Justin Wren has spent much of his life fighting – from a stellar early wrestling career as National Champion to becoming a star UFC fighter. In his book, “Fight for the Forgotten,” Wren shares how God shifted his focus from fighting against opponents in the cage to fighting for the “most bullied people in the world,” the Mbuti Pygmies in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
Justin is known for his successful mixed martial arts career in the UFC. Early in his career, he appeared on the Spike reality show, “The Ultimate Fighter,” cementing his reputation as a dominating force in the heavyweight division. His current record of 14-2 remains an impressive testament to his skill.
But many are surprised to find this 6-foot-3-inch, 265-pound fighter has an even bigger heart.
After discovering his faith following a six-year struggle with addiction and depression in his early career, Wren stepped away from MMA to find God’s purpose for his life.
He soon felt called to serve the Mbuti Pygmy people deep in the jungles of the Congo. While Wren knew they were an incredibly impoverished people group, he did not know the depths of their pain until he spent time living among them and shared in their suffering. They are enslaved by rivaling people groups, are even cannibalized, and refer to themselves as The Forgotten People. A turning point in Wren’s life was holding a young boy, Andibo, as he died of a water-related parasite after being refused care by local doctors.
“They were turned away from the hospital not once, but twice," says Justin. “The first time his mother was told by the nurses, ‘You're too dirty to come in here.’ The second time Andibo's mother, the Chief, and the village were rejected treatment by the doctor who said, ‘We won't waste our medicine on a Pygmy animal.’ I couldn’t believe that this little boy had just died of something so easily preventable by clean drinking water. I knew I could never turn my back on my Pygmy family and that I would spend my life fighting for them.”
Over the next four years, Wren made several trips to the Congo, with one lasting a full year for Wren to stay with the Pygmy people. He lived in the same twig-and-leaf huts they did, slept on the jungle floor and immersed himself in their culture. The Pygmies gave him the name Eféosa, which means “The Man Who Loves Us.”
“I knew for the Pygmies to be free they needed to own their own land, have access to clean water, and develop sustainable agriculture – all for the first time,” says Wren. “I founded the Fight for the Forgotten initiative to work to provide those things to them. With these three simple things, we can begin to break the chain of poverty, suffering, and even modern day slavery.”
Since 2011, Justin and Fight for the Forgotten have provided nearly 3,000 acres of land and 25 water wells to the Pygmies. They have fulltime staff of 18 Congolese nationals who specialize in community development who are working to drill new wells and teach the Pygmies farming practices.
In 2015, after a full five year hiatus from professional sports, Wren returned to his winning ways in MMA fighting, but this time he is fighting for someone besides himself.
“I still love MMA, and my work in the Congo didn’t change that,” he says. “But it did change me. I’m not fighting for myself anymore. I’m fighting to bring attention and change to my Pygmy family who don’t have voice.”
Through his book, “Fight for the Forgotten,” Wren is encouraging everyone to stand up for those who are bullied and persecuted and do not have a voice. He regularly speaks to raise awareness for the plight of the Pygmies and the hope that is available through the simple and affordable gift of clean water, and is currently working with a crew to film a documentary about his personal journey and story. Thirty-three percent of the book’s author proceeds go directly to land, water and food initiatives in the Congo.