal experience in a kid’s life when they believe what kids say about him,” he says.  “Kids can be mean.”  Justin tried to fit in but quit playing sports altogether by 7th grade.  At 13, Justin was diagnosed with ADD and depression.  His parents enrolled him at a private Christian school for high school where he discovered a wrestling club.  “I was actually horrible, but I loved it,” says Justin.  “Wrestling was a perfect outlet for all the anger that had built up in me over the years.”  The coach saw a promising future in Justin and took him under his wing.  When a spot opened up in the state championship, Justin Cinderella’d his way into the finals and became the first state champion from his school at the age of 15.   He blossomed as an athlete his senior year. He was a two-time national champion and continued his wrestling career at the U.S. Olympic Education Center at Northern Michigan University.  At the first invitational that year, Justin wrestled a 32-year old Olympic bronze medalist and broke his elbow and tore his ulnar collateral ligament. While waiting through 6 months for surgery, Justin got addicted to his prescription drugs and started smoking marijuana. Unable to practice or compete, he left the Olympic Education Center after 14 months. 

Eventually Justin had surgery and seven months later, he filled a friend’s slot in an MMA tournament and won.  It was his first professional fight and something he had wanted to do since he started watching MMA fighting videos as a teen.  Justin soon caught the “fighting bug,” the rush that came with stepping into the fighting cage.  After his 5th fight, Justin tried cocaine.  He was going to strip clubs and drinking alcohol.  After each of his fights, Justin would do drugs, drink booze and blame everything on the pain of his last fight. 

In 2009, Justin’s fighting record was 9-1 and a UFC matchmaker called with an opportunity to audition for The Ultimate Fighter on Spike TV.  After making it on the show, Justin and 15 other fighters were split into two teams and lived and trained together for three months.  At the quarterfinal bout on the show, Justin lost his match and his journey was over.  With no fights on the horizon, Justin quickly sunk into depression.  He drank and popped more pills.  After the show aired, people were asking Justin for his autograph but being a reality show celebrity has it’s pitfalls and Justin was about to fall hard.

He was 22, visiting drug houses, drinking, smoking and taking hallucinogens but still training as a fighter.  Justin was in such a bad state that he missed his best friend’s wedding where he was supposed to be the best man.  Then after his fighting team asked him to leave the gym, Justin hit rock bottom. One of his friends, Jeff Duncan, heard Justin was doing badly and invited him to a five-day men’s retreat.  By the third day, Justin’s heart softened and he gave his heart to the Lord.  Staying away from drugs was a struggle and three months later, Justin started drinking and using marijuana again.  He even heard a voice that told him to end his life.  Justin immediately entered a Christian rehab program.  “I could feel the chains that bound me to my drug addiction begin to slide right off me,” he says.

Justin temporarily gave up his MMA career to discover God’s purpose for his life.  In 2011, at his one-year mark as a Christian, Justin entered a discipleship program that took him on missions trips to Haiti and the Dominican Republic.  One day, Justin had a vision where he saw himself weaving through a jungle and discovering hurting people.  He was overwhelmed and tried to catch his breath.  Suddenly, Justin knew he was supposed to go to Africa.  A month later, Justin was on his way to the Congo to help a group of people who were hated, neglected and even cannibalized: the Mbuti Pygmies.

FIGHTING FOR THE PYGMIES
“I just fell in love with the people,” says Justin.  “I felt like there was nothing I could really do to help them.” These peaceful indigenous people have been persecuted by neighboring tribes and forced into slavery.  They suffer  from drastic starvation and malnutrition.  He discovered they are the most “bullied people on earth.”  Not only are they enslaved but also cannibalized by their oppressors. Justin saw children with tuberculosis, rape victims abandoned by their husbands and orphans who had contracted HIV.  He would never view life the same again.

On his second visit to the Congo, Justin was saying his goodbyes.  The Mbuti chief made one final request of him.  “Can you help us have a voice?” he asked.  “We have none.”  Justin said yes. Feeling overwhelmed, Justin felt the Lord reminded him that by himself he was inadequate and too small to make a difference, but with God’s help, he could do it.  On that trip, an 18-month old boy, Andibo, died in Justin’s arms from drinking dirty water.  Andibo’s ailments had not only been preventable, but one pill would have cured him and would have only have been a few dollars.  “Instead, I spent $48 on his coffin,” says Justin.  That was when he decided to get them clean water, but the Pygmies couldn’t have clean water wells if they didn’t own the land.  So in 2012 Justin started Fight for the Forgotten, an initiative that works to provide land, clean water and sustainable farming to the Pygmies.  He raised enough money to buy 300 acres of land in the rainforest and was able to build 13 wells.   They are also teaching them agricultural practices to be self-sufficient.  Today Justin has raised enough money so the Pygmies own 2,470 acres of land and have 28 water wells. 

Justin met Emily on ChristianMingle.com a month after his first trip to the Congo.  They married on November 1, 2014 after he spent a year living in the jungle.  In 2015, Justin returned to MMA, but this time he is fighting to bring awareness to his Pygmy family.  His record is 14-2.

Mentioned in the Video

 

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Guest Info

Guests
Credits

MMA Fighter, Professional Record 14-2

Contestant 10th season, The Ultimate Fighter, SpikeTV

Founder, Fight for the Forgotten, an initiative that works to provide land, clean water and sustainable farming to the Mbuti Pygmies

Author: Fight for the Forgotten, Howard 2015

Wife: Emily, married 2014

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