I would like to start by saying that my faith in God’s Sovereignty has only grown over the years since I attended the Honor Academy. God knew that I would be attending the Honor Academy. He knew the experiences I would have there and how He’d be using those experiences to grow me in my relationship with Him and with others. My story is not that unusual and will probably not be a surprise for a lot of people who went through the internship. I simply want to add my story to the countless stories that have been shared through this blog, in hopes that it might help someone.
When I decided to enroll at the Honor Academy, I worked about 70+ hours a week for 4 months to save up the tuition. Even though I was used to working a lot before attending the Honor Academy, the internship was a whole new level of stress; one that was not healthy, and one that is practically impossible to prepare for. I believe that a major part of the stress at the HA comes from the idea that if the interns follow all rules exactly then they will be right with God. That’s a lot of pressure. Before, when I was super busy, it was because I enjoyed what I was doing. At the internship I felt I had to follow a list of rules in order to have a changed heart and for God to be able to use me. Basically, if I didn’t do x, y or z, I was obviously not growing in my relationship with the Lord, and I was not worthy of being at the internship.
Two weeks before arriving at the internship I broke up with my boyfriend (who is now my husband! Yay!). We both knew that we would be married someday, and we were both believers committed to our relationships with Christ. Our relationship was not wrong and not a sin before God. However, since the HA did not allow for romantic relationships, I broke up with him and told him we couldn’t talk for a year. I didn’t think I’d be able to talk to him without increasing my feelings for him, which was a big “no no” at the HA.
As soon as I arrived at the internship I questioned what I was doing there. My parents, who have always been supportive of me in whatever decisions I make, encouraged me and told me that if I felt at any time that I needed to leave, they understood. Teen Mania’s campus felt like the “Twilight Zone” when I arrived. Or maybe more like that movie “Pleasantville”. Either way, I always felt a little like I was an actor in a play. I stayed initially because I had worked so hard to get there that I wanted to give it a fighting chance.
The first few weeks were weird, but they played out mostly like I expected (although the living conditions were not the best). My roommates were mostly great, as were my core-mates. Morning exercise time was challenging. I felt like I worked hard and never slept. This became a reoccurring theme throughout my 14 months at the internship.
I was assigned to be an assistant in the executive office, and it wasn’t a good fit for me. I really don’t think that interns should have to work there. I had a friend who would come meet up with me at the end of the day so we could walk back to the dorms, and I was told that she wasn’t allowed to do that anymore because we weren’t professional (we would joke and laugh and have fun, and that wasn’t okay, even when the office was closed).
A month into the internship we hiked Pike’s Peak on the 10th of September and were on our way back to campus the next day when the Twin Towers were attacked. I was supposed to fly home to California to be in a wedding on the 12th, but all flights were cancelled. I eventually found a flight a few days later, and flew home to see my family. I ended up seeing my boyfriend and we kissed. On a side note, I agree with what Paul talks about in 2 Corinthians 7 and the purpose of single years and complete devotion to the Lord. However, I don’t agree with the idea that the HA perpetuated of pretending not to love someone because I was led to believe it was a sin. A better approach would have been some accountability to have a godly friendship/courtship, instead of a list of do’s and don’ts.
Anyways, I had to confess “the kiss” and go before the Honor Council. I was placed on probation and received 2 months of Kitchen duty (Another side note: I would be pretty offended if I was one of the interns assigned to kitchen crew for my ministry placement, knowing that the job that I do every day is given out as a punishment for other interns. Not cool Teen Mania.) I did not receive my ring at the ring ceremony and had kitchen duty 3 days a week. I accepted my punishment and endured the constant questions about why I didn’t have a ring and why I was always in the kitchen. The girls in my core were very supportive (although 2 of them actually ended up going home for similar infractions), but I still felt shame and condemnation that was unbelievable. I was supposed to meet with my Advisor once a week. Her name was Trish, and she was actually one of the few level-headed staff members I met at Teen Mania. She ended up being helpful and supportive when I finally decided to leave (more on that later).
After Christmas break, I was moved to Acquire the Fire Operations and had a good boss. Her name was Beth and she’s the reason that the rest of my time at the internship didn’t entirely suck. I finished out the first year of my internship and along with many other interns, I had developed the thinking that TM was the only place where true Christians are trained and can grow in the Lord. Because of that, I felt that I needed to stay a 2nd year. (Yet Another Side Note: This is a perfect example of how messed up many interns become. We were encouraged to stay a 2nd year because we’d grow more there than if we left. We were encouraged to marry other interns someday because we’d have better marriages. Blah Blah Blah… Barf.)
I applied for the Servants of the Call (SOTC) ministry because I felt they were one of the only ministries that actually got to build relationships with the local churches. I didn’t get on the traveling team, but was asked to stay on as the “Office Manager”. I accepted and was moved out of the dorms and into the house across the street. I was in a room with the 2 girls on the Servants of the Call traveling team, and was by myself in the room for 3 out of 4 weeks while they were out of town.
This was the first year that Teen Mania was partnering with Tyler Junior College and so I enrolled in 10 College Units. TM didn’t think that working and going to school was enough for me (even though I was still paying to be there… or should I say my family was paying for me to be there…) so they made me a part of the Leadership Professional (LP) program. My days looked like this:
• 4:30am – Wake up
• 4:45am – Lead a group in Physical Training for Pikes Peak
• 5:45am – Shower and ready. Devotions.
• 7:00am – Breakfast.
• 7:30am – Work until 4 something (I was the only one in the SOTC office, so I inevitably had to stay and work longer. I felt the added pressure that if I didn’t do my job properly I would be letting down an entire team and the churches they were headed to.)
• 4:30 – 10:00pm (Tuesdays and Thursdays) I had College Classes and often missed dinner.
• Monday, Wednesday and Friday evenings I had HA and/or LP classes.
• Weekends were spent leading groups for LTE’s (“Life Transforming Events”, which were required), trying to involve myself in my local church (also required), and going to the emergency room due to health issues.
With this schedule, I got home between 9:30 and 10:30 pm every evening and was still required to do College homework and homework for all HA & LP classes. I got to bed every night around 12:30am, only to have to wake up four hours later.
Needless to say, I made several trips to the emergency room those few months that I was an LP and I met with the LP Advisor several times due to stress. I developed several stress-related illnesses and when I got sick, I didn’t have any time to recuperate, so I would end up in the emergency room to get medication to help handle the symptoms. Whenever I would speak with the LP Advisor about my concerns, I would leave the meeting feeling like I was obviously not working hard enough. I was encouraged to work harder because there must be something wrong with me since I was the only one at the entire internship that couldn’t handle the pressure.
I only lasted under this pressure for about 2 months before I decided to leave. I had lost a ton of weight in those few months, and I was starting to crash. I began sleeping so much that I was missing a lot of the activities, and my family was starting to hear the struggle in my voice (not to mention the financial strain of so many trips to the ER). It was during this time that I started questioning the validity of Teen Mania’s mission. Would Christ have used someone so completely that their health and their faith began to waiver? After graduating from the internship in August I had begun speaking to my boyfriend again (can you believe he even flew in for my graduation? He’s amazing!). He was really worried about me. I remember getting to a place where I felt like such a failure for not being able to do everything that was required of me. After sharing my doubts and concerns with my family and friends, I felt encouraged that they agreed I needed to go home. I spoke with Trish (the advisor I had met with during my first year) and she validated many of my concerns, both physical and spiritual. It’s my opinion that I wasn’t the only one noticing the crud going on. I didn’t feel too confident about the meeting I was going to have with Dave Hasz to let him know I was leaving, because I had already met with the LP advisor and left that meeting feeling even more like a quitter. It still boggles my mind that all of the most important people in my life were supporting me, but the opinion of the leadership at the HA still had such a hold on me.
I met with Dave Hasz and only had the guts to tell him about my health issues, not any of the concerns I had about how the interns are routinely used and disregarded, how their spiritual lives are expected to fit a certain mold. I so desperately needed to leave and I felt like I didn’t have any strength left to stand up. In the past 9 years since I left the HA, I have thought of so many things I would like to have said in that meeting. But, I am just so grateful that the Lord brought me out of there. Somehow I ended up getting a refund for the tuition for the months I didn’t end up staying. I had to make several follow up calls to get it, but it did eventually come in the mail.
I don’t have a relationship with anyone from the Honor Academy anymore. It was as if I couldn’t distance myself enough from that place. I do miss several of my friendships there, and I wonder how many of them struggled like I did, but we all just felt so isolated in our struggles. Thinking that Teen Mania continues to drag people through all sorts of mind games in the name of a loving and wonderful God makes me sick. Doctrinally, I disagree with Teen Mania on so many levels. There is so much wrong with that “ministry” that I wouldn’t even know where to begin. But that isn’t why I have shared my story. The real tragedy is how Teen Mania can squeeze the life out of many of its interns, and then tell them it’s their own fault for not being strong enough. My hope is that someone reading this will know that pleasing the people at Teen Mania does not equate to pleasing God. Teen Mania would like you to think they are the ultimate authority on how to serve Jesus, but they are not. My prayer is that those of you reading my story would know that we can do nothing to earn God’s love. That we can never be good enough to merit God’s favor, but that fact is what makes God’s love so incredible. Jesus took the punishment for our sins on the cross, and we are God’s children if we believe this and live in light of this truth; not if we follow a strict, man-made list of rules.