I haven’t thought about Teen Mania for several years. I was an intern from 2004-2005 and after that year I spent the next several years telling myself that Teen Mania didn’t affect me. That despite the clear indoctrination I felt I experienced, I still continued to live a good Christian life and made every effort to put that year behind me. That was until this week in Bible study when another Honor Academy alumni told me about the documentary that had been released. When I heard about this an array of emotions followed, I didn’t tell anyone in my Bible study, including her, that I had attended HA. However, after reading so many stories like mine, I knew the years of silence needed to end. Here is my story and when I have spent my twenties trying not to focus on Teen Mania.
When I was sixteen I attended Acquire the Fire, like many others I wanted to pursue God. Ron Luce had also told us that 80%(I think that was the percentage) of people fall away from God when they are out of High School. Regardless of the exact percentage, I remember it being quite high and I feared that I too would fall away. So I saved up all the money I could (six thousand dollars) and enlisted in the Honor Academy.
At first it seemed exciting. I met some great people and I personally loved corporate exercise. However I began noticing that something was terribly wrong when I willingly participated in ESOAL. For starters, my friend broke her nose because people were throwing fireworks. I remember peeing in my clothes because I didn’t know where the bathrooms where. I felt that the leaders were enjoying ESOAL a little too much, actually the year that I participated in ESOAL Dave Hasz brought his seven year old daughter, Ashley to witness the event. The whole time I was doing ESOAL I remember thinking that I didn’t see the point of the event. I believe God teaches you things through trials, but I questioned why we did this event. I remember people being humiliated, I remember rolling down a hill and people noticing that I wasn’t getting sick and then forcing me to roll faster. I never rang out, but I also never felt proud of this. To me I was proud of myself for physically enduring ESOAL, but I would always question myself regarding why I chose to be in this.
As the year continued on, I began questioning some of the practices at the Honor Academy. For example, during our week of Honor, I remember being woken up at 4:30am in the morning and told to chant. When I told people that it freaked me out seeing everyone chanting and that I didn’t want to participate, I was constantly told that I had a rebellious spirit, and that rebellion was a form of witchcraft. By the grace of God, I found some friends who believed that this was not the loving Christian community they had signed up for. In fact, as a group we decided that we were going to stay at the Honor Academy to help interns. During my internship there so many hurting people, people dealing with past rapes and sexual abuses. Yet, there was only one counselor on campus and he was male. When I asked the leadership why there weren’t more counselors I was never given an answer. I remember so many young men being sent home for watching pornography, and I questioned this because I felt that as a Christian community we should have helped these men in their sins, aka develop small support groups for them. Instead of just kicking them out and leaving them high and dry, again when I brought this up to leadership I received no answers.
As the year progressed, my year at HA became harder and harder, I worked extremely long hours for Global Expeditions to the point of developing Chronic Migraine Syndrome (as diagnosed by a doctor in Lindale). A syndrome that I only developed while at Teen Mania. That coupled with always feeling condemned, worthless, and “un-spiritual” made me feel exhausted. I always felt that there was something wrong with me and because I questioned things occurring at Teen Mania I was always told I was rebellious, something I had never been told in my life before. As the year progressed I became more and more isolated from HA and stuck to the few friends I had. There was always a common joke among us that despite the very cute men at HA, we vowed never to date them because we joked that Teen Mania had messed us up psychologically and we didn’t want to raised psychologically damaged children. Even though it was a joke, there was a lot of underlying truth to that. By the end of the year I left feeling like, if this is what a Christian Community is all about, then I don`t want anything to do with it.
But by the grace of God, I decided against my fears and enrolled in a Christian University. That’s when I realized how conformist Teen Mania was. My years at a Christian University were amazing,people had freedom to be themselves. People held different theological beliefs, but these beliefs were embraced. Instead of condemning each other, people were taught to encourage each other. People talked about their sins and there wasn’t a competition to see who was holier. We were taught by several people and taught to constantly check scripture and form our own opinions, something rarely taught at Teen Mania. During those years I received healing, instead of being told that I was arrogant for being intellectual, I was encouraged to use my intellect to search for truth. I was in a very loving community.
I was talking to my mom tonight and I asked her, honestly what did you think of me being at the Honor Academy? She said at first she was so excited for me. She had gone to Acquire the Fire with me as a youth leader. However, she became worried over my constant fatigue at HA and when I arrived home after the Honor Academy she said I was forever different. “My strong daughter who took risks, believed in herself, and was confident. Became this girl who constantly questioned herself and her abilities.” She said that over the years I have become more confident again. However, she noticed that even seven years later I am different, less assured of who I am. She told me that she had felt this way for sometime, but never had the heart to tell me. She told me that my dad even said to her. “Something happened to her, they broke her spirit down.”
Now I don’t believe that Teen Mania started off with ill intentions, in fact I think that most of the leadership truly believed that they were helping HA interns. However the biggest problem with Teen Mania is that there are too few people in leadership to provide accountability.
I am so thankful for the site recovering alumni because it is helping my healing process. Although I never saw myself as someone who was affected my Teen Mania’s way. I now see that seven years later, I am still recovering from some of the wrong teaching and condemning environment.
Teen Mania will be in my prayers.