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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.

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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 drama...by 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.



37 comments:

  1. Thanks for sharing this, Robbie! I'm sorry you experienced such heartbreak.

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  2. Thank you so much for posting this. It brought back a lot of memories. My mission trip to Panama with TM ('97) was actually a very positive experience, but my best friend at the time went to Venezuela that same year and she came home in a terrible state of confusion and loneliness. I didn't understand it at the time (and was an awful friend because I just couldn't believe that her bad experience was anything but her own fault), but I can really see now how things can go sour on a TM trip. I hate that this happened to you and I'm so sorry that the TM responses to your outcry were weak and, honestly, stupid. I hate that they quoted scripture at you. I hate that they told you to "just pray" and made you feel like being who you were was a sin.

    TM has a lot of explaining and apologizing to do.

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  3. The start of your story mirrors mine - slaving away every spare moment of time to raise money to go to Venezuela... same year and everything. Wanting so desperately to be the very best christian I could be. I swear it was like reading the story straight out of my own memories...
    The difference in our stories, is my team was on our way to one of the week long excursions in the Andes, and I woke up on the bus trip to one of the head contacts' hand down my pants - clear to the skin, and he was not shy about what he was doing. I was so embarrassed - but the contact told me I had started it, and asked him to do it, all tho I don't know how... i was sleeping.... regardless... I went to the DM's and told them what happened as soon as we got back from our trip, and they called me a lair. Said there was no way that that particular contact would do anything like that, and that I was obveously a troublemaker, and they threatened to BV me at my parent's expense if I didn't settle down and admit that I lied. I knew my parents couldn't afford it, and I thought that if the people who were in charge of my care didn't believe me, my parents probably wouldn't either. So I told them I lied (absolutely horrified that my once "pure" body was no longer that way from a molester's hand and nobody cared)I felt sick. I waited out the rest of the trip, ready as hell to go home, and just forget this whole nightmare. I never thought it was happening to other people...

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    1. That's so horrible!! Ugh, you poor thing! I AM SO GLAD I didn't end up choosing to go on any ATF mission trips. This whole blog and comments have really opened my eyes to sick things that can happen to poor innocent teens who don't know what can happen out there. I have my own kids now and I will definitely be guarding them against irresponsible groups like this one, for sure. And I have you all to thank for being so honest and willing to share. Thank you. I'm really sorry these things happened to you and Robbie, but thank you for helping me to be on guard. Even if good did happen in the name of ATF somewhere, it's not worth the evil that occurred elsewhere, in their name.

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  4. I agree, thank you for sharing. I am incredibly sorry to see that you experienced this.

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  5. wow. i read the whole thing. that is pretty traumatic. you are not alone. i was involved with that cult as an intern for a year. i feel like it ruined my life and my relationship with God. i also feel like this is common with a lot of modern day "churches" - the molestation, the embezzlement, the fraud, the misinterpretation of the Bible, etc. i'm not you so i don't understand exactly how you feel nor am i going to pretend that i do. but i have felt things before the way you wrote about them.

    focus on the gospels and the words Jesus actually said. He was a extremely kind, gracious, loving and compassionate person. He has your back. and if you ever feel like He's not there anymore (and you're bound to many times throughout your life) just remember that there are other people out there who are feeling the same way. for me, it's easy to love Christ. it's excruciating to love "Christians." but i keep trying. loving and forgiving people who have hurt you is one of the most difficult things you'll have to experience in life.

    thanks for sharing your story. you are loved.

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  6. Robbie,

    All I have to say is wow. Your story really touched me. I was an intern at the Honor Academy almost 10 years ago. That is classic TM. There are a lot of Christians who don't know how to genuinely "bear one another's burdens". Some quote a few scriptures, pray a few times and move on. where's the comfort? That's not deliverance.

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  7. I read with concern your story. I suffered through some spiritual abuse at other ministries
    (Teen Challenge and Youth with a Mission) along
    with others.....at the ministries I was in,
    kicking people out on the street was a common
    occurrence. I never understood the Christian
    witness of such "correction". I am not saying
    these groups don't do good or that they aren't
    OK for some people.

    This may sound trite, but understanding God's
    unconditional love and grace is helpful in
    healing. God doesn't love us for what He can
    get out of us or because we do something "right". Rather, His unearned and undeserved
    love (grace) is the only hope for change and
    wholeness we humans have, no matter who we are.

    Unfortunately religion is one of the most
    devestating and destructive forces and
    produces deep pain ....

    There is, in reality, no "program" or
    ritual that we need to do or perform in order
    to be loved by God. The things we are taught
    in God's name to do and perform are set ups
    for complete humiliating failure and rejection
    by our religious peers, or set ups for us
    to imagine that we are better than others.
    Either way, they are an illusion.

    God loves you. You are the child He has
    always wanted.

    I'm sorry you experienced so much rejection
    and religious performance in your family
    and in this ministry. You are precious
    to God.

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  8. I am so unbelieveably sorry...reading your story actually brought me to tears. I was an intern a few years ago and therefore directly experienced their stings. The thing that stuck out the most for me was the fact that you recieved such brass treatment. I was a GE Encouragement Rep in my year, and mentoring the children on my list was one of the only good experiences I had there...so it saddens me to hear, although I know how the majority of TM works, that you were treated this way

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  9. I understand completely Robbie. I remember thinking...I have to sleep in this disgusting bunk bed and there is a waterfall in the main auditorium. Where is my money going really?

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  10. Thank you for posting such a painful experience. I was considering letting my 12 yr old daughter go on a jr trip in TX this summer and thanks to posts like this on this website I won't even be letting her attend ATF again. Our church Summer camp and VBS will do and she is old enough to start being a helper at VBS and consider that and helping out locally w/me will be her 'missions'. Thanks for sharing so others can avoid the pain. Praying that your pain has lessened and you haven't stopped seeking God and His healing - that comes on His timing.

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  11. howardslefthawaii--GE trips have changed my life (for the better) and i've only had great experiences with TM. you can find negative sites on literally anything nowadays with the internet.

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  12. Hi Robbie,
    I went to Acquire the Fire throughout my teen years, did a Mission Trip with them, and the Honor Academy. When I was twenty, even twenty one...if you'd asked me what I thought of them, I would have had nothing but glowing, gushing, brainwashed praises to sing.

    Now, I'm a 30 year old, happily married mother of two, with college education, real job. I go to a normal church and own a home. Reflecting back on my time with Teen Mania, I can sum up my feelings in four words:

    Teen Mania is stupid.

    The conventions are based on emotional hype, nothing that has to do with normal Christian life. The books carry bad theology. None of the "10 Challenges of A WorldChanger" are actually things the Bible asks us to do. "Shock Treatment," was little more than a psychological tool to make you feel guilty for not going on a Teen Mania trip. Ron's sermons at ATF set you up to either be a judgmental, annoying, superior acting sort of person with terrible social skills, who spends every second either trying to save or challenge everyone around them, or make you feel guilty for not being that person.

    Having vacationed abroad, and supported strategic missions since,I can tell you right out that the missions are overpriced, ineffective, make little actual difference in the countries they target. They are poorly executed and overhyped. The fact that once your donors have put money in your TM account, you can't get it back, even if you can't go on your trip, is so unethical that it makes me want to scream.

    And the internship. Geez. What a waste of a year of my life. They essentially make you think that it's a year of adventure and travel, but it's mostly a trick for getting you to be a telemarketer for them. The teaching is controlling and manipulative, the environment is cultish, and you spend much of your life feeling either superior or guilty.

    It took seven years for me to become a normal human again after Teen Mania. There's a reason that, even though intern alumni can go on two month trips for free for the rest of their lives, I've never taken them up on that. It'd be stupid.

    Thank you for starting this blog and posting your story. It mus have been a tremendous challenge. I applaud your courage for sharing. You are not alone in your feelings toward this experience. I'm sorry your trip was so horrifying. The real Church of Jesus has nothin to do with that.

    Linda

    Linda

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  13. I am sorry about what you experienced my son. But we give our hearts to God when we accept Jesus as Lord. The reason that religion is so out of control is because too many "so called" Christians never gave their hearts to God. People will always hurt people and that is why we must serve God and not people. We must forgive because Jesus died so that through Him we could freely forgive. But it is definitely not our human nature to forgive, so we NEED to cry out to Him daily....I know I do and He really responds.
    If we are going to serve Him, then His word is the final authority in our lives. We will NEVER fully agree with God's word because we are naturally carnal and selfish humane. But once we ae BORN AGAIN, we must renew our minds and transform our hearts through the Word of God.....not a conference, a preacher or a worship song.....but the LIVING WORD OF GOD.
    Those of you over 30 and still hurting deeply, I say to you....let the LOVE of Jesus heal you for real.
    Just as many complain about TEEN MANIA, IHOP, and the like.....this world's culture is more devstating than any ministry group in the world. And this world's culture is in TOTAL opposition to God's word. Open your Bible and read it and you will see.

    TO Linda, I am glad you got your nice job, house and 2.5 cars and a dog or two.....but it is all rubbish when you take your last breath my dear. And ALL of us will take a last breath sooner or later. People who hate God and hate others, can get everything you have plus more. So it was arrogant of you to mention that as if your deliverance from a ministry had something to do with that. There is no such thing as a normal church and you are wrong to make young people think that there is a normal (perfect) church. Church is for hurt people who make mistakes and they know they NEED God, so it cannot be normal....its too many of us with too many different issues and we all DO NOT get along and we view things in different eyes.

    God BLESS you son and may His LOVE and MERCY penetrate you deeply. You may want to stop readung other people's negative issues and really seek God's word for healing. Either you believe God or you don't. No one is making you be a Christian.

    Eseosa

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    1. This is for anyone reading this in 2015 because they have been spiritually abused through a similar experience. Eseosa is wrong in saying "This world's culture is more devastating than any ministry group in the world". This is a false and misleading statement. Secularists know they are not saved. There is always hope that they will find Jesus at some point. Places like Teen Mania and IHOP are far more dangerous because they rob victims of their faith and risk turning victims against God forever. Eseosa is irresponsible in his/her statements. Saying that Ron Luce should continue to be a sadistic abuser because that might be slightly better than going clubbing is absurd and wrong. People like Eseosa share responsibility for such abuse.

      If you are involved in one of these cults, get out. Ron Luce neither follows nor teaches the real gospel of Jesus Christ. His new partnership with Gateway Church in Southlake, TX should confirm that. The high Robbie felt is part of the Strange Fire movement pioneered by Aimee Semple McPherson the founder of the Pentecostal Church of Foursquare. Ron's new partnership with Gateway's The King's University (TKU) is a Church of Foursquare school. TM superstar Mike Guzzardo is now an executive pastor at Gateway and Ron Luce guest teaches at TKU. The experience that kids have at Teen Mania is not with God the Holy Spirit. It is with a darker and more sinister spirit.

      Aimee was married three times, had many lovers, created the first "Christian Radio Station" in Los Angeles and seduced people with her highly elaborate stage productions that she called "church", every weekend in her fabulous coliseum-like Angelus Temple. People like Luce replicate these elaborate stage productions because they are effective at mimicking a "divine experience" and they create followers who will do anything to reproduce that experience or feeling again. It is like a drug.

      Aimee also did some outreach for the poor (like Luce does), but during the Great Depression she lived in a Hollywood mansion and covered herself in jeweled gowns, diamonds and furs. She ended up washing down illegally obtained drugs with booze to prematurely end her life. Does that sound like a woman following God?

      This environment of "mania" Luce and others have crafted now takes the form of loud music, smoke machines, rave lights and confetti canons. It is seductive. It makes you feel like you are encountering the Holy Spirit and it is euphoric in nature. It is a distinctive mood altering euphoria. I recommend anyone seeking to free themselves from this bondage to check out the Strange Fire Conference videos https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLcpTMSL-FR-duvHk-xYVLOGCQRLnYBNxU They explain how and why this immersion in "experience" is so seductive. It is NOT better than "of this world". It is a darker world.

      Delete
  14. You're gay and you hate Teenmania... Hmmmm... Wow, didn't see that one coming!

    Seriously, I'm not trying to be mean to you but you are living in sin and having once given "your life" to God then having decided to take it back - the Holy Spirit is convicting you. You can either accept it or hate. You choose to hate as do all your "supporters".

    All you have to do is read THEIR responses. Those that support you - their letters are hate filled. Those who support Teenmania and it's mission react to you in love.

    If you honestly feel that I'm not then I can promise you that you are wrong. I hope and pray that God will give you "eyes to see and ears to hear". God loves you and is waiting for you - arms wide open - for you to return to Him.

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    1. Fuck you, you homophobic, sanctimonious asshole.

      Also, I'm sorry for what you went through, blogger. That sounds horrifying.

      Delete
    2. Helping others escape a cult and seek help is not hateful. It is courageous and righteous. Jesus wanted us to love one another. Pointing out that Ron Luce is false teacher and an abuser of children is kind and loving. Ron Luce is still trying to operate his Honor Academy in Dallas. If you saw a group of kids about to dive into shark infested waters, would it be hateful to warn them because at a different angle you can see all the shark fins?

      I think there are many people caught up in TM that are good and kind caring Christians. But this cult is abusive and harmful. People using their time and effort to try to spare others from being hurt as they were, is kind and decent.

      Anonymous, you are suffering from cognitive dissonance. I pray that someday you can step back and see the very real damage these places do. There is something very wrong with Ron Luce. He has two degrees in Counseling and Psychology and he uses that knowledge to psychologically manipulate, torture and enslave youth.

      Delete
    3. You aren't a Christian. That is all. Go read the bible. How dare you point somebody else's sins and not yours? If you say you're not trying to be mean to replace what you're about to say, you're being mean, and that's disgusting in God's eyes.

      Delete
  15. I went on a Global Expedition to Mexico in 1999, and I want to thank you for creating this blog to prevent others from going through the same thing. During my trip, the accommodations were similarly unsanitary. We had to sleep on concrete floors, and cockroaches crawled on us during the nights. At one point, I had to be taken to the hospital for stomach issues. Worse than the physical conditions were the psychologically damaging practices of Teen Mania.

    I am still a Christian, but I don't agree with a lot of the dogma that many evangelical churches propagate. Homosexuality is not a sin. The linked article below systematically discusses how the church's position about homosexuality is not biblical:
    http://www.thegodarticle.com/7/post/2011/10/clobbering-biblical-gay-bashing.html

    I wish you all the best.

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  16. I know that this comment is long, please do read. I wrote from the heart. I am truly sorry and surprised to hear that you had such a bad experience with Teen Mania. I had a very different experience with TM that I would like to share with you.

    My first ATF event was when I was about 13. The thing I remembered most were TM encouraging us to give up secular music and the influence it had over us as teenagers. At the time, Green-Day and NIN were big. So I think the call to listen to music with a better message is a good idea and Bibically based (Phip 4:8). I no longer only listen to Christian music, but I also don't surround myself with disgusting things just because I like the beat (ie. "I'm Sexy and I know it).

    The second thing that happened at ATF was that I met our Church's new youth pastor. I thing a lot of your frustration comes from the lack of support once TM left town. I was fortunate enough to have great youth pastors and mentors that taught me how to turn that little flame into a lasting fire. We had a saying, "Ignite before you evaporate," and we were nurtured to become passionate and devoted followers of Christ. Teenagers have the ability to embrace and be passionate, and catch on fire. TM, IHOP, YMAM all recognize this and aim to help teens find passion and calling in the Lord before getting wrapped up in the responsibilities and complexity of adult life. But at events like this, it is easy for teens to get caught up in the emotions without having a spiritual connection. I do not know which was the case for you and I regret that you weren't given the same nurturing that I was because for me, it truly was life changing.

    And the 3rd thing I got from that ATF was an introduction to missions. I even went on my first trip that summer with my youth group for a few weeks in the summer to Mexico. A few years later, I went
    on a Global Expedition with TM to another part of Mexico. It was hot, smelly. I was tired, uncomfortable, sick, pushed to my limits. I slept on concrete floors while fire ants but my skin at
    night, washed my clothing in a basin with rainwater when I had the chance, ate foods I do not wish
    to ever taste again, had my backpack peed on by a wild dog. It was those things that taught me to
    rely on His strength and not my own; to be grateful for the blessings in my own life; to rejoice in
    the Lord always; I could go on. and on.

    I guess what I am saying is to stop acting like a victim and consider the lessons God would have
    you learn through your experiences. Because we don't do anything without his will or strength and I
    believe He does have a divine calling on your life. Your trip to Venezuela was not a mistake, it
    was preparation for the rest of your life. Just like that month in June was uncomfortable, challenging and seemingly unfair, so is this life. Would you not agree?

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  17. Robbie,

    I am completely shocked at your experience with TM. I have never had a bad experience with them. I will be going on my third mission trip with them this summer, and I cannot wait. I have learned so much from the ministry. God loves you so much, and He will never stop pursuing you. Homosexuality is a sin, just like lying and stealing are. We all deal with different things. Do not be discouraged. God is a refuge for us, and He desires to heal us from any and everything. Your life is not a mistake. I hope you can heal from this pain that you've encountered. John 16:33

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    Replies
    1. You're a terrible person who participates in the alienation and senseless demonization of a persecuted minority group.

      Please stop existing.

      Thanks.

      Delete
  18. Robbie,

    I have no experience with TM, but I lived through a similar experience with the Word of Faith/Believing Prayer Movement.

    I was married and became pregnant, but the baby had heart defects. We were strongly encouraged to "keep the faith" and she would be healed. She died 22 hours after her birth.

    Now, ten years later I am almost 30, and have learned that God is real, He didn't fail me, but false teachings did. Those teachings were based on much the same stuff you described: emotional manipulation, hype, Bible passages taken grossly out of context, legalism, etc.

    I have written a lot about it on my blog if you want to read it,
    www.myfathershouse.squarespace.com

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  20. Dear Robbie,

    I read your story. My little brother who I love very much struggles with homosexuality. I wanted to reply to your post. Here is what I have realized: my sin and struggle is not against homosexuality but there are a whole lot of other things that apart from the blood of Jesus certainly disqualify me and every other human being from being in right-standing with God (pride, envy, hate...). And talking with my little brother has opened my eyes to how we are all expected to rely on Jesus for not only our righteousness, but for grace to walk out what He has called us to. Having a struggle is not an excuse to sin. But God doesn't look any differently at homosexuality than he does greed. I ask myself this question: am I making war on my pride? On my envy? I need to be able to encourage my brother. How can I do that if I don't see how serious my sin really is and make war on it?

    And certainly greed can be just as "natural" as homosexuality (we can watch kids to learn how natural sinful nature is). We have all fallen short. And we all need to run to Jesus to find help in our time of need. Over and over and over. God doesn't bring us to a place where we don't need Him any more. And he asks all of us to deny our natural and fleshly desires. And it is so hard. But I encourage you to keep going back because His mercies are new EVERY morning. And He wants you to lay your burdens at His feet.

    The attack of the enemy is to convince us that our sin is too dirty and that if we don't "fix it" on our own before we come before God, he will shame us. That is absolutely not true. We got to Him WHEN we need help Hebrews says. The enemies lies are what kept Judas from repenting, yet Peter repented and was restored to relationship with Jesus. Both betrayed Jesus but each had very different outcomes. So don't ever stop running to Him! This is a marathon not a sprint. And He is so worth it. We are all in this fight together. Bless you in Christ, brother!

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  21. I'm so sorry you had such a terrible experience. That is religion. Although good things are done in the name of religion, no god is needed to tell you right or wrong. Religion involves so much evil and bias. As a former Catholic, I am quite familiar with the Bible and there truly is so much horror that takes place as a result of "God's Will." Make your own decisions. Think for yourself. Even if a god did exist, why would it want us to worship it? Shouldn't we devote our lives to making the world a better place and helping others? I don't need an imaginary man in the sky to help me decide what is right and wrong. I am independent. I can take responsibility for my own actions. I can accept that when I die, my life is over aside from my reputation and work that I have done here on Earth. I can accept l that in the grand scheme of everything, I don't matter at all. I am incredibly, perhaps infinitely, tiny. But at the same time, I have the oppourtunity and challenge of helping to make the universe better in my short lifespan. I don't need a god to see the beauty, fragility, and complexity of the world around me. We live in such an absolutely incredible world. Why can't we wake up and see it for what it is? Why must we add religion to an already amazing world? I find so much more motivation in knowing that I only have one life. If you are able to break free of the confines of organized religion, you too will discover a meaning, a purpose to your life. Please consider the prospect of atheism or agnosticism. It has been the best decision of my life. I strongly recommend reading "The Grand Design" by Stephen Hawking and Leonard Mlolinger and Douglas Adams's speech from the Biota conference. Make your own choices. Make your own life. One that is not defined by a pastor or your parents. It will be you. Wake up. Define your own life. You only have one, so don't waste it. I am a fourteen year old girl. I am an atheist. I am me.

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  22. Hi There, interesting post, you think you had it tough? what about us living in the "third world" countries that are used as guinea pigs and also as a cheap labour as interpreters?.

    I was an interpreter for one of those missionary teams and I saw how they treated the teens and the lack of care for their physical and emotional needs.

    I was also bullied by one of the interns who had some emotional dysfunction. I also observed the contempt for us the "natives". But never mind, God is good and his mercy endures forever and there is nothing that stays hidden.

    Seek and you will find, I pray that God will speak to your heart and heal you. Please keep your eyes on God and not on men!!!

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  23. Dear Blogger,

    I want to sincerely apologize to you. I had a hand in the brainwashing, as I was brainwashed as well. I was the actor on stage at the PA ATF in 1997 and I too went to Venezuela in 1997. I drank the cool-aide like a lot of people did.

    TM is full of shit! I spent way too much money to be their "slave-monkey" and what did I get out of it...NOTHING! Your story sounds so close to mine, as I too struggled with homosexuality and felt guilty about it. Praying and reading the Bible....blah blah blah. I don't agree with the hype and hoopla they give off. I was so torn up about my religious struggles that after TM I went to Oral Roberts University. I thought I would certainly find out about the true God and reconnect with him there. All I found was hypocrisy.

    I still believe in God, but I haven't cracked a Bible in years and only attend a Church when I visit my parents out of respect. After reading what happened to you all the hatred and bitterness came back for a moment BUT more importantly I feel compassion for you. I want to take a moment again and apologize, because I was part of it. I will never allow my kid to go to TM or won't force him to church. If he goes he goes, if he doesn't he doesn't. All church and TM do is make people judgmental dicks. I'm sure some people have great experiences with TM, and to those people that drink the kool-aide ask yourself this question, all the money you raise, where does it go? Ron has a gorgeous house and so do the staffers.

    I was part of the group putting up those damn huts and when we did it I asked why would we make people sleep out here? The answer was because there wasn't enough space to have them sleep in a building. Everyone that goes on a trip raised 3,000 or more dollars. When you send 120 people to Venezuela or wherever you telling me you don't get huge discounts? Come on, lets be realistic.

    When I ran out of money 1 month before the conclusion of my internship, instead of letting me finish it out, I was sent home to raise more money. WTF. Where's the compassion? TM is a scheme and they are warping young minds to think really fucked up, cold and condescending.


    R.

    J.

    BTW: I hope one day those kooks stop ruining people's lives. These churches that support TM and the ATF are perpetuating the problem. Religion is ruining the way people think....

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  24. Wow, I don't even know how I stumbled across your blog, but I'm glad I did. I have to admit, at first I thought for sure you would just be a jaded person with an ax to grind. But as I read your story, it made me think of my own TMM experiences from 1990-1994.

    For the most part, my experiences were fairly positive. But as I read your story, I recalled lots of things that happened that I had never really considered as having a negative impact on my life. I can see now where some of the struggles and cycles I faced in my teenage and young adult life were somehow shaped/influenced by what I "learned" at ATF's and on mission trips with TMM.

    If nothing else, your post made me think. Thank you!

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  25. 1998 Mexico. Worst experience EVER! told us we were saying in hotel and had meals paid for. Turns out, we slept in a FUTBALL stadium on the concrete floors with all these crazy bugs biting you at night. The guys stayed in JAIL CELLS on the second level. We had PB&J for 10 days straight!!!!! Meanwhile the "leaders" were eating KFC and PIZZA. I got punished for saying "DAMN" and spent NYE alone. I will never ever recommend TM and I hope they pay for all the damage cause to every who has suffered on one of these FAKE ASS trips.

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  26. You were on a missions trip to minister to people less fortunate than you and to share Christ's love and you complain about the accommodations. And then I read you think it's TM's fault you struggle with being gay and a Christian. I get it. You need someone to blame for PTSD. However, NOTHING you have described reaches a threshold of trauma. You get to call your parents... did you not tell them you were injured? I doubt they would allow their child to stay if he were injured and suffering. Honestly, there is one in every group, class, work place and on and on. You feel others are responsible for your feelings. You were struggling with your sexuality before you went to TM. It didn't start there. Did you think it would make you not gay? I don't care if you are gay or not. I'm down with you doing whatever you want in your bedroom being up to you and that's between you and God. But your issues started long before you went on this missions trip. I went on and it was amazing. We roughed it and so did our leaders. There are so many whiny people here. The staff was eating better food than you... boohoo! That's where they live; it's not a two week experience for them. They get to eat whatever food they like while they train you. You didn't starve. My God people... shut up and get over it. There is one in every crowd...

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    1. Wow, you sure seem like a GREAT witness for Christ. Or maybe you're abusive and uncompassionate! Definitely the latter.

      They were living in totally unsanitary conditions with the blogger getting a rash, that could have been anything, he was also injured and probably scared to tell his parents for fear of being sent home and losing all the money he had raised. He wore the same clothes for a month straight. He was abused, berated, and treated like a sex offender for an innocent comment. That is abuse. Straight up abuse.

      Delete
  27. Spoken with the true love of Christ...You validate Robbie's experience with TM. You definitely do not know the love of God...You like millions of professing Christians adhere to an extrinsic knowledge of God's love...you know about God, but really do not know Him...I would encourage you to read John 17, the longest recorded prayer of Jesus and try to be honest and acknowledge how well you align with His prayer. You are at the very least, an anemic, impotent witness for Christ!

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  28. Wow, I was an HA intern in 2001 and was just looking up Teen Mania randomly and am now finding out it closed, and found this blog. I had an amazing experience in my time there. What I have realized reading different accounts (including yours) is that it seems TM did very poorly at oversight of its leadership. Experiences seem to differ depending on who you interacted with.
    My experience was so amazing because of the people who I regularly interacted with. My Core leader was a really amazing person, as were all of the people I met in my year there, but I am sure there were others on campus at the same time who had a terrible experience. I am incredibly sorry you had such a traumatizing experience, and at the same time selfishly thankful that I did not.

    I am also in my 30s now, and I feel like I have learned a lot about life since then. I really hope you have since been able to overcome the abuse you experienced. I also hope that you have been able to come to terms with your sexuality and realize there is nothing wrong with who you are, and overcome the prejudice many lgbtq experience by Christians. God loves you and created you as you are.

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  29. I went to Venezuela in 1994 and had the best time. That sucks they changed things so much in just 4 years. We stayed in like these apartments. We all had beds, air conditioning and running water. We also had a pool on site. A girl on our team fell and broke her collar bone. They instantly took her to the hospital. I knew of another girl that same year who went to El Salvador and she had her appendix removed. We also met up in Miami before we went off to our countries. Sorry, your experience stunk.

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