I found your site and I’ve spent the better part of 5 hours reading it, with breaks only to take care of my newborn. My heart is hurting and my brain is just spinning. For years I’ve felt invalidated by my feelings concerning this “ministry” and all that goes with it. Only in the last few years has my brother begun to recover from the spiritual abuse of our childhood and recognize how damaging our church experiences were, of which TM/ATF were a part.
I first attended ATF when I was in 7th grade. It fit in nicely with my charismatic church setting at home and I rode the emotional highs and dealt with all the “sins” that I was convicted of during the sermons. I confessed to listening to pop music and to watching the Titanic and all of that. The last day they do the group call to commit to a mission trip. On the tail of another emotion-charged worship session I decided I was called. Actually, what Ron Luce said was, “You need to pray to stay. You’re already called to go. Everyone is called to go.” So of course I should go! My dad was glad at my young missions heart and I raised a little less than $3000 for a trip to Mexico. All throughout the fundraising I was getting calls all the time encouraging me and telling me I was doing the right thing and basically pumping up my ego – I was so great for doing this trip.
The summer before my 8th grade year I made my way to Garden Valley and everything seemed to be rolling along nicely until the morning we were supposed to leave. I was about to load the bus when they said they had no idea who I was and that I wasn’t signed up for a group. They gave me a phone and told me to call my dad and “figure it out.” I wasn’t sure what I was suppose to do. I felt abandoned as my group loaded the bus. I was scared and embarrassed and had no idea what was going on. I was confused and couldn’t figure out how I could have been there for a week and not be “signed up.” Eventually whatever was wrong got straightened out, I thought. But when we arrived in Mexico I didn’t have a drama costume and wasn’t assigned to a group and no leader seemed to want me. I actually got passed around between 3 groups before one stuck. I never felt more unwanted or singled out in my life.
Some things that stuck out to me during the trip that have stuck with me (10 years later) are these:
-The emphasis on numbers/people “saved” and complete lack of discipleship
-Being chastised for not “praying hard enough” during the drama and it directly affecting number of salvation
-Critiquing other dramas and then the gossip and bad-talking our group leaders did of the other groups
-Being pulled aside and threatened with dismissal because I was walking side by side with a boy. (On a side note, my brother and I were once pulled aside to be lectured about how we were walking too close together during a summer camp at Garden Valley. Even when we said we were brother and sister the leader said we were being in appropriate and we should be “above reproach” and not everyone knew we were related so may thing we’re being inappropriate. SERIOUSLY??)
-The “relationship talk” with the end result of everyone having to break up with anyone at home because any dating relationship was an unholy one.
-Praying for a man with a wound on his leg which had gotten so bad he couldn’t walk. After an hour of praying out the demon that was causing his physical ailment we just up and left him because it was time to go. On the bus our leader asked us who had sin that was preventing God from healing him.
At the time I don’t think I realized how unscriptural and dysfunctional this whole thing was because A) it was similar to my charismatic church teachings, and B) I was young and while eager, not well-versed in doctrine.
I continued to attend ATF events all over Texas, but didn’t go on another mission trip with them. It wasn’t until I went to college and came back with my home church to be an adult sponsor at an ATF event that I realized how damaging and manipulative their tactics are. I had only been away from a spiritually abusive environment for a year, but a healthy church and classes in doctrine and sociology had grown me. I urged the youth not to sign any cards or commit to anything until they got home and spoke with their parents. In the weeks after, I counseled many young girls who were suffering from guilt over not maintaining the “high” from ATF and who made rash decisions and statements that they realized they couldn’t live up to. I remember those feelings. They are devastating to a young believer. It’s sad that there’s no grace. It’s sad that there’s no valley that is preached, only a mountain high that’s expected.
I could probably write a book about how I arrived where I am in my spiritual journey, but for years my views on missions were terribly skewed because of my initial experience. I was filled with guilt in almost every dating relationship I had. I thought that if someone didn’t get saved when I prayed it was because I wasn’t praying enough. But the most damaging was the expectation that every moment of my relationship with God had to be emotional, crying, shouting, overwhelming. In spite of the reoccurring theme of depression and agony in the Psalms, my experience taught me that I couldn’t be a Christian and experience any of those things. Recovering from 18 years of that has been the most painful and wonderful experience of my life. The sweetest time I’ve had in my faith was when I spent some time in the woods behind St. Martin’s monastery, in the quiet. No music, no lights, no flashy power points, no guilt or badgering, no peer pressure or split second commitments. It was just me and creation. It was the Lord speaking in the silence and beauty of nature.
That ended up being a novel, but I just am so thankful to have someone who understands.