Michael Longbons was 16 years old when his parents enrolled him into TCAR in 2009. He had rejected God, mainly to rebel against his parents and to allow himself to continue self-destructive habits and behaviors. “I knew God was real. I’d even felt His presence at different points, but I wanted to satisfy my flesh with drugs – lots of drugs: opiates, ecstasy, marijuana, alcohol, and pills. I was also a huge thief, stealing thousands of dollars from my parents, people’s cars, people’s houses.” The drugs had taken a toll on Michael’s mental health. He had come to TCAR straight from a psych ward.
Michael says coming to TCAR was a shock. At that point in his life he didn’t like the outdoors and camping, and taking a bath in a river was not his thing. But Michael got used to life at the Ranch and early on he surrendered his life to Christ because he knew he needed to change. Michael says surrendering to Christ at TC was the hardest thing he’s had to do, but once he did, it was the first time he had peace.
“In the psych ward I had already begun to open to God. I read the Bible a little and noticed I felt peace when I read it. Teen Challenge continued to confirm that God was real and I needed to serve Him. The peace there and the love of the leadership helped convince me. Everyone at TC was radical about their faith. They obviously loved me and loved Christ. The leadership there had given up everything to serve us young men. Even though they were often treated poorly by the young guys and often got nowhere with them.”
One incident at TCAR taught Michael a lesson in God’s grace that would later help him come back to God. “At one point we went and did a public service for an old man who needed help. I saw pills at his house and I took them. Brother J was real upset about it, but still worked with me in spite of what I’d done. In chapel that night they fostered an environment where we could deal with God ourselves and repent, and I did. I learned that I’m going to fail and sin and I can always come back to the foot of the cross and repent and the Lord accepts me as if it never happened. People get the idea that coming to Christ your life will be perfect, when actually coming to Christ means you become MORE aware of your sin.”
In those days the program was 12 months long. Michael was 9 months into the program when he convinced his parents to pull him from TCAR. Michael had been home on a pass, and the family was on the way back to return Michael to finish his treatment. But Michael wouldn’t quit badgering, pleading, and negotiating. He was determined to manipulate his way into not having to finish the program. In mid trip the pestering worked. They turned around and returned home to Illinois. Michael had agreed to join an internship in Missouri, away from home. He kept his word, but soon ran away from that internship and made his way back home to his drug buddies and old lifestyle.
Michael says leaving TCAR early was the worst decision he ever made. Michael says within a month he had taken his eyes off God, started listening to the music he used to listen to, and his attitude and thoughts returned to former negativity. “The next 5 years were the same as before TCAR. I began pursuing new age and psychedelics. I told myself if I’d be my own god I wouldn’t need God to be happy…New age and psychedelics offer a counterfeit freedom through enlightenment, but it actually leads to more bondage. I became more and more selfish, and that led to deep dissatisfaction with life.”
Even though Michael didn’t finish the program, he did spend 9 months with us. That is a lot of seed sowing, and those seeds come up and bear fruit. Michael says, “In spite of leaving early my time at TC was the pivotal moment in my life, and I’d likely be dead if I had not gone to TCAR.” Michael says thinking back on encounters he had with God at TCAR and remembering the peace he felt helped him decide to turn to God instead of killing himself. To help him find his way out of the deception of new age, he remembered the verse that says satan masquerades as an angel of light. Michael understood then that all the “enlightenment” was actually satan. This time Michael says he surrendered everything to God and immediately the peace returned! Michael started going to church, started being discipled, and gave up his drugs.
Michael was 23 when he came back to Christ. Shortly after, Michael fell in love with his wife, Madison. Michael says there are two times he knows for sure God spoke to him: when he got saved and when he decided to marry Madison. In fact, both he and Madison knew they would marry before they even started dating. I have been privileged to spend time getting to know Madison and she’s perfect for Michael! She is a wonderful example of Christian strength and commitment.
Michael and Madison have 2 baby girls: Eden is 2 years old and Haven is 6 months. Michael is a successful business owner, but he prioritizes his family: “I spend my days loving them, which is the most amazing thing. We spend lots of quality time together and serve the Lord together…Parenting is the number 2 best thing in my life, and my number 1 thing is being Madison’s husband. And God is over all of it.”
Concerning marriage and parenting, Michael says, “It’s not all roses, but both marriage and parenting make us more like Christ. Being married brings out all your worst faults and makes you face them. Parenting reveals how impatient you are and how selfish you are with your time.”
Both Michael and Madison know what it is to trust the Lord to bring them out of life’s lows. Madison chose to lean on God after she lost her boyfriend tragically to a stabbing. By leaning on God, she found Michael. Michael has trusted God through a nearly fatal degenerative disease. After modern medicine failed to stop Colitis from depleting his digestive system, Michael found healing through more natural methods, especially bone broth! The before and after picture is so extreme, it’s probably not appropriate to include here, but Michael knows what it is to be at deaths door with his body so wasted away no one recognizes him, and today he is the picture of health.
When asked what is the main revelation he learned at TCAR, Michael says: “It was at TC that I first knew I was not meant to live a normal life. I realized I am an extremist, and I was either going to live an extremely wicked, sinful life or live for Christ and the opposite would be true – I would live a fulfilling, radical life. That was the same thought that helped me come back to Christ at 23.” I find that is true with a lot of our guys. They are the kind of people who are called to big things if they will truly surrender everything to Christ.
When asked about his best memory of TCAR, Michael points back to the mission trip he went on. We had taken the boys to a YWAM in Wyoming and an Indian reservation in Montana. Michael says, “It was very eye opening, how little the people had. I formed a relationship with a child and we played and gave piggy back rides to the kids. My perspective on kids shifted then. I didn’t want kids before that. The best thing I got out of that trip was kids and now I’m a dad.”
I’m pretty sure Michael’s girls are benefiting from that trip and his transformation. They will never have to know the man their dad was in his youth. Maybe one day they will read this article and realize the goodness and kindness of God to save their daddy. And may the revelation of God’s love guide them on their own journey, as it guides us each on our own.
Written by Stephen P. Williams, TCAR Case Manager