This is Kate’s story. Her “testimony” was originally posted at the Recovering Alumni site. Kate is a survivor or the Teen Mania/Honor Academy program. Honor Academy is an internship program tied to Teen Mania Ministries and founded by Ron Luce. You can read more stories like Kate’s at www.recoveringalumni.com. To date there are 70 stories much like Kate’s where they tell of spiritual abuse and the very dangerous doctrine used to exploit young people.
Before Honor Academy:
I, like so many others, was introduced to Teen Mania at an Acquire the Fire event. I went on my first mission trip the following summer to Russia (’93) when I was 12. For the first time I felt like I had a place where I just fit in. In many ways Teen Mania became my family. I loved the honor and integrity that I felt was core to this ministry. I really took those qualities to heart and did my best to live up to that standard. I was drinking the “Kool-aid” and then I was hooked. I went on several more missions trips with them (Russia ’94, Albania ’95).
In Albania, Dave Hasz was the project director (PD) and he was going to take over as director of the Honor Academy that August. Needless to say, there was a BIG push on joining Honor Academy that summer. I know of at least 5 people who joined the program after that trip out of about 80 missionaries. I decided to graduate 1 year early to begin the internship.
While visiting a girlfriend I had met on one of my summer trips, I heard a sermon that changed everything for me. When done with “respect” and an “honest desire to learn and grow,” it was okay to question your leaders so that you may fully understand their intentions/heart/direction, etc. I realize now that this was the beginning of the end of my relationship with Teen Mania. Anything that I didn’t understand (or sound biblical to me) I questioned. I know now that anything other than complete obedience equaled rebellion in Teen Mania’s eyes.
The summer of ’96 I went to El Salvador. It was the worst trip ever. Instead of going as a regular missionary, I signed up as a nanny, and in interest of space I will give you the short version. When my ‘family’ contacted me regarding being their nanny (after being told whose kid’s I’d be taking care of) the only question I remember asking is if everyone was potty trained. They had two girls, ages 5 and 2 ½. I was assured that everyone was potty trained. That phone call lasted about 20 minutes and was my one and only call from my ‘family.’ It now seems strange to me that parents would be okay leaving their two small children with a 17 year old stranger for up to 15 hours a day…while in another country.
Fast forward to Miami. Once I got to Miami and met my family for the month, it was revealed that: 1) The parents (who were Team Leader’s) were on their first trip ever and were BFF’s (‘best friends forever’) with the PD’s (Jeremy and Candy, their last name escapes me after all this time), 2) This would be the 1st time either child had EVER spent the night outside of their home, 3) The 2 1/2 year old was not potty trained, 4) The 2 1/2 year old was born with a heart defect, had two previous open heart surgeries to try to correct the issues and as a result had life threatening asthma, which was controlled by a nebulizer, 5) Due to the health issues, discipline and structure was very lax. Basically, whatever the kids wanted, they got.
When I brought up that I had concerns about being in a 3rd world country with a child that had serious medical issues, where I didn’t speak the language and had the medical training of applying a Snoopy Band-aid and a hug (not to mention that neither kid had ever even spent the night with Grandma or Grandpa, “Don’t you think foreign country is a big step?”), the reply to my concerns was “Phhss, it’ll be fine! Plus, you know the kid only has asthma attacks when she throws a tantrum.” (HELLO! Have you heard of the terrible two’s!). “If the toddler has an attack, her sister knows how to use the nebulizer.” What I got from that statement was “Hey, if a 5 year old can handle this why can’t you?”
Things did not go fine. I was cooped up in a hotel room for 10-16 hours a day with two kids that were pissed to not be at home. They viewed me as the reason that they were not at home with their parents. The kids were bored because there was nothing for them to do other than the few coloring books I had brought (their parents didn’t think to bring toys or games). I felt that asking two little kids to give up everything that was normal for them for five weeks (let’s face it, a life time for a child) was insane. They didn’t have their bed, toys, or food they were use to. The icing on the cake was that Mom and Dad weren’t around and they were told that they couldn’t see them. I couldn’t really blame them for being pissed.
To top all this off, the youngest one’s health was always an issue. The nebulizer they brought for her asthma didn’t have the right voltage converter, so it was basically useless. The result: any normal temper tantrum could go from being frustrating to a serious medical emergency at a moments notice. My entire team could see that I was in a tough spot. When not out preforming dramas, most of the team was there to help out while Mom and Dad where of doing Team Leader things. After about 10 days in the country with cranky and bored kids bouncing off the walls and going stir crazy, I asked for help from the parents at first, then the PD’s. I needed reinforcements or I’d have a mini mutiny on my hands. Also, the hotel was pretty fed up with the kids running around screaming. The general response I got was, “Just pray and God will help you/ this is what you signed up for/ you should just know what to do with out asking us (ie. You’re supposed to be perfect!).”
This was not what I had signed up for. I was kinda pissed that I was lied to regarding their health and both children were not properly prepped for this trip. I still got nowhere. So, I started calling my parents for advice. Then they started calling the PD’s wondering why their normally level-headed 17 year old daughter was calling collect daily, freaking out, and just what the hell was going on?! Three days before we were to leave the country I was woken up at 4 am and told to pack my bags and be in the hotel lobby in 20 minutes. I was being BV’d (sent home) for a “bad attitude and rebellious spirit.” I never got to say good bye to my team (I later found out they lied to, they’d been told I left due to a family emergency). I was dropped off at the airport, with no money, handed my passport, a paper ticket to Miami, and told that I should call my parents when I got to Miami. My parents had no idea I was coming home early.
Once the trip was over, 30-35 families had complained to Teen Mania Ministries about the poor leadership on that trip. The common theme was several kids had been confronted and/or punished for the “bad attitude and rebellious spirit” when they questioned what was going on. The Kool-Aid was starting to sour.
The Honor Academy:
Honor Academy is an internship in Teen Mania Ministries. I started my internship in January 1997, just after Teen Mania move to Garden Valley, Texas. Things started out on the wrong foot from the get-go. I was under Kim Wilkerson’s supervision (IA?) and she seemed to take an instant dislike to me. I later learned that this was partly because Kim was BFF’s with my PD’s from El Salvador and I now had been pegged as “rebellious” before I ever set foot on campus.
Because of my “rebellion” I was under close supervision by everyone, and everything was all reported back to Kim, Mercer, or Dave. I would be “confronted” on a near daily bases on what I wore, what I ate, who I ate with, who I walked to and from work with, etc. My clothes were found to be improper even though they fell within the guidelines.
One example of my “rebellion” started after driving cross-country to get to Texas. My dad called to remind me I’d need an oil change. (My mechanical abilities began and ended with putting gas in the car making it go.) After Gauntlet Week, I asked a group of five or six guys if they knew where I could get an oil change. They said there was a garage on campus and they could change my oil there and show me how. So, the next time we had a night free, six guys and myself crammed into my car and drove to the garage to start “Project Oil Change.”
One of the guys pointed to a pile of work clothes and suggested that I change so I didn’t get my clothes dirty. That sounded like a good plan to me, so I dug through the pile and found jeans and a shirt that were relatively close to my size, went in to the bathroom and changed. The guys worked on changing the oil and pointed at car parts that I apparently should have known about. After the car was done I went into the bathroom and changed back into my clothes. We all went back to the dorms to hang out before curfew.
The next day I was called in to Dave Hasz’ office and was retold the events from the night before. By the time it got to him, it sounded like I had done a strip tease for the guys and that “oil change” was possibly a euphemism. I explained that I had changed in to some work clothes, in private, behind a locked door and that nothing improper happened. At this point, I thought that all this had to have been a misunderstanding and Dave was going to laugh and say “That’s all?!”
Not so much. He didn’t miss a beat. He leaned forward in his chair and said to me, “What do you think that does to a guy?! To know there is a woman undressing in the very next room!” He then went on the lecture me on how it was my job as a “woman of God” to help keep the men from thinking lustful thoughts (As if I could control someone else’s thought process!). I pointed out that the girls’ dorm was a floor above the guys’ dorm. If this was his logic, how were they going to handle knowing there were 50 girls upstairs sleeping, showering, changing clothes, etc? This didn’t win me any favors; logic had no place here. Long story short, I left Dave’s office with a list of clothes I could and couldn’t wear (v-neck could potentially show cleavage, causing my brothers to fall, everything should be lose fitting, not too much leg, etc.), what kind of make up (no dark eyeliner!) and nail polish I should and shouldn’t wear (only red, pink or clear no blue or black…), and was assigned to dish duty for a week.
I was mortified.
All of that was frustrating and humiliating enough, but it was the isolation that killed me. About a month into it, a guy that I had a five minute conversation with at breakfast called me at work to let me know that Hasz had told him, “He should limit his time with me.” I didn’t understand where this was coming from so I called Dave Hasz for a meeting. The gist of that meeting was: yes indeed, I was a “bad seed” in a sea of “super Christians.” Hasz proceeded to list off what my character flaws were, what he felt I should do to change them, and the direction he felt my life should be going in. And oh… by the way… since we were talking about it… here’s a list of people that I should limit my time with be cause they were “bad seeds” as well. He listed off just about every friend I had made over the last 6 weeks.
The “character flaws” he listed off weren’t bad things. They were things that I really liked about myself. I liked that I was quirky, creative, and spunky but this didn’t fit into the Teen Mania mold, and therefore must be bad. I didn’t understand how Ron Luce could speak at every Acquire the Fire conference and tell kids not to be a cookie-cutter Christians, while at the Honor Academy I was being forced into a mold I didn’t fit into.
I was miserable. I felt that if I was hanging out with my friends then I was being disobedient. But the “super interns” didn’t want anything to do with me other than to report back to my IA or Hasz what the “bad seed” was up to. I was just expected to be perfect and know everything. If I asked what I could do to be better, all I would get was vague answers or direction then punishment for not understanding precisely what was meant or implied. It was so frustrating I felt like I was being held up to an invisible measuring stick and I was falling miserably short. It was kind of like asking “Left or right?”, then being yelled at because I went too far left or I should have understood that they really meant “slightly right.” Nothing I did was good enough. I don’t think a week went by that I wasn’t on dish duty or “campused,” or both. The main message I walked away from Teen Mania with was: leadership was right. Period. They had the option of changing their mind later but that didn’t mean that they were previously wrong.
I felt like my family was turning their back on me because I was bad and didn’t “fit the mold.” A deep depression started setting in. I had no one to confide in. Leadership was only there to tear me down, not lift me up. I was done. Five months into it, I left the internship. During the family meeting, Hasz stated my decision to leave was “mutual” and that Teen Mania would refund me the balance of my money. This was a lie, one that my mother was witness to. My dad called Teen Mania as soon as I got home regarding this refund. He was told that Teen Mania was a non-profit and no one was entitled to a refund for any reason. Needless to say my parents were not happy. I told them that was what it was like. They say one thing but when you follow up it’s entirely a different story.
I quit drinking the Kool-Aid that day.
To this day I struggle to remember that being unique is okay. I don’t have to follow the letter of some arbitrary law. It’s far more important to be a good, kind, loving person than it is to be perfect.
Once home, I received one phone call from a guy friend to see how I was doing… then nothing. It was as if I never existed to them or any of my friends. I was just left to kind of figure things out on my own. Things were not going great. I didn’t really know how to resume my place back home. I didn’t really fit in with my friends, who at the time were busy with college.
When the August interns graduated, one of the boys I had been friends with called me to say “God” told him I was “the one” and it was God’s will that we get married. I was still emotionally fragile from all that transpired at Teen Mania and I wanted so desperately to be walking in God’s plan. My line of thinking was that one of the “cream of the crop Christians,” a graduate of the Honor Academy was telling me what God’s plan for me was. I felt that I wasn’t spiritual enough (i.e., good enough) to graduate from Honor Academy, so if he was telling me this was God’s plan, it must be true. I so wish I would have hung up the phone that night laughing.
We started dating and to make a very long, painful story very brief, after dating for about three months, he came to my apartment to pick me up for church, walked into my bedroom raped me, threw clothes at me and said, “We’re going to be late to church.” Just like that. Like we had just finished watching TV or something. (That was how I lost my virginity, I’ve never told anyone that, and I’m sweating bullets right now.) Prior to that our physical relationship consisted of holding hands and a little kissing. I completely shut down emotionally, got up and went to church in this haze.
To this day I can’t go to church without having a major panic attack.
About a week later he called to say that we had to break up. I was not the woman he thought I was. I had caused him to stumble. He felt Hasz was right about me. I was a bad seed, a whore, and in general a bad Christian. In short he felt what happened was my fault and I seduced him.
I was done. I moved back home and had a serious break down. I was too ashamed to tell anyone what happened so I just went into my room and pretty much slept for year.
Then I had a dream one night.
I was on the Teen Mania Ministries campus, but it didn’t look like it did when I was there. There were new buildings and a water fountain. There were hundreds of people in the crowd and in front of us was a panel of “elders.” Sitting next to the panel was Ron Luce, Dave Hasz, and the IA’s from my year Kim Wilkerson, Caroline, Mercer and Rob Singliph. One by one our names were called to give our account of events. Everyone who got up to speak before me had only good things to say about Teen Mania and the people to the panel. My name was called. I was terrified, these were people who had tortured me emotionally, psychologically, and spiritually during my internship. I didn’t have a lot of nice things to say. Most of what I had to say was going to sound really bad. A kind and gentle voice on the panel spoke up and said to me, “It’s okay, just speak the truth.”
I stood up and gave my account. I recounted everything that Dave and the rest had ever poured into my life- the good, the bad, everything. I told of times I had been lied to, times that I had looked to them for guidance and in return had been looked down on and judged…I accounted for every moment. Many of the statements I made, there was a rebuttal for and for every rebuttal they were told by the panel that is was not Teen Mania’s time to judge me. My judgment would come at another time, in a different venue. It was their time of judgment.
I felt like I was talking for hours. When I was finished with my account the same gentle panelist asked the Teen Mania leaders, “When did you show her love?” Dave was silent. Kim was silent. Ron was silent. Everyone silent. It was deafening. I was allowed to step down and resume my place in the crowd and the next person was called to give their account. This continued until we all had spoken.
The panel spoke amongst themselves and then a decision was made and judgment was about to begin…then I woke up.
When I woke up 2 things happened:
1. I realized that those at Teen Mania who had hurt me would pay for the damages they did to me. Everything they poured into my life, good or bad, would be accounted for. However, there would be no apologies and they would probably never acknowledge that any of my hurt feelings or damaged psyche were real or valid. Whatever the outcome, it would be on a grand scale. It would be bigger than I could understand now. I had to move on as best as I could.
2. I couldn’t remember most of what happened on campus anymore, just the few things mentioned above. Everything was in a fog, faces, names, memories might rise up out of the fog, but would recede into it just as fast as it rose. I remember almost nothing of the events that occurred, but have a profound sense of distrust, unworthiness, and a sense of being unwanted.
My Cult Life’s Note: The Recovering Alumni forums have served as a place of healing and closure for hundreds of former alumni. Even though I’m not an alumni, they graciously let me participate, tell my story, and it was here that I met Kate.
For more on the Honor Academy, or more stories from the Recovering Alumni, visit the blog or forums.
For a complete glossary of Teen Mania Ministries/Honor Academy terms, visit the Recovering Alumni Glossary page.