They say you can never go home again. But try telling that to Mike Keahbone, the new senior pastor of First Baptist Church of Lawton, who has returned to his hometown after more than 20 years away.
Keahbone grew up in Elgin, the son of a Cherokee father and a Comanche/Kiowa mother. Unfortunately, his father was absent from his life and his mother had her own problems with drugs and alcohol.
“My mom, in the latter years of her life, was homeless on the streets of Lawton. Our relationship at that time was pretty estranged,” Keahbone said. “Through the struggles of being a Native American and the racial issues that came from that, and being poor, those things didn’t set me up well and created painful experiences. When I left Lawton, I was determined to not come back.”
And for over two decades, that determination remained strong. After leaving Lawton in the late ‘90s Keahbone met his future wife, Jennifer. The couple, now married, have three children: a daughter, Hannah, 13; a son Mikah, 11; and a daughter, Sarah Grace, 8.
Keahbone took a job as a full-time youth minister in Pawnee, where he served before eventually moving on to create his own speaking ministry and becoming a full-time evangelist. His journey eventually led him to a church in Albuquerque, New Mexico.
“So, one thing leads to another and then I’m on the staff at this church in Albuquerque. I was still traveling quite a bit at that time,” Keahbone said. “That was where God began to deal with my heart about being a full-time pastor. I had never wanted that before. I was afraid of that responsibility. I knew that stress of being a youth pastor, I couldn’t imagine being the main guy.”
But sure enough, Keahbone soon found himself taking over the senior pastor position at Cherokee Hills Baptist Church. The move brought him back to Oklahoma, less than two hours from his hometown. After six years at Cherokee Hills, the call came in offering him a position at First Baptist of Lawton.
“When this opportunity first came up, I was like ‘no way,’ I had no desire to comeback home,” Keahbone said. “But man, the Lord really didn’t care what I thought.”
His time in Lawton was painful, his thoughts seemed to all clump together in a tangled ball of memories. It was a past that he tried for years not to dwell on. The pivotal moment came when he decided to turn toward these memories, rather than away from them.
He wrote them down. Each painful memory that he could recall became an entry in a journal. After it was finished, he felt compelled to look for redemption in each recollection.
“The redemption list became a whole lot bigger than the painful memories list,” Keahbone said. “It was a healing moment. I’d been focused on the wrong things. I don’t want to call it divine revelation, but it was an awakening for me.”
One particularly powerful moment for Keahbone came when he revisited Mattie Beal Park, not far from his new church home in Lawton. His mother spent some of her final years in the park, homeless and estranged from her son. Before he left Lawton behind in the ‘90s, Keahbone’s mother called him one day and asked if she could go to church with him.
“At that time I was a part of the ministry at Trinity Baptist Church,” Keahbone said. “There was a big part of me that was skeptical and a small part that was hopeful.”
His mother asked him to pick her up in the park and take her to church. He didn’t expect her to be there when he showed up, and yet there she was.
“She went to church with me that day and that morning she gave her heart and life to the Lord,” Keahbone said.
Unbeknownst to Keahbone at the time, his mother had been diagnosed with cirrhosis of the liver. She lived just another 11 months after that meeting.
“Those 11 months were a miracle,” Keahbone said. “It’s crazy to talk about but my mom, in her last months, she never took another drink of alcohol or a drug. She didn’t have a single detox symptom. I felt like God was really gracious to her in that time. We mended a lot of our bridges.”
Coming back to Lawton, Keahbone returned to Mattie Beal Park, to the very spot he picked his mother up all those years ago. But rather than seeing it as the epicenter of his mother’s addiction and brokenness, as he had for so long in his life, he saw it as a place of victory.
“It was the place where my mom was redeemed. I saw it from a completely different perspective for the first time.”
On Aug. 9, Keahbone preached his first sermon at First Baptist of Lawton. In it, he talked about the church’s present, his personal past and their united future.
“Coming home … there are some places where nothing has changed and some places where everything has changed,” Keahbone said. “This is the most familiar/unfamiliar place I’ve ever been, I’m excited to rediscover Lawton.”