Birmingham-area Baptist funds children’s ministry through stuntscomment (0)
July 26, 2007
By Sondra Washington
Hundreds of teenagers filled the parking lot of Jesus the Savior Baptist Church in Chisinau, Moldova, recently to see a 6,000-pound sport utility vehicle run over Tom Owen’s bare stomach.
A 57-year-old Guinness world record-setting strongman and 2002 Master Mr. USA bodybuilding champion, Owen had just performed the same stunt with a 10,000-pound farm tractor one day earlier.
But these stunts are nothing new to him. He performed at his home church, Valleydale Baptist, Birmingham, in Birmingham Baptist Association, in May and for more than 35 years, has performed more than 5,000 similar exhibitions — being run over by vehicles weighing up to 30,000 pounds and pulling a boxcar 100 yards in two minutes using only his teeth.
Unlike some strongmen, Owen, also known as “Mr. Muscle,” does not do these death-defying stunts to draw attention to himself. His goal is to tell as many people as possible that “true strength is found in a growing relationship with Jesus Christ.”
“Some people genetically are gifted in different ways,” he said. “Some people can sing and play a guitar. … I just had a strong stomach. … The fact that I can get run over by a truck and get up and walk away is a gift that God has given me.”
As a result of these amazing feats, Owen has had more than 12 neck, shoulder and back surgeries. He has broken five ribs and both hands, severed his liver and suffered countless other injuries — two of which were life-threatening. Owen was even confined to a wheelchair for two years due to arthritis in his back. Yet he refused to stop and stayed focused on fulfilling his twofold mission — sharing the gospel and helping children.
After having two biological children and adopting eight more, Owen decided to help even more children who needed homes. In 1975, he founded The King’s Ranch in Chelsea to meet that need. Unexpectedly his idea expanded to include homes from Dothan to north Alabama in 15 years, and the primary means of donor solicitation and media exposure was his strongman, wrestling and boxing exhibitions.
To further his cause, Owen earned two undergraduate degrees in health and three graduate degrees in counseling. In 1990, he founded the Alabama Youth Homes in Westover for children requiring more of a behavioral treatment program.
Some years, Owen conducted 300–400 evangelism events around the world. In the end, God allowed him to take care of thousands of children, raising more than $50 million in 25 years. “I had no idea what the need was,” he said. “At first, I thought it was just something God wanted me to do, but my compassion really grew and I just became almost obsessed with providing homes for kids. I was willing to do anything it took to do that.”
Over the years, Owen has won countless statewide, regional and national awards in bodybuilding and power lifting, but none of these are important to him.
“I have over 100 trophies,” he said. “They are in a corner. Some of them are broken. They haven’t been dusted for years. I thank the Lord that He has allowed me to win those, but I didn’t win them just to win them. I did it as a platform to share Christ.
“Those trophies are what the Bible refers to as wood, hay and stubble. The real trophies in life are when you touch people in Jesus’ name, and those are trophies that last for all of eternity.”
Owen’s pastor, Calvin Kelly, has known him for more than 20 years and believes Owen’s “heart is even bigger than his biceps” and “it beats for troubled youth, lost people, God and for his church.” “He’s a celebrity known across the country — a celebrity who doesn’t act like one,” Kelly said. “He’s a huge guy outwardly and inwardly. … I don’t know anyone who better epitomizes God’s grace than Tom. He understands how to reach the lost through love, not condemnation.”
Ross Robinson, discipleship pastor at Valleydale, added that Owen has the “gift of encouragement,” which he dispenses in the form of encouraging remarks to people working out at his American Fitness Center in Birmingham.
Using his talent for God
In the future, Owen hopes to return to Moldova to hold exhibitions for students around the country at the request of the student ministry leader of the Union of Christian Evangelical Baptist Churches of Moldova. He also plans to compete in the Grand Master division of the Mr. USA competition for men ages 60 and up.
“I really would like to do more evangelism and Christian work now that I am healthy,” Owen said. “My preference is to serve the Lord in some capacity for the rest of my life.”
“God has given all of us something we can use for Him, and I think we need to give that back to God and use whatever talents He has given us for His glory.”