Joey Lynn sat under the shadetrees near his Warrenville home last Saturday and focused on the action in the ring.
A pair of wrestlers sprang off the ropes, hurling their bodies onto a seemingly lifeless opponent stretched out on the canvas - not the good canvas Mr. Lynn and his brood of wrestlers save for public matches, but the worn one.
The flying stunt won Mr. Lynn's approval.
"That's good," he said over the sounds of grappler groans and bodies slamming the mat. "That will have to be a finisher right there. Once somebody takes both of those shots, they are gone."
The 16-by-16-foot ring with bright yellow ropes cost approximately $3,000 to build, but it is only a prop he uses to spread the Gospel.
Inspired by Christian-wrestler George South and John Jacob's Power Team, Mr. Lynn and fellow shaved-head wrestler Daniel Kaufman ended a two-year association with the Augusta-based National Wrestling Federation six months ago and founded the Christian Wrestling Alliance.
There are people who won't set foot inside a church, even on Easter, but they will come see a wrestling show, even if it is in a church, he said. "This is a way we can reach people."
Alliance ends exhibitions with wrestlers gathered around a Bible in the middle of the ring and an altar call. Its theatrics are less Raw Is War or Smackdown - cable TV's No. 1 and No. 2 shows - and more parable, said Mr. Lynn, who is working on a David-and-Goliath theme for a future exhibition.
Instead of secular music in the background at matches, fans hear heavy-metal Christian bands. No weapons are allowed in the ring, and no stunts are allowed outside. Anyone using profanity is ejected.
Fans go home from Alliance matches with tracts and Bibles. "We make sure everybody has one before they leave," he said. The ministry sells T-shirts and CDs at exhibitions to cover expenses, such as the light and sound systems.
Many of his wrestlers were into backyard wrestling before playing for Alliance. Taking them out of that is also part of the ministry, which charges $10 per training session.
"We are teaching them how to do it without getting hurt," said Mr. Lynn, who suffered a broken hand during his first match and needed surgery.
Josh "Super Freek" Richardson, 16, a rising junior at Barnwell High School, said that he lives for wrestling with Alliance - Christianity and wrestling are his two passions. "So I'm loving this. I don't know how I made it through without this before."
Ignoring the humidity, the slaps and the taunts - "Mom, he's all right .. . he looks better that way" - Josh and other wrestlers wear themselves out on Saturdays at Mr. Lynn's outdoor ring. About 14 to 16 players are regulars. Most are in their mid-teens to mid-20s.
Except for a bloody lip or two, matches have been injury-free - bumps and bruises don't count, Mr. Lynn said, they are part of the game.
"The slaps you hear are real," he said, "but there is a little saying: 'If you can't take it here and you can't take it there, take up tennis."'
Body-slams, headlocks and other moves are choreographed for new players. Experienced wrestlers in the ring talk to one another, "trading heat," or "high spots," that is, they share the spotlight.
Alliance expects its players to look and act like professionals. During matches, they wear boxing boots that lace almost to the knee. "Even though I'm not wrestling anymore, I'm going to look the part," said Mr. Lynn, who wants to order new boots for himself in red snakeskin.
Mr. Lynn, who is not ordained, has worked in children's ministry for 18 years. He works clown crusades as a hillbilly in a floppy hat named Beauregard Gooch.
As a young man, Mr. Lynn took his faith for granted. He drifted from the church, but returned after a period of reconciliation. He later saw his friend, Mr. Kaufman, accept Christ. "His conversion was a faith-builder for me," Mr. Lynn said. "It helped me realize I needed to stop running from God and acknowledge the gift he gave me."
Wrestling is still in his blood. The discomfort in a knee he injured in a motorcycle accident seemed to fade with the sound of each body slamming the mat last Saturday. "I'm not saying I'm not (wrestling again) - I might," he said, watching the roughhousing inside the ring. "If I can rehabilitate to the point I can get back, I'll get back in there."
The Christian Wrestling Alliance will set up its ring at First Baptist Church in Gloverville for a free exhibition at 4 p.m. Saturday. For more information, call (803) 663-0241 or see the Alliance Web site, www.wrestlingministry.cjb.net.
Reach Virginia Norton at (706) 823-3336 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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