From The Cage To The Congo: Answering The Call For Help, with MMA Fighter Justin Wren

Dr Daniel Amen and Tana Amen BSN RN On The Brain Warrior's Way Podcast

Things had been on a downward swing for MMA fighter Justin Wren, but then his desperation and faith provided him with the most unexpected of visions. Where that vision would ultimately lead him, no one could have predicted. In the second episode of a series with “Fight for the Forgotten” author Justin Wren, Dr. Daniel Amen and Wren discuss the remarkable circumstances that answered an entire culture’s prayers.

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Dr. Daniel Amen: Welcome to the Brain Warrior's Way podcast. I'm Dr. Daniel Amen.
Tana Amen: I'm Tana Amen. In our podcast, we provide you with the tools you need to become a warrior for the health of your brain and body.
Dr. Daniel Amen: The Brain Warrior's Way podcast is brought to you by Amen Clinics where we have been transforming lives for 30 years using tools like Brain SPECT imaging to personalize treatment to your brain. For more information, visit
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Dr. Daniel Amen: Welcome back. We're here with Justin Wren, world famous MMA fighter. But he's known worldwide. You've been on Joe Rogan's podcast seven times, and you're going to be on it an eighth time. World renowned for fighting for the forgotten. Talk to us about how that happened.
Justin Wren: Yeah. After I got sober and personally found my faith, it was just a statement on my head. It's time to fight for people. I started small and locally. I never thought about doing anything globally. It was just helping your backyard first and just help one person like you wish you could help yourself. I started at a local children's hospital, became an official volunteer there. Started at my youth group at my church, and then started at an at risk youth group, then at the homeless shelter in Denver.
It was kind of like shotgun. I just was kind of helping anywhere and everywhere I could, just have my head on a swivel. Where can I make a difference? How can I put love and compassion and action like people did for me in my bad drug addiction? I mean I went missing for eight weeks. I just disappeared on everybody. My family, no one knew where I was. Friends, family. Didn't take a call. The addiction was so bad I was hitchhiking from drug house to drug house in the mountains of Colorado. I got a voicemail. It was from my best friend and it said, "I can't believe you missed my wedding. I can't believe my best man didn't show up." That was devastating, obviously. What I've learned is hurt people, hurt people. I was hurting-
Dr. Daniel Amen: Pastor Warren says that all the time. Do you know Pastor Warren?
Justin Wren: Saddleback. Purpose Driven Life.
Dr. Daniel Amen: Yeah. Rick Warren and I wrote a book together called the Daniel Plan. That's where I go to church.
Justin Wren: Oh, wow.
Dr. Daniel Amen: I always hear hurt people, hurt people.
Justin Wren: Now I know also loved people love people or free people free people like you do with the healthy brain. You help others get a healthy brain. Yeah. I just wanted to help people or maybe helped people help people, I guess you could say, where people would help me and I just wanted to help others after that.
It started, and 11 months later, I found myself in the Congo in the rainforest with the hunter gatherer tribe, the Mbuti pygmies. Their average height is only four foot seven. [crosstalk 00:03:26] extreme.
Dr. Daniel Amen: So I'd actually feel tall there.
Justin Wren: You would absolutely. Absolutely. Anyone, for the most part, would feel tall there. They are incredible loving, amazing people.
Dr. Daniel Amen: How did you get to the rain forest in Africa working with Pygmies?
Justin Wren: That's also kind of a faith journey of sorts. 11 months after stopping fighting, I felt like I had to deepen my roots and my faith, but really sobriety and life change and being consistent and in a different way of life. I stopped fighting completely even though that was my only job as an adult.
Dr. Daniel Amen: This was your sole source of income with fighting?
Justin Wren: Yes. Absolutely. For 11 months, I was broke as a joke.
Dr. Daniel Amen: Is anybody in the MMA talking about brain health?
Justin Wren: Not for the most part. Maybe Joe. Joe is actually-
Dr. Daniel Amen: You're in a brain damaging sport.
Justin Wren: Yeah, for sure. He's even advised fighters privately like, "Hey, maybe it's time to hang it up." So there's-
Dr. Daniel Amen: Let me give you my take on this because I know one of the questions for you is, do I keep fighting or not?
Justin Wren: Do I keep fighting or not?
Dr. Daniel Amen: I've done 300 NFL players and some really cool players. A number of them are still active. When they sign like a $50 million contract, many of them are going to keep playing. Tom Brady, who's probably history's greatest NFL quarterback.
Justin Wren: 40, 41?
Dr. Daniel Amen: He's 40, 41, and he's playing at an unbelievable level.
Justin Wren: Yes sir.
Dr. Daniel Amen: But I read his book, TB 12. Since he's playing a brain damaging sport and he owns it, he's got to do everything else in his life right. He gets nine hours of sleep at night. He never eats terrible food. He knows how to manage stress. He's a warrior. He probably doesn't know, but from my standpoint, he's a brain warrior. Think about it. There are brain damaging professions. An MMA fighter, it's a brand damaging profession.
Justin Wren: Absolutely.
Dr. Daniel Amen: Just don't lie about it. Just tell the truth.
Justin Wren: Yeah. You can see many guys that are punch drunk after this and slurring their speech.
Dr. Daniel Amen: Firefighters. It's a brain damaging profession. The toxic smoke they breathe, the cyanide they inhale with furniture that burns, the emotional trauma that they see over over again. There's a very high incidence of traumatic brain injury in firefighters. But does that mean we're not going to have firefighters? No. Today in California, there's all these fires. No. We bless them, they are our heroes. They're going to do it. But what that means is they need to always have their brain in rehab. After you came and we scanned you and looked at your brain, I want you always to have your brain in rehab because you love it and you're going to do everything else right for it. Nobody thinks like that, but your brain runs everything. How you think, how you feel, how you act, how you get along with the people you love. Your brain is involved in intelligence, character, and every single decision you make. When your brain works right, you work right. I just had to throw that in there because I know my audience is listening and they're like, "Dr. Amen is talking to Justin Wren."
Justin Wren: Well, I don't want to say how this journey even started. I'm in counseling myself and with my wife, and you just came at the highest recommendation from numerous people. Even people on our board, other people were just like, "You got to get to the Amen clinic." We got here, and I started doing hyperbarics because of you. My sleep has never been better. I feel more positive. I just feel healthier doing hyperbarics and changing my diet, my routine, getting better sleep from your suggestions and just listening and binging on this podcast.
Dr. Daniel Amen: Thank you.
Justin Wren: So I'm so grateful.
Dr. Daniel Amen: I showed you how your brain could be better.
Justin Wren: Yeah. Seeing that is hopeful.
Dr. Daniel Amen: How it can be healthy.
Justin Wren: Yeah. Absolutely.
Dr. Daniel Amen: How exciting is that?
Justin Wren: Incredible.
Dr. Daniel Amen: When you leave, I want you to leave, we call it brain envy. I want you to want a better brain.
Justin Wren: I do already.
Dr. Daniel Amen: Yeah, good.
Justin Wren: This has been phenomenal. Three days being here and just so many extensive exams. I don't know if I shared, but the blood work, the urine and stool samples and swabbing the cheek and the history and the functional medicine and from Dr. Mark Filidei and Dr. Robert just is absolutely awesome being there with Dr. Johnson and you. I've never been like this, treated so incredibly well. I know that's going to help me get well, and you're helping me and it's my mission to help others through that. I'm just so thankful, and I want to share this, of course, with all my friends that are in this sport that is brain damaging. Yeah. So other MMA fighters.
Dr. Daniel Amen: Yeah. If you're going to engage in this sport, you need to do everything else right.
Justin Wren: Possible. Right.
Dr. Daniel Amen: All right. So back to how you got to Africa.
Justin Wren: Okay. Well that's quick for two minutes, but basically, I said a prayer. I was 11 months sober, 11 months in my faith, 11 months broke as a joke. I said, "God-"
Dr. Daniel Amen: Broke as a joke. I like that.
Justin Wren: "God, what do you want me to do with my life?" I know it can sound wild and crazy. I'm not sure if I shared this publicly. Well, it's in my book, so I have done that, but not on a podcast. I had a vision, and I know that sounds out there, really out there. I felt crazy for about three days, but I didn't use any psychedelics like I had been in the past and I wasn't trying to conjure anything up. I just literally said a prayer. "God, what do I do with my life?" I saw myself in a rainforest. It was like a movie in my mind, and I was walking down a foot path and I heard drumming. Then I heard singing as I kept walking. Then I came into like this clearing and it was twig and leaf huts and these people that I met.
I was flooded with like knowledge of what their struggle was. I knew that they were hungry, thirsty, poor, sick, oppressed. I knew that they were enslaved. I came out of that feeling like they felt forgotten and I cried like I've never cried in my life. I left a little, not a puddle, but whatever that size is of tears. I was overwhelmed. I didn't know where they were, who they were, and I didn't want to share this with anybody but I wrote it down.
Three days later, I met a guy named Caleb and he's kind of a wild guy, helps survival training and traveled the world and was a humanitarian missionary guy. I was like, "Wow, this is crazy." So I share it with him. He kind of perked up and I said, "What?" He goes, "Those are the Pygmies. Those people." I go, "Who?" He said, "They're in the Congo." I was like, "Where?" Three and a half weeks later, he took me there. He actually said that he was taking a group of other guys, but they all canceled. The U.S. State Department said, no one go there for any reason. The rebels took over the airport they were flying into and-
Dr. Daniel Amen: This is in what country?
Justin Wren: The Congo. Democratic Republic of Congo.
Dr. Daniel Amen: The Congo. All right. Keep this thought because we're going to unpack this story more in the next podcast. Wow, I'm blown away. Justin Wren, fight for the forgotten. He has a book, website, a foundation. You want to learn about this and even more so, stay with us for the next podcast. Did you learn anything? The one thing I want you to learn is even if you're in a stressful job or you're in a stressful marriage or you're in a brain damaging job like a firefighter or a police officer, it doesn't mean you don't get to do that job. It just means you have to put your brain always in a healing environment. Stay with us.
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