A group of professional Christian athletes who've been using wrestling as a ministry tool for the last 18 years, are set to get a bigger audience next month when their work debuts on the NOW Television Network, the No. 1 urban Christian channel.
The Texas-based group, known as the Christian Wrestling Federation, have been delivering "Professional wrestling with a message!" since April 2000 at churches, schools and communities nationally and around the globe.
More than 19,000 people have given their lives to God as a result of their work, the group claims in their promotional literature, and Rob Vaughn, the ministry's founder who wrestles as Jesus Freak, recently told WFAA that the group is ready for prime exposure.
"People always tell us you're the best kept secret we don't know about. And I'm ready to not hear that anymore," Vaughn said.
Videos from the federation's YouTube channel show matches between Jesus Freak and Ace Al who is no longer featured on the group's list of wrestlers. In other videos, wrestlers sometimes use the ring as a stage to talk about wrestling ills like depression.
On Monday nights at Generations Church in Rockwall County, Vaughn generally meets up with men from his group for wrestling practice and Bible study afterward.
"It is a band of brothers," he said. "It's not just a bunch of guys that get together and wrestle on Monday nights."
B.J. Lewis who performs as Sebastion Envi believes their ministry is an alternative way to reach people with the Gospel outside the church setting.
"Because some people are put off by church, maybe intimidated by church. They think maybe they're too far gone," Lewis said. "This is just a different way to get people in the door. Because everybody likes wrestling. I mean everybody!"
Wrestler Jonny Harris, whose stage name is Johnny Lawless, remembers questioning Vaughn's pitch of wrestling as a ministry.
"I definitively remember pausing and saying, 'You mean this works as an active ministry?'" he told WFAA. "He said, 'Oh yeah, that's why we do it.'"
Kelly Goffney Jr., who's known in the Christian wrestling world as Electric Kelly Hayden, said he sees the group as more of a "fellowship family" amid the body-slamming, side-walk slamming, and pile-driving.
"Something more of a fellowship family other than just being someone else in the crowd," he said. "Just to praise the Lord. I mean that's what we're here for. That's what we're all about."
On a recent Monday after practice ended, Vaughn offered a five-minute inspirational message. Audience members who had been cheering and booing moments before also joined him in prayer.
"Man that's the greatest tag team partner you can find right there is Jesus," Vaughn said during his message.
He later noted that: "When Jesus Freak comes up to share the Gospel, they're like, 'Man, I like this guy, I've been watching him all night long, and I want to listen to what he has to say here at the end of the night.'"
Vaugh's group is expected to debut on the Now Television Network on Oct. 3.