Sunday, November 7, 2010

Surprise! Your Teen Mania Mission Trip Will Cost Hundreds of Dollars More Than Advertised!

Teen Mania Ministries recently revamped their Global Expedition website, adding snazzy marketing materials downloads for teenagers, including this Missionary Step-by-Step Guide. In this guide, you'll find a chart on page 3 (see above) listing all the expenses that aren't covered in the advertised price of your Global Expedition.

Teen Mania recruits teens for their mission trips at Acquire the Fire events all over the country, so most teens who aren't from Texas will need to shell out at least a couple hundred dollars for a flight to the Dallas/Fort Worth airport. Of course, Teen Mania won't be picking you up from the airport for free,'ll need to pay them another $49 for that privilege. Oh, and if your mission trip involves you taking an international flight, Teen Mania might add "up to $350" to the cost of your trip--but you won't find out exactly how much until you've already given them half of the money due. If that extra $350 makes the total cost of your trip unaffordable, well, it sucks to be you....because the money you've already paid to Teen Mania is not refundable under any circumstances.

If you are kind enough to volunteer as an unpaid leader on a Global Expedition (without which the trips would not be possible), not only do you need to pay for your trip, you'll need to shell out $25 for a background check ($75 if you're late!) and an extra $89 for a leadership training session. Doesn't sound like many other "volunteer positions" I know of....

As I explored in the last post, Teen Mania missions trips are already grossly overpriced & represent a lot of "profit" for the ministry. Most other organizations offer mission trips for much less money. But as you can see from the fee chart above, most teens end up paying hundreds of dollars more for their trip than the prices Teen Mania prints in all of their slick-looking missions brochures.

The fact of the matter is, this "nickel-and-diming" is not a common practice for most organizations that take people on mission trips--especially local churches. When you go on a trip with a church in your town, there's no domestic airfare to pay for, no airport shuttle to deal with, and the advertised cost of the trip is almost always "all-inclusive." They won't be charging for leadership training, and you'll know about any "fuel surcharges" when you sign up for the trip.

One last thought: if Teen Mania Ministries actually included all of the fees associated with their mission trips in the base price they advertised, they know interest in their trips would drop dramatically, and they wouldn't be able to recruit as many teens. Maybe that's why the extra fees are buried in the back of a brochure most teens & parents won't see until after they've already paid to apply to go on a Global Expedition??

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Why Does a Teen Mania Global Expedition to Panama Cost So Much?

As I Tweeted the other night, I was looking at the Teen Mania mission trips available over the holidays, and I couldn't believe how much an 8 day trip to Panama cost: almost $1900 dollars!

I price hotels and flights fairly regularly....and I've been on a Teen Mania Global Expedition so I am somewhat familiar with what to expect in terms of food and accommodations. Just by looking at the price of the trip, I knew there was no way that TMM's actual expenses were anywhere close to what they were charging. But, in the interest of educating others, I decided to sit down and do the math--so everyone can see just how much profit Teen Mania is making off the backs of teens who decide to go on a Global Expedition.

Actual Expenses:

Round Trip Flight to Panama: $665
Food: $15/day x 8 days = $120
Lodging: $12.50/person/day x 8 days = $100
Ground Transportation: $100/person
Ministry Materials/Supplies/Misc = $75/person
Leadership Subsidies - $75/person
TOTAL: $1135


DIFFERENCE (aka "profit margin"): $739 (39.4% of the trip price)

Now, since I'm sure there will be arguments about how I arrived at these figures, let me take a moment to explain.

Round Trip Flight to Panama: This is probably the biggest trip expense that Teen Mania has the least amount of control over. I looked up round-trip flights from Miami (where the trip starts) to Panama City for the trip dates on I assumed that Teen Mania would pick the cheapest flight.

Food: As anyone who has ever been on a Global Expedition knows, the food on Teen Mania missions trips isn't the best. A lot of times, teens are served nothing but peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for lunch or dinner. Local churches in host countries also often feed the teenage missionaries at no expense to Teen Mania. Restaurant meals are rare on Teen Mania missions trips. I alloted $15/day/person for food, although the actual expense to Teen Mania could be much lower depending on their reliance on local churches and/or PB&J.

Lodging: One of the better hotels I could find in Panama City was $50/night, and this is the price I used in my calculations. Many hotels in Panama City were only $20 or $30 per night, so Teen Mania could definitely find cheaper accommodations than the ones I used in my math. I also assumed that teens would only have to sleep 4 to a hotel room, although I know it is a regular occurrence for TMM to try to squeeze 6 or more people into a hotel room on missions trips. This also assumes Teen Mania even springs for a hotel room--on many trips, teens simply sleep on the floor of a local church (or even prison!) at zero expense to Teen Mania Ministries.

Ground Transportation: I allotted $100 for buses/vans to transport teens to ministry sites while in Panama, although this seems a bit high to me for a Central American country. I believe this figure represents the most Teen Mania could possibly spend transporting teen missionaries in Panama. I know that a lot of time local churches donate the use of their vehicles to TMM, so their actual ground transportation expenses per missionary could be much less.

Ministry Materials/Supplies/Misc.: In my experience, Teen Mania doesn't spend a whole lot of money on ministry supplies. On my missions trip, the only thing they "gave" us that would fall into this category was the costume for our drama--which we didn't get to keep, was poorly made, and obviously worth less than $10. But, I decided to give TMM the benefit of the doubt, and I used this category to account for expenses that might not to fall into any other category.

Leadership Subsidies: Finally, the project directors, team leaders, etc., that help TMM on their Global Expedition trips receive a discount on the cost of their trip. The discount isn't very much, and the leaders definitely still give Teen Mania money to go on the missions trip. But, in the interest of fairness, I allotted $75 per full price participant to help offset the cost to Teen Mania of providing this leadership discount.

I think this is definitely a very fair assessment of the actual cost to Teen Mania to send a teen to Panama for 8 days given the typical TMM level of accommodations. As you can see, Teen Mania Ministries stands to make a lot of money by recruiting the maximum number of participants for this missions trip. If they get just 100 teens to go on the trip, and make $739 on each one, that's almost $74,000 extra they have in the bank. That's not exactly chump change.

In fact, it's no secret that Teen Mania has built in a "profit margin" to their summer & holiday missions trips, and this extra money is what enables them to take a loss on expensive stadium events and the Honor Academy. Teen Mania leadership freely admits that this margin is what covers the "overhead" of the massive ministry.

So, when your kid asks you if he/she can go on a Teen Mania missions trip, keep in mind that you're not just paying for their travel expenses--you're also paying for a huge campus in Texas, flashy pyrotechnics at Acquire the Fire events, and extravagant salaries for Ron Luce, Dave Hasz, and other key Teen Mania employees. The fact of the matter is, just about any other organization that takes people on missions trips is going to charge less than Teen Mania. A quick Google search revealed that I could actually take a month long missions trip to Panama for $500 less than Teen Mania is charging to go for eight days. Plus, you can avoid dealing with an organization that many have labelled a "cult" and that is currently dealing with serious accusations of physical and spiritual abuse.

Short-term missions trips can definitely be a positive learning experience for Christian teens. But make the smart decision--skip the overpriced Teen Mania Global Expedition and find a more affordable trip with a local church or ministry.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Teen Mania & David Hasz Are NOT Being 'Persecuted'

I've been following the comments on the recent KLTV news reports on ESOAL, as well as on David Hasz' Facebook page. One recurring theme I keep seeing over & over from pro-TMM commenters is that all the recent media attention Teen Mania Ministries has been getting is somehow "religious persecution." People talking about how David Hasz will get through this "persecution" just like God helped the Apostle Paul when he was persecuted.

Wikipedia defines religious persecution as "the systematic mistreatment of an individual or group of individuals as a response to their religious beliefs or affiliations."

Let's be clear. Teen Mania Ministries isn't being bashed because they are a Christian organization--it's because they run extremely dangerous & irresponsible events like ESOAL. David Hasz isn't coming under fire because he talks about Jesus--it's because he has repeatedly and unapologetically lied about numerous Honor Academy programs, only the latest of which is ESOAL. Dave would love to be able to spin all this negative publicity into people seeing him as a huge martyr, but the fact of the matter is that nothing is currently happening to Dave Hasz that he didn't bring on himself with his decision to be dishonest.

Unless the Teen Mania cheerleaders think Jesus was somehow "persecuting" the pharisees when he called them out on their nonsense in public, they ought to re-think their position on what's really going on with all this recent Teen Mania controversy.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Picture of the Week: Dave Hasz & His Friskies

In an email Wednesday from Teen Mania to KLTV, ESOAL creator Dave Hasz says corrections have been made saying "most never throw up on the hill." For the first time, restrictions are in place for interns participating in the "hill roll." Starting this year, they are only allowed three rolls. Hasz's email also stated "cat food has never been served at ESOAL." -KLTV News Story (Do ESOAL activities go too far?) posted September 23, 2010

The David Hasz Cat Food Scandal!

A lot has happened this week! After the story broke about Mark Lewandowski lying to the Recovering Alumni blogger, Teen Mania Ministries got even more bad press in the form of a three night exposé about ESOAL on the KLTV evening news in East Texas. The story definitely didn't paint Teen Mania in a very positive light, and echoed the same health & safety complaints regarding ESOAL that individuals following this story have know about for months.

I found it extremely interesting that David Hasz, the C.O.O. of Teen Mania and creator of ESOAL, cancelled his on-camera interview. An interview with Hasz had been scheduled, but at the last minute he told KLTV producers that he would only appear if he could be interviewed live instead of doing a pre-recorded interview. You'd think after seeing the first two nights of a story that would make many parents think twice about sending their kid to the Honor Academy, Dave would be clamoring to get the chance to tell his side of the story. It seems as if Teen Mania has nothing to hide, doing an interview with KLTV would have been a non-issue.

David Hasz did however respond to an e-mail he received from KLTV producers, and one of the things he said to them (as reported in the news segment) was that cat food had never been served at ESOAL. This surprised me, because I know I have personally heard stories from several former Teen Mania interns about the cat food served during ESOAL. Sure enough, within an hour of the KLTV story airing, video footage of Dave Hasz himself holding a can of Friskies cat food during an ESOAL event was posted on the Recovering Alumni blog.

Hasz claims that refried beans were placed in an old cat food tin during ESOAL. The video shows him holding a sealed can of cat food--and reports from former interns that the "refried beans" tasted like fish and contained bones (along with the video footage of an intern eating the cat food) make this claim from David Hasz even more dubious.

It's not just cat food Dave Hasz & Teen Mania are lying about--there's a whole slew of dishonest statements you can see and verify for yourself in today's Recovering Alumni blog post.

Teen Mania supporters might be asking, "What's the big deal about cat food?" It's not even so much about the cat food (although it is unsafe for humans to eat pet food), it's the fact that David Hasz decided to lie about it. Rather than own up to what has happened in the past, Hasz chooses to deny it and minimize it in order to save face. That's a real problem coming from a man whose job it is to teach young adults how to be "honorable."

Oh....and how in the world is eating cat food supposed to make you a better Christian?!

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Why Did Teen Mania & Mark Lewandowski Lie?

Over the past couple of days, some very interesting things have been happening over on the Recovering Alumni blog. On Monday, a recording of a phone call between Mark Lewandowski and the author of the Recovering Alumni blog was released. Mark Lewandowski is the Vice Chairman of the Board of Directors for Teen Mania Ministries, and he was the man appointed by Teen Mania to reach out to the Recovering Alumni community and solicit stories for the board of directors to read.

The phone call was recorded about a month before Teen Mania launched their website. The RA blogger asked Mark several specific questions about how the Board of Directors' investigation would go, and Mark was pretty forthcoming with his communication. Let's go point-by-point and look at what Mark Lewandowski said compared with what actually happened:

Mark Lewandowski said: "...the decision is that we didn’t get into this situation overnight so we’re not going to try to rush to get out of this situation."

What actually happened: Teen Mania threw together a shoddy website, riddled with spelling and grammatical errors, and posted it on the internet late on a Friday afternoon just before Memorial Day weekend. It looks like they didn't look any farther than Dave Hasz' Rolodex to find "experts" for their review panel, and after a single conference call with hundreds of hurting alumni, they were ready to declare the entire situation over and done with.

Mark Lewandowski said: "So I feel very confident that there is going to be real, detailed discovery and that is much better than a cursory, 'Hey we looked into this and everything is going great, we’ve taken care of it, have a good day.'"

What actually happened: Teen Mania Ministries created a website and held a conference call that basically said "All these problems happened in the past, everything's going great now." The leaders at Teen Mania Ministries offered no specific details about what problems they discovered, what steps they were taking to address those problems, or how they were going to change things to prevent those problems going forward. I don't see any evidence whatsoever that the Teen Mania Board of Directors made any attempt at a "real, detailed discovery."

Mark Lewandowski said: "Yeah, we’ve been wanting to use for sure a clinical counselor or clinical psychologist; someone from fitness like a medical professional …people with deep, solid theological experience…..a physician that will be able to speak to the fitness complaints….trying to find the right people to help us assess the situation from a clinical, counseling, physical, spiritual and not just use the Board and not just use inside experts from Teen Mania."

What actually happened: From the information that Teen Mania has posted, it looks like there are only two people that could possibly be considered "experts" that were involved in the investigation, and they both had deep ties to Teen Mania. I didn't see anyone "from fitness" commenting on the physical aspects of the program...I didn't see many actual comments on specific aspects of the program at all. Just a cheerleading session from a couple of people with a definite vested interest in making a potential scandal go away.


There were other lies in the phone call, but you get the gist. So I guess the big question is the one posed in the headline of this post: Why did Teen Mania & Mark Lewandowski tell such bold-faced lies, and why in the world did they think they would get away with it? My guess is that Mark didn't count on having that conversation recorded and published for the entire world to hear.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Even Google Knows It...

I was searching for some information about the Teen Mania Honor Academy earlier this evening, and one of the suggested searches (seen in the screen shot above) made me chuckle. Seems like even Google knows the truth about Teen Mania Ministries--if it looks like a duck, sounds like a duck, and acts like a's probably a duck.

ESOAL 2010 In-Progress

ESOAL, the "we'll-make-you-cry-and-puke-until-you're-a-better-Christian" Life Transforming Event (LTE) held by the Teen Mania Honor Academy each year, started in the wee hours of the morning on Thursday. Last year, ESOAL lasted 90+ hours....interns have been told that this year's event will last even longer.

This is also the first year that Dave Hasz will be going through ESOAL as a participant. I don't imagine this will change his mind about ESOAL being a good idea, because he won't experience the same kind of emotional distress that the Honor Academy interns to. Why? Because:

a) Dave Hasz isn't 17-20 years old.
b) Dave Hasz isn't away from home for a year for the first time in his life.
c) Dave Hasz knows in the end that he's in charge, and everyone else knows it too.
d) Dave Hasz has been through many ESOAL events, so although some minor details may be changed, he basically knows what to expect.

I could add to the list, but that's a good start. Dave just can't experience ESOAL in the same way that young interns do....he's at a completely different place in his life than they are. He won't experience the same fear, the same feelings while being abused, or the same uncertainty. Because of this, I have no expectations that he'll see the need to make any major changes to the event.

With all that said....I truly hope the best for the interns going through this year's ESOAL. I hope that there are no serious injuries, and that the teens are able to discern what is true Biblical teaching and what is not.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Picture of the Week: Teen Mania's Soon-To-Be-Dead Cat

One of our readers had the chance to visit the Teen Mania Ministries campus in Garden Valley, Texas recently, and snapped this picture of a stray cat she saw walking around. Very pretty cat....cute collar and everything. :)

Unfortunately, if this cat sticks around too long, he/she will most likely be killed with a shotgun since, as Dave Hasz said on Teen Mania's recent conference call, that is how stray cats are dealt with on campus.

Former Honor Academy participants have also reported witnessing other interns drowning kittens and otherwise torturing stray animals that happen to have the misfortune of wandering onto the Teen Mania campus. These are mostly former pets, not feral animals, which makes the reports of animal abuse even more disturbing. No animal deserves to live the last moments of their life in sheer terror, but so far Teen Mania has refused to look into more compassionate solutions to their stray animal problem.

Conference Call Follow-Up

On June 28, 2010, Teen Mania Ministries held a conference call to publicly respond to the many questions raised by former program participants that had a horrible experience at the Honor Academy. The call lasted for more than two and a half hours, and a lot of serious issues were addressed by Dave Hasz, the director of Teen Mania's Honor Academy. Interested parties can find a downloadable recording of the call on the Recovering Alumni Response website.

We'll be looking at some of the specific content of the conference call in future posts. But my general reaction is that the call was a completely inadequate response to the abuse allegations that have been raised by Honor Academy participants, and was basically just a desperate P.R. stunt instead of a real attempt at honest dialog and lasting change.

If you do a Google search for "Teen Mania Ministries" or "Honor Academy," you'll notice that there are lots of links to negative information on the first few pages of search results. Information about Teen Mania's cult-like atmosphere. Stories of emotional, spiritual, and even physical abuse at the Honor Academy. Today's teens are internet-savvy--of course they are Googling these things before they make serious commitments to an organization they aren't familiar with. The word on the street is that this negative information is starting to seriously hurt recruiting efforts for the Honor Academy, and as everyone knows, Teen Mania can't do much without free labor.

So Teen Mania is in crisis mode....trying to make the stories on the internet go away....dismissing them as "things that happened in the past." But unfortunately for Ron Luce & company, the crisis isn't going away as more and more young adults start to step forward and talk about the hurt they experienced at Teen Mania Ministries.

We're Back...

Hello readers! It's been a while since I've had a chance to post....there's been work issues, family issues, and health problems to deal with, and the Teen Mania Watch blog had to take a backseat for awhile. But I'm pleased to announce that we're back, and posts should be more regular from here on out.

I'm going to be trying some shorter format posts, and some new stuff with the blog in general. I hope you like it. And now, back to the show...

Monday, June 28, 2010

Live Updates from the Teen Mania Ministries Conference Call

Tonight Teen Mania Ministries is hosting a conference call to publicly address the abuse allegations detailed on the Recovering Alumni website. Teen Mania Watch, of course, will be listening in on the call, and will be providing live updates on this blog throughout the evening as the call progresses. Check back here for updates starting at approximately 8:45PM Eastern Time (7:45PM Central Time). You may need to hit the "refresh" button on your browser periodically to make sure you are reading the latest postings. So, if you can't be on the call for whatever reason, or just want to read some intelligent commentary on what's being said by Teen Mania leaders on the call, check back here for the latest real-time updates.

(Note: All times listed are Eastern Time)

8:52 PM - Just dialed in. 28 callers already on the line. I received a message that said "Line Muted" as soon as I joined the conference call....I'm assuming all participants except for TMM leaders will be muted for most, if not all of the call.

9:01 PM - Dave Hasz opens the call, introducing himself and offering a brief prayer for the conference call.

9:03 PM - Dave Hasz says that over 80 participants are currently on the call. Says TMM has "technology in place" to allow people to ask questions....hoping that it works out. Says uncertainty about technology is what prompted the request to e-mail questions ahead of time.

9:07 PM - Dave Hasz offers brief background of why they are having a conference calls. Talks about how he became aware of the website, and the board of directors investigation. Then Dave reads the letter he's already posted on Teen Mania's response website.

9:11 PM - Dave finishes reading letter....says the goal of the call is to bring real changes to the Honor Academy...says "if you are here for something other than that, you're probably going to be frustrated.

9:12 PM - Dave starts talking about how changes have already been made at the Honor Academy....talks about changes in ATF/LTE driving policy. Also talking about how HA leadership is now seeking more feedback from interns via weekly meetings and other regular evaluations. Mentions existence of "whistleblower" number available for current interns to anonymously report problems at the Honor Academy.

9:15 PM - Dave is talking about how discipline policy at the Honor Academy has changed over the years....says the discipline policy has gone from a "zero-tolerance" policy of immediate dismissal to a more lenient system that involves probation before dismissal.

9:17 PM - Dave Hasz is still speaking. Talking about how the Pike's Peek LTE has participants have to do a qualifying test before actually participating in the event. Also saying that ESOAL has changed "dramatically"....only changes mentioned right now seem to be smaller, tighter platoon leadership structure.

9:19 PM - Dave Hasz is now talking about maximum number of work hours for interns....says there will now be a system of "over/under weeks" based on the department that the intern works in. Says work hours will be limited to "a reasonable number of hours," but doesn't mention what that number is. Also, says that interns will have no more than 4 weeks per year where they have to work an "over" week with required overtime.

9:22 PM - Dave starts addressing e-mailed questions. Starts off with a question about whether or not the Honor Ring system is biblical. Dave doesn't seem to have any problems with it....compares it to a wedding ring....rings "remind you of the commitment you've made to live an honorable lifestlye." Says that a person's value isn't determined by an Honor Ring.

9:24 PM - Dave Hasz reports that the conference call is limited to 100 people...says the "technology company did not inform Teen Mania of the limitation."

9:25 PM - Dave Hasz starts addressing some of Teen Mania Watch's questions. Says that the practice of opening shower curtains is not specifically condoned by TMM leadership (seems afraid to say the word "masturbating" on the call, replacing it with "involved in sexual activity"). Addresses vegetarian question...says that vegetarian interns have plenty of accommodations available to them. Vegetarians/vegans may be forced to eat meat on mission trips.

9:27 PM - Dave Hasz now answeing questions in rapid-fire succession. Says that he doesn't see why ESOAL isn't scriptural.

9:32 PM - Dave Hasz addressing the "yes, man" atmosphere at Teen Mania. Saying the issues have been addressed, interns can now provide feedback.

9:33 PM - Dave announces that an overflow number is available for people who couldn't get on the call. If you're still trying to call in, try this new number: (218)936-6581 and use PIN: 14601.

9:35 PM - Dave says that medics are available 24/7 during ESOAL. Says, "interestingly, this year, there were no interns that needed ambulatory care." Seems like it shouldn't be "interesting" that no one needed an ambulance. Says that mental health professionals are NOT available during ESOAL....but "life coaches" are.

9:40 PM - Someone asked about what third parties have oversight over the Honor Academy? Dave claims not to know what the participant was asking...says that TMM is accountable to the ECFA, the IRS, and the Board of Directors. Dave says he personally is accountable to parents and intern. Says there is "no legal third-party oversight of the Teen Mania Honor Academy."

9:42 PM - Dave addresses our question about sleep. Says there is no minimum number of hours interns are guaranteed for sleep. Says that often sleep deprivation is the result of interns signing up for "extra-curricular activities" like Potter's Desire, and because "who wants to sleep when stuff is going on".

9:45 PM - Dave addresses questions of pay cuts. Says that leadership did take pay cuts, won't specifically say how much.

9:46 PM - Dave addresses question of stray animals on campus. Says that Teen Mania does indeed shoot and kill stray animals on campus. Says that a "trained marksmen" is responsible for this. Just sent a few follow-up questions on this...will see if he responds.

9:48 PM - Dave talks about "aura of a statesman" issue. Says that the standards only apply "sometimes"....seems to be saying interns have taken his teachings out of context.

9:50 PM - Question of reparations is raised by a former intern. Dave apologizes extensively for the hurt that Teen Mania caused...admits that people have been hurt by Teen Mania...but makes no mention of paying for anyone's counseling or any other reparations by hurt interns.

9:54 PM - Dave addresses the relationship between Teen Mania and his rental property. Says there is an "extensive process" that Teen Mania goes through to avoid conflict of interest. Says he is responsible financially for major repairs on his rental properties. Categorically states that no interns, paid or unpaid, were involved in building his house.

9:58 PM - A participant asked a question about why donations can't be returned if interns decide to leave. Dave Hasz claims that they have tried to work with the IRS to be able to return donations, but there is "just no way." Teen Mania Watch will be researching this claim further this week.

10:03 PM - Dave answers real estate questions...seems irritated that people were looking into his land records. Very condescending...admits to being "flippant" because there was "absolutely nothing improper" going on. Says no TMM money was used to pay off his properties.

10:04 PM - Dave Hasz clearly states that the Honor Academy is NOT for everyone...despite the fact that HA callers are encouraged to tell pretty much everyone they speak with that "God is calling them" to the Honor Academy.

10:07 PM - Dave Hasz briefly touches on ATF driving again...again states that policies have been changed and there are no problems anymore.

10:10 PM - Dave claims he doesn't make anywhere near $80k in rental income from Teen Mania...even though IRS records clearly indicate he collects over $78k in rental income each year. Teen Mania Watch will be posting further documentation of this in the near future.

10:14 PM - Dave claims that medical and psychological professionals have observed and approved of ESOAL, but he "isn't going to make those names public." He also says "There comes a point in time where you either trust the Honor Academy, or you don't." Sorry Dave...we don't. :(

10:16 PM - Dave seems to be mocking the question of "Has a medical professional looked at corporate exercise and determined the expectations are reasonable and safe?" Says that no, he has not...and again, you just need to "trust the Honor Academy." Dave seems to be getting snippier and more defensive as the call goes on.

10:18 PM - Dave denies that interns who are sick or injured are made to feel like "lesser questions." Says that he doesn't know where the allegations that people are treated like lesser Christians because they are sick are coming from.

10:20 PM - Dave says he had said "beat your body and make it your slave" just once over the past year. Says he makes it clear that physical fitness does NOT equal spiritual fitness. Says he doesn't know where these allegations come from.

10:22 PM - Dave says he has never counseled an intern to not go to a doctor or not take medication. Says that the allegations are false. Also says that prayer is encouraged in addition to seeking medical attention.

10:23 PM - Dave is talking about how a clinic shuttle runs Monday-Friday for interns to seek medical care.

10:24 PM - "Why do you tell interns that you can sleep when you're dead?" Says that he has on occasion said that, but basically says "that's not what I really meant," and he also claims he now encourages interns to sleep.

10:26 PM - "Who exactly is the Honor Academy for?" It's for people who want to be challenged or pushed, not for people who are already "psychologically broken" or for people who "need rehabilitation." Dave says "we are not equipped to help those people."

10:29 PM - Dave talking about how the Honor Council is biblical....says it is "merciful." :-/

10:31 PM - Dave specifically says that Teen Mania doesn't tell teens that it is "God's will" for them to be in the Honor Academy. Will post specific proof of the falsehood of these claims soon.

10:34 PM - Dave answering questions about "orange block."

10:36 PM - Dave finishes answering e-mailed questions, announces one minute Q&A to follow.

Unfortunately, the call is still going and it looks like it will be for quite some time. This blogger has family obligations and has to discontinue live-blogging at this point....but not to worry. In the next 24 hours, we'll be posting a recording of the call, along with a complete "fact check" and analysis of what Dave Hasz has said. If you haven't already, subscribe to Teen Mania Watch's RSS feed for the latest updates and information.

List of Questions for Teen Mania Ministries

Since Dave Hasz has indicated that he will "stay on the call until [he] has given an answer for all of the questions that are emailed in," I decided to compose a list of some of my most burning questions. Here is the e-mail that I sent to Teen Mania about an hour ago--word-for-word and in its entirety. Let's see if Dave Hasz and company specifically responds to each and every question on my list.

Have a question of your own? Send it to Teen Mania at the e-mail address below, and feel free to post a comment with your question here so there is a public record of it before the call!


Subject: List of Questions for Tonight's Conference Call
From: Teen Mania Watch
Sent 6/28/2010 at 5:03PM EST

Here is a list of questions I would like to see addressed during this call. I am particularly interested in the animal control issue, ESOAL, and whether or not interns are making repairs to Dave's rental properties without Dave compensating Teen Mania for their services. Looking forward to the call and getting some answers to the very important questions that have been raised.

Teen Mania Watch Blogger

1) Lack of sleep is a recurring theme in numerous blogs and Tweets by current and former interns. In some cases, this sleep deprivation has lead to physical and emotional problems. Is there a minimum amount of time that interns are guaranteed to have free between their last activity at night and first activity in the morning (i.e. 9 hours between the last planned activity at night and corporate exercise in the morning)? Does this minimum apply during summer missions? While on the road for Acquire the Fire?

2) Former interns have reported that stray cats that were found on campus were sometimes shot & killed. There are even reports that interns have tortured cats before killing them. How are stray cats and other animals that are found on campus dealt with? Are interns responsible for getting rid of the animals? Is there any supervision by an animal care expert during this process, or any adult supervision whatsoever?

3) Most organizations that plan physically and/or emotionally demanding events plan to have an ample number trained medical professionals available to participants at all times throughout the event. Is a trained and licensed paramedic or other medical professional on hand at all times during ESOAL, 24 hours per day? Are there licensed mental health professionals that participants can speak with at any time during ESOAL?

4) Male interns have reported having their privacy invaded by other interns and "leadership" in the name of "accountability"--specifically, shower curtains are opened by ACAs (and others) to make sure the male intern isn't masturbating. Is this a condoned practice? Has Dave or Heath specifically forbidden this practice among male interns?

5) Many former interns have told stories of long drives to ATFs in distant cities. Is there an adult staff member present with groups of travelling teens at all times? Do teens have to drive through the night, or do they get to stop somewhere for the night to sleep? Are there repercussions if a teen chooses to drive while sleep deprived, putting his/her peers in danger?

6) Dave Hasz teaches that leaders should be "ethical and above reproach." In addition to Dave's salary of around $80,000 per year, he collects $80,000 in rental income from Teen Mania on approximately $400,000 worth of property. A reasonable rent is approximately 1% of market value, or $48,000 per year ($4,000/month). Why the discrepancy? Is this "ethical and above reproach?" Does this "avoid the appearance of evil?"

7) According to publicly-available land records, on April 6, 2010, Dave Hasz paid off his current home in the amount of $378,750, after just a few years of ownership. How was this possible given his income? These same land records indicate several of the other rental properties seem to be paid off in full as well. Did Dave pay off these loans with his own money, or did Teen Mania help him pay down the loans?

8) Do interns from the grounds crew, maintenance, or any other department provide services to or make repairs on Dave Hasz’s rental properties using Teen Mania's resources? Did interns help build Dave’s house without being paid?

9) Did Dave Hasz, Ron Luce, or any other senior staff take pay cuts during Teen Mania’s recent financial crisis? If so, what was the percentage of cuts?

10) What accommodations are available for vegetarian or vegan interns? Are vegetarian options available at all meals? During ESOAL? Do vegetarian/vegan interns have to strictly follow the "eat what you are served" rule on their missions trip, even if it means they have to compromise their values and eat meat?

Dave Hasz Can't Make Up His Mind About Tonight's Call

From the time Teen Mania Ministries announced tonight's conference call, members of the Recovering Alumni community have been expecting to be able to ask questions and interact with Teen Mania leadership live on the conference call. Dave Hasz even made this Facebook post, which says "I will be answering live questions throughout the evening," and definitely makes it seem as if providing your question to Teen Mania in advance via e-mail is completely optional.

However, after posting this note on his Facebook page, controversy erupted, lots of comments ensued, and Dave Hasz appears to have quickly changed his tune--leaving this comment on the very same note:

Did it just suddenly dawn on Dave Hasz that there might be a lot of people on this call? Or could it be that Dave Hasz and the other Teen Mania staff members are afraid they'll be caught off guard, and want to have time to prepare some "canned" answers to tough questions before the call? We may never know....but it appears like if you want your question answered on tonight's call, you'll need to e-mail it to beforehand.

Teen Mania Ministries to Address Abuse Allegations via Public Conference Call

Teen Mania Ministries has recently announced on their website that they will be hosting a conference call to address the serious accusations of physical, emotional, spiritual, and sexual abuse at the Honor Academy recently made by former interns on the Recovering Alumni blog. Dave Hasz (Director of Teen Mania's Honor Academy) and Heath Stoner (Teen Mania's Director of Operations, Men's Program) will be on the call, along with other Teen Mania staff members. Teen Mania has already announced they will be recording the call and posting the recording on their website.

The conference call is taking place tonight, Monday, June 28, 2010 at 9:00pm Eastern time...8:00pm Central time. The call is scheduled to be just 90 minutes, but time may be added as necessary. Here's the dial-in information, as posted on Teen Mania's website:

Phone Number: (214) 377-1252
Public PIN: 14601

It's always interesting when large, Christian, para-church organizations like Teen Mania are under so much pressure that they actually take the time to publicly address the controversy swirling around them. If you have the time, I would highly encourage you to dial in and participate in the call. Keep and eye on this blog and our Twitter page throughout today and the rest of the week for news updates, analysis, and follow-up coverage of Teen Mania's ongoing crisis management efforts.

Monday, May 31, 2010

Who Was on Teen Mania's Honor Academy Review Committee?

"I can assure you that a committee was established and several experts were asked to weigh into the items listed above as well as the items identified in the letters." -Statement from Teen Mania Ministries on May 28, 2010 via the website.

It wasn't long ago that alumni of Teen Mania's programs began to form a community online, and realize that they weren't alone in the fact that they had been hurt or abused by this organization. As discussions ensued, members of this community decided they really wanted to see Teen Mania make real changes to their programs, and many Teen Mania alumni submitted very personal stories of their hurts to the Teen Mania Board of Directors. A member of the board told the community that a panel of experts was going to be assembled to really investigate the Honor Academy, and the alumni community was genuinely excited and thought this might be the first step to really changing things at Teen Mania.

Exactly four weeks after making this promise to the community, Teen Mania launched their response website, which unfortunately just leaves many more questions than actual answers. The letter from the Teen Mania Ministries Board of Directors alludes to a "committee" of "experts" being formed, but they fail to mention who was on this investigative committee, or even how many people were on the committee. Were the "experts" completely unbiased? Do they get a paycheck from Teen Mania Ministries? Were any current or former teenage interns on the review committee? We just don't know...because Teen Mania doesn't tell us. We're just asked to rely on their "assurance," as demonstrated by the quote at the top of this blog post. We can't even tell who said "I can assure you..." since the letter is simply signed by "Teen Mania Board of Directors." That's not very assuring if you ask me.

The only two possible "experts" who were willing to put their name on anything written on Teen Mania's response website were Jack Hayford and a psychologist named Douglas N. Neal. Jack Hayford sat on the board of directors of Teen Mania for many years and is personal friends with C.E.O. Ron Luce, and Douglas N. Neal had two kids who went to the Honor Academy--neither of these experts are unbiased, and neither person is qualified to make a neutral and honest assessment of Teen Mania's programs.

Without knowing who was on the Honor Academy review committee, or how their investigation was conducted, it is difficult to just take Teen Mania's word that things are fine and that any problems that existed have been fixed. The U.S. government relied on BP's assessments that their offshore oil rig was safe and that any accidents would be minor....and that's not exactly the way things have turned out. If Teen Mania expects people to believe that the Honor Academy isn't a dangerous place for kids, they need to be a lot more transparent about things than they have been on their website so far.

Teen Mania Ministries Issues Public Response to Abuse Allegations

As most readers already know, Teen Mania Ministries has issued a public response to the allegations of abuse and mistreatment at the Honor Academy chronicled on the website. Late Friday night, an anonymous commenter on the Recovering Alumni blog left a link to a new Teen Mania website, Unfortunately, it wasn't much of a "response," and was more like a bunch of hastily thrown together excuses, with some character assassination of the creator of the Recovering Alumni blog thrown in for good measure. Teen Mania Ministries' response website lacked comprehensive answers to the serious questions that have been raised about the Honor Academy program, and the letters they posted contain grammatical errors that make it seem like they were lazily written.

The fact that Teen Mania chose to launch this site at 8:00PM on a Friday night, on Memorial Day weekend nonetheless, was just "salt in the wounds" of those who have been hurt by Teen Mania Ministries and were hoping that the Board of Directors would listen to their heartfelt stories and take them seriously. The website is just insulting, and the way Teen Mania launched the website shows a complete lack of care and compassion to the "lost sheep" who were abused at the hands of their ministry. Stay tuned for more analysis & commentary about Teen Mania's response (or lack thereof) to serious allegations of abuse & neglect.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Food & Sleep During Acquire The Fire Weekends

Let's face it: your body NEEDS sleep--and when you haven't had much sleep, your mind & body simply are not at their best. When you're tired, it is easy to feel like you can't concentrate, to act more emotional than you usually would, and to make rash decisions without clearly thinking things through. Your mental defenses are weakened when you haven't slept, and because of this, sleep deprivation is a commonly-used mind control technique employed by many modern-day cults & oppressive government regimes. I also believe that Teen Mania Ministries inappropriately uses teens' lack of sleep during an Acquire The Fire weekend to their advantage.

I went to several Acquire The Fire conventions during my teenage years, and I can tell you that they were some of the most physically & mentally exhausting weekends I have ever had. Because the events are held in large arenas is big cities, many rural teens have to drive very long distances to get to the event--it is not uncommon for church youth groups to drive to an Acquire The Fire that is several hours away. The Friday night session ends late and the Saturday morning session starts early, so most youth groups elect to have the kids spend the night together somewhere. Usually this means either on the floor of a church, or in over-crowded hotel rooms. Neither environment lends itself particularly well to getting much sleep, and when youth groups spend the night together, sleep is rarely on the minds of the teens (staying up all night goofing off is why "lock-ins" used to be so fun!). I remember getting just a couple of hours of sleep on Friday nights before needing to be back at the arena around 7:30am the next morning. Saturday's schedule is grueling, with long sessions scheduled until late at night with just a couple of short breaks. Then, when Acquire The Fire is over, teens must make the often long drive back to their homes before waking up early for church the next morning.

The food situation isn't much better. Friday night's Acquire The Fire session begins pretty much right at dinner time, and in order to reduce the cost of the weekend, most churches tell the teens to "eat dinner before they come." In my experience, this rarely actually happened and "dinner" usually consisted of a few slices of pizza ordered at midnight after the session was over and everyone was starving. For most ATF participants, Saturday's breakfast consists of a donut or a bagel eaten in a church van, and they are left to completely fend for themselves for lunch and dinner. Most teens don't have much spending money, and food in & around the arena is typically expensive, so lunch might be a slice of pizza and dinner might be an order of nachos. I know for a fact that several kids in my youth group had to skip one or both of these meals on Saturday because their parent's hadn't given them money....or they had already spent the money they were given on Acquire The Fire merchandise sold during the event. Because of the way the weekend is set up, many kids at Acquire The Fire end up feeling hungry for a large portion of the weekend and don't really get a decent meal until Sunday.

These sleep & food situations might be okay for a primarily recreational activity, like a music festival or a comic-book convention. But teens are being asked to make life-altering decisions at Acquire The Fire conventions--throw away all your secular music, commit to abstinence until marriage, give up dating altogether, become militantly pro-life, spend $3000 on a summer missions trip, give up a year (or more) of your life and raise $7400 (or more) for Teen Mania. These are all big decisions with lots of consequences, and it's not fair to "hard-sell" these ideas to kids when they are sleep-deprived and starving. But, teens get excited more easily and don't ask as many critical questions when they are tired & hungry, which makes it easier to pedal Teen Mania's political agenda & income-generating programs. I'd say that's one of the main reasons why Teen Mania Ministries pushes so hard to have kids fill out applications for Global Expeditions & the Honor Academy while they are at the arena and before they've had a chance to discuss it with their parents. Discriminating minds can often see through slick marketing tactics, so Teen Mania needs to do as much of their marketing as they can inside the arena while teens' mental defenses are at their lowest.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

What is an Acquire the Fire Weekend Like for the Average Teen?

Continuing our discussion of Acquire the Fire events produced by Teen Mania Ministries, let's look at the typical schedule of the average, church-going teen that attends an ATF convention.


6:30AM - 7:00 AM - Wake up for school
2:30-3:00 PM - Leave school for the day
4:00-4:30 PM - Arrive at church to leave for Acquire the Fire
6:00 PM - Arrive at arena for Acquire the Fire
7:00-10:30PM - Attend 3 hour ATF Session 1 (which usually runs late)
Midnight - Arrive back at church


2:00-4:00 AM - Fall "asleep" on church floor
6:00 AM - Wake up/Eat "breakfast"
7:45 AM - Arrive at arena
8:00 AM - 12:15 PM - Attend 4.5 hour ATF session 2
12:30ish - 1:30ish - Eat "lunch"
2:00 PM - 5:15 PM - Attend 3.25 hour ATF session 3
5:30is - 6:15ish - Eat "dinner"
7:00 PM - 9:30 PM - Attend 3.5 hour ATF session 4 (almost always runs long)
11:00 PM - Arrive back at church
Midnight - Arrive at home


2:00-4:00 AM - Crash in bed
8:00 AM - Wake up for church
9:00 AM - 10:30 AM - Attend Sunday school and watch Teen Mania videos
10:30 AM - 12:30 PM - Stand up in church and give a testimony about how much God changed your life at Acquire the Fire

I attended several Acquire the Fire conventions growing up, and I can assure you this was a very typical schedule for the weekend. I just looked at the schedule for the Acquire the Fire being held in Baltimore this weekend, and it looks like absolutely nothing has changed. As we will explore in the next post, this intense, jam-packed schedule creates an environment of sleep-deprivation and extreme physical hunger that coerces teens into making rash signing up for a questionable Teen Mania program that will cost them and their parents thousands (if not tens of thousands) of dollars.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Gay or Lesbian at Teen Mania Ministries?

Are you an individual that is LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or questioning) and has been involved with Teen Mania Ministries? If so, I'd like to hear from you! I know there are a lot of LGBTQ kids out there who have had contact with Teen Mania at some point in their lives, and I am very interested in hearing your stories. All e-mail communications are private, and I would never publish any details of your story without your express permission. If you do want to share your story, I can help you do that completely anonymously through this blog....but again, only if you want and only with your express permission first.

I was a gay teenager who involved with Teen Mania Ministries, and was really hurt by them. Ten years later, I have been able to find some healing and acceptance in my life. But it was a long journey, and I know it's hard. So, if you've been to Acquire The Fire and heard confusing things about gay people...or if someone from Teen Mania said things about being a lesbian that hurt you...or if you just want to talk to someone else who might be able to understand your experience...shoot me a message. I'd love to talk to you. You can send a completely private e-mail to: teenmaniawatch at gmail dot com.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

My Teen Mania Experience

Hi everyone. My name is Robbie, and I'm a 27 year old activist living in Maryland. I've been the one writing all the blog posts to date, so I thought it would be a good time to introduce myself. I got involved with Teen Mania Ministries at a very young age, and attended Acquire The Fire rallies annually through many of my teenage years. When I was a little older, I went on a Global Expedition to Venezuela with TMM. My involvement with Teen Mania marked the beginning of a decade long downward spiral in my life.

I honestly believe that my involvement with Teen Mania really screwed me up, and that they represent a real danger to many kids--spiritually, emotionally, and physically. For those of you interested in hearing more about my Teen Mania experience, I have written a lengthy, detailed narrative below which chronicles my Teen Mania journey. I tried to write what I was feeling at the time, without too much critical analysis from my current point of view...although there is some. This is a very personal, emotional story for me to share, and I have not done so in a public forum before. So, without further ado: My Teen Mania Experience.


Part I: Acquire the Fire

I was 13 years old when I first heard about Teen Mania. I had just joined my church's youth group, and the youth pastor told us about a Christian youth rally coming to Pittsburgh called Acquire the Fire. My first ATF experience was incredible (at least I thought so at the time)...I grew up simply in a small western-Pennsylvania town, and that ATF convention in 1996 was the first time I remember that I could really feel the presence of God. They were the most emotionally intense two days I had had in my entire life until that point. I remember leaving ATF that evening feeling as though my world had really changed...I had been a Christian before Acquire the Fire, but now I was "on fire," and I was going to go out and stop watching television, listening to secular music, start getting people saved, and go on a missions trip!

The day after Acquire the Fire was great...I got to wake up and have my quiet time (a new concept for me introduced by Ron Luce), go to church, and spend time with the people I had shared my Acquire the Fire experience with. I even think we got to watch an "ATF Wrap-Up Video" that Teen Mania had sent my youth pastor. I remember that afternoon starting to feel sad that I wasn't still at Acquire the Fire, feeling the warm, euphoric feelings I had been experiencing the day earlier. But, I was determined to "keep the fire," and knew school the next day would be my first real chance to put my newly-found zeal to change the world to work. I remember taking my Bible and my copy of the devotional Ron Luce had given me to school, thinking that someone would definitely ask me about it and I would have the chance to share my faith and maybe even "get them saved."

The school day did not unfold that way, and I remember continuing to feel sad that Acquire the Fire wouldn't be back in town for another year, and that I was starting to lose that "passionate, on-fire" feeling I had experienced that weekend. I was having my quiet times, avoiding TV & music, trying to share my faith, and really seeking God with all my heart...but I couldn't feel His presence like I could when I was at Acquire the Fire. I tried to remember the praise & worship songs I had learned at ATF that weekend, but even singing those couldn't make that emotional, "close-to-God" feeling come back. When I look back on things, those first few days after my first Acquire the Fire really started what would be a downward spiral of depression and despair that took me almost a decade to get over, and the effects of which still impact my life and my relationship with God to this day.

I kept doing my quiet times for a few weeks, praying regularly, reading my Bible, concentrating on worship, etc. But no matter what, I couldn't get that on-fire feeling back, and eventually I was just getting so frustrated and depressed that I allowed those things to become less and less regular in my life. It was the first time in my life that I actually questioned my salvation, or the fact that God loved me. What had been one of my only sources of love & comfort, my relationship with God, now felt far away and inaccessible. The fall & winter months passed, and the depression got worse & worse.

The new year came, and I remembered that Acquire the Fire would be coming back to Pittsburgh in a few months. I was so excited...I had literally been waiting a year for this! I contacted Teen Mania to get an information packet and promotional video even before my youth pastor did. I became the youth organizer for ATF at my church, and I spent a couple of months really trying to get people excited about ATF and inviting everyone that I could possibly think of (as the materials that Teen Mania sent me strongly recommended that I do). I even made a little countdown chart in my school notebook, and started counting down 100 days before Acquire the Fire...that's how excited I was!

The first night of the 1997 Acquire the Fire in Pittsburgh was absolutely amazing! As soon as praise and worship started that evening, I remember I started to get back that close-to-God feeling I had so desperately been missing for almost a year. Ron's message that evening captivated me, and I came forward during the altar call to re-dedicate my life to Christ--something that would become all too common in the coming years. I had trouble sleeping that night because I was just so excited that emotional high was back. In hindsight, I was downright manic that evening...a Teen Mania induced mania, if you will.

The next day of Acquire the Fire was incredible, and by time the break for lunch rolled around, I was absolutely convinced that God was calling me to go on a Teen Mania missions trip that summer. I spoke with an intern who had me fill out a missions trip application, and I was encouraged to call home and speak with my parents about my "calling" to go on a $1600 missions trip that summer. I was so convinced that God would speak to my parents and they would agree, but my call home was met with a harsh reality check, and my parents said there was no possible way that my family could raise that much money in just a few months. I was disappointed, but figured I could go on a Christmas break missions trip instead, so I set my eyes on that.

Determined to "keep the fire" this time around, I remember spending $100 (which at the age of 14 took me months to save) on Teen Mania books, tapes, and t-shirts before I left the arena that evening. My on-fire feeling was even more intense at the end of this Acquire the Fire convention, and it actually stuck with me for a few weeks this time, as did my strong excitement about going on a Teen Mania Global Expedition. Inevitably, that emotional feeling of closeness to God did start to fade once again, and the depression hit me even harder and faster than it had the previous year.

At some point that fall, I called the Teen Mania 800-number in utter despair and desperation to talk to someone about how I was feeling and hoping for some advice about how I could feel close to God again. A female intern answered the phone, and she listened to me sympathetically and offered to pray with me. She did offer some encouragement, and the call did make me feel better. I told her I had felt called to go on a Teen Mania missions trip, and she pounced on that. She got me really pumped up about going on a Christmas missions trip, and those emotionally intense feelings started to come rushing back. In hindsight, I should have realized that, at least for me, the emotionally-intense world of Teen Mania was a drug and I was hooked.

Part II: My Global Expedition

My family was poor, and $1000-$2000 was a whole lot of money that we didn't have, so I knew a missions trip would be a "once in a lifetime" experience. Because the Christmas trips were only 2 weeks and cost almost as much as the summer trips, I decided to make the most of the opportunity and sign up for a 1 month Teen Mania Global Expedition for the Summer of 1998. The trip would cost $1,800, and because of my family's financial situation, I would need to raise almost every penny of that money by myself.

I spent a solid eight months of my life fundraising pretty much every spare moment that I wasn't in school. I was writing letters, talking to people at my church, selling candy bars, having garage sales...literally doing everything I could to raise this money. My assigned Teen Mania intern called me regularly to pray with me and keep me motivated to raise the money needed to go on my trip.

Another Acquire the Fire convention also happened in Pittsburgh just a couple of months before my missions trip, which of course I attended. As usual, the convention got me really excited and on-fire, and I felt even closer to God during the ATF in 1998 since I knew I had been working so hard to make this Teen Mania Global Expedition happen. I just knew, deep in my heart, that my trip to Venezuela was going to be a "turning point" for me...that spending an entire month immersed in the world of Teen Mania would really teach me once and for all how I could constantly feel connected to God and emotionally fulfilled.

Despite months of fundraising, I was still about $300 short just two weeks before my missions trip, which was the deadline to mail donations. My parents had already donated all the time & money they could towards my trip, and I was terrified that if I told them I was still $300 short for my trip, they would not pay the difference and I would not be able to do. So, I did something I regret to this day, and lied to them and told them I had met my fundraising goal. I knew that if my dad drove me from Pennsylvania to Texas, he'd have no choice but to pay the difference when we got there. Looking back, it should have been a huge warning sign that I was so desperately set on this trip to "serve God" that I was willing to lie to my parents to get there.

I did make it to Texas, and when my father found out about my fundraising shortfall, he put the difference on our family's already-stretched credit cards. It's hard to believe that Teen Mania allows parents to be so out of the loop about major financial issues involving these missions trips. Regardless, I was in Texas and quickly began meeting the people I would be traveling to Venezuela & spending the next month of my life with.

The first night in Texas, we had a big praise & worship session and Ron Luce spoke. It was just like Acquire the Fire, only even more emotionally intense because I had worked so, so hard to get there. I remember Ron telling us that we were different from other teens...we were "world changers" and had a special anointing from God for our trips that summer. I remember being so happy in those moments, and wanting to feel that way forever. Unfortunately, those first few hours on the Teen Mania campus turned out to be the last positive memory I have of my missions trip.

After that welcome session, all of the people going to Venezuela were split into 3 different teams, and each of the teams had their own auditions to see who would get what part in the street drama we would be learning as our primary missions tool. The auditions lasted for hours, well past midnight, and in 80-degree temperatures when you've been traveling most of the day, that is a long time! I was given the role of the Court Jester in our the time I was assigned my role, I was too tired to actually care much about it and just wanted to go to sleep. I wen to bed exhausted, but excited about really diving into drama training the next day.

When I woke up the next day in the dirty, run-down Quonset hut where the teens were housed, I remember being very uncomfortable. It was before 8:00am, and it was already a stifling 90 degrees, which feels even hotter in a big metal building with no air conditioning. The make-shift showers had no hot water and were very dirty, and the lack of privacy was a nightmare for a self-conscious person like me. I remember being very discouraged by all of this, and surprised that they had not made better accommodations for such an expensive trip.

Ron Luce spoke to us again that morning and talked about how Christians should endure physical discomforts. I remember him saying that things like air conditioning and hot water were temptations to keep us lazy, and that God calls us not to be "slaves to comfort." He talked about how those who suffer to fulfill the Great Commission will be rewarded. I didn't realize it at the time, but I now know I was being manipulated to endure some truly horrible conditions over the coming weeks without ever daring to complain about it.

My team had just under 5 days in which to learn and perfect a twelve minute, tightly-choreographed street drama. This meant rehearsing our drama over and over again for 6 to 8 hours per day...outside, in the middle of a grass field, with no shade in sight, in June, in the middle of Texas, during a drought. I definitely wasn't prepared for the extreme physical demands of the drama training, but I felt as if I needed to just deal with it and not be a "slave to comfort," as Ron Luce had shared with us.

When I woke up the morning following the first full day of drama practice, I was alarmed that my right ankle was swelled significantly while I was sleeping and was extremely painful to walk on. I went to the Teen Mania infirmary, and I was told by the nurse that I had probably just spent "too much time on my ankle" and she encouraged me to take some Advil for the pain and continue with another day of drama training.

I took the nurse's advice, and while the Advil helped briefly, it was just a few hours into the day's drama training that my ankle was literally burning & throbbing with pain, and I felt like I couldn't take it anymore. I told my Team Leader this, and was asked to "keep it up for just a few more minutes" until our next break when I could sit and rest. That break actually came over an hour later, and by time I sat down I was literally crying because I was in so much pain. Not wanting to disappoint anyone on my team, I took several more Advil and somehow managed to muddle through the rest of the day's training.

As the week progressed, my ankle continued to get worse and worse. I was taking around a dozen Advil in an 8 hour period just to bring the pain down to the point where I could actually stand on my bad ankle. At times, even that wasn't enough, and I would need to sit down for a few minutes to relieve some of the pressure on my ankle in order to be able to press on with training. My Team Leader, despite me telling him repeatedly that I was in serious pain, actually pulled me aside on day after training to talk about my "attitude of laziness" and said I shouldn't be stopping so much to sit down during drama training. Instead of seeing the absurdity of this, I really took it to heart and thought I was letting my team & God Himself down by taking periodic breaks to rest my ankle, and I forced myself to endure even more pain & not rest my ankle....all so I could be a "good Christian."

Despite all this, I was really enjoying the praise & worship sessions and hearing Ron Luce speak and I did feel really close to God. I figured the problems with my ankle, in addition to the substandard accommodations on the Teen Mania campus, were just my "cross to bear" and that these trials would help build my character and make me a better Christian in the end. The drama training was physically & emotionally draining, but I knew each night I had a "mini-ATF session" to look forward to and I'd be feeling the emotional rush of God's presence soon.

Luckily, the actual travel from Texas to Venezuela took a great deal of time over a couple of days, and I was able to rest enough that my ankle began to feel better. When we arrived in Venezuela late at night on our second day of travel, we went to the hotel where we were supposed to be staying at, only to find out that Teen Mania had incorrectly booked the reservation and there were not enough rooms for everyone. After waiting outside with no water or bathroom access for several hours, our Project Directors were able to secure lodging at another local hotel.

The hotel was run-down and obviously not equipped to deal with the demands of 120+ American teenagers. The hotel's water supply was based on a tank system that was only refilled once per day, and while we were promised we would have at least 8 hours of "water access" per day, with all the kids staying there it ended up being closer to two hours per day. There were 6 guys staying in my room (5 teen missionaries and 1 college-aged "Missionary Advisor"). That means that all 6 of us had to shower within that 2 hours per day, and it also meant we could not flush the toilet 22 out of the 24 hours in a day. Worse yet, there wasn't a set time that the water was turned on, and if your team happened to be out performing a drama while the hotel's water was on, that was just too bad.

This made for some truly appalling living conditions. All the guys in my room were unable to shower for a five day period shortly after we arrived at the hotel because of the timing of the water supply. Teenage guys, sweating profusely while performing street dramas in polyester costumes in the middle of summer all day long, unable to shower for almost a full week. Feces and urine simply built up in the toilet when it couldn't be flushed--sometimes for days at a time. The stench was absolutely sickening. Looking back on it, if an American child was found living in those conditions, they would probably be taken from their parents and placed into foster care. But when these concerns were brought up to the Team Leaders and Project Directors, the missionaries were told to stop complaining & to be thankful for the accommodations God had provided for us.

In addition to no running water, there was no place for us to do laundry. I had been repeatedly assured that missionaries would have access to laundry facilities while abroad, and was encouraged to just pack a few outfits that could be washed so that I wouldn't have too much baggage with me. The original hotel we were supposed to stay at had laundry facilities, but the new hotel picked by the Project Directors did not. Apparently, they didn't feel the need to make sure that the promise Teen Mania had made us regarding laundry was kept. So, I ended up wearing the same 4 unwashed outfits for my entire month-long missions trip, and as you can imagine they were extremely dirty and uncomfortable for most of my time in Venezuela.

Because of the appalling hygiene conditions...and because I wasn't used to being in the heat and sweating so much....I developed a rash that made it very uncomfortable for me to perform dramas and just walk around in general. I knew one of the girls on my team had some baby powder, so I asked her for some, and she asked me what it was for. I told her "It's for a rash that I have 'down there.'" (Those were my exact words.) She decided to report my comment to the team leader, and I was quickly called into a meeting with the Project Directors where I was questioned and had to explain why I made "sexual comments" to a female on my team. I had never intended my comment to be at all sexual, and was just answering a question that I was asked, and having to discuss this with the PDs was absolutely humiliating.

There was actually a discussion of sending me home ("getting BV'd" as Teen Mania refers to it) because of the comment I had made. After some consideration (and a prayer meeting where I had to "confess my sin" to God), it was decided that instead I would be grounded to my room for two days. I couldn't leave my room for anything except to perform dramas or attend worship services. I had to eat my meals alone in the room, and I wasn't allowed to do anything in the room but read, pray, or sleep. Everyone on the trip knew I was "being punished," which was very embarrassing. I ended up getting very depressed over this particular situation, which started with nothing more than an innocent, off-the-cuff remark.

The ministry side of things wasn't much better. Although Teen Mania Global Expeditions recruiting literature makes frequent mention of "street evangelism" and talking to "unreached people groups," most of the time we performed our drama, it was for an established church or a Catholic school. These same churches and schools housed us for several nights & fed us many of our meals, which made me wonder why I had to raise so much money for Teen Mania if they weren't even footing most of the bill for our accommodations while abroad.

Occasionally, we would perform our drama on a street corner or in a public square, which was more exciting because there was a chance of actually reaching people who hadn't yet heard the good news of Jesus Christ. I was alarmed, however, by the emphasis placed on physical healing by the Teen Mania leadership. We were encouraged not only to pray for immediate healing for people with physical ailments, but to "believe in faith" that these people had already been healed. If someone wasn't immediately healed, it was because of a lack of faith, and not because it just wasn't God's will. I witnessed a group of missionaries pray for a man with a broken leg, tell him he had been healed, and tell him to believe in faith and start walking on it. He did try to walk on it, and it was clear that he was in a whole lot of pain and that his leg was still very much broken. Regardless, this story was held up as an example of God's healing power, and everyone involved really did believe this man was healed, even though any uninvolved bystander seeing the situation would know that just wasn't true.

When I expressed the fact that I didn't believe our actions were really in line with what the Bible says about God's healing power, I was quickly "hushed" and a few Bible verses were quoted to me that really didn't answer my concerns. God does work miracles and has the power to heal...absolutely...but that doesn't mean that God is at the beck and call of a group of teenagers, and it doesn't mean that God chooses physical healing in all situations. Just look at the story of Job! But, I quickly learned to just tow the Teen Mania party line, and I tried to stay quiet about this the rest of my trip.

We maintained our daily quiet times while in Venezuela, and in the evenings we would have praise & worship sessions led by our Team Leaders or Project Directors. But something just wasn't the same. I wasn't feeling close to God...I wasn't "on-fire" any more....and my problem of not being able to maintain my emotional high that I thought I would learn to solve on this trip was only getting worse. I felt very alone, very distant from God, and very disappointed that this Teen Mania trip I had worked so hard to make happen just wasn't at all what I expected it would be....and wasn't at all what I had been promised by Teen Mania.

I tried my best to maintain a positive attitude and a focus on God, but those things got harder and harder for me to do as the month dragged on and conditions didn't seem to be improving. Then, another issue started to surface for me. For a very long time, I had thought that I might be gay, but I was usually able to suppress those feelings and focus on something else, like my relationship with God. My Teen Mania trip was the first time I had ever really been involved in a large group of male peers, and I started to find it harder and harder to make my feelings of attraction towards members of my own sex go away. This was extremely scary for me, because I firmly believed at that point in time that there was no such thing as a gay Christian, and if you were a homosexual you were going to hell.

I had become good friends with one of the Missionary Advisers (not mine) who was in Venezuela with me, and towards the end of my month in Venezuela, I was getting so depressed about my inability to feel close to God that I decided I had to confide in him the struggles I was having with my sexuality. To his credit, he was very sympathetic and I didn't feel like I was being judged by him at all. He prayed with me, and I actually remember him "casting the homosexuality out of me in the name of Jesus." Then he told me it was up to me to believe that God had delivered me and to make sure that I didn't fall into temptation. Years and years of wrestling with my sexual orientation, "solved" in a one hour conversation with a Teen Mania team leader!

The problem is, nothing was actually solved. I still felt distant from God, and I was still very much struggling with my attractions towards other guys. The only thing that was different is that now these things were 100% my fault. I had been "healed" by Jesus through my team leader's prayer, and now the only thing standing between me and a normal heterosexual life was how much faith I had in God. I really beat myself up over this, trying so very hard to just believe a little more or muster a bit more faith, trying to claim the "healing" from my homosexuality that I just knew Christ had granted me. But it didn't help. My despair and depression over all of this was just growing deeper by the day.

I remember being excited to get back to the Teen Mania campus in Texas because I knew there would be awesome praise & worship, and that I would get to hear Ron Luce speak. But by the time I made it back to Texas, something had fundamentally changed in my life. I felt like there was a simple solution to me feeling distant from God and my struggles with sin--more faith--but no matter how hard I tried I just couldn't make it happen. I couldn't get that "close to God" feeling back during the praise & worship sessions, and hearing Ron speak didn't fire me up like it had before. I remember praying so hard the night before I left Teen Mania to return home...begging that God would set my heart on fire again and let me feel his presence. Unfortunately, all I ended up feeling after my Teen Mania missions trip was loneliness, sadness, and emptiness that would stick with me for years to come.

Part III: The Aftermath

Things got extremely difficult for me when I returned home from my missions trip. Teen Mania does very little to prepare kids to return to the "real world" after being part of a Global Expedition. I had many strong emotions when I returned from my trip, but I didn't feel like anyone could really understand what I had just been through and wouldn't really be able to relate. I had talked to pretty much everyone I knew about my trip before I left in an effort to raise money, so of course everyone was asking me about it when I got home. I felt guilty saying anything negative about the trip to people who had donated to help me go, so I covered up my emotions and usually just smiled and said "Oh, it was great!" or something like that.

I felt absolutely disconnected from God when I got home from my trip. I was still very much struggling with same-sex attractions, and thanks to the advice & "healing" I received while on my trip, I now viewed this as a direct lack of faith on my part. I was lonely, scared, and confused. I started to question my salvation. I became suicidal for the first time in my life. I didn't know who to turn to, so I made a phone call to the Teen Mania 800-number and started talking to the intern who answered the phone. She was confused because I wasn't calling about Acquire The Fire or a Global Expedition...I just wanted to talk to someone. She listened to me talk for a few minutes about how I couldn't feel God anymore and I didn't know if I was "saved" anymore...then she sort of cut me off and tried to quote me a few Bible verses about God never leaving us and she prayed for me while I was on the phone. Then, she wished me luck and hung up. I felt like there was no real effort to really get to know more about my situation, and she definitely didn't ask me for my contact information or follow up with me in anyway.

The depression I was experiencing was growing worse by the day, and I was seriously considering taking my own life. I still, however, believed that someone at Teen Mania could offer me something....some sort of glimmer of hope...anything, really. I read and re-read books by Ron Luce, hoping I would find some real advice for Christians struggling with homosexuality. I checked their websites and message boards to see if I could find anything. When I couldn't, I got so desperate that I decided I would send an e-mail to Teen Mania detailing my struggle and asking for some specific advice. I also sent a similar e-mail to the male Project Director from my missions trip to Venezuela.

Neither of the responses I got were anywhere near adequate. The intern who responded to the e-mail I sent to Teen Mania quoted some scripture about how God won't tempt us beyond what we can bear, and he or she actually wrote a little prayer I could say to ask God to get rid of the "demons of homosexuality" in my life (I thought I already tried that!). Again, there was not any inkling of being interested to hear more about my story or any desire to follow-up with me at a later date to see how I was doing. The response I got from my Project Director was basically "just keep praying about it." I was crushed. I just so desperately wanted to be a "good Christian," and it took so much courage to send those e-mails and share such personal things with these people. And instead of trying to actually get to know me and offer me some real suggestions, these people just had canned responses to my hurt and pain, and showed no interest in making sure I was okay.

It was at that time that things just went from bad to worse in my life. The next few years were characterized by such extreme loneliness and depression that it is still hard to think about 10 years later. I was completely disillusioned with Christianity as a result of my experience with Teen Mania, and that last e-mail I sent to them would end up being the last direct involvement I ever had with the ministry. I realize now that so many false beliefs and unrealistic expectations about God were instilled in me by Teen Mania, and I still find myself struggling with some of these issues even as I approach the age of 30. I see in my own life how far-reaching the damage done to an individual by Teen Mania can really be, and I'm starting to find out that I'm not alone....that there are a whole bunch of other people out there who have been really hurt at the hands of Teen Mania. This is my story--and I want to protect other kids from going through the hurt that I had to go through, which is why I'm speaking out.