MANGUM, OKLA — This is a story about a man with a rough past and tough obstacles in his life. He used his experience to help others.
This is a story about Kenny Tunstall.
Kenny Tunstall had a rough childhood. He said his parents loved him but it wasn’t a loving family.
“I had a cool childhood. I had no rules and that was what was cool about it,” he said. “I had parents that loved me but we weren’t a loving family. I grew up on my own, and there was a lot of cursing and hitting upside the head.”
Tunstall said his mother favored his sisters so Tunstall, instead, was raised by his father. His relationship with both parents was difficult.
“My mom was in the picture, but she raised the girls and dad raised me, so I didn’t really have a relationship with her and it’s still kinda that way today,” he said. “I love mom. But she didn’t raise me. The way I saw my dad treat her was the way I treated her.”
Kenny found some comfort in horses — particularly in rodeo and bronc riding.
He said bronc riding came into his life at a time he needed it. It was 1988 and he was in high school.
“I’ve always messed around with horses and rode bulls but riding bareback horses in 1988 came at a time I needed it because I had quit school,” he said.
Even though he loved football, Tunstall quit school because he was being bullied.
He also started selling drugs. He said he sold them in high school with his buddies but didn’t start actually taking drugs until he got involved with the ‘wrong guys.’
“They started coming over to the house. I’m not blaming them, but that’s what they did,” he said. “ And you know, again, I was lost and I was just needing something because rodeoing wasn’t going too good for me at the moment. All of a sudden I just started smoking and drinking all the time, and even got thrown in jail.”
It was around that time he first saw the woman he is married to today, Melissa.
They walked past each other at a football game. “When I walked by her I stopped, and something inside me goes, ‘that’s her.’”
Marriage followed in 1993. “She worked at the bank and I just played and made a mess of things,” Tunstall said.
In June of 2000, he and Melissa divorced.
“I could tell he was falling away from his faith,” Melissa said. She said that although the circumstances were not good, that time they were apart helped her get closer to God.
For the longest time she was mad at Tunstall and didn’t want him back, but she would still send letters to him just to see if he was doing good. Soon after, he contacted her. She, however, was still questioning whether their relationships would work out.
Battling depression, Tunstall met Eddie Sams, a man he calls his spiritual father. Tunstall said he met Sams after he prayed for someone to show up.
“I was so dark and I was broken and I realized what I had done and I came to my senses, and I wanted Melissa back,” he said.
Tunstall said Sams asked him what was wrong and then said, “Well God’s going to lift you up, he’s going to build you back up, and the very thing where you failed in life God is going to use you and you’re going to have a ministry. God is going to use you and her to help lots of people.”
Tunstall didn’t believe that. But not long after, in December of 2001, he and his wife remarried. Melissa said she returned to the relationship because of her husband’s growing faith.
“I would have never gotten back with him if it wasn’t for God and the change I saw in Kenny,” she said.
In 2003, Melissa and Kenny had their first child, Addy.
By now, faith was the center of the conversation. Tunstall said back when he was younger his mom went to church all the time and he would go with her, so it was like faith was instilled in him.
“I’d be partying all night long and sometimes we’d meet down at the river on Sunday with the kegs and all that stuff, but I wouldn’t drink,” he said. “They’d all ask me why and I said, ‘there’s just something about this day that you ain’t supposed to do that.’”
In July of 2001, Tunstall had found his calling — in church.
“When I was a kid we used to live by a cemetery and there was a podium that had a Bible on it, I thought,” he said. “I used to pretend to preach on it.”
Not long ago, Tunstall and his family went back to the cemetery and realized the podium was actually made with a law book.
Today, Kenny Tunstall is the head pastor at the House of Grace Church.
He said the Lord gave him Eddie Sams for a reason. He said the scripture First Corinthians 4:15, still speaks to him to this day.
“Man you know from where I come from, to being mean, fighting, and doing everything a man of darkness could do, I was horrible and immoral in every imaginable way of things,” he said. “And I was always told in school that I wasn’t going to be nothing, growing up on the poor side of town, didn’t have nothing, and the only reason I was liked was because of my ability to play sports and rodeo.”
To come from all that, he said, and to go through what he and his wife went through put his life in perspective
“(There are) still problems being a pastor and not having any idea this was in my plans,” he said. “But if I had a choice I would still pick this. It’s rewarding now, because I’m not ashamed of my past, it’s a testimony to help someone else.”