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.

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