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Pastor a Role Model on the Basketball Court

Onetime mixed martial arts competitor Brynn Harms finds a niche in rural Minnesota.

Brynn Harms is not a man to meet in a dark alley. A mixed martial arts artist, Harms has competed in various MMA competitions and wrestling events, even training others to expertly fight and defend themselves.

A man of many talents, Harms also coaches basketball. He also happens to be a pastor.

While in high school in the 1980s, mesmerized by a string of ninja movies, Harms began taking karate lessons, which soon drew him to more serious martial arts pursuits. After he graduated, Harms, continued in martial arts but fell away from his childhood faith, and stayed away until he turned 27.

“I was rebellious,” recalls Harms, 45. “It was a dark time.”

By age 29, though, Harms sensed God calling him to become a pastor. Not sure how the two would blend, he continued his martial arts career while pastoring at Milaca (Minnesota) Assembly of God. Although many in the congregation weren’t thrilled about the idea of a martial arts pastor, they understood it was more of a hobby than anything else.

“I’m not a violent person, but I can understand how people might think that,” Harms says. He doesn’t focus so much on the aggressive, violent aspect of MMA as much as the sport and art of it. But the main draw for him is to connect with people outside the faith who would never enter a church.

“These people are involved in rough things, so it’s a great bridge for me to be able to relate and talk to them,” he says.

In May 2014, Harms moved with Tanya, his wife of 25 years, to Wells. He now is pastor of the local Assembly of God church in the community of 2,300 people in south central Minnesota. By last year, Harms had retired from martial arts.

“At my age, I can’t rebound from my injuries as easily as I used to,” he says. But Harms still wanted to remain active and engaged in the community, so he turned to another sport he had experience with, and he applied for the assistant coaching position with the Alden-Conger girls’ basketball team.

“When he walked in for the interview, I didn’t know what to expect,” says head coach Jenny Hovendick. But she was so impressed with his experience, she hired him immediately. When the rest of the coaching staff and the team learned that Harms was also a pastor, they joked that everybody now had to clean up their language.

“I knew that wasn’t really true, though,” Hovendick says. “That’s not how Brynn comes across. He’s just a normal guy.”

So normal, in fact, that the girls have embraced him as a role model. Although Harms spent years coaching basketball, he never coached girls before.

“I wasn’t really sure what to do when they started pulling out photos of their prom dresses and showing me,” Harms admits.

In the public school setting, it’s difficult to talk about faith, but Hovendick sees it clearly in the way Harms carries himself.

“He really demonstrates his faith in how he treats the girls and in the way he handles both winning and losing,” she says. “I appreciate all that he brings to the game.”

“I just try to connect with people as friends,” Harms says. Thankfully, he doesn’t have to put anyone in a headlock to do that.

Ginger Kolbaba

Ginger Kolbaba ( www.gingerkolbaba.com) is a speaker and author who lives in the Chicago area. She is the author of Your Best Happily Ever After and co-author of Breakthrough: The Miraculous True Story of a Mother's Faith and Her Child's Resurrection.