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A show of strength this weekend

Lecture to a teenager about living a virtuous life and you're likely to get yawns and blank stares in response. Rip a license plate in half, though, and you're probably going to get some attention.

Jeff Warner knows that. For nearly 13 years the Apple Valley resident has used a performance that includes feats of strength such as brick-breaking, bat-snapping and iron bar-bending to draw kids into his message of hope, restoration and redemption.

Warner will bring that message to Farmington's River Church Friday, Saturday and Sunday.

River Church pastor Mike Armbrust learned about Warner through a mutual friend. He liked the message Warner's ministry carried with it, and he liked that the performance was something that reached out to young people. He got in touch with Warner and asked him to come to town.

"As a ministry we have a real heart for reaching young people and teenagers, so we look for venues that we think would be relevant for teenagers, especially young boys," Armbrust said. "The idea of breaking bricks and bending bars and rolling up frying pans is kind of a cool thing."

Armbrust hopes people in Farmington will find the experience cool enough to fill performances at 7 p.m., Sept. 11 and 12 and at 10 a.m., Sept. 13.

If Warner's experience is any indication, it should be. He's taken his show all over the country in the years since he got his start. He's broken bricks at the Fiesta Bowl and with the exception of Alaska and Hawaii he's been to every state at least three times. His message has reached more than two million people.

The message he brings people comes largely from his own experiences.

According to his web site, warner grew up in a poor family and suffered abuse. He became a professional boxer and wrestler, and while he had financial success he felt his life lacked purpose. He turned to drugs and alcohol. He was considering suicide when he was introduced to Jesus Christ by the woman who eventually became his wife.

The brick breaking, well, that came later.

"I got suckered into it," Warner said. "Some guy just ... started talking to me. He thought I'd be good at it. Everything came really easy. I wasn't even doing it a week and I broke a world record."

These days Warner holds five world records for brick breaking.

The feats of strength came naturally, but Warner was amazed to see the impact he was having on people. After one performance, he says in a video posted online, a student wrote him a letter and attached a razor blade she'd planned to use to cut her wrist that night after school.

"If I walk in wearing a suit and a tie, they're not going to pay much attention," Warner said. "If I walk in and start snapping bats, you get their attention. If you get kids' attention, you can usually get their heart."

Armbrust said Warner's message appealed to him because of the lessons it has for kids, and because it's something the entire family can enjoy together. He hopes people who attend the shows this weekend will learn from Warner's example that they can get by the hard times in their lives.

"He has a background which was not the best," Armbrust said. "Probably the biggest (lesson) is that somebody can have the opportunity to come over great adversity to live a stellar life."