Hmm. Where to begin? I guess that my name is Mark. I was very recently at Teen Mania as an intern and also as a Core Advisor. In this story(or rant) I will be, for the first time, recounting some of my experiences at TM. So if my thoughts are scattered, I apologize in advance. It has now been a few years since I left TM, and every day my heart seems to grow colder. I do not fully blame TM for my hardened heart and disgust for the Christian religion, but I can see how my time there played into it. I’m doing this to possibly help myself. I find myself frustrated by the fact that I severely scrutinize preachers from my pew seat, or that I laugh at the hypocrisy I see from the “Christians” in my life. I would like to know the love of Christ once again, someday…
I left for TM in August, over a year after I graduated from high school. I was at the time, new to Christianity, and “on fire” for my new found faith (or so everyone told me). I’m going to backtrack to March, when I attended ATF for the first time as a teen leader in my youth group. It was loud and bright, like nothing I had experienced before in the religious world. The environment created was almost a false reality, and my pastor at the time marketed it as that. He said for weeks leading up to it, “escape the every day drudge and go to ATF with us!” The weekend was one big spiritual/emotional high. Somewhere in the middle of my emotional drunkeness, I was approached by a random young lady. She was all smiles and cute as could be when she said, “I typically don’t do this, but God showed me a vision of you doing something radical for His Kingdom. I think you should go check out the Honor Academy booth in the lobby.” She seemed so in tune with God, and so very convincing. And so I did. I even filled out part of an application. This was a radical step in my faith, or so I thought.
In the months between ATF and arrival day at TM. I did my very best to walk with conviction and righteousness, but my immaturity prevailed. I lied to the intern rep who called me once a week about how I was doing. I lied to my family and pastor as they encouraged me in my preparations. I even tried my hardest to squander away the money I was supposed to be saving. But through my best efforts to fail, “the blessings of God,” won in the end. My pastor ended up writing a check for $2,000 dollars the day before I left for TM. I smoked two packs of cigarettes on the road trip to Texas. I was determined to let this be a turning point for me. A fork in the road. Because all I had heard were amazing, godly testimonies from the interns at this place.
There were a few things that stood out to me my first day on campus, one of which was the evaluation I went through during registration. I thought it was weird at the time, but now I find it disturbing. We were given a series of exams, or personality profile tests, to evaluate our skill sets. From day one they start separating the more profitable individuals. The new interns who score high on organizational, or communicative qualities, are taken notice of by staff members immediately. Some interns arrive and are obviously less socially adjusted or mature, and those are pegged immediately as grounds and maintenance or kitchen crew members. I know all of this because of my second year as a core advisor. After a series of interviews all the interns are placed on a list. The top of the list are new arrivals who scored high on their personality tests, had an impressive resume, and/or did well in their interviews. At the bottom of this list, the socially awkward, the uneducated, and the lazy ones. Then the head of each department in the ministry gets together and practically has a fantasy baseball draft. Top picks are traded for. Certain departments get better picks. Kitchen crew doesn’t even get to pick, they just pick up the free agents at the end of the draft. The ministry as a whole was run like a business. I understand that with a certain amount of money coming through any given organization, a business structure is needed, but I figured TM would be different. Wrong again.
I have no really traumatic tales of ESOAL. I participated. I quit a few days in because of an injury. I did get sick for many days after the event. I can attest and agree with much of what has been said of ESOAL. It was abusive in nature, but not an overly detrimental experience for me.
I want to pair the Honor Academy and Global Expeditions together for a minute, with what is in my mind a horrible ministry tactic. Both of these ministries, will accept ANYONE to participate. I witnessed multiple interns and “missionaries” in my time at TM, who were NOT SAVED! This is sickening to me. Sending unsaved teenagers to “preach the gospel” to unsaved souls. Now given, not every child on a GE trip is unsaved. I would say the great majority of them do know Christ, but the one out of a hundred who doesn’t, still gets accepted for the trip. HA side of things are just the same. Many of the interns whom I knew in my two years had little or no knowledge of the bible or salvation before TM, which leaves TM as the basis of their theology (SCARY). And many interns were socially awkward to extremes. One kid my second year had a reading level of grade 3. I had a guy in my core, who could not read his bible, could not pass his “classes” and regularly had seizures. He graduated from his internship in the same khakis as everyone else in August.
A lot can be said of the gender roles issue at TM. I for one can say I did more borderline homosexual activities at TM than anywhere else in my life. Most of which was done in the context of joking around, but still. I feel like TM creates a horrible environment For those who have struggled with homosexuality. Interns are, in many ways, forced to spend ample amounts of time with the same gender, while at the same time, very limited to contact with the opposite sex. For me this was not an issue, but since my time at TM many of the men and women I knew there have confessed publicly to being gay/lesbian. Gender roles become construed and twisted through the lens of an intern. Men are men, and do stuff for women that women aren’t able to do. And women are women, and do stuff for men that men don’t want to do. That’s what I learned at TM at least.
I’ll briefly touch on the culture shock TM creates for interns.. I spent two years at TM, and felt like a stranger to my friends and family when I would go home to visit, and especially when I finished that two years. I can’t imagine how individuals that spend multiple years at TM feel. The move from the internship to my field of work now, was brutal to say the least. I felt as if I had no backbone after TM. Pardon my language, but TM turned me into a little bitch. I couldn’t stand up for myself because I was scared of ruining my witness. I think the whole experience, paired with the six months of hardship adjusting to real life after, actually matured me a lot. I’m thankful for TM. I learned a lot about myself and how deceptive others can be, and thus I am a stronger person. Did my family and friends notice a change? Probably so. It wasn’t a dramatic, life altering, praise Jesus kind of change though. Would I recommend TM to friends, or to anyone? Absolutely not.
The blog admin asked me to talk about this blog in reference to my time at TM. Yes the blog was up and running while I was an intern/CA. And yes it was talked about as a hot item on campus. I remember reading the blog myself a few months into my internship(at Starbucks of course, because the TM firewall blocked the blog). The only reason I had heard about it, was because Dave Hasz talked about it in a ministry wide meeting. He made it out to be a bad thing, a horrible thing. That everyone participating in the blog were liars and just bitter from outside factors. He removed the blame completely from TM. So in my ignorance, I too removed blame from TM in my head. We would read the blog and laugh and mock the “silly” stories of eating cat food and rolling through vomit. It was entertaining somehow. I guess that’s how exciting our lives were. I know now this is a place of healing and understanding amongst peers. Thanks you for all you are doing.