Supposedly fun things I’ll never do again


So, the Teen Missions thing put us into some shock for a couple of days. I’m actually quite surprised that the camp’s still open. I mean, I figured that Teen Missions would be filed under “one of those crazy things that people did before they knew how dangerous it was.” Like letting kids ride in the bed of a pick-up. Or running after the DDT truck. Or using asbestos in the air ducts. Stuff like that.

We reminisced about some really horrifying things. The boot camp from the clip was in preparation for going overseas. They gathered all the teenagers together in Merritt Island. In the heat of the central Florida sun, we had to wear jeans and construction boots. And we weren’t allowed to shower. Kids suffered pretty badly from blisters and jungle rot—on all parts of their body—but I won’t go into that.

We woke up every morning before the sun to run an obstacle course. We ate breakfast and had our morning devotions. Then our days were filled with classes: bricklaying, construction, Bible studies, music, and puppets.

We had an hour to read, but we couldn’t bring our own books. They were pre-determined for us. They were mostly missionary stories, Passion and Purity, and books like that. We had to memorize a Bible verse every day.

I guess the worst part of it, for me, was their form of discipline. Whenever we did anything wrong, we got a “Special Blessing.” Or, an hour of hard labor in the blistering 3:00 heat. Honestly, we had to do things like move a huge pile of sand from point A to point B. And the next day, we had to move it back.

At one point, I had 27 SBs, for doing things like falling asleep during devotions or whispering to a friend during a class. I sincerely felt that I deserved the punishment. In fact, Teen Missions gave me my first taste of feeling like a really wretched person. A terrible human being. And, I didn’t shake that for a very, very long time.

On one team, I met my husband and a person who still remains one of our closest friends. We were on the trip with John Piper’s son. A really nice guy (the son, that is!).

No one forced me to go. I always volunteered. I was from a family who only went one place for family vacations: we drove from Florida to South Carolina. And TMI allowed me to see the world before I turned 16. Before some members of my family had ever been on an airplane, I had spent significant time in Switzerland, France, Hong Kong, China, and the Philippines. And I had passed through so many other countries.

The experience instilled within me, at a very young age, the love for diverse cultures and (strangely) a sensitivity to difference. When I think about how I spent summers camping in Switzerland and France, or sleeping under the stars on a boat in the Kowloon Harbor of Hong Kong, I realize that all of this history makes me who I am today.

One of the most difficult things about being a Presbyterian pastor for me is how people handle my background. It comes up, every time I circulate my resume or someone asks me where I went to undergraduate school. When I explain how I went to Bible school, there is such shock and disdain. Presbyterians are people who take great pride in their educations, and Moody’s far from the Ivy League that they attended. And I shrug it off, and say that’s how I was raised, and I’ve become someone else.

But I haven’t become someone else. All of this is still a part of me. And after fifteen years in this denomination, I’m exhausted, and not a little hurt, by people who can’t accept that.

The photo’s by Blah Blah Blog. And the title I ripped off from David Foster Wallace.


15 thoughts on “Supposedly fun things I’ll never do again

  1. What’s your take on “Passion and Purity”? Is it pretty extreme in the purity stuff, or the a-girl-has-to-symbolically-marry-her-dad-until-she-finds-a-husband wierdness? Somebody asked me for a good title for a young adult dealing with dating. Any recommendations?

  2. Oh, and I love you AND your background. You’re right, your background made you who you are, which is a gift. I love that you embrace it. I tended to reject my background too quickly, too easily, while at the same time wierdly elevating it, all of which gave it too much power.

  3. When my member at channel 9 sent me the 48 hours clip I burst into tears. It was difficult to see me at 17. For me it was always hard to reconcile this person that I was to the person that I am. It took a lot of time to come to acceptance (sometimes I backslide). When I think of all the tremendous amount of real danger that TMI put us through I get really upset. When I think about the emotional manipulation that we went through I get sad and it makes my faith evaporate. Ever so often I can hear Bob Bland saying “God’s way up is down!”

    Thanks for highlighting some of the things that this experience gave me. It is always good to be reminded that these experiences make up the person that I am. I am always learning not to hate those those things that others can not understand. The Presbyterian Church had better gird up its loins, because there are a generation of evangelicals behind us who are coming into their own. If they do not understand their experience they will not understand a large portion of the church.

    Plus, I met you. That friendship has been one that has truly transformed my life.

  4. Carol you and Brian give me hope. The hardest part of the past is the honor and shame I still bind myself too. It is difficult to embrace the grace.

    Thanks again for a beautiful and engaging piece.

  5. Thanks, Ruth. That means a great deal.

    No. I wouldn’t recommend P & P. I don’t remember it, really, but I’m sure it’s extremely heavy on the purity.

    I also remember Elizabeth Elliot as a truly strange woman (will I go straight to hell for saying negative things about an 82-year-old multiple widowed woman with Alzheimer’s? I’m pretty sure that I will…).

    Her first husband died as a missionary. Then, she was married a number of times after that. And she kept speaking all over the country about her first husband. He was a perfect martyr… Her subsequent husbands must have had a great deal of… hmmm… what? Humility? Humor?.

    In college I also remember thinking, Ahhh… So this is what it takes to allow a woman to speak before a conservative congregation: her husband has to be a martyr…. That’s a very difficult credential to obtain!

    Is there anything that I would recommend? I can’t think of anything. Sounds like a niche that needs to be filled. And I think you’d be the perfect person to write that one….

  6. Carol, I experienced a bit of the same reaction because I went to a non-denominational, charismatic Bible school following high school. There were some great principles instilled in me there that are still part of me. Try explaining that to the candidacy committee of the synod who approves whether or not the call you sense to the ministry of Word and Sacrament is valid. Without their approval, one is dead in the water as far as Lutheran ministry. But subsequent experiences and time in the Lutheran church (as well as God’s Spirit) convinced them. I understand.

  7. It makes me sad that we can’t just love each other for who we are, and instead of giving looks of disdain we can’t just say “wow, that’s really interesting–tell me more!”

    Particularly since so many places seem to privilege second-career pastors, and particularly since so many people these days are denomination-hopping throughout their lives, I just don’t understand why your particular experience is somehow less good than others. As one who didn’t grow up in the church at all, this is one part of the Presbyterian ethos that I have not managed to grasp in 10 years, and sort of hope I don’t ever get!

    Having said that, TMI does sound like a scary place. Jesus Camp is one of the most frightening movies I’ve ever seen, so I don’t know how I’d feel about this next documentary…I admire your ability to look back at both the good and the bad. You’re awesome. 🙂

  8. I feel compelled to apologize on behalf of our denomination.

    We embrace diversity….

    …. kind of.

    As a senior in college, I sat in front of the Preparation Committee with a black eye, explaining that the reason I began volunteering at the shelter was because I had to do community service hours for a “fraternity prank gone awry”. I loved the shelter so much I kept going back after my hours were completed.

    How interesting that we (the PCUSA) are sometimes so accepting of clowns like me and yet sometimes so judgmental of those who spent their college years actually studying the Bible, just not in the “right” place.

  9. Oh! And Ryan, Thanks.

    I’ll back-pedal a bit and say that I’ve also experienced tremendous acceptance in our denomination as well…. I mean I’m really not one to be complaining. I have a lovely job in D.C., at a place where they think my sordid past is wonderfully interesting. And I’m going to be traveling all over, speaking to different churches and denominations… So really. The whining’s kind of silly…

    The reason why I’m getting in touch with my inner whiner is that recently, I’ve been hearing from so many different seminary students, who are struggling through the ordination process largely because they didn’t grow up Presbyterian. And it’s brought up so many memories.

    This will have to be a longer post and/or an article.

    Ivy and Ryan… so glad that you ARE the denomination (ELCA and PCUSA) now!

  10. I watched the documentary in complete shock. I paused it when my kids came into the room, I didn’t want them to see what the “church” was doing to young people. To call punishment a “special blessing” is just evidence of how evil this is, very frightening.

    I’ve never experienced anything even close to this, if I had I think I might have abandoned the church altogether (or I might have become a liberal;))

  11. Yeah, becoming liberal definitely saved my faith…

    I was impressed by the documentary.

    We’ll have to talk sometime, Neil. For our particular trip, it was much, much worse than on the documentary. We were actually put in some very life-threatening and dangerous situations, and we were often told, “If you die, then you’re a martyr. The blood of martyrs is the seed of the church…”

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