You could say Stu Perry has a double life.
On Wednesday nights, the 25-year-old competes in the ring at Ohio Valley Wrestling’s Davis Arena, where he takes on the identity of the Pastor of Disaster Stuart Miles. He’s been beaten down, kicked in the face, bruised and nearly hospitalized in matches.
During the week, he is the Church Relations and Group Volunteer Coordinator at USpiritus, a nonprofit that reaches about 1,200 kids a year for foster services, in-home intensive services and counseling.
The kids at USpiritus love tracking Perry’s matches.
On Thursday nights, Perry and Southeast Christian Church member Sherry Stumph lead a high school Bible study C-Group with 25 mostly unchurched teenagers. He was handpicked by his mentor, the late Jeff Stumph, to work with the kids that he and Sherry loved since they were in junior high school.
Perry also is a popular motivational speaker and preacher.
He works out several hours a day to stay strong and fit because, he says, wrestling is real.
“People think wrestling is staged, that we land on a thick mattress,” he said. “But we land on a quarter-inch pad on top of six-by-eights and steel beams. I’ve been to the hospital a couple of times with injuries.”
While Perry enjoys wrestling, it came as a surprise in his life.
“I was a fan of wrestling since I was a little kid,” Perry said. “But I was not athletic and overweight until my senior year of college when my fraternity brothers took me to the gym every day to help me get healthy.”
As a professional wrestler, Perry is on the Ohio Valley Wrestling television program, where The Congregation—that includes the Pastor of Disaster, Altar Boy Jade Dawson and The Apostle: Jake Glasure—grapples with the likes of Ram Jam, the Assassin, the Bodyguy and Rump Thump. On Sundays, the more dialed-down Pastor Perry preaches at area churches.
“Being a professional wrestler has been good for my ministry,” Perry said. “Kids love wrestling. I show wrestling footage and relate it to the Bible.”
During a recent sermon at Christian Academy of Louisville, Perry talked about the times in his own life when he was angry with God and had to fight through that. His new message is about fighting for those who can’t fight for themselves.
Perry wears his faith on his skin. A large tattoo on his side says “Big God” when read one way and “Little Stu” when read the other way. He has tattooed 2 Corinthians 5:17 on his wrist: “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old is gone, the new has come!”
Brad McMahan, NextGen Groups pastor, has known Perry since he was a high school student.
“Even in high school, Stu was reaching out to those who don’t know Jesus,” he said. “He’s intentional, goes to where the students are and speaks their language. He’s a great C-Group leader.”
The Stumphs picked Perry to help lead the group when Jeff was battling lung cancer.
Jeff and Stu worked on projects at USpiritus for kids aging out of the foster care system.
Perry has no idea why Jeff died at 51, but he does know that Jeff’s life continues to have an impact on those who knew him.
After Jeff died last December, Stu and Sherry led the group through a study of heaven.
“We told the kids that Jeff couldn’t wait to be there,” Sherry said. “It was far more than a story we were telling them. It was Jeff’s life.”
At Bible & Beach last summer, Perry baptized nine students from that C-Group. He is passionate about “his kids” in the C-Group and at USpiritus.
“There are thousands of kids who need a home,” he said. “All (potential foster parents) get is a sheet of paper about a kid. Imagine if someone printed off a sheet about your life or my life. Not a single person would take me. These are the coolest kids in the world. They have the best hearts. They never want anyone to be hurt the way they’ve been hurt.”