hether in a large concert hall, a Gaither taping session, or a church service, The Bowling Family communicates the power of the gospel through their music and through their testimonies of God’s faithfulness to them following a serious bus accident. The group is comprised of Mike and Kelly Bowling, their daughter Hope, and a longtime friend, Troy Peach.
Kelly, born in Beaver Dam, Kentucky, remembers singing her first song, “He’s Still Working on Me,” at age 3. She was saved at age 14 shortly before attending a Church of God youth camp. About the same time, her family broke up and later became part of a blended family—the Crabbs. For 17 years, Kelly sang with Jason Crabb, twin brothers Aaron and Adam, and their sister Terah.
Mike grew up in London, Kentucky. At age 8 he started playing piano for his church. His mom paid for piano lessons, but his teacher finally said, “There’s not much I can do with him because he insists on adding chords and playing his own style.”
Mike loved piano so much that he wouldn’t let anyone else play for services in his home church. He also loved to sing solos. “My favorite time to sing was during the offering when no one was shouting and everyone was quiet.” He admits that’s not the case today, but the spiritual lessons he learned as a child in that country Holiness church stand true today. “I remember my daddy telling me, ‘Son, don’t ever step on the stage without the anointing.’ The Holy Spirit taught me how to do that,” he said.
When Mike was 16, he rode a Greyhound bus to Atlanta to begin singing and playing the piano with the popular LeFevre Trio, who attended the Mount Paran Church of God. “I was privileged to live with Uncle Alphus (LeFevre). He was my mentor and the closest thing to a saint I had ever known,” Mike said. “I had to finish high school by home schooling, which wasn’t popular at the time.”
After high school, Mike attended college and earned a degree in respiratory therapy before returning to the music world. In 1995, he joined the New Hinsons, a singing family known best for their song “The Lighthouse.” This was a perfect blend, considering Mike’s vocals are similar to those of the late Kenny Hinson. After a short time, Mike joined another successful group of family singers, the Perrys.
In 1996, Mike was singing lead with the Perrys when he met Kelly. The first year of their marriage, he traveled with the Perrys; she traveled with the Crabb Family until she got pregnant. Then he traveled with the Crabb Family and opened for them as soloist. Although this was his first time as soloist since his childhood days of singing for the offertory, his first single went to number four on the Southern Gospel charts. Mike and Kelly knew they would sing together, but it was all in God’s timing.
The Bus Accident
On July 1, 2010, the Bowling Family’s touring bus was involved in a serious acci- dent. Kelly describes what happened:
“We were on our way to a TV taping in Indian Trails, South Carolina, which is close to Charlotte, North Carolina. Most of the time we travel at night, but on July 1, most of the family was up front. The weigh-station sign should have been posted ‘Full,’ but it wasn’t.
“Going 60 miles per hour, our bus hit a semitruck that was stopped in traffic. Mike was holding Katelanne, our youngest daughter, in his lap. He was knocked unconscious and sustained a brain injury and bleed, a broken arm, lacerations, and bruising. Katelanne had a large cut on her face that barely missed her eye, and her clavicle was crushed. They were both airlifted to the hospital in Charlotte, and the rest of the family was taken to a Charlotte hospital by ambulance.
“My back was broken. Our families were eight hours away. Terah Penhollow, who was singing with us at the time, was not injured seriously, so she was able to go through the tests with the three children.
“When tragedy strikes, you realize, It’s just me and God. In the ambulance, I remember thinking, This could easily be the worst day of my life, but I know God is with me. After five days, I was released from the hospital, but I lived in a body brace— what I called my turtle shell—for many months, and then I was on a walker.
“I had never been sick, but now I couldn’t even give my 3-year-old a bath or hold her in my lap. My bones were collapsing at one point, and the doctors thought I would need surgery, but God intervened.”
Mike said, “You can’t help but think, If we were in God’s will, this would never have happened.” Then he read Jesus’ words about Lazarus in John 11:4: “This sickness will not end in death. No, it is for God’s glory that God’s Son may be glorified through it” (NIV).
“My mother’s home looked like a hospital room with wheelchairs, hospital beds, and months of physical therapy,” Kelly said. She experienced the words to the song she had sung for years with her brothers and sister: “He will take you through the fire again.”
The Bowlings were unable to travel and sing for seven months. Mike said, “We couldn’t take care of our kids, and we had no way of supporting the family. The days seemed unbearable, but God provided. Every day when the mail ran, the checks came in so that we never missed our payments. Singers like Ricky Skaggs, the Gaither Vocal Band, and many others held several benefits for us that made it possible for us to regroup and survive.
“Katelanne required plastic surgery, but God was so faithful. Even with a crushed clavicle, in three weeks she was turning cartwheels. I believe this happened so we could encourage others. God didn’t cause the accident, but He used the outcome to reveal His plan.”
Back in Ministry
“It was natural for us to fear getting back on the bus,” Mike said. However, their calendar is now filled with 200 dates a year, and all of the Bowlings are doing well.
“It’s hard work when you’re home three days a week and gone four, but God has opened so many doors for us,” Kelly remarked.
One Alabama pastor, Tony Matheny— who has had the Bowlings minister in his church more than once—said, “Mike and Kelly Bowling are an amazingly talented family. I have been listening to Mike Bowling sing since he was with the New Hinsons. He sounded so much like one of my all-time favorite singers, Kenny Hinson, but over the years he has developed a style that is all his own. Most of all, I love his heart and his desire for ministry. He and Kelly are true examples of what Christianity is all about.”
Mike offers this advice to anyone who desires a singing ministry: “Be sold out
to God first. He gives gifts to imperfect people, but you must put God first and work hard. Ask yourself,
If it’s because you’re a good singer and want to be heard on the radio, it’s not the right reason. You can have a great gift, but you also have to love people.”