Last week MSNBC ran a piece on Teen Mania, and it showed a part that isn't too pretty. They highlighted an event that goes on at Teen Mania, called ESOAL, and MSNBC edited vivid images together for sensationalism. To get over the harm caused by Teen Mania, a blog was started by "Recovering Alumni.", and the girl who started the blog was featured on the MSNBC program, as she and others spent a weekend "deprogramming" with cult experts. It really isn't necessary to sensationalize any part of Teen Mania, because there's been enough planting of harmful seeds into lots of kids, that finally they are getting a decent harvest - except that it's rotten fruit. As much as Teen Mania's leaders (Dave Hasz and Ron Luce, et. al.) don't want to admit it, their program needs a big makeover.
Because I'm a parent of an Honor Academy (Teen Mania Internship) graduate, and because my four kids went on about 12 summer trips, and because I volunteered with Teen Mania in Miami and Garden Valley, and because I sponsored ministry teams who put on Acquire the Fire events, I feel I have the experience necessary to comment. Because I've raised money for Teen Mania, in the past I've encouraged and supported the Teen Mania "machine," as well as having been part of many "behind the scenes" venues and I've had Ron Luce in my home, I am familiar with the organization and have credibility for what I've witnessed. I feel I can surely speak out.
Granted my kids loved their exciting trips, loved the friends they made, loved being part of what they considered God's work. However, they were exposed to legalistic thought, elitist attitudes in regards to other Christian groups (much less non-Christians), and they experienced judgmental attitudes toward anyone who didn't agree with all they thought should be adhered to in order to be Christian.
In addition, dangerous things happened while on the trips or when my son attended the Honor Academy, some of which I will list here:
In the summer of 1997, my son had appendicitis in India and had surgery there. He contracted MRSA, and nearly died. He was 17. While he was recovering from the surgery, still in India, I was told he was "fine," by his team leaders. I was told by leaders in Garden Valley that all was well - not to worry. This was not true, and when my son arrived back to Dallas, he was still so sick that he was in the hospital there for another two weeks.
When at the Honor Academy ('98-'99), he got sick with asthma, bronchitis, and ear infections - all at the same time. His fever was over 102*, but he had no medical care available on site, nor was there provision for him to get to a doctor. He was still expected to be at work for his entire shift, as being sick was being weak.
On overseas trips, my kids were not fed adequately, and my daughter's hair fell out because of protein deficiency. It has never come back. (I have talked personally with the local contact who was to set up the food for the group. TM canceled plans for good food to be provided. This not only hurt the kids on the team, but the locals that had planned to have work through this, were left high and dry. They said they never wanted to work with Teen Mania again.)
My daughter was left alone on the way to her team's "home" on the first hike there. Details are too long to list, but it was definitely the opposite of the "we never leave your child on their own" claim of Teen Mania.
While interning for Teen Mania, my son worked in the call center by day, and as summer trips approached and housing was needed for the "missionaries," he was required to pour cement until after dark. The work went on 7 days a week to get it completed.
There are numerous details concerning how he went to his supervisors to appeal decisions that affected him. It cannot be shown that going to his supervisors was ever a help, and it was very much a discouragement to him. He tells his story here, here, and here.
My daughter, Liz, wrote an entire Masters thesis on how her Teen Mania experience has affected her faith. She blogs about it from time to time, and here is an entry on her changes.
The accounts I'm hearing nowadays are not surprising. Those who once were kids are coming forward to reflect on experiences that are being discounted by both Dave and Ron. These stories are NOT disregardable, which is how they (Ron/Dave) and the Board of Directors have responded.
No, Teen Mania isn't all bad. But it is not a place I recommend for impressionable youth. It's not a place I recommend for any youth or adult. My opinion: Don't send your kids, and don't pay to fund this organization.