by Tyler Sanders, Gateway Seminary
One thing Southern Baptists and mixed martial arts fighters have in common is a propensity for acronyms. For instance: Nate Marquardt, a current MTS student at the RMC, retired from professional MMA fighting in 2017. He fought matches for Pancrase, UFC and Strikeforce.
Now he hopes to serve with his family in ministry.
Marquardt is pursuing a master of theological studies degree at Gateway’s Rocky Mountain. The drive that led him to a successful career in mixed martial arts (MMA) has been redirected into pursuing Christ.
As a child, Marquardt would always tell people that whatever sport he was currently playing was what he wanted to do professionally.
“When I was playing soccer, I wanted to be a soccer player,” he said. “If I was playing basketball, I wanted to play in the NBA.”
Marquardt began training in MMA in high school after watching an Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) fight.
“I was kind of a small [person] in high school,” he said and he identified with a successful UFC fighter who was the smallest guy in the tournament. “He was able to use technique to beat his opponents and that really intrigued me. As soon as I started fighting, my goal was to become a professional fighter.”
He found a gym that taught Brazilian jiu-jitsu, kickboxing and karate. By age 20, Marquardt had a contract to fight in Japan, marking his move into professional fighting. He went on to win 35 fights in his career, earning titles in Pancrase, several wins in UFC and a welterweight title in Strikeforce. He announced his retirement in December 2017 after 18 years and 56 professional fights.
Retiring from professional fighting has been an easy transition for Nate Marquardt. Many people, athlete or not, do not get to share that experience. For Marquardt, the ease of this shift is due to a greater change he experienced in 2013: salvation.
Though he grew up in what he called a Christian home, and his father was a Lutheran pastor for a few years, Marquardt did not fully surrender until later in his life.
“I learned about a false Christianity that says you can live however you want and call yourself a Christian and be accepted,” he said. “The true Gospel is the Gospel that changes lives, and I didn’t learn about that until I was 33 years old. I basically hit rock bottom. My career, my finances, my marriage, everything was in shambles. But once I truly surrendered and humbled myself, all the anger, the lust was just gone. It changed my life, our family life, changed my wife’s life and my kids’ lives.”
“My goal wasn’t to just live a good, happy life,” he said. “In fact, if by any kind of suffering I can win more people to Christ, then so be it.”
Marquardt is married to Tessa, and they have four children together plus one more from a previous relationship. They study the Bible, memorize scripture, sing worship songs and even evangelize together. One of his daughters recently gave Marquardt’s doctor a gospel tract, and Marquardt has been following up with him since then.
This is markedly different from how Marquardt grew up.
“I had a very good childhood when my parents were married. As soon as they split up I had a pretty bad childhood,” Marquardt said. Being a biblical father is something Marquardt strives for. He recalls being disciplined as a child “always out of anger.” Now he seeks an alternative: to discipline his children in a gospel-centered way.
“God is just, so we need to be just with our children, but God is also merciful,” he said. Marquardt’s goal is for his children to understand why they are being disciplined and why they receive mercy.
He holds himself to the same standard, modeling repentance for his children when he is wrong. Marquardt and his wife want to represent Christ to their children. “How can we do that if we are hypocrites?” Marquardt asked.
Marquardt watched the film The Insanity of God and began to seriously consider becoming involved in ministry.
“I had wanted to do missions as soon as I got saved,” he said, but was unsure he would be able to work with the IMB because he doesn’t have a bachelor’s degree. With encouragement from his wife, Marquardt continued to investigate and found that a master’s by exception was an option.
Marquardt is careful to say that he will follow God’s call to any task in any place, but he thinks there may be a way for his experience in MMA to be used in some unique ways.
“Once I got saved I had this idea of opening a gym in a poor area,” he said. He’d like to work with orphans and children whose fathers have left them. His vision is to serve them by “letting them train for free in the gym, helping them with homework and whatever else they need.”
Marquardt currently runs a small sports ministry called Resurrection Jiu-Jitsu with a friend who used to train with him. That friend was one of the first people Marquardt shared Christ with, and he experienced a drastic conversion from Islam to Christianity.
In this ministry Marquardt teaches a class for children and one for adults. The children listen to a Bible lesson and memorize Scripture while the adults share testimonies after training.
Though Marquardt isn’t exactly sure where God will lead him after seminary, he is ready to do it. Until then, he is going to be obedient each day.
“I see life as ministry. Once you are a Christian, you are in ministry,” he said.