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Faith and fitness: One preacher's journey to becoming both Mr. Universe and man of God

Ron Williams grew up without a family, bounced around and battered. He found God at a point of crisis and never looked back. Now the nondenominational Christian minister and coach shares what he's learned about family, faith and fitness.
Lois M. Collins, Deseret News Modified: August 20, 2014 at 7:59 pm •  Published: August 21, 2014

Ron Williams is talking about fat: How it sometimes seems impossible to defeat, clinging stubbornly to bodies despite exercise and calorie control and even prayer.

The latter is an important point, because Williams is not just a fitness instructor and body builder with international titles. He’s also a man of God, pastor of a nondenominational Christian church who taught himself to read by studying the Bible after he wearied of his way of life and found God in his late 20s.

Recently, standing before the congregation of the Community of Grace Presbyterian Church in Sandy, Utah, as a guest speaker, his well-defined musculature hidden beneath layers of a three-piece suit, he explained the “soul wounds” that send people to food for comfort, as well as the preservatives and other chemicals in foods that make the battle to stay trim a hard one.

He has written a book about lasting weight management called “Faith and Fat Loss” and has been teaching its principles, based on such scriptural truths as self-control, restoration and healing. Ever since Adam ate the apple, he said people have had a complicated relationship with food.

“It’s not entirely your fault,” said Williams, speaking to those who are overweight. “But it is your responsibility.”

That is a statement that could apply to most aspects of his own life. Taking responsibility for change is how Williams has become the man he is today. He has chosen transformation and renewal, moving past early hurts and embracing health in his physical habits and in his relationships — with people and with God.

Rough childhood

Abandonment was the first of Williams' “soul wounds,” which he describes in interviews and in the foreword to his book. He was born in Indianapolis 52 years ago and grew up in a poor neighborhood. His father, who never married his mother, dropped him off at a baby sitter when he was 3 years old and didn't come back for him.

Williams was too young to understand all the details of his abandonment, but he remembers bits and pieces he overheard: The woman on the phone, asking his father to come get him because she already had her own eight kids to feed. When he was a little older, he heard the woman’s husband, then dying of cancer, tell her to raise the boy because no one else wanted him.

Williams stayed mostly with that family, knowing that his was another appetite they could ill-afford. As a result, he developed an eating disorder. Sometimes he was pawned off on others briefly; along the way he was sexually and physically abused. He grew up feeling unloved and, he was certain, unlovable.

By the time he became an adult, he was desperately lonely and sometimes pondered suicide. The one thing that worked for him, he says 35 years later, was sports. He’d seen how people fawned over athletes who won and he determined to be one.

“If I could win, people would love me,” he said. “Winning and losing became life and death.”

In high school, he had been an athlete, but no scholar. He dropped out, still illiterate. Although he didn't know about all of them at the time, he fathered four children out of wedlock, the first when he was 17. Later, in his early 20s, he married and had two more kids, but that marriage lasted just five years. He worked to support and maintain a relationship with all of his children, where the mothers would permit, and remains close to most of them. His youngest is now 25.

“I try to help them through the downfalls I had so they won’t make the same mistakes,” he says. "I realize that even though I financially supported my kids, one of the worst things this society is breeding is fatherless, one-parent homes. Their father's influence is so utterly important for male and female children, for their future, as well as their relationships with God."

He didn't know any of that back then. “There’s a real mentality to the ghetto that keeps you there. The welfare, the language, the music — I knew I had to leave. I actively refused to join a gang.”

Williams entered the Army at 18 on a waiver because he had no diploma. There, he competed in sports internationally. That opened the door to a government job at a military fitness academy in Indiana when he left the service. Still, his life was going nowhere.

Caterpillar to butterfly

Ron Williams didn’t like Ron Williams, and he hated being alone with himself. He wanted people to like him, which drove much of his athletic pursuit. “I didn’t enjoy competing,” he said of the intensity with which he pursued sports, in high school and beyond. “I did it to prove I wasn’t a loser.”

When he was down, he’d go into his trophy room and look at all the awards he’d won. The pleasure was always fleeting.

One night, single again, he was ditched by a woman he met in a bar who had agreed to go home with him. He learned later she had AIDS and had infected others. For some reason, she bypassed him.

He felt “an overpowering sense of death.” He was 28 years old.

Williams believed in God but was convinced God hated him. What else would explain the abandonment, the misery, the abuse? But at that low point, he heard God’s voice: “You are fighting an enemy and you cannot win. He knows your weaknesses and your strengths. Only with the Holy Spirit can you defeat him.”

He surrendered his life to God, but his transformation was not quick.

“God took me through a process. And that’s important. Because if you are given a process, you can teach it,” he said recently. He learned to read by sounding out words in the scriptures. One message came through clearly: An overcoming spirit requires courage, consistency and commitment. He had to overcome his fear, create a track record and pick a cause, then live it and teach it. He set his past aside and turned his eyes to the future. He could live a spiritually and physically healthy life, he decided. And he could help others do it, too.

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