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...