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 BY JEFF FALK

 LEBANON – There is a struggle going on in our society today, a war is being waged in the world. And perhaps there is no better way to fight it than by fighting.

 But this is no if-you-can’t-beat-them-join-them kind of thing. This is fighting for God, and anyone who embraces Him, fights the good fight.

  Open your mind, your heart, your soul and enter the world of Five Stones Fight Club, where everyone is welcome and fighting is encouraged, but where God is undefeated. It’s a place where ‘loving your neighbor as yourself’ takes on a whole new, but fresh, meaning.

 For traditionalists and purists, the concept of contact, combat and violence walking hand-in-hand with Our Creator is a foreign one. But in an age where the enemy certainly pulls no punches, all is fair in love, war and eternity.

  “It’s controlled aggression,” said Shane Manney, Five Stones Fight Club’s founder and lead fighter. “Self control is one of the fruits of the spirit. It’s a physical chess match. It’s a whole different thing. It doesn’t make sense to the outside world. They think that violence is bad.

 “This is a place where people come for release,” continued Manney. “Anything that takes place with physical release is the result of a spiritual issue. But it can be a coaching and relationship moment. It’s 100 percent live. Life is 100 percent live.”

 Located at 331 North Tenth Street in the city, Five Stones Fight Club is a club like no other, partly because it promotes fighting, partly because it promotes God and mainly because it promotes God and fighting. It bills itself as a ‘Mixed Martial Arts Sports Ministry’.

 It’s main purpose is to attract people – mainly 18-35 year-old males – to God who wouldn’t be reachable by any other means.

 Manney is the non-profit’s CEO, head missionary and most vocal supporter. He is also the head wrestling coach at Palmyra High School, and a former youth pastor, a former law enforcement officer and an ex-marine.

 If you cared to call him the right man for the job, you would get no agruments here.

 “This whole concept came out of the idea that the church is losing a lot of people, because there is no talk, no conviction,” said Manney, who learned to wrestle when he was five and who learned to box when he was ten. “Church is all about love, and there’s nothing wrong with love. But guys with warrior hearts can only go to church so many times. These guys have warrior hearts and I think God is using it. We need to pray for people, but we also have to do the work.

 “It’s not typical. But we are not living in typical times,” Manney continued. “We need to get the word out. The world, right now, is full of hurting people. The anxiety, the addiction, the loneliness of the world is weighing heavy on society. Many people don’t know they have a purpose, or what that purpose is. God doesn’t need you, but he wants to use you. We want to help people find their purpose.”

 While the focus may be on younger males, Five Stones Fight Club has, during its 11 years of existance, attracted people from all walks of life – and more women than you might imagine. About 20-30 people per day come to train, to learn jiu-jitsu, for physical fitness classes, to spar or simply work out on their own.

 They come for the the physical exertions of the flesh, but they stay for the spiritual fellowship that are mainfested in things like a praise-and-worship band, a free meal and even a baptism.

  “We have guys coming out of addiction,” said Manney. “We have people coming out of the occult. We struggle with legitimacy on both ends. You have the church world and they say you can’t be legitimate because you’re involved with mixed martial arts. You have the fight world and they say you can’t be any good because you follow Christ. The struggle is to get people to understand we’re legitimate missionaries trying to make it happen.

  “We call it ‘Five Stones’ because we talk about how David slayed Goliath,” added Manney. “We all have giants in our lives. We all have had challenges in our past. They build these levels. The suffering together, the training together brings us together with God.”

 From the inside and outside, Five Stones Fight Club isn’t much to look at. There are small, poorly lit training rooms furnished with used, donated equipment.

 But one doesn’t have to be overly grounded to feel the presence of the Spirit.

 “It is such a range. Everybody from teenage kids, boys and girls, your blue-collar workers and white-collar executives,” said Manney. “There are guys who feel like they were left behind. A lot of these guys are veterans. It’s sort of like the outcast ministry, maybe for people who feel like they were judged. But here, it’s real.

 “We deal with many different entities,” Manney added. “We try to engage with local churches. We have a community here. So what happens when they make a connection with Christ? We want it to grow.”

 The hope is that for those who frequent Five Stones to ultimately take their fight out into the world. For some that is manifested in competitions like Golden Gloves boxing, submission grappling tournaments and MMA cage fights.

 “Our goal is to engage them here, so they engage in life,” said Manney. “We have people who actively compete. Our numbers have grown. Our competitions have grown. We’re training for more competitions. We’ve been able to branch out. When we use our talents, it’s an act of worship.

 “The whole idea is to use MMA and fitness as a way to build relationships and share the gospel with people who wouldn’t normally set foot in a church,” continued Manney. “We find it’s a lot easier to say, ‘Yo man, why don’t you come to the gym?’ as opposed to ‘Hey, why don’t you come to church?’ But we don’t hide it.”

 With the help of a handful of like-minded colleagues, Manney founded Five Stones Fight Club in 2008. While the club has endured its share of change over time, it’s mission has remained the same.

  “I can remember thinking, ‘How are we going to fund this?'” said Manney. “We made this long wish list of things we needed. I remember someone saying, ‘Why don’t we pray about it?’ Most of what you see has been donated or bought through selling things that were donated. I did not want to come to Lebanon. I don’t know why. But I guess God had a plan.

 “I grew up in a Christian home,” Manney continued. “I had great parents. I’ve always tried to figure out what God wants me to do. I know two things: There is a God, and I’m not Him. I’ve always wanted to be the soldier, the police officer, the marine. I did all those things, but then I started to think ‘There’s got to be more to this’. I accepted Christ as my savior when I was young.”

 Five Stones Fight Club’s current location is its sixth in 11 years. This winter, the club plans to move to a more permanent home at the old Fink’s Bakery building in Annville, just a few steps from Lebanon Valley College.

 The refurbished bakery was donated to Five Stones Fight Club by Palmyra boys’ soccer coach Jerry Hoffsmith, a gift estimated to be worth hundreds of thousands of dollars.

 “The goodness of God is what’s going to make it go,” said Manney. “When God moves, He moves. This is not a human-driven thing. The ministry is doing well.

 “I try to keep things in perspective,” concluded Manney. “None of this is me. I can take a step back and say, ‘Wow, look at what God’s doing.’ I’m just happy to be part of this.”

 Yeah, God works in mysterious ways. And when He does things, He does things in His own way and in His own time.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

To purchase images in this article email jkfalk2005@yahoo.com.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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