His ring victory, a wrestler named Apocalypse later pointed out, did not really belong to Big Tim, but to the big man upstairs: "We come out here and beat each other up every night for one reason and one reason only," Apocalypse told the crowd. "To spread the good news of Jesus Christ!"
Each show consists of four or five no-holds-barred matches, rife with taunts, hair pulls, and smackdowns, but decorously free of the coarse language and bikini-clad women prevalent in that other professional wrestling organization, the stuff you see on big time cable stations. CWF founder Rob Vaughn got the inspiration for Christian wrestling two years ago. A 31-year-old former arena football coach and an ordained Baptist minister, Vaughn--whose ring name is Jesus Freak--had briefly wrestled on an independent circuit in Texas.
He witnessed things he did not like. "It was a bad scene," says Vaughn. "Guys drinking and smoking pot in the locker room, and everybody out for himself. Nobody wants to get beat or upstaged. There's lots of swearing and extreme violence, people throwing tables and chairs, blood everywhere. Plus, there are half-dressed women parading around. And I thought, does the five-year-old in the front row really need to see all this? It wasn't anything that I, as a Christian, wanted to be a part of anymore."
But just as Vaughn was about to hang up his boots, a minister friend in San Antonio had an idea. "He said, 'Why don't you create a wrestling ministry?'" Vaughn recalled. "After a month of intense prayer, I decided to pursue it."
The ministering is plentifully mixed in with the wrestling. At intermission in Lititz, a wrestler named Jonah spoke about temptation. "What is temptation?" he asked. "You walk into a store and see something you want, but you don't have any money. You take it anyway. That is temptation for material objects! You're at a bar, throwing back some brewskis and people are startin' to like ya because you're mister funny man, dancin' around. That is temptation for social acceptance!"
At the end of the evening, Apocalypse made a distinction between accepting Jesus with your heart and accepting Him with your head. For years, Apocalypse went to church every Sunday and every Wednesday night; he led his youth group. He memorized scripture. "I knew all the right answers, but I didn't know all the right answers," he said. "Like many of you here, I was wearing a mask. And if you're wearing a mask, you have to seriously question whether you're going to heaven or hell if you were to die tonight."
Praying the "sinner's prayer"--"all you have to do is ask Jesus into your heart and he will"--Apocalypse then gave the altar call--or "ring call," if you will. Audience members who accepted Jesus were invited down front to speak privately and pray with a wrestler about their life-altering decision. Three bewildered-looking teenage girls stepped forward. "Man, that's awesome," Apocalypse said. "Everybody give 'em a hand!"
"Basically, every show tells a story," says Vaughn. "We present a gospel message through wrestling and scripture. For example, a wrestler may lose the battle in the ring one night. That's the way it is in real life--we lose battles. But with Jesus Christ as our lord and savior, we can come back and win the war! Wrestling is so popular with kids these days," he added, "it's a great way to draw them to Jesus."
|The New York|
When they're not on the road, the wrestlers train three nights a week at a warehouse in the Fort Worth area and attend a mandatory weekly Bible study. The punishing nature of the ministry takes a toll; the troupe took July off to heal. "We were so banged up," Vaughn said. "We had neck problems, back problems, shoulder problems. Broken noses and broken ribs. In Arizona, Jonah broke his wrist. Fortunately, we have a chiropractor in Dallas who treats us for free. That's his ministry to us."
"The Bible talks about what is a reasonable sacrifice," Big Tim Storm, a.k.a. Tim Scoggins, explained as he sipped bottled water after the show. "We believe the physical sacrifices we make are reasonable. I've had torn ACLs, no cartilage in my knee. I've had concussions. You name it. But that's what this is all about. We accept the risks, just as you accept the risk every time you cross the street."
The visit to Lititz drew roughly 60 to 100 attendees, mostly church kids and their friends. The next stop was the 15th annual Kingdom Bound Christian Festival, at Six Flags in Darien Center, New York, which draws some 60,000 faithful. It was easily the CWF's biggest event so far.
Vaughn says the CWF has been on a roll since last November, when the group was featured on CBS News Sunday Morning. The next day, Vaughn received a flood of calls and emails, including one from a realtor in Florida. "He said, `I'm a Christian, and I hate wrestling,'" Vaughn recalled, "`but, man, what you guys are doing is unique. I saw that you're pulling a U-Haul, and I feel the Lord is leading me to help you guys out. Go pick out a trailer, and I'll buy it for you.' So we picked out the perfect trailer, and he sent us a check."
As Vaughn sees it, the future is in God's hands. "Basically, we are surviving on no budget," he said. "We don't have an athletic shoe company sponsoring us. But somehow we manage to pay our bills every month. God continues to bless us, sending us people willing to help."
"Of course, all this could end tomorrow," he said. "And if so, it's been a great run. We've seen hundreds of people get saved. But as long as the Lord continues to support us, and we're willing and able, we'll go wherever He leads us.
"We kind of think of ourselves in terms of Jesus' disciples--just ordinary men who did extraordinary things."