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I'm just a believer that is recovering from my experience at Teen Mania's Honor Academy and I would like to share my journey of healing with you.

June 14, 2010

Honor Academy ESOAL: Never Before Seen Footage #2

00:00 -The video starts with an intern discussing their decision to “ring out” of ESOAL (AKA quit). “I had to ring out because my health was on the line.” I think this is a pretty fair representation of the overall mindset – its considered a huge spiritual accomplishment to quit ESOAL for the sake of your health. Really? That should be a given. That should be common sense. Unfortunately, the interns are under SUCH intense pressure to finish ESOAL that common sense goes out the window.

00:57 – Staff member Sam Kimmel and other facilitators make fun of ESOAL participants. So sweet.

01:09 – Obstacle course and various ESOAL activities

03:41 – David Hasz gives a “pep-talk” to the interns about what they should be learning from ESOAL. A few excerpts with my comments in italics:

“You are reaching a rather teachable time during ESOAL.”

Teachable or brainwashable – what can you learn when you are hungry/miserable?

“You have the chance to go to a different level mentally and emotionally than you’ve ever gone before. Where you shut off your emotions – you don’t shut them off, you just process them differently – emotions would typically make you feel sorry for yourself."

Apparently, trying to take care of the mind and body that God gave you is the same thing as feeling sorry for yourself.

"They can throw anything at me for the next 24 hours and it doesn’t matter. Its 24 hours, its nothing, its nothing!"

Yeah, no long term damage could possibly be done!

"You could go through this for the next 10 years and you would not die. If your lives depended on living like this for the next 6 months, you could do it."

"Why walk away now? What am I going to do to you now that is going to be worse than what I’ve already done?"

"Its saying I can do this – I can overcome this thing."

"Its all mental…You gotta ask yourself – how much pain am I willing to endure? How much am I willing to say, I will not feel sorry for myself? I can take it."

– Rolling the Hill, vomiting

I'd like to address Dave's speech. Dave Hasz tells the interns that if you make the right mental and emotional choices, you could live like this (ESOAL conditions) for a long length of time and through God's strength, expect to survive and overcome with no long term damage. In fact, you would even be a stronger Christian and leader because of it.

So, let's look into this claim. In what ways have people lived in ESOAL like conditions (deprivation, malnutrition, physical labor and taunting) for long periods of time? I can think of two: Concentration Camps and Prisoners of War. (Note: I am not saying that ESOAL is equal to those 2 things, but that the HA is simulating similar experiences, although without the killing. Sadly, several people have reported being in fear for their life during ESOAL because of the dangerous activities they are required to do.)

According to David Hasz's thinking, survivors of the Holocaust or former POWs should be healthy, well-adjusted members of society. In fact, they should probably be extra-productive and lead outstanding lives since they've had the opportunity to "go to a different level mentally and emotionally."

Shockingly, both studies and literature suggest that people are actually quite traumatized from these events! Instead of being growing or stretching experiences, they actually provide severe psychological and emotional trauma that alters their entire life.

Let's look at Prisoners of War (POWs). Recognizing that their experience is not one that is simply overcome with willpower and determination, the Navy actually has a medical institute dedicated to this subject. The Robert E. Mitchell Center for Prisoner of War Studies seeks to aid, comfort, and ease the repatriation of past and future prisoners of war by means of lessons learned from the evaluation of former POWs.

The institute has done many studies on POWs including the medical and psychological effects of their experience, personality testing and effects on interpersonal relationships (like marriage).

Without getting into details, I think we can clearly see that serious medical professionals take these traumatic events very seriously and seek to understand the long term consequences that the participants must learn to cope with. Writing it off as "its all mental, you gotta ask yourself how much pain you can endure" is stupidly ignorant at best and criminal at worst.


From a spiritual perspective, where does the Bible ever talk about simulating these types of experiences for spiritual growth? When did Jesus treat his disciples like this? Where does anyone in the Bible use any of these methods for Godly discipleship?


In fact, if anything, the Bible speaks AGAINST these types of behaviors. Colossians 2 tells us that man-made rules and harsh treatment of the body actually do have the appearance of wisdom but in reality they have NO spiritual value. None! At all!


So on every front - pyschological, emotional, spiritual and physical - it is indisputable that no matter what spiritual spin you put on it, ESOAL is dangerous and unwise.


I dont understand the benefit of "Turning off you emotions". Didn't God create those emotions? I just do not see how this can be a positive thing that the board sees nothing wrong with.
What. ON. EARTH!!!

Maybe the Board should go through ESOAL and then decide on if it's a healthy thing. . .


I would pay money to see Jack Hayford, in all his letter writing glory, go through ESOAL.

I have never understood the purpose of ESOAL. I am not really sure how one can make the claim that beating your body into submission and be emotionally degraded at the same time is good for a person, that it "builds character" and will make us stronger individuals.

I can't believe these kids get brainwashed into thinking this is ok. I'm sorry, not ok - thinking this is actually going to better them in some way.

Here is an excerpt from a Watchman Fellowship article on destructive cults, which I've linked before but is worth highlighting again:


Coercive Persuasion Techniques

The following are typical methods employed by destructive mind control cults. Not all use all these methods but the more that are in place, the more danger is involved. Keep in mind we are talking about a highly emotional, extremely complex phenomenon. Note that in our delineating the process of radical conversion and thought reform, there will always be exceptions in detail or degree. There is some variation with regard to particular cult groups, and of course there will always be some diversity in the response patterns of individuals, depending on their susceptibility.

Isolation: Recruits are isolated from society and from contact with opposing points of view to prevent critical judgement.

Peer Group Pressure: Recruits doubt their own convictions when everyone around them acts totally convinced of other beliefs.

Love Bombing: A beguiling sense of belonging is contrived through flattery, touching, hugging.

Removal of Privacy: One is never left alone to thing through and sort out these confusing new experiences.

Sleep Deprivation and Fatigue: Adequate sleep is prevented, work hours are excessive over long periods of time, making members vulnerable and disoriented.

Games: Playing strenuous games with confusing rules builds increasing dependence on group leaders for correct answers. This undermines decision making skills.

Indoctrination: Members are conditioned to stop thinking and to accept without question the "revealed truths" from the "master". Fatigue prevents the members from seeing the contradictions.

Confession: Recruits are maneuvered into sharing innermost secrets. This helps destroy personal egos, induces them to buy the new "truths". Later any escape possibilities are compromised by the knowledge that these exaggerated secrets may be revealed.

Change of Diet: Omission of nutrients increases susceptibility to manipulation of one's emotional "highs" and "lows".

Guilt: Guilt is used endlessly to force members to work harder and without relief. Guilt about mankind's sorry state and the member's personal "sins" is used as a lever to force acceptance of "holier" beliefs.

Fear: Physical and spiritual fear is constantly injected to maintain group loyalty. The slightest negative thought is held to be soul threatening. Tragic consequences for self and family are prophesied for anyone leaving the group.

Chanting and Singing: Constant repetition of mind-narrowing chants block rational thought and induces a quasi-hypnotic state of susceptibility.

Childlike Dependence is promoted by denying opportunities for normal decision making. No questions are allowed. Total acceptance is mandatory.

Dress: Conformity in dress removes one's individuality and promotes disorientation.

Elitism: Only the group is righteous; everyone else is satanic, or at best, misguided.

Replacement of Relationships is promoted by sabotaging communication between members and families. Cult-arranged marriages further disrupt previous ties.

Rejection of Old Values: Old life values are constantly denounced to make them seem worse than they were -- even things that may be spiritually neutral.

Financial Commitment: A member may burn his bridges to the real world by donating earnings, savings, and possessions to the cult, thereby limiting escape possibilities due to a lack of money in order to start over again.


If it looks like a duck, walks like a duck, acts like a duck, and talks like a Christian-- it's a duck!

During my internship year, I don't think a single day passed that I didn't hear somebody quote the mantra "I beat my body and make it my slave." And they weren't talking about building up their strength or learning to control the urges of their flesh. They were talking about making themselves stronger by abusing their physical bodies - by exercising/working/fasting in spite of physical conditions/limitations/injuries.

If the leadership of the HA really believes in this interpretation and application of I Corinthians 9:27, then they'll never see ESOAL as a bad thing. ESOAL is a weekend "retreat" that puts into practice that mantra that was drilled into our heads every single day.

Dave will be going through ESOAL this year along with most of the staff and a LOT of former staff and alumni

Praise God; maybe he'll finally see how ridiculous it is.

I am in tears over this video. I thank God that this wasn't going on my year. This would have royally f***ed me up! So much for positive changes over the years. It's only getting worse!

I don't think Dave will get the same treatment as the rest of us did. There is no way people will be able to get out of the mindset that he is DH no matter how hard they try. People will be very careful and much more deliberate with DH.

joe, the only thing that DH will say is that if he can do it so should you. There is no way that he will complain or anything since he has so much invested in keeping the illegal harrasement up. Big f'in deal. DH does his day camp.

oh. my. sweet sweet Lord. we had to run. we did alot of running, but that's what we did. Back in the day. Run. And climb. Had I been asked to do this and told it was something spiritual, or anything other than some guy's need to feel like military and hold his power over the heads of a bunch of people, Idda rang that d*** bell too... this is a bunch of crap.

One huge problem with the underlying idea of ESOAL is in the idea that emotions are what cause disproportionate reactions to difficulty. It's not emotions, it's idols.

ESOAL does create emotionally charged situations as a result of al the different elements, and it results in polarized reactions (this part here is my opinion from observation, and what personal experience and knowledge i have. anyone who's actually done it can feel free to critique).
One group freaks out, can't take it, and rings out. Their emotions flair up. The other group, freaks out, can't take it, shuts down, and goes numb. That's the group that sticks around. These reactions have nothing to do with how in control anybody is of their emotions, and everything to do with how they're inclined to react to this kind of emotional/physical intensity. Even if emotions were the problem, this wouldn't actually address it.

Worse, both reactions are unhealthy (in the same way that it's unhealthy to have a limb cut off), but one group is punished and the other rewarded. It's like giving a bunch of people a massive wound, and then rewarding the ones that faint from the pain, and punishing the ones that stay conscious and scream.

I didn't have a chance to watch this until last night before bed. My husband watched about 3 minutes of it and then said "I really can't handle this. It's too awful" and rolled over and put his iPod on. And he's right. It is actually too awful. Looking at those kids' faces while DH was talking to them over the megaphone...they were blank. And it was scary.

The point of our faith isn't to shut off or overcome our emotions. It isn't to abuse our bodies or allow other people to abuse us in any way, just to "make us stronger". It's about Love, and there is NO LOVE in ESOAL.

I tend to agree with everyone else here about DH going through ESOAL. No one's going to treat him the same way he treats the interns. What he should really do is have SEAL Team 6, or DELTA, come in and facilitate it the exact same way he does. Then, and only then, will he be able to see exactly what they go through. Oh, and have him stop all the training he's doing to get ready for the retreat as well.

All I have to say is the Army. You said two situations - but you didn't name this one. Soldiers go through this intense training in boot camp. It's what prepares them for the battles ahead. Our battles are different-spiritual, but they require us to be able to look beyond ourselves, and for that reason the intensity and purpose is the same. The "emotion" is us spending so much time looking at and to ourselves and not enough to God to pull us through. Esoal is teaching you to put yourself aside and let GOD help you through and prove to yourself in the toughest situation that you can really pull through with God's help. It helps you grow in areas you wouldn't in ANY other situation. That's why the army does it, and that's why TM does it - to prepare you for things you don't see coming. I agree, health is an issue that should always be considered: just be sure it's really health you're considering and not "emotional" strain - because sometimes those can be confused, especially when we're looking to ourselves. If you really feel scripturally God told you to stop - stop. Remember, God will never allow you to be tested beyond what you can bear (1 Cor 10:13), which is the one reason I do believe He'll tell you to stop.

And in the Bible - JESUS went through 40 days of testing in the wilderness. Did you have to go 40 days without eating for esoal? The Bible doesn't say all that Jesus went through while he was out there, but I bet it was intense (not saying it was the exact same, just really intense). Many of the prophets (the leaders in the Bible) had to go through some pretty intense stuff - Daniel, David and Paul for example - in the prisons and in the streets - in preparation for their leadership.

I didn't go through Esoal, we had Gauntlet week still when I was an intern, but I can imagine the extra intensity of Esoal - and that it might be overdone a bit especially with all the hard time they give and the teasing, but I don't think it's a waste of time or spiritually or preparationally without value. I would have loved to have gone through it, and I know I'd never be the same. Gauntlet did it for me, among other things experienced at TM, but I wouldn't take it back for anything.

Even if people treated DH and staff the same during ESOAL, he still wouldn't see anything wrong with it. This is the fundamental problem. DH, staff, and whatnot see absolutely NOTHING wrong with ESOAL. They see it as a learning and stretching opportunity.


Unless the battle that Christians are preparing for is a physical one, ESOAL doesn't prepare you for crap. I went through ESOAL and learned how physically unfit I was/am, how because I wasn't as fit as others I brought my team down, how because I didn't finish-finish ESOAL I am less of a person and not as strong a christian (well, not a christian at all anymore). I learned nothing about how to prepare for the hardships I would face in life like the death of my mother, financial hardship, loosing a job, trying to find a new job, etc.

Being tested and being abused are 2 different things and last I checked, Jesus is God, I (nor you) are not.

Gauntlet week and ESOAL are on two entirely different planes. They are no where similar to each other. So the fact that you went through Gauntlet, which is required for every new intern to go through, doesn't mean that you can remotely relate to ESOAL. During Gauntlet, you weren't taunted, shot with paintball guns, forced to not eat or sleep for days, etc.

I agree with Shannon. God is the One who sanctifies us. We are not commanded ANYWHERE in the Bible to "simulate" trials, tests, tribulations, etc. in order to become more Christ-like. We are told to stand firm. To put on the full armor of God. To know His Word and to know Him more through His Word. He will sanctify us along the way. If we are studying His Word, following His commands, and obeying Him, he will prepare us for all that we need in this life. I just don't understand how anyone can attempt to justify this "extra-biblical" idea of ESOAL. We do not sanctify ourselves, it is God alone who can do that.

I really believe that by Dave Hasz saying that attempting or finishing ESOAL will make you a stronger Christian, he is teaching these young impressionable youth to try and "force" God's hand. That is spiritually dangerous.

Side note - I'm in the first video quite a bit. I was part of the very first group of winners calling the others "losers". Can I just make a blanket apology to anyone that was a part of this ESOAL group? I am very VERY sorry that I even participated in this puke, and I'm sorry I didn't take a stand when I knew in my heart that this didn't feel right. I showed it to my husband and I started crying. Then I started laughing. I can't believe I bought into that nonsense. I am so thankful that the Lord grows us and teaches us. I feel very sad for those who are still being duped.

Though ESOAL is based on a military experience it is different in several crucial ways.

1) It is not facilitated by TRAINED PROFESSIONALS.

2) Participants are given adequate food.

3) Participants know approximately when the event will end.

4) Their success/failure of the event is not tied to the participant's spiritual worth.

5) Military personnel need to be able to undergo extreme physical challenges - there is a physical purpose to their training. Christians do not need this same physical training for the Christian life.

Those are VERY, VERY big differences.

So, Jesus should have gone thru ESOAL in order to be ready for when He was tested by the devil for 40 days? Because that's basically what you're saying.

Last Anon - Dude, wow. Your comment was so... for lack of better words - completely and utterly brainwashed. You're right that Jesus and many other Christian leaders in the Bible dealt with many trials and tribulations. Absolutely. But also, and this is a very important ALSO, they were not tested in a "game" that MAN organized. They were tested by God in a trial and/or tribulation that God either organized for them or allowed them to go through. Two MAJOR differences between a cult and a real life experience with God.

Another thing to think about WWJD? Would Jesus put his disciples through ESOAL?

I seriously doubt that Jesus would have asked his disciples to go through ESOAL.

Would Jesus tell some of his disciples to tell the others that they're losers and that they suck just so both parties could "learn something"?

ESOAL has gone through inappropriate stages, but nothing in this video surprises me, strikes me as abusive, or too difficult for an 18yo to process. Life is hard. Why shouldn't TM use a difficult event to help a young person gain life skills needed to press through hard things?

Last Anon - I honestly don't even know what to say to that. Its very ignorant or naive of you to think that. (Especially with all the evidence I've presented here and by Eric P. in the comments of the other ESOAL post)

No, it's another perspective. Hard does not equal wrong. This is a training program. Part of the program is learning to get through hard things. This is an essential life skill. People who survive disasters know how to keep going. People who die are those who freeze or quit. Why wouldn't I want to know how to push through something hard?

There is a difference between hard and abusive.

"People who die are those who freeze or quit." Let me take a one in a million guess - you're currently at the cult, right?

That has to be my only assumption since any normal, level-headed, non-brainwashed person would recognize that people don't just die when they "freeze or quit." Good Lord. I hope you call your parents to come and pick you up right away. Or, at the very least, show them this website. I'm concerned for you.

First off- ESOAL anon, I appreciate your interest in a dialogue here. You don't come off as attacking at all, and I think that's pretty awesome ;)

Second- I am concerned with this statement:

"Why shouldn't TM use a difficult event to help a young person gain life skills needed to press through hard things?"

How do the events of ESOAL prepare young people for real life? Life is hard, but thousands of people make it through without being hypothermia'd or starved.

More specifically, I'd like to ask how ESOAL prepares an individual for the rest of their year at the HA.

People do die when they freeze or quit in the middle of a disaster. Actually, around 80% of people have exactly that response. No. I'm not at TM. Haven't been there in a very long time. Some additional research you may be interested in (presenting a dissenting view) was done by John Leach. Try reading "Temporal and cognitive restraints on survival responses".

So you are saying that ESOAL is disaster survival training?

And here I thought it was for spiritual growth...

No. I am saying that it is life survival training.

@nh - I thought the point of the internship was to teach young people how to have a life of purpose that reaches beyond standard living. Jesus used analogies and parables all the time. I see esoal as a living analogy. Real life is hard. We die. We get hurt. We get fired. Our kids die. Our spouses divorce us. Our parents get cancer. Pushing through mud, verbal hounding, rain, cold and puke is minor compared to what real life dishes out. The point isn't the mud.

Anon at 10:09am - Please back up your opinion with scripture. I'm interested to see where you are getting your reasoning from in the Bible. That's what really matters here.

I see nowhere in scripture that states we are to simulate trials in our own strength to make us stronger Christians. That sounds pretty works based to me.

Here's one for you:

"For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; [it is] the gift of God, NOT OF WORKS, LEST ANYONE SHOULD BOAST."
Ephesians 2:8-9

"I see nowhere in scripture that states we are to simulate trials in our own strength to make us stronger Christians. That sounds pretty works based to me." I couldn't agree more with that statement.

Also, I'm a little upset that the cult doesn't offer human sacrifices at ESOAL. Let's be serious, if we are ever in a plane crash in the Andes, how could we possibly be prepared to eat another human for survival if we've never done it before? If we're going to simulate possible scenarios let's do it right and get all our bases covered. I'm just sayin.'

Jesus told parables and used analogies, he didn't reenact or stage traumatic events to teach them lessons.

It's likely some of the women at HA will be raped at some point in their lives, should HA simulate those situations?

Probably some of them will get cancer, maybe HA should start hooking interns up to chemo meds so they can learn to rely on God.

How does being forced to eat cat food, roll down a hill to you vomit and otherwise abuse your body give you a life purpose?

I hear the "beat my body and make it my slave" stuff all the time but what about 1 Corinthians 6:19

"Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own?"

I'm not sure what Eph 2:8,9 has to do with esoal. Could you help me understand?

Jesus taught through life experience. Jesus also turned everything into an object lesson. Fear, hunger, sleep deprivation, homelessness & danger included! You can read the gospels for many examples of Biblical object lessons. The disciples didn't have easy lives.

However, to be clear, I am not saying that esoal is 'Biblical'. It is a tool for teaching young people life survival skills.

The Bible doesn't teach me to show my children how to cross the street safely. I teach that by telling my kids to look both ways, holding their hands and making sure that they get to the other side safely.

ESOAL teaches other skills like persistence, team work, reliance on Christ and peresonal endurance through a series of planned harsh events. Some things just don't translate well in a classroom.

ESOAL doesn't translate well anywhere... unless you're brainwashed.

The scriptures being quoted are out of context.

Please show me where Jesus didn't choose to help the disciples interpret life in a particular way to prepare them for future events. He didn't practice crucifying anyone upside down on a cross. He didn't boil anyone in oil. He didn't hold practice beatings. But he did help the disciples learn how to interpret life experiences (hard ones) through his lens.

"He didn't practice crucifying anyone upside down on a cross. He didn't boil anyone in oil. He didn't hold practice beatings. But he did help the disciples learn how to interpret life experiences (hard ones) through his lens."

Thank you for being the voice of reason.

Teaching your child to cross the road is something done safely and without emotional and physical trauma.

Parents don't teach their children to deal with illness by getting them sick on purpose. They don't teach a kid how to deal with bullying by BEING a bully. They don't teach them how to cope with rejection by rejecting them. Teen Mania on the other hand does these things. Teachers should lead by example of Good, not Bad. Jesus didn't have some of his disciples stage a beating of another so that one could play Good Samaritan.

Yes, going through a crappy situation might help you deal with a crappy situation down the road but it is not an act of Love or God to PUT someone in that crappy situation.

There is no reason AT ALL that TM should be putting teenagers and young adults through physically unsafe and emotionally damaging situations. None. It is not justifiable.

A lot of the amazing lessons people claim to have been taught through ESOAL are good lessons to learn. The thing is, I learned them by going on a 50-mile hike over the course of 3 days carrying all my own gear and food.

It was challenging and amazing, and I certainly didn't need to be pushed to the very edge of sanity or verbally/emotionally/physically assaulted to get to that point.

For the ESOAL supporters, how do you explain/justify the many people who are injured physically or emotionally?

Just a note... I was on my monthly cycle during ESOAL and was not afforded the opportunity to use proper facilities. There are a LOT of issues that TM does not take into consideration.

Anon - You should have just prayed to God to take your period away for that month. Clearly you didn't have enough faith. Oh.em.gee.

my favorite verse in the bible is where god tells his followers to do asinine physical feats because he instructs them to "test the lord their god."

Justifying physical or emotional injuries can't be done. Blame for those injuries isn't easily assigned either though. I have a weak ankle. I can sprain my ankle walking out to the car in any parking lot. I am sensitive about my appearance. You could tell me something in the next comment that forever taints the way that I see life. Is that my fault or yours? Who ultimately holds the responsibility for the way that I respond to life?

Explain the number of people who go through esoal uninjured and emotionally unscathed. Explain the number of people who point to the event as an important source of personal growth during their year with TM.

That point made, I'd submit that TM has done a poor job post processing the event with those who rang out. They have failed to adequately train the leaders. They have failed to monitor the event in a way that guarantees that nothing inappropriate occurs. Their failure in training has caused harm that deserves a point by point apology and a point by point rectification. Their failure in post processing has produced a crowd of people who didn't properly digest the experience because they couldn't. This should have been detected and resolved a long time ago.

However, the intent of the event is not flawed. There are a number of other medical studies that should be referenced in support of education through analogous training

Finally, I would encourage most of the last few anonymous commenters to think about your comments before posting. I respect the fact that there are angry people here, but it demonstrates a low level of sophistication (diminishing your impact and influence) when posts are theologically unsound or poorly thought through.

oh i thought about my comments. i didn't regret them when i thought them and i don't regret writing what i thought. YOU demonstrate to me exactly the reason that i don't like christians. they're filled with judgment, hate, and prideful attitudes. thank you for reiterating this fact to me. sometimes i forget.

Your first paragraph comes very close to blaming the victim - plus the analogy isn't good. Hurt feelings from a conversation are in a whole different class than abuse. (And even if I hurt your feelings, I should apologize and make it right.) I guess I'm unclear on what you are suggesting there...?

"Explain the number of people who go through esoal uninjured and emotionally unscathed. Explain the number of people who point to the event as an important source of personal growth during their year with TM."


1) Brainwashing is very effective

2) God works in SPITE of ESOAL, not because of it

3) People who call it personal growth now will look back and call it stupid or dangerous in the next few years

I appreciate the dialogue and agree with some of your points, but as to whether the idea of ESOAL is flawed or not, I guess we'll have to agree to disagree. :)

Re: sophistication - I hear what you are saying...but it can be difficult in this environment. This blog is 90% recovery group and 10% debate club. Recovery isn't sophisticated but debate needs to be. So, we have a mix.

Man, seriously I hate TM and want it to end but seriously....I doubt that not one person on this site will ever be pleased...ever. SO much bitterness and hostility and I'm glad you have an outlet to vent it but I am becoming confident more and more everyday that there is nothing TM can do to make any of you happy.

Good grief I think I'm done with this site

We're not looking for Teen Mania to make us happy, we're looking for them to make things right. There is a difference.

Then be done with it and move on? For someone who's griping about people not being satisfied, you sure sound... unsatisfied.

I just found out about this site a few months ago. And I was VERY bitter at that time. I've experienced a lot of healing and forgiveness since then. However, I don't expect everyone else to be where I'm at nor am I at the place of full recovery where I wish to be in the future.

And that's ok if you're "done" with this site. It really is. The only person who can decide that is you.

Just bear in mind that this site is called "Recovering Alumni." It's not, nor was it ever called, "Let's debate the positives and negatives about Teen Mania."

I would never barge in at a narcotics anonymous meeting with my old friends from college and tell them I went to school where they did, too. We also had the same friends. We lived in same part of town. It's absolutely absurd that they have a problem with drugs when I don't have one. I wouldn't show up at their meeting at all because I'm not struggling to get over it. I'm not even in the group that is in denial that they have had a problem with drugs because they've been using heavy in the past and occasionally still use. And for that very reason, I wouldn't show up at their meetings to "check things out" or "try to relate." It's ok that you don't have a problem with TM hurting you. In fact, it's absolutely wonderful. And I'm not being facetious. You should count your blessings.

"I seriously doubt that Jesus would have asked his disciples to go through ESOAL."

Umm...Jesus warned his disciples of trials to come, granted none that was organized by one single person but none the less each one disciples where in fact persecuted and killed with the exception of John the revelator.

God allowed so many people to endure trials in their own lives, Joseph was in prison for many years, David suffered many years in caves and on the run from saul. Paul had some sort of ailment and what was God response to him? My grace is sufficient enough for you.

Is esoal something good? I dunno but how many us will ever actually endure half of what those men in the bible endured in their lives.

One question...how can we ever know what we are capable of and how can we grow if we arn't tested and tried.
I don't necissarly agree with some of the pratices in esoal but as whole it can be a useful tool in showing an individual that maybe just maybe they are stronger than they even know.

Anon @ June 16, 2010 6:17 PM

whoa, I counted 4 fails in your statement alone. According to DH and TMM 'rules' 3 fails is grounds for punishment. does that mean TM as a whole has failed all who went through ESOAL?

Food for thought my friend.


Have you read the rest of the comments, dear? Everything you said has already been discussed multiple times. Just read what people commented before you.

Okay, Background: Hopefully a neutral standpoint. I'm Australian, Christian, and had never before heard about ESOAL, HA, or TM until someone mentioned it on a bulletin board, and I had to do extensive Googling to find out anything more than official sites and the party line.
I'm also a trained health professional, in pharmacy and nursing, so I might make a basic comment on any health implications I can see.

At first, I was supportive of the idea of a Christian boot camp. I mean, living for up to a year with other Christians, doing physically demanding activities in a supportive environment (surely, everyone around are Christians, right?), and getting some good teaching at the same time - what's not to like?

Then I read some of the stories, heard some of the comments, and watched the videos of what they put participants through.

Don't get me wrong, I'm fully supportive of the idea that being demanding of participants is beneficial to lifeskills. However, there are ways of doing it that take into account the emotional and psychological health of participants, and that is precisely what I did not see. Sure, the military might do the exact same thing, but they also provide trained medical and psychological supervision, and protocol, as well as support services and counselling for those who do not make it through the rigorous training. From what I read here, once you're out of HA, you're on your own.

However, that alone isn't my main worry, and I must admit, I myself am of the view that such traumatic circumstances (properly facilitated) are indeed worthwhile in identifying indiviuals who would fit well into a military situation, as well as provide good training in handling one's self in everyday life. No, what truly horrifies me is that the trauma being inflicted is not physical, nor is it merely "emotionally stretching" (and I had to Google EDOAL extensively to even find out what the acronym meant, btw) but more to the point of emotionally and spiritually coercive. Basically, when your emotions are worn down to that raw stage as was seen on that ESOAL video, you're not learning, processing, and questioning all that is being taught to you, biblical or otherwise. (continues)


Acts 17:11 - "...for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true."

As you can see, the Bereans were commended on corroborating and not blindly accepting what the they were being told by Paul, arguably the greatest apostle of all time. Surely you would want your students to be at the top of their wits? Instead, when you're as miserable as the participants seem to be, you accept what is being told, regardless of how inane it might sound, simply because (1) it keeps you from getting in more trouble, (2) they have the authority and power in the situation.

I see it all the time in the hospital setting, patients rarely question procedures, even if they feel something's wrong, as they feel they're not as well informed, and that they don't want to upset the people in power, the doctors, nurses and staff. Part of my role as a nurse (and as a pharmacist before this) is to try to make patients understand that it is THEIR body, and what they feel is as important to their health as what we tell them, so talk to us! From what I can see, speaking up is in fact what seems to be discouraged in ESOAL and HA, both by active ridicule as well as the stigma and spiritual abuse handed out ("you're not as good a Christian if you lie/break your contract")

So yeah, I'm sorry for being long-winded, but I'm honestly worried about what is happening here.
1) can be beneficial, but needs to be stringent health and safety guidelines, both during AND after the experience, which I didn't see in place
2) More worryingly, use of negative reinforcement ("A strong Christian would finish the course") in terms of spiritual growth, both overt and implied, that's what really scares me.

Thanks for reading. Would appreciate feedback, both in support and on anything I may have gotten wrong. Cheers.

Hey JC,

Thanks for your comment. Its not often that "outsiders" take the time to really understand what is going on here (as it really is its own culture).

I agree with much of what you've stated. The point about Bereans is a particularly good one.

As far as it ever being beneficial, I guess I can't really even imagine the leadership able to do something like this that was not abusive...In some other situation, with other leadership, strictly supervised and dramatically changed, maybe, possibly there could be some benefit - but I don't think that is spiritual benefit. Probably similar to the kind of benefit you get from accomplishing something difficult like runnning a marathon or triathlon.

Thanks again for your comments and your interest in what's been going on here!

JC - Thank you so much for your comments. I think it's wonderful to hear/read outside perspectives on what goes on at TM. Positive or negative, it pulls in some extra reality that is often lost within the TM bubble.

RA - I agree that the benefit of a marathon or similar is very beneficial, and it could even become a spiritual experience. I wish more emphasis was put on the Pikes Peak climb and other retreats throughout the year. These other opportunities allow interns to press on with ENCOURAGEMENT. The biggest issues I had with ESOAL were centered on trust. How could I trust my leaders (CAs/LPs/Staff/Alumni/Ron/Dave) after they spent three days trying their hardest to tear me apart at the deepest levels of my personhood? Even if they had done better about reminding me that it was just for a weekend and they really truly cared, how could I reconcile the two?

When I was on a TM trip, I got a very bad sunburn on my legs (we're talking MAJOR blisters and pain to the point of having a lot of difficulty walking) and had to hike down this big hill to get back to the bus. It was about a mile away.

My Team Leader stayed by my side, letting me go slower than everyone else, and encouraged me that I could make it. He didn't tell me to toughen up and just keep up with everyone else. He didn't tell me he'd meet me at the bus. He didn't tell me I was stupid for not wearing sunscreen on our white water rafting trip (and I WAS stupid for not wearing sunscreen on that trip). He didn't scold me, shame me, or embarrass me in front of anybody else. He didn't blame me for our team getting back to town a little bit late.

And I made it down that hill and learned something about leadership that day.

Major life lessons do not have to come at the expense of your self esteem. Being "pushed to the edge" is not necessary in learning to trust on God 100%. I agree with Lauren -- a little bit of encouragement goes a long way. Being told you're a loser goes even further, but not in a positive way.

Dave Hasz was my PD when I went on my GE trip with TM. Needless to say I had some great examples of how NOT to be a good leader. And I still went to the HA... I guess I'm a sucker for punishment!

I agree and disagree with some things on here. My personal experience with ESOL had it gd and bad mainly good though. I was one that finished and yes it was hard and I now will have pain in my leg from a torn muscle but I finished because I knew that if God didn't want me to he wouldn't have given me the strength to do so. I learned so much about myself during ESOL. Like how I had a big issue w authority. By the end I learned that I needed to submit. That God doesn't want a rebellious daughter. I also learned that by leaning on God I can do anything w his strength. (This in found in the bible) I also know that the leadership there isn't what it needs to be. By being close to God however I learned to trust god and listen to my discernment that he gave me. In all yes it is very dangerous but so is going on a mission strip. R we really willing to go down this road? Should we not participate in Gods mission that all shall know him because it is dangerous? Even though its on those trips that we are made better and we learn to set our selves our pain our discomfort aside to help another struggling? They are two of the same.

This video is from my year and it freaks me the hell out.

Where can I find this movie


By your logic, God wanted that teenage mother to have sex before marriage and get pregnant because He gave her the strength to go through the pregnancy and birth.

Could it be that maybe God didn't want you to participate in ESOAL, but because you chose to do so God therefore gave you the strength that you needed to finish it?

I am an atheist so I could have this all kinds of confused.

We could spiritualize the torn muscle too. My first instinct is "maybe the torn muscle could be a reminder of the consequences of doing something on your own that He didn't intend for you to do."

Just sayin.

And ESOAL is nothing like a mission trip or being a missionary. ESOAL is dangerous in a bass-ackwards irresponsible fashion, like "let's guilt people into doing this event even after they've seriously injured themselves". Being a missionary is dangerous in a "there's people with just as strong of beliefs as yours that are opposed to yours" or "these are the natural dangers of living in such and such area" fashion. I.e., the dangers of being a missionary are mostly just the dangers of life, pretty much anywhere you live can be/is dangerous to some extent, but some places are more so than others.

Think of it this way too.. If ur on a mission trip to a place where they are very much against the teachings of God. And you become a 'prisoner' they are not going to give u a cup of tea and a biscuit they will far worse then nething seen on an ESOAL video.


Think of it this way too... Jesus turned the water into wine. He brought the fishes and loaves. He healed the blind and raised the dead. He caused the lame to walk. He alleviated the suffering of people. He did not give his disciples leprosy, break their legs or starve them so that he could teach them how to rely on him. What I see on the ESOAL videos from the TM leaders is not them acting like Christ, I see them acting like Satan. Why? Where are the teachings of God there?

@Soulia - I will not deny the fact that religious persecution happens around the world back and forth between people of all religions. It is horrific and terrible no matter who the victim is and what religion they follow.

Your comment, however, is typical of the idea of Americanized Christianity that thinks that the big bad world is out to get us "Christians." It's as if "we" have nothing but "good news" that the rest of the world can only learn by us invading their culture and forcing our ideas of God on them. If you are in a foreign place living the gospel of love with humility, I would venture to say that other than some remote warrior tribes, which those on short term missions might naively run into, and extremists of other religions, most of the rest of the unbelievers in the places "short term mission trips" are taking you to aren't dangerous.

It is just ridiculous to suggest that people suffer through something as abusive as ESOAL because it is somehow legitimate missionary training. Regardless of my personal opinion about short term missions the truth is that on most "mission trips" you are in no danger of imprisonment and torture. That is ridiculous and an idea used to make 14 year olds think they are doing something "HUGE for God" so they will pay $3000 to go on a trip. It's used to make them feel like they are on this covert spy operation. It makes them feel like superheroes. This is the disgusting elitism that is prevalent coming from TM.

ESOAL is just stupid. So much lasting emotional abuse for no reason! Do we need to control our emotions? Yes, sometimes it's appropriate to have a grip on them in certain situations. But there is NO VALUE in learning to turn them off completely. God gave us emotions. They have a purpose. ESOAL is not emotionally stretching it is emotionally devistating! Sad, sad, sad.

I will be contacting the IRS, the media and Proctor and Gamble concerning this abusive program. This is torture and has nothing to do with God. Ron Luce has shown himself to be a dangerous cult leader and hopefully the authorities will shut this program down ASAP. Thank you for exposing this horror show for what it is.

Anon - Sounds great! Let's talk! Send me an email...

ha, IT SO MUCH FUN!!!!! LOL I have 3 badges on my wall and i'll be going back. Tony Roberts (2004)(2006)(2007)

Wow just watched this video.... Funny thing is that was my ESOAL and I just seen myself. I haven't watched or thought about ESOAL in a long time. I recently have had dreams about TM and ESOAL. I haven't dreamed about that place in a long time. I think its because I have been in contact with other alumni and we are talking. Its stirring all these past emotions.


Last Anon - How interesting! Once you've processed things I'd be interested to hear your thoughts now after looking back on the situation.

This guy is a complete tool, standing there trying to be hardcore as he makes everyone miserable, wearing BDU's and talking about Afghanistan. What does he know about being a soldier, Afghanistan, and what gives him the right to wear a soldiers camo for a school that doesn't believe in a soldiers duty. Very good message, I will never get this 5 minutes back of my life.

I dont know that I can say anything about ESOAL that hasn't said before, but I am curious (as an intern who was definitely snubbed for opting out), how does this "opportunity" regard the body as a temple of God?

I mean, thank goodness TM didn't allow new nose rings (which are in the Bible) but encourages this opportunity to injure ourselves in a staged pow camp.

By the way, for people who say it's healthy to put ourselves into traumatic situations, to make us more capable in future trials? Please know that ADRENAL FATIGUE is a real illness. And it is stress-induced (physical, mental, nutritional etc). Those fight-or-flight situations add up and deplete the adrenal glands by putting your stress-response system on overdrive.

Matthew 10:16 Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves; so be shrewd as serpents and innocent as doves.

Huh. For some reason, Jesus went on to warn the disciples about the hardships they would face in the FUTURE. He didn't feel the need for beta-testing, double-blind study, or ESOAL. What I mean is that Jesus told them it would be a hard road ahead of them--but He did not put them in danger BEFORE the real danger. Maybe Jesus was not radical enough for DH and RL? They certainly seem intent on sending us out as tigers or lions or marines, more than sheep.

As background: I'm an intern alumnus who is an extreme sports enthusiast. I'm a volunteer firefighter and EMT who absolutely loved fire academy. My sister just participated in the Tough Mudder which has ESOAL-like activities and obstacles. When I very first heard about ESOAL, I wanted to take vacation time and go through the very next one. Even after reading all the stories and watching the horrifying videos, there is still a part of me that would love to go through the experience and see that it is really like. I say this so that anyone reading this comment understands where I am coming from. I completely relate to the desire to challenge yourself in the most extreme way possible. My solution to that desire was to become a FF and serve my community, not to aimlessly run around in the mud and roll through vomit.

My primary concern with the supposed "safety precautions" that TM and DH claim to take regarding ESOAL is that they are focused on "not letting you die," as if immediate death is the only way to be physically damaged. I've read that they have EMTs on site during the event, but that is nowhere close to the appropriate level of medical oversight for this type of event. See, a basic EMT has about 4 months of medical training. A paramedic (highest level of EMT) has about 2 years of medical training, equivalent to an associate's degree. EMTs are not doctors. They cannot diagnose illness and injury and there are massive restrictions on the procedures they can perform, dependent on the situation, setting, etc. EMTs are trained to keep a person alive until they can get that person to definitive medical care; that is all. So, when I hear DH in the videos assuring the participants that "we're not going to let you die" and I read that they have EMTs on site, all I infer from that is that they are taking the bare minimum precautions to make it unlikely that someone would die at the campus during the activity. I also infer that DH doesn't truly understand death and his ability to allow or disallow it to occur.

From the videos I've seen, they DO engage in activities that could very easily lead to immediate death -- such as Heath Stoner's "vacation" in which he has interns crawl through an underground pipe with no way to escape and no easy/quick way to be rescued. How is an EMT going to help a person trapped in a drainage pipe 4 feet underground? How is DH going to make sure that person doesn't die?

I see the ESOAL event as based on hubris and an unwillingness to acknowledge the laws of physics. Christian theology teaches us that God can circumvent the laws of the physical world, but that does not mean that we should consistently and flagrantly disobey these laws for our own amusement and/or for a scheduled teaching event. That's ridiculous and completely antithetical to the teachings of Christ regarding testing God.

Heh. Despite all that, I STILL somehow want to participate in the next ESOAL/PEARL. I can’t help it, but that's my sickness. Maybe I'll use the ESOAL insanity as inspiration and use my time and resources to take a heavy technical rescue class to learn the proper techniques for rescuing someone stuck in an underground pipe. :)

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