Before you read my story, I want to make it clear where I am coming from. I am now inches away from being atheist. I have a deep hatred for religion (if there is a god who cared, I think that they would feel the same way), I feel that religion has done more harm in my life, and the lives of many others, than it was ever worth for me. I feel badly for anyone who has been harmed through these programs because the damage it has done to my life is almost beyond repair. Granted, it wasn’t specific things during my Honor Academy year that ruined my life – it was taking the teachings at the Honor Academy to heart and basing my life on them. My time on missions, or in the Honor Academy was not filled with negatives, but I know many of the issues I now have would have not come about if it were not for the teachings I heard and put into practice during these formative years. I think I have also blocked a lot of the memories from that time; I only have a few that really stand out. I also know that I went back to Texas twice, but I can’t remember why the second time, when I would have gone, or for what reason. Also, my story is not that exciting, and they were not exceptionally horrible to me, but in the end, it had a much larger impact on my life than I ever thought it would.
We moved a lot when I was a kid, and it made things kind of hard for me when it came to connecting to people, and very easy when it came to cutting ties. About a year before I had my introduction to Teen Mania, I had started going to this small church that had some nice kids around my age. It worked out well because I had just moved there and did not know anyone. I became friends with them fairly quickly, and long story short, I ended up going with them to an ATF. It seemed like a reasonably good experience, and that these people really had a way to “connect to God,” so while I was there, I figured I would check out some of the other things they had to offer. I was also just about to graduate from high school, and not quite feeling ready for college, and I figured that some time with the group would be a good idea…I was naive. Since a prerequisite for doing the HA was a mission trip, I signed up for one, and was soon on my way to South Africa. Looking back, I am amazed at the way these things were run. A bunch of kids are sent into a foreign country with no real clue as to the nature of the culture they are walking into, no idea about the language, nothing. It really is quite disgusting to me.
South Africa was fairly uneventful. I had a bit of a hard time fitting in with most of the people there because I was fairly secular, but the mentality and behaviors started to rub off on me. For the most part, they were nice to me. As I am sure you remember, the first week is filled with sleepless nights and endless “training.” It was mostly sitting through lectures and learning those stupid plays that are going to save the world. All of this was always pushed with a healthy dose of “you are suffering for God, this is an honor.” I tried, and did it without too much complaint. I bought the line that God would be proud of what we were doing. This was the story for most of the trip. I did as they asked, I suffered for God, I thought I was doing a good thing. The two things, however, that really stand out to me about the trip was first, carrying the sound box, that heavy blue thing that for some reason did hot have wheels that could be attached to it. And second, the fact that we went a week in an African desert with only 500mLs of water a day for the side trip I took to Mozambique. There was a limit to how much water they could boil in a day to make sure that it was safe to drink, but still, provisions should have been made to make sure we were well hydrated. I was so massively thirsty by the end of it that I could not stand it. Even worse, half way through that week, I saw the Team Leaders sitting in their hut drinking something they had bought at the store just down the road. Since I was only 18 and on the bottom of the food chain, I was not allowed to leave the compound to get anything for myself, or any of the other poor kids who felt the same way. I was so irritated that they were able to drink more than we were. They just told me I was doing a good thing for God and that I could not have anything else to drink.
About a week after I got home, I left for Texas to start my year as an intern. It was kind of the same story as the mission trip. I was still really secular compared to a lot of the people there, and I really had a hard time fitting in. Even though it was hard for me at first, I realized that it might be a good thing, as it would give me time to spend with God and figure out who I was, what He wanted for me, and where I was going to go. I went through that first week (gauntlet week) where they try to stress you out and see what job you would do well in. It all seemed a bit hokey to me, so much of what they tried to do didn’t bother me. I ended up getting a job in the call center. I was horrible at it. I was trying to get kids to go on mission trips and I had specific call quotas to meet. It got to the point that I was praying that no one would answer when I called so that I could mark down a call but not actually have to talk to anyone. That was bad, but I was getting into really good shape in my off time, and the rest of it was spent praying and reading the Bible. I did not mind it too much; I think I might have even been happy. I eventually memorized entire chapters of the Bible and was able to quote other huge chunks of it. Once they realized how bad I was at telemarketing in the call center, I got moved into another department. It was nice. I was on B shift, so I started work in the afternoon, leaving mornings open for my workout and my quiet time. It was good for me. I became very much withdrawn and interested in doing my own thing. From those aspects, the rest of the year worked out fairly well.
I think the problem for me came in how seriously I took what they taught. From some of the garbage that has been posted about the teachings they have given, it is clear how toxic it is. Being young, naive, and impressionable, I thought these people actually knew what they were talking about, and that God wanted me to act in these ways. I became quite “afraid” of having any kind of relationship because they were terrible, (showing my now agnostic/atheist side of me) I actually thought the devil was there with his minions trying to push me down the wrong path into things like drugs, sex, and any other sin you can think of, and that I need to do everything to try and bring the world to salvation. I had become so out of touch with how people outside of Teen Mania acted that again, I had a hard time making friends when I got to the real world. I had almost become one of those monster shouter type preachers who thought the world was going to hell unless they repented and became like me (I never did yell from a street corner, but these things had become an all-consuming center of my life). People don’t like that too much.
A few months after getting out of the HA, I went to college. I started a degree in a science field, and tried to hold onto what they taught me at the HA. The first couple of years of college, I held on pretty well. I started to do some things they would not approve of, like drinking a little more, and partying, but for the most part, I was good. I worked a lot and went to school, so I did not have a whole lot of free time to really enjoy things. My college years were pretty uneventful, but I guess the biggest thing about the science that I studied was that it taught me how to think. I am sorry for what I am about to say, but as I became more educated, the more I realized that this religious thing I had sunk so much interest into was wrong. I saw that it was all based on the way the world “worked” 2000 to 4000 years ago, and had little relevance to today. After college, I still felt pretty empty with myself, a feeling that probably helped to drive me to Teen Mania, and a feeling that made me take one more trip overseas in search of God and a meaning to my life. Everything I believed really started to fall apart overseas. The cracks had formed during college, and the ideas shattered during my trip. One of the biggest thoughts that led that for me was what kind of God would create something only to torture it in hell. God is a sick SOB if that is the case. This thought pervaded me for a little while, and it started to spread to other things I had been taught. I really started questioning the church’s teachings – both scientific and spiritual.
In the time since then, I have traveled a lot more and I have gotten married. I have almost ruined my marriage because I was still stuck in the BS from Teen Mania. As my spirituality has fallen apart, I have lost a sense of who and what I am. I am massively bitter about the time that I spent there, not because they were abusive, or used me as a paying slave, or any other issue that might come up, it is because they took an impressionable 18 year old kid who had not figured himself out yet, and shoved a line of garbage down his throat. I think within the last year or two I have also realized that I needed to look inside to figure myself out, to find that hole in my life…but it is harder now, and it has made me bitter. I am bitter and depressed because they took who I was and put a false personality there. They took me. The thing that scares me is the only way to get to what will make me happy will also destroy my life, and those who are closest to me. I know that I would not be where I am today if it were not for them, and I hate them for this, and wish with everything that I could go back and stop myself from going there. I really do hope that people see this website and think twice about going. It is a cult, it is abusive, it will ruin lives – it has ruined mine.