Saturday, October 20, 2012

Teen Mania Global Expeditions: The Ultimate Letdown

I was just thinking about it, and I have to say, my Teen Mania missions trip was one of the most disappointing and damaging events in my life.  I have never worked so hard to get something, and then been so let down...EVER.

I spent almost two grand on my Global Expedition.  That was money that my parents didn't have, and I had to work very hard to raise it.  It took almost a year of saving every penny, selling candy bars, begging everyone at my church for money, giving up my personal belongings for garage sales, etc., to be able to go on this trip.  It really was a once in a lifetime experience as far as I was concerned.

Then I got to Venezuela, and the truth of the situation turned out to be very different than what I was sold by Teen Mania when I signed up for the missions trip.  You can read my whole story here, but I can honestly say that what happened on that trip has haunted me well into my adult life (I can't believe I just turned 30 :-/).

The other day I was talking with my doctor during a routine visit, and she had to fill out a form for the insurance company listing all of my different diagnoses for various medical conditions.  I was surprised to see "PTSD" listed--that's post-traumatic stress disorder.  I asked her was that was about, and she said it was because of all the panic attacks and mood episodes I have related to Teen Mania.  I have nightmares about my missions trip to this day.  I can hear certain songs or see certain things that put me right back in that place I was at when I was 16 years old.

In hindsight, going on a Teen Mania Global Expedition was one of the worst decisions I have ever made.  If I had it to do all over again, I definitely would have spent the time, effort, and money on something else...perhaps a missions trip with my local church, or something entirely different.

What do you think?  Years (or even months) later, do you think going on your Teen Mania Ministries missions trip was a good decision?

Monday, November 7, 2011

Mind Over Mania: The Day After

Well, things have certainly been eventful since MSNBC aired their "Mind Over Mania" documentary last night. The program, which chronicled the stories of many current and former Honor Academy interns, definitely didn't paint Teen Mania Ministries in the best light.  In fact, the program raised such serious questions that it will probably dissuade many parents & teens from participating in Teen Mania activities.

Just before "Mind Over Mania" aired last night, Ron Luce sent an e-mail to Teen Mania's massive mailing list claiming that he and other senior leaders had been duped into participating in the documentary.  He declared the program "negative" and "inflammatory" before he had even seen it.  Not surprisingly, Teen Mania supporters are not happy about the information that was broadcast, and they are out in full force today.  If you want some idea of what that looks like, check out the comments here and here.

Ron Luce included a link to the trailer of the MSNBC program in his mass e-mail, and current Honor Academy interns were shown a recording of the show this morning.  This should not surprise anyone--MSNBC has a direct pipeline into 78 million homes, so this story was just too big for them to ignore.  I expect Teen Mania to offer an official rebuttal to the program sometime in the near future, although I do not know of any specific plans or what form that rebuttal might take.

To those who were dismayed by what they saw in "Mind Over Mania" and want to do something about it: I think this is a key moment in time for our community, and the airing of this documentary presents some unique opportunities.  For the first time, the plight of those hurt by Teen Mania has been covered by a well-respected, national news organization.  That is HUGE!

Here are some ways we can use the airing of "Mind Over Mania" to help get the word out that Teen Mania is a dangerous place for young people:

  • Show the documentary to your friends and family!  While the program only just started to scratch the surface of the many problems at Teen Mania, the presentation was compelling and succinct.  Many times, I have found it difficult to really explain to people the nature or extent of the problems with Teen Mania.  I personally feel like I can use "Mind Over Mania" as a tool to help people understand why I was hurt and why I want to take action.
  • Write about "Mind Over Mania" on the internet.  Looking at my blog traffic, I can tell that lots and lots of people are searching for information regarding this documentary.  A quick Google search will reveal that lots of people are buzzing about the show.  If you can, take some time to write about your personal reaction to the show.  Was your experience similar to those of the women who shared their stories on the show?  Do you think Teen Mania is a good place for teens?  Write about it and post it to your Facebook, Twitter, tumblr....whatever!  If you want to remain anonymous, it only takes a few seconds to sign up for a new account.  RIGHT NOW people are searching for information on Teen Mania, and we want to make sure that our voices are heard clearly among all the Teen Mania "party line" chatter.
  • Use "Mind Over Mania" to help reach out to the local and regional media in your area.  The fact of the matter is, this IS a huge news story, and Teen Mania continues to hold live events all around the country almost every weekend.  Chances are, at least one media outlet in your area would be willing to run a story about a Texas-based cult coming into town to recruit teenagers.  So, if a live Teen Mania event is happening near you, call your local newspapers and television stations....ESPECIALLY the local NBC affiliate.  Tell them about your concerns regarding Teen Mania, and let them know that MSNBC has already run a major story about the organization.  Get a copy of "Mind Over Mania" into the hands of any reporter, editor, or producer that expresses even the slightest bit of interest.  You'll save them some research, and they'll know it is a "safe" story to run from a legal standpoint--two things that will make it much more likely for them to run with your story idea!

Those are some of my initial thoughts....I'm sure I'll have more over time.  If you need a copy of the documentary and are having trouble finding it online, please send me a private message at the e-mail address in the sidebar, and I will try to help you find it.  And to my fellow former "manics"--please continue to speak up about your experiences and get the truth out there!  That is what is going to make all the difference in the world.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Live-Blogging the MSNBC "Mind Over Mania" Documentary

As many of you know, MSNBC is airing a 1 hour documentary about Teen Mania Ministries called "Mind Over Mania" this evening (November 6, 2011) at 10:00 PM Eastern Time. I'll be watching this with many of you as it airs, and have decided to live-blog my initial thoughts and reactions.

Before it even gets started, here is what I'm expecting:

  • Numerous former Honor Academy interns recounting personal stories of abuse, neglect, and general mistreatment.
  • Internationally-renowned experts stating that Teen Mania is absolutely a cult or a high-control group that should be avoided.
  • "Celebrities" from the ultra-conservative Christian movement stating that Teen Mania is a fabulous group to be involved with.
  • Teen Mania leadership admitting there "may" have been problems in the past, but that was years ago and they are "fixed" now.
  • Suggestions by Teen Mania that former interns who are now speaking out have some sort of a grudge or vendetta against them.
  • No definite conclusion either way, since MSNBC doesn't want to get sued.
We'll see what happens! Start refreshing this post at 10:00PM Eastern Time for the latest. Also, be sure you are following @TeenManiaWatch on Twitter.


10:00 PM - The "Mind Over Mania" special on MSNBC is starting. Showing the same trailer that was posted on the MSNBC website earlier this week.

10:01 PM - A young woman named Raven is telling her story about how she got involved with Teen Mania. Seems similar to my own story....talks about having mystical experiences at live Teen Mania events.

10:02 PM - Dave Hasz gives a brief description of the Honor Academy and then ESOAL footage is shown.

10:03 PM - Former intern Raven recounts her experience of her mother visiting her 10 months after joining the Honor Academy and realizing that something was seriously wrong.

10:04 PM - Dave Hasz compares the Honor Academy LTEs ("Life Transforming Events") with "real life." Footage is then shown of Dave Hasz verbally tormenting an intern to the point of tears.

10:05 PM - Raven is describing symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder as a result of her Honor Academy experience. A licensed-counselor talks about how experiences like Raven's can lead to severe anxiety disorders.

10:07 PM - Raven will be attending a weekend-long retreat to discuss her Teen Mania experience.

10:10 PM - The show is back from commercial break. Raven arrives in Texas, and Mica is introduced, the Recovering Alumni blogger. Mica talks about her journey after Teen Mania and her need to work through the experience in therapy...sounds a lot like mine.

10:12 PM - Battle Cry footage is being shown and Ron Luce is screaming like CRAZY! If "whoever speaks up loudest shapes the culture" like Ron Luce says, Teen Mania better watch out!

10:13 PM - Ron Luce and current interns are talking about how Acquire the Fire brings teens to God--aka "the party line." All of this footage has been seen on the GodTV network and the "ATFtv" television show which airs on networks around the country.

10:14 PM - Raven described live Teen Mania events as "fake" and "planned." She says the events lost their sense of honesty once she became an Honor Academy intern. Teen Mania's annual income in 2010 was revealed to be over $18 million.

10:16 PM - Wendy & Doug Duncan, internationally-renowned cult experts are introduced, and 5 former Honor Academy interns agree to participate in a discussion about their experiences with mind-control.

10:17 PM - One intern talks about how the Honor Academy was pitched as a way to find out God's calling for her life. Unfortunately, this is how it is pitched to everyone. How can Teen Mania telemarketers know God's plans?

10:18 PM - Mica brings up the fact that interns are frequently mislead as to what to expect at the Teen Mania Honor Academy.

10:21 PM - More verbal abuse of teens by Teen Mania leadership. Dave Hasz explains the ESOAL acronym, and Raven calls ESOAL the "beginning of the end" in her experience. Another intern recounts physical and verbal abuse at the hands of Teen Mania leaders, including Dave Hasz.

10:22 PM - According to Raven, Dave Hasz said "Stop shivering. You sound disgusting." REALLY?!? What an awful thing to say to someone.

10:23 PM - Teens are shown rolling down a hill covered with other people's vomit. Life transforming indeed. Ron says ESOAL brings about "eternal change" in the lives of participants.

10:24 PM - A former intern talks about how Heath Stoner, the director of the Teen Mania Honor Academy, told her to ignore a physical ailment and do ESOAL and "trust God to heal her." Numerous interns discuss the pressure not to ring out of ESOAL.

10:25 PM - Ron Luce shows Teen Mania's MASSIVE telemarketing operation. Without a steady flow of interns to work the phones, Teen Mania would go bankrupt. Numerous interns express the heavy pressure they felt to meet quotas on the phone...without any consideration for who God may or may not be calling to participate in Teen Mania.

10:27 PM - Interns talk about paying Teen Mania for the privilege of working 10 hour days. Interns had to ask permission to use the bathroom at work. One intern says that Teen Mania kept the office at 85 degrees, but when potential interns visited, the air conditioning would be turned on. The former intern says the organization essentially lies to potential recruits during Honor Academy Preview Weekends.

10:32 PM - Back from another commercial...Teen Mania staffers gush about how wonderful the organization is.

10:33 PM - Ron Luce is giving his typical spiel about rejecting "pop culture."

10:34 PM - Doug Duncan starts to talk to former Teen Mania interns about the Lifton criteria for thought reform. Former interns immediately recognize "milieu control" as part of their Honor Academy experience.

10:35 PM - "Mystical manipulation" is also identified by former interns as being practiced by Ron Luce and Dave Hasz.

10:36 PM - Teen Mania interns describe the demand for absolute "purity" and the continual pressure to be fasting--both from food and other activities. This is recognized in many cults and high control groups.

10:37 PM - Former Honor Academy interns discuss the demand for confession to other interns and leadership, which often resulted in intense guilt and condemnation.

10:42 PM - Honor Academy participants discuss the "Cross Walk," an event that has been discontinued by Teen Mania. Seems horribly unsafe and scary. It was essentially replaced by ESOAL. Now ESOAL has been discontinued. Should we really believe PEARL is different?

10:43 PM - Recent Teen Mania interns discuss other "life transforming events," which are equally disturbing and abusive. This "Unreached People Group LTE" sounds like the farthest thing from reality that you could get.

10:45 PM - Wendy and Doug Duncan unwaveringly state that Teen Mania is abusive and that events like the ones just described should never have happened.

10:46 PM - Ron Luce states that people who got hurt because they didn't want an "in-your-face challenge." Ron says that the Honor Academy is not for everyone, even though telemarketers are told to tell potential recruits that everyone IS called to Teen Mania.

10:47 PM - Former interns talk about how Teen Mania "loads the language," another classic sign of a cult.

10:48 PM - Former interns discuss how normal human emotion is painted as "worldly," and how the Honor Academy essentially robs participants of their humanity. Wendy discusses how dissent was handled and punished by Teen Mania leadership.

10:49 PM - Raven described Teen Mania's actions towards her as "soul murder."

10:50 PM - Raven discusses her life after the Honor Academy, and how she wasn't the same person when she got home and felt like she lost her individuality.

10:53 PM - The Duncans discuss how participants of thought-reform groups end up with anxiety, depression, and even being suicidal. Mica and other interns identify strongly with a list of symptoms commonly experienced by former cult members.

10:54 PM - One former intern talks about how she avoids even thinking about Teen Mania. That's something I've definitely experienced in my own life.

10:55 PM - Doug Duncan talks about how Teen Mania meets all 8 of Lifton's criteria for thought-reform. Whether you want to call them a cult or not, Teen Mania brainwashes teens.

10:56 PM - Ron Luce states again that the Honor Academy is not for everyone, a stark contrast from what Teen Mania marketing materials state.

10:57 PM - The Duncans begin to talk to the former Teen Mania interns about how to start to move-on from their hurtful experiences at the Honor Academy.

10:58 PM - Former interns talk about intense loneliness and isolation after the Honor Academy.

10:59 PM - Mica discusses her general thoughts about her weekend with the Duncans. The other interns who participated said the experience was freeing and healing. It is revealed that Ron Luce declined a follow-up interview for the program.


Wow! That went by quick! I feel like they could have spent another whole hour talking about Teen Mania--MSNBC really did just scratch the surface. Overall, though, I am extremely pleased with how the show turned out, and I am hopeful that "Mind Over Mania" will be viewed by many parents and teens. I need to watch the documentary again and put together some more coherent thoughts to post here.

In the mean time, if you enjoyed tonight's program, use this feedback form to tell MSNBC "thank you" for doing such an awesome job reporting the truth about Teen Mania...and be sure to let them know if you would like to see more programs like "Mind Over Mania."

Friday, May 20, 2011

Bad Dreams About Teen Mania

Here's a post from the heart.

I've been doing a lot of reflecting lately...on my life, where I've been, where I'm at now...things that normal almost-30-year-olds tend to think about.

I think about my relationship with God, and the church--and I just keep coming back to Teen Mania. So much of the way I see the world, faith, God, and even myself was instilled in me through my involvement with Teen Mania Ministries.

Because of all my reflecting, I've been having dreams about my experience in Venezuela on a short-term Teen Mania missions trip. The dreams aren't exactly "nightmares," but they certainly aren't pleasant. They usually involve me being "trapped" somehow in a foreign country and trying desperately to get home, but ultimately being unable too. I often wake up feeling extremely "shaken" from these dreams, and I certainly don't sleep well on the nights when I have these dreams. As many of my readers know, I am a participant in the Recovering Alumni forums, and many folks there who have been involved with Teen Mania are still having bad dreams about their experiences years (and even decades) after their participation in the group.

I was never an Honor Academy intern, so my direct involvement with Teen Mania only consisted of a handful of Acquire the Fire conferences and a month-long Global Expedition. I would imagine that bad dreams tend to plague Honor Academy participants, some of whom spent years of their life at Teen Mania, even more than they bother me.

From a purely "common sense" perspective, it would seem to me that if you have a ministry running multiple programs that many participants are having nightmares about years later, that should serve as a major warning sign of serious problems.

One or more of these must be present in the victim: flashback memories, recurring distressing dreams, subjective re-experiencing of the traumatic event(s), or intense negative psychological or physiological response to any objective or subjective reminder of the traumatic event(s).
This isn't sensationalism. I know of at least a few people who have received confirmed diagnoses of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) because of their experiences with Teen Mania Ministries.

If I were a parent, I would never let my child attend an event (or year-long program) where there was a potential for him or her to walk away with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder! As a former Teen Mania participant, it bothers me that my experience with the group continues to haunt me to this day, and it makes me want to shout from the rooftops that "Teen Mania is dangerous for teens!"--and to encourage others to join me. Safe programs with solid reputations don't tend to inflict psychological trauma on those who attend. Cults and high-control groups do, though!

For now, the bad dreams continue. But hopefully not tonight. Sleep well everyone!

Friday, April 1, 2011

Teen Mania Watch Partners with Honor Academy to Sponsor ESOAL 2011

Dear Readers,

As many of you may know, Teen Mania Watch has been among the most vocal critics of the annual ESOAL (Emotionally Stretching Opportunity of A Lifetime) event held by the Teen Mania Honor Academy each year. This blog, along with concerned citizens everywhere, has characterized ESOAL as being coercive, dangerous, and even downright abusive. However, after reading Teen Mania's internal training document about how Christians should "major in the majors," (see pages 19-21 of the Google document), along with Teen Mania's assurance that they are definitely not "hazing" anyone, we have had a change of heart.

Therefore, I am pleased to announce that Teen Mania Watch will be the proud sponsor of ESOAL 2011. Considering how much ESOAL "changes people's lives," Teen Mania Watch is officially offering the following promotional & financial consideration to Teen Mania Ministries:

In exchange for the aforementioned promotional consideration, Teen Mania Watch asks nothing more than that Honor Academy interns be allowed to view truthful and accurate information about the organization while on campus.

We've tweeted the Honor Academy and asked for a response, and we'll let you know when they get back to us.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Teen Mania Publishes Training Documents on Public Website

One of our readers recently contacted Teen Mania Watch to let us know that while doing a Google search, they stumbled across a strange website from Teen Mania Ministries. I took a look at the link that was sent to me, and I couldn’t believe my eyes. Here were pages upon pages of documents used to train Honor Academy interns who work as telemarketers to sell tickets to Acquire the Fire and BattleCry events. I didn’t believe that all of this information was actually on a website that anyone could stumble across by doing a simple Google search.

So I tried it out....I entered the keywords “Teen Mania tax ID number” into the Google search box, something any major donor may want to find out, and sure enough the second link that appeared in the search results is from this mysterious Teen Mania Internet portal.

Obviously, I expect that this site will no longer be publicly accessible in the very near future. But Teen Mania Watch believes that knowledge is power, so we have archived the entire Acquire the Fire call center “knowledgebase” in the following 10 PDF documents:

Again, all of this information is available on a public website, that can be found by doing a Google search, as of 1:00PM ET on March 24, 2011. All Teen Mania Watch has done is archived this public information.

Teen Mania Watch will spend a lot of time highlighting the ins-and-outs of the Acquire the Fire marketing strategy, as outlined in these documents, in the coming weeks and months. In the meantime, a couple of things jump out at me immediately.

First off, I’ve had several jobs as a telemarketer, including raising money for State Troopers, selling infomercial products, and hawking vacations to Disney World. I’ve had to read a lot of sales pitches to people on the phone, but I can honestly say I have never seen sales tactics so aggressive as what is being suggested in the Acquire the Fire call scripts. Honor Academy interns are basically trained to say whatever it takes to sell as many tickets as possible, and some of the lines that are being used are slicker and more deceptive than anything you’d hear from a used car salesman.

Second, it amazes me that Teen Mania instructs ATF callers to basically promise “encounters with God” and “life-changing experiences.” As if those things are something that you can buy with the $50+ cost of admission. Or guarantee will happen over the course of 27 hours, one weekend per year.

Stay tuned for more, folks....we’re just getting started!

Acquire the Fire: Where It All Begins

In the past week, the controversy swirling around the Honor Academy's annual ESOAL event has increased significantly, thanks to a new set of videos released on the Recovering Alumni blog. These videos show interns in extreme mental duress being verbally and physically harassed by Teen Mania leadership, including Dave Hasz and Heath Stoner. The videos are absolutely heart-wrenching, and it makes you wonder how Teen Mania recruits hundreds of teens a year to pay for the "privilege" of working for the organization.

The answer, of course, is that Teen Mania relies heavily on their live events like Acquire the Fire to find new recruits for more expensive programs like Global Expeditions and the Honor Academy. In fact, it is extremely rare to find a Global Expeditions participant or an Honor Academy intern who wasn't first introduced to Teen Mania Ministries through an ATF event. Once youth arrive at Acquire the Fire, Teen Mania relentlessly and aggressively markets these expensive programs to everyone in attendance--some ATF attendees have even described the event as a "weekend-long infomercial" for Teen Mania. High pressure tactics are used to get kids to commit to go on a Global Expedition or sign up for the Honor Academy on the spot. If a teen won't make a firm commitment during the ATF event, their contact information is gathered so Teen Mania can continue their marketing via e-mail, direct mail, and phone calls for the next several months or even years.

In short: the journey from "average American teenager" to devoted follower of a high-control group many have described as a "cult" begins at Acquire the Fire.

Surely, though, Acquire the Fire must really be a great experience for teens....right? Why else would they come? Why would churches bring their youth groups to Teen Mania events year after year? Why would people spend the money on Acquire the Fire tickets if the event wasn't amazing?

The answer to those questions and more may shock you as Teen Mania Watch explores the ins-and-outs of Acquire the Fire marketing in our next several blog posts.