Readers’ Stories of Spiritual Abuse at Teen Missions International

by | Apr 10, 2018 | Faith | 106 comments

Teen Missions International Spiritual Abuse

Last week I was talking about the dangers of legalism, and I launched that series by telling a personal story of a missions trip I took with Teen Missions International back in 1986.

I talked about how the emphasis was skewed, how the head leaders showed little grace, how the goal seemed to be to break our spirits.

I told that story because I thought it was a good introduction to what I was going to write about for the rest of the week on legalism, but then something happened. Because I wrote that, I started receiving emails and stories from other people who had had horrible experiences with Teen Missions International. Most were just “me too!” letters, but a few told their own stories. To be fair, many commented on Facebook that they had enjoyed their teams (and I genuinely believe that my friend who went at the same time as me, but on a different team, had a great time), but they also acknowledged those weird punishments and harshness of bootcamp.

I started wondering what to do with these letters. I didn’t want to launch a full-on assault on Teen Missions International!

But then another thought occurred to me. Think of the kinds of teenagers who sign up to go on a missions trip. They’re giving up their entire summer holidays with their friends. They’re giving up the chance to make any money to save for college. They’re giving up family vacations. Why would they do that?

I know in my case the reason was quite simple: I loved Jesus, I felt so blessed to have the life I did, and I desperately wanted to go help those who lived in much more dire circumstances. I desperately wanted to do something that mattered, to be Jesus’ hands and feet. And pretty much everyone on my team felt the same way.

They had this seed, to use a biblical metaphor, of a desire to serve. And yet instead of watering that seed, it felt as if Teen Missions saw it as their job to crush it underfoot, because it was suspect. Teen Missions didn’t seem to trust us or believe our faith was genuine. Their teaching gave the impression that we were corrupt in some way, and so we needed to be refined in the fire. And I don’t believe that’s biblical.

Right now there are parents and teenagers wondering if they should go with Teen Missions, and I wanted these stories told, in case they ever Googled it to research the organization. And so I hope you will all forgive me, but I want these three stories to stand. I have no way of knowing if they’re representative of all teen missions teams, although given the feedback I got, it seems many people did question their methods. And these are personal stories; not everybody on the team will have interpreted it the same way or have had the same experience. Even on my team, I think there were some team members who quite enjoyed our team leaders. And because these are memories from some time ago, we may have some details wrong. But I want parents to have a chance to read these and decide for themselves.

Regular programming will resume tomorrow, but today I’ll share three people’s stories from Teen Missions International.

Teen Missions International: Three stories of spiritual abuse from missions trips

The first is my own–How I labelled rebellious on a missions trip

The second was sent in by a mom whose son was on a team about fifteen years ago. She writes:

We thought Teen Missions International was a great opportunity to get mobilized in missions at a young age.

However, he faced the same nonsensical “hardships” for hardship sake and legalistic authoritarianism (and was also labeled a trouble maker.) His leaders seemed insecure and needing to constantly express their authority. I could tell his letters were in “code” and he wasn’t happy. He received many extra “spiritual blessing” points, which meant extra work detail, which he didn’t mind because then he was “punished” by actually doing useful work (like building a walkway) instead of digging useless holes etc.

But he found the authoritarian structure overbearing and spiritually manipulative and abusive. He “escaped” through the swamp one night and called me from a payphone and then slipped back in to camp. He said later the leaders couldn’t figure out how they received a call from his family the next morning to please send him home immediately due to a family “emergency”…… They tried to talk me into leaving him, but I insisted he be taken to the airport where his flight was booked and waiting for him.

NOPE! Our boy was NOT leaving the country with that leadership! While a bit of a financial loss, it ended up being a great foundation block of trust built in our relationship. Our boy’s heart was so affirmed that his parents would trust and back his discernment. It was a cornerstone in his somewhat “rocky” teen years. He never doubted our love for him after that episode of backing him up and getting him out of a bad situation. So it ended up being a parenting win. However, like you, I have never ever ever again considered sending one our kids on a trip without fully vetting the leadership. So a parenting fail/win on Teen Missions.

(Yes it took a brave and bold “character” to “escape camp” in the middle of the night to get to a pay phone. And yes he would have survived the trip but I am glad he didn’t need to because it was exactly as abusive as you describe.) Although I know the experience varies some by the team leaderships. Even our son said that he he wouldn’t have minded some of the other team leaders. The work mindset and some of the theology was just plain stupid, but his personal trip leaders seemed insecure and definitely ready to punish any questioners. It did not represent the truth of Christ well, in my opinion. I am grateful he was able to discern between legalism and truth and walk away with his faith in Christ intact.

The third is a very detailed description of a Teen Missions International trip to Australia:

I begged my mom to go to Teen Missions International 20 years ago. I saw the advertisement in the Brio magazine. I really wanted to go serve the Lord.

She agreed I could go to Australia because she thought it was a safer country. I remember bootcamp being something that I had never experienced before and it was nothing like what I expected. I hated it. I would make up songs about how horrible it was and sing them to myself as we marched. I remember thinking there was was a clear lack of grace, empathy and love. I was floored that these leaders and staff were expecting me to be like Jesus but no one was acting like Him themselves. While I was there, I knew there was something wrong with the place, but I didn’t know why it was like that.

At Bootcamp, whenever a team or individual did not live up to their standards, they would get an ‘SB’ which stood for a ‘Special Blessing.’ This could be digging holes, cleaning sheds, moving wood and junk around,etc. I remember being furious that they would attach the word ‘blessing’ to a punishment that was so undeserved.

The main obstacle course had a time limit established to it. If a team did not finish within a certain time or made a mistake during the course (i.e. did not call out the numbers in appropriate order or not fast enough, or missed a step, etc.) that team would miss their free time and have to do a SB. It took us a bit of time to get the obstacle course done correctly, so we got a lot of SBs. Plus, we had a couple of people on our team that had great difficulty doing the course because of physical reasons which meant we could not finish the course in time. So we got SBs for that.

During the summer I went, it was during the time in Florida when they had a breakout of forest fires. They were close to us so we did everything in smoke. There was one point during the day that we had to make it from one part of the camp to another part of the camp that took us awhile to run to it. In the middle of our trek were the portapotties and water fill ups. If we stopped for them, we would be late for our destination. But if you gotta go pee, then you gotta go pee. And we needed the water to keep us hydrated with the higher than normal heat temperatures and smoke. So we stopped and we were late. So we got SB’s.

We got so many SBs that they said they were running out of things for us to do. I don’t remember having any free time during Bootcamp.

Another thing they did at Bootcamp was judge who had the dirtiest campground. If it was yours, you had to wear a sign around your neck that said, “I live like a pig”, take care of piglets and clean that bathrooms. We were always on the low end for this. I did everything possible to do what they wanted. I folded my sleeping bag the right way, put my  bag in the right place, cleaned up my garbage, and closed my tent the right way but we were always low. I still don’t know why. Apparently someone was doing something wrong. Our head leader was so embarrassed that he told us if we stayed low, we’d get an SB. And big surprise – we got an SB. We did get the pig signs only once though. We wore our signs and looked after the piglets. And then we were told to clean the bathrooms during our free time. I didn’t even know the place had bathrooms!!! Our leaders only ever took us to the portapotties. I thought other campers were not allowed to use them. That idea was squashed when other campers came in to use them while we were cleaning them. I was not impressed. Why we specifically weren’t allowed to use those washrooms I’ll never know.

I remember one time we were lining up at our campsite to go to breakfast. I had just put on pants from the clothesline and I felt sharp shooting pains. So I ran into the girl’s camping area and pulled down my pants. It was a wasp stinging me over and over again. I heard them yelling at me and knew that I could get into big trouble for this. A couple other girls came to see where I was and started helping me. The leader came, gave me a quick look over and rushed me back to line. I was thanking God I didn’t get an SB.

Near the end of the bootcamp, the preacher challenged everyone to give half of their spending money to one of their needs. I remember that I gave half of my spending money to whatever they needed it for because I had such a desire to help people. I remember calling my mom with the one phone call we had at the end of bootcamp and telling her that I did that. Her response was of shock and then to tell me that I shouldn’t be giving my money away because it was for me. I just thought she didn’t understand. Now looking back, I realized how absurd it was that we just paid thousands of dollars to go on this trip and then they asked for the little spending money that we had too.

[Sheila says: I remember the same sermon on how we should give up our spending money. I donated much of mine, too. They also wanted us to buy these leather bound NKJV study Bibles, which they sold for $60 each (and this was in 1986!). I bought one because we were told it was really the only way to read the Bible.]

During that bootcamp, I learned to cling to God. I learned about His love and rest. I appreciated God’s strength and grace so much more. I learned these things not because they were shown to me there, but rather because the place was void of them.

After camp was over, I learned that each night, one of our leaders would go sleep in an air conditioned place because the forest fires were so close. They had to be ready to warn us in a moment’s notice of evacuation. But they weren’t allowed to tell us that. They didn’t tell my parents either.

On the way to Australia, we had three layovers and it took over 24 hours to get there. They overpacked our carryon bags with canned food and were worried we’d get caught by the airline. So they told us to pack nothing else in them. So I had nothing to read or do on the plane and they wouldn’t let us watch the movies. One of the boys on my team laid his head on the arm rest (which was up). Our head leader was furious at him. He said it looked as though his head was on the girl’s shoulder beside him (even though it wasn’t). He got an SB.

While bootcamp was horrible, I had some really great experiences in Australia.

I think that had to do with a number of things. We were staying at a Christian conference grounds and the leaders of the conference grounds were very nice. They hosted events for us. For example, we had a Scottish dancing night (which our leaders didn’t want to have but the conference leaders sprung it on us a surprise). They took us on a kangaroo hunt (and didn’t tell our leaders so they super mad at us when we came back). The biggest thing: We weren’t supervised by our leaders 24:7. When we went to Australia, we were supposed to renovate their church building. The building was more like one big room. And they already had men working on it. So they only needed a handful of people to help. The rest of us had to do odd jobs.

I remember doing a lot of weeding. Other jobs included helping in the conference kitchen, painting, peeling paint off of buildings, raking, and packaging up the Christian newspaper they printed there. When I was in a work group with a leader in it, it was the same as usual – no talking, get to work, memorize scripture and do not stop working even if you need a break. I felt like we got scolded a lot.

When I was in a group without a leader it was wonderful.

We would get our work done, but we would talk and laugh and have fun doing it. And when we had one of the conference workers with us, it was also fun because they would talk to us and give us breaks. I would try my hardest to avoid certain jobs that had a leader because I knew it would be stressful. I even chose the least wanted job –weeding–because it was very rarely supervised. The whole atmosphere would change with the leaders not being around.

When we were in Australia, we finally stopped getting so many SBs, though we did get occasional ones even though our team tried sooooo hard. Our SB was to pick up garbage on the side of the road. At first it didn’t sound like the greatest thing, but I quickly realized it was a good thing. We formed groups of 2. They took us in the bus and dropped us off on the side of the road, by ourselves, with a great distance between each of us (I couldn’t see the people in front or behind me). We just walked down the road picking up garbage in the the ditch. It was quiet. My back hurt, but we were alone. (Which in hindsight doesn’t seem very safe. We didn’t have cell phones and we were in a foreign country in the middle of nowhere). Eventually the bus went down the road again and picked us all up again.

One of the rules was that we had to say our memory verses to a leader before we could eat dinner. I was horrible at memorizing verses.

One night I just couldn’t get it right. I was outside with my leader, a super tall Texas man. And he couldn’t go eat either until I said them. I do believe I made this man crack because he told me not to tell anyone and let me go in without saying the verses correctly. (Although I think he really just wanted to go eat himself) Our head leader was going off on how important it was that those verses be memorized before dinner. I remember sitting there praying that I wouldn’t get myself and the other leader in trouble for eating before I said my verses. After I ate, I said the verses to my leader after only two tries. I praised the Lord and thought, “How does starving people help them remember verses?”

God was with me, encouraging me in that trip. What really helped a lot were my friends. They gave me a lot of good memories and I missed them so much when I left. Also, a lot of people from home wrote to me. My grandpa wrote me everyday. I knew that I would go home to people who loved me and showed God’s love. And I would never go back to Teen Missions International. So while I don’t enjoy thinking about bootcamp, I really did have some great experiences with my teammates in Australia and with the people there. And I really do think God used your article to show me that I have some healing to do about this experience.

What I find interesting about legalism is how ingrained it is in people, so much so that they aren’t aware it’s there. I see it in my family and my friends. I see it in some of the comments under your articles (and I love the comments that support you). God has opened my eyes to how much legalism is not from Him and how it keeps us from truly knowing God. And this is why I love reading your articles, because they keep showing me what a non legalistic faith looks like amongst a lot of legalism.

I want to let the stories stand on their own, except for three observations.

First, we had six leaders on our team. Three were full-time Teen Missions International Missionaries; three were adults who just volunteered that summer. I loved the volunteers. I think they were teachers. They were there because they loved teens and they wanted to encourage us. The three that were on permanent staff were the ones who felt compelled to crush and criticize. It sounds like this was the thread throughout our experiences. It was those who were with Teen Missions permanently who tended to be the problem. And that makes me worry about the organizational structure and mindset.

UPDATE: And I worry even more now that I have learned that my team leader from the Philippines 1986 team that I have talked about so much has now been made Director of Teen Missions overall. 

Second, the fact that they would call punishments “special blessings” is emblematic of everything that is wrong. God does not enjoy crushing us. God does not punish us harshly for no reason. God does not take pleasure in our misery. God made everything for our enjoyment! (1 Timothy 6:17).

Third, as a teen I was exposed to other Christian organizations–Pioneer Camp with IVCF; Capernwray Bible colleges; Operation Mobilization missions trips. I never experienced ANYTHING like I did with Teen Missions. While I often chafed at rules at other organizations, too, I felt the Spirit of God there and I felt like their focus was on growing my faith and using my gifts, not on crushing me. This truly was a unique experience.

I fully support missions teams in general. We are going on our fourth missions trip as a family this summer. I believe in missions, especially for teenagers, because I think seeing what God is doing in the world and seeing real poverty can be life changing. It will change how  you think about what you should do with your life, and it will change how you see money.

I just don’t believe in Teen Missions International.

I don’t want to write another post about this, so here’s what I’m going to do. If you have a story you want to share, please leave it in the comments. If they are long ones, I may amend this post and post them here, too. This can be an “ongoing” post, if it were.

Our teens are precious. Teenagers can have the Holy Spirit in them just as much as adults can. Let’s nurture and encourage their faith, rather than crush it.

UPDATE: Others have shared stories on Facebook, and in the comments section, and I’ll include them here as well.

Forced to lie alone in a dark room, humiliated in front of others:

“being yelled at/humiliated in front of other team members because I asked a question about information given (told to open up my thick skull and pay attention in front of everyone), being told to “suck it up, and stop listening to the devil” when I opened up about my depression/anxiety, being forced to lay in a dark room for 24hrs (alone, and on the ground. They refused to let me stay in my room) because they thought I was faking being sick, being told that I wasn’t as good as the other team members, compared to one of the leaders daughters more than once.”

Read the rest here, including questionable teaching a Boot camp.


from Facebook, 2016 trip

Bullied by others:

I was mistreated by not only members of my team, but also my leaders. They allow bullying to happen and then will punish someone for defending the victim. Someone finally defended me after a month of bullying from a girl. Guess what happened? The person who defended me got PUNISHED. … This experience turned me someone who was excited about missions to someone who felt anxious about it. They are more about law than they are mercy.

Read the rest here


from Facebook, 2012 trip

Broken bones at Bootcamp and medical instructions not followed:

After Lydia broke her arm when the climbing wall at Bootcamp collapsed, she was given a cast and a prescription for pain killers. That prescription was not filled, and she was given someone else’s medication–but even that only after her mother complained that she hadn’t been given pain killers. It’s a long story, and rather horrific.

“During the meeting with Mr. Bland my wife explained her concerns regarding the treatment of our daughter, the illegal handling of Schedule II narcotics by the camp nurse, and the lack of respect she herself had been shown by camp staff as she attempted to resolve these issues. My wife feels that Mr. Bland was defensive and demeaning to her, and even accused her of “seeking her own glory.” There was no admission of responsibility for either the accident or the ensuing events described here. There was no humility, nor any attempt to reconcile or provide restitution for our daughter’s care.”

Read the rest here


from Facebook, 2014 trip

11-year-old denied water to teach responsibility

“Three things I was upset about in her description: she said her was water was withheld for 12 hours (in Florida summertime!) because she lost her water bottle. This was admitted to “teach responsibilty”. She was taken to hospital for injury to eye and parents were not told until she picked up child and medicine was handed to mom. Child withheld from calling parents to tell them. Child says she fell in dirty water and was not allowed to bathe until end of the after noon and subsequently developed a rash. She says she was excersized for one hour before being given food. This was an 11 year old.”

Read the rest here

11-year-old member

from Facebook

Daughter almost died of malaria after leaders withheld her malaria medication

“My daughter went to Uganda with teen missions and almost died from contracting malaria. The staff were careless and we almost lost our daughter.”

(From a comment further down): “If TMI promised me they would give her the medication when in-country, and we paid for it, they should have followed through. They didn’t. We almost lost a child due to their negligence.”

Read the rest here


from Facebook, father of a daughter on a Uganda trip

Granddaughter has started humming to deal with post-TMI trauma

“My 11yr old granddaughter just returned from a pre teen mission to Ecuador she hated book camp and said she cried 5 times a day. They limited phone and internet communications She returned covered in bug bites and had a bad case of head lice. Even worse is a constant humming that she does now, like a security thing. She is suffering from a traumatic experience…

She was a ‘happy-go-lucky young girl, somewhat sheltered here at home, and did very well in school; never caused any problems at home either, Now she is so withdrawn!”

A comment on my Facebook review.


Facebook commenter, Grandma to an 11-year-old

Was told my sexual abuse was my fault because I wasn’t submissive

 It took me YEARS to get over some of the nonsense that was drilled into my head that summer.

Highlights for me included:
– having our male leader scream “drive the body, drive the body” over and over again during the torturous boot camp sessions and then later during our dusk ’til dawn construction work all summer. Oh. And he also told me if I had enough faith I could overcome my asthma. I failed.
– the “grubby to grace” daily brainwashing session where us girls were told how submissive and quiet we needed to be to please God and how only by losing ourselves entirely we could be acceptable.
– sleeping on a concrete floor squashed sardine-like between 9 other girls. 3 of us sharing one blanket
-“bathing” with a bucket of cold water once per week where all the girls had to stand naked together in another concrete room ending in a 3 second rinse with the cold water shower. When I got home my mother cried at how dirty I was.
– eating rice with visible bugs in it daily. Part of the chores for the girls was trying to sift the bugs out of the dry rice before cooking it.
– doing construction work so far above my 14 year old capabilities that I came home with permanent back problems.
– and yes, regularly having my questions squashed with the “you just need more faith” line.

And the biggest thing? Telling a female leader about the sexual abuse I was experiencing from an abusive boyfriend back home and being assured it was all my fault and that I just needed to be more modest/submissive/better.

As you said there was a lot of good stuff that summer too – good friends, seeing a tiny bit of the world, having my world expanded. But overall I think it could have been done without the psychological and physical trauma.

From a comment on the original Teen Missions post.

Tara R.

1991 Nepal trip

Grandson shamed for enuresis

Our grandson Jack, went that year as well to Malawi in June of 2014. It was a time he still has trouble talking about. He had an issue with enuresis (nocturnal bedwetting). A older man, at least 60, embarrassed him, made fun of him for “wetting” the bed in front of the other kids in the group. I guess he thought this leader would toughen our grandson up this way. Often he said he slept with little or no bedding because his would be wet.

He said during boot camp he would plan how he could escape to go home.

He was 11 at the time.

It makes me so sad that this behavior on the part of a mature leader could be so heartless and graceless!

Read the rest in the comments section of this post.


Commenter, grandmother of an 11-year-old who went to Malawi

Oppression and Legalistic rules

“Nobody has ever accused my daughter of being the terrible person they described. She is loved at church, at work, and in daily life. That same year, a mom to one of her teammates tried to send a certified letter to her daughter. The office demanded that she give them a copy of the letter anticipating it was something they could use against my daughter. When the girl refused, they made her run laps around the lake. The only person on that team that returned another year was the one whose parents are on the board. My daughter is still great friends with the others on that team, and they all agreed that there is a complete lack of love and compassion, and that the oppressive rules are a hindrance to the actual ministry. Many moved on to other ministries.”

Read the rest in the comments section of this post.


Commenter, mom to a 2015/2016 team member

Shamed for “leaking” during my period

“It was mortiying that as a 16 yr old girl, who had the audacity to have an unexpected menstrual cycle during boot camp (I always believed from the conditions there) to be forbidden to shower even though there was obvious “flow” on my clothes. SMH. . .it was awful.”


Commenter, 1980s team member

Worst experience of my life

“I went on a trip in 2016 and I can tell you for a fact that nothing has changed. It was the worst experience of my life. When wanting to go home, I was told that I was “not being a good Christian”

They broke my sprit and created a big hole in my heart that is still healing to this day.”


Commenter, 2016 Participant

Team members were put in unhealthy/unsafe situations

“Yes, I can attest to the lack of medical care or urgency. While at boot camp, our team bathed in run off rain water or was told to get water from the lake which had the alligator—I wish I were joking.

Like any rational adult, I voiced my concerns & was blown off. Kids were getting staph infections galore. We had no clean water. I encouraged my team to wash in the torrential downpours which are nearly daily in FL. Had it not been for the fierce desire to protect my team, I would have left boot camp.”

Read the rest in the comments section of this post, including unsafe situations in the country

TMI Needs Help

Recent Volunteer, from the comments below

I still have nightmares

“My grandparents were the leaders and I was too young to be there. But I was an exception. I was terrified the whole time. I still have nightmares about the place. And I spent a lot of my childhood there at TMI in Florida.”

Read the rest in the comments section of this post.


Commenter, Attended children's camp

Went into shock at bootcamp

“I basically went into shock at Bootcamp. I’m just not an athletic person and the obstacle course made that very obvious. I fell every single time on this one obstacle “the slough of despondency.” That meant I wore wet boots and socks for 2 weeks. Unsurprisingly I developed “jungle rot.” I was pretty scared of my leaders. “

Read the rest in the comments section of this post.


Commenter, 2002 participant

Legalism to the extreme

“I was a leader one summer at Teen Missions. After experiencing what I did that summer, I would never send my children there or recommend it to anyone else. There is no love or grace. It is very strict discipline & legalism to an extreme. As a mom of teenagers, I was stunned.”

Read the rest in the comments section of this post.

TMI Needs Change

Commenter, led in the last 10 years

Abusive leader; ignored medical issues; called them evil

“It was a nightmare spiritually and personally. Our leaders didn’t trust us from the beginning and treated us accordingly. I got so many special blessings that I couldn’t count. Usually for taking up for someone. When we got to Australia it got worse. We found out the leaders’ child had some issues going on. We were told he didn’t tell us and he didn’t want our prayers because we were bad/evil. I spent most of my time restricted to camp when other were gone and writing verses. Generally I would try to draw his attention when he went after one of the younger, more timid kids. I seriously hurt my knee and he refused to allow me to go to the doctor (it became a lifetime issue). Even the Australians noticed something was up. “

Read the rest in the comments section below, including how TMI refused to take her to the airport to get her home


Commenter, 1980 participant

I’m still in recovery, 30 years later

“The God of TMI is not a loving God. To say it was horrendous would be an understatement. I also experienced the legalistic practices of TMI. There were a few incidents (safety issues) on the trip where parents should have been notified. My situation might have been different because I was sick for much of the trip, quarantined from the group….told that I was sick because I was not praying hard enough, that God was humbling me because I was too pretty. My parents received my letters about my sickness–they tried to contact me but were unable and had to wait until I got to Florida for an update. My doctor told me a few years ago that I could have died–that is certainly how I felt at the time….and I was ready to die for God. I was 17 years old. What they did is truly criminal.”

Read the rest in the comments section of this post.


Commenter, 1980s participant

TMI targets people to criticize and try to destroy

“Ultimately, TMI saw something in me that they thought was wrong and they sought to destroy me for instead of walking through it with me, even after I left. Unless something changes soon and a candid public apology given with an admission of wrongdoing to the hundreds/thousands of children TMI has hurt over the years (though I don’t believe it will happen), do not go there!! It’s not worth the risk. Yes, some are lucky and have great experiences, but TMI is no respecter of persons and will target you no matter how well you may do.”

Sheila notes: His team leader was the same as mine was in 1986. And that man is now the director of the organization. Things have not changed.

Read the rest in the comments section of this post.


Commenter, Recent trip

I have many other stories, but many don’t want to put them on record in a public forum. And I would say that more than half of them are from former leaders who talk about the “culture of fear”. If you put a negative review of TMI on Facebook, for instance, apparently many TMI people will start trolling your Facebook page and cyberbullying you. They haven’t done this to me, likely because they realize I have a large platform, but they are doing it to vulnerable teens. I have known some that have received legal threats to stop talking publicly.

I hope these people will go on the record. If you have a story to tell, please leave it in the comments section, or you can use my contact page, above. I think these stories need to be told.

Again, I have no doubt that many have positive experiences with TMI. I think when you grow up in an authoritarian/legalistic church, it is what you expect, and it can be fine. But when you grow up in a healthy environment, this extreme legalism is jarring and traumatic.

I am all for missions trips. We have done so many. Most of the people leaving negative reviews have ALSO done other missions trips. The problem is not missions trips; the problem is legalism and this determination TMI has to treat young people as if they are rebellious and terrible sinners. It needs to stop, for the sake of the spirits of those precious teens that parents are entrusting to the organization.

Written by

Sheila Wray Gregoire


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Sheila Wray Gregoire

Author at Bare Marriage

Sheila is determined to help Christians find biblical, healthy, evidence-based help for their marriages. And in doing so, she's turning the evangelical world on its head, challenging many of the toxic teachings, especially in her newest book The Great Sex Rescue. She’s an award-winning author of 8 books and a sought-after speaker. With her humorous, no-nonsense approach, Sheila works with her husband Keith and daughter Rebecca to create podcasts and courses to help couples find true intimacy. Plus she knits. All the time. ENTJ, straight 8

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  1. sheep

    Hi Sheila, Thank you for bringing these stories to light. I’m curious if you have heard from people saying that things are still the same with Teen Mission? I’m just asking out of curiosity. I know nothing about Teen Mission, in fact I had never heard of them until now. I am personally very involved in missions and I know that there are quite a few missions that have really changed directions as new leadership has taken over since the “dark age of legalism” of the 70’s, 80’s, and 90’s.

    • Sheila Gregoire

      On their website and their wiki articles they still talk about SBs and punishments, saying that it’s set up that way to train people to deal with hardship.

      I know Bob Bland and Gayle Will who founded the organization are still there, so I don’t know if much has changed. If anyone sends me more recent stories I’ll post them–but I would suggest that parents interested really look into what boot camp is like and what SBs are and whether this is still ongoing.

      • Liana

        I went to Malawi with Teen Missions in 2014, and Special Blessing were still important and a crucial aspect of the teaching.

        • Sheila Wray Gregoire

          That’s too bad, Liana. Thanks for letting us know with an update.

        • Peggy Gautraud

          I am replying to the person who when to Malawi in 2014. Our grandson Jack, went that year as well to Malawi in June of 2014. It was a time he still has trouble talking about. He had an issue with enuresis (nocturnal bedwetting). A older man, at least 60, embarrassed him, made fun of him for “wetting” the bed in front of the other kids in the group. I guess he thought this leader would toughen our grandson up this way. Often he said he slept with little or no bedding because his would be wet.
          He said during boot camp he would plan how he could escape to go home.
          He was 11 at the time.
          It makes me so sad that this behavior on the part of a mature leader could be so heartless and graceless!

      • Ione

        Bob Bland has not been for a few years.As of now he is in hospice.

    • Sharpie

      My daughter went in 2015 and 2016 (I went in 1988). Neither year was a positive experience except that she happened to meet the man who is now her fiance. He is from the country she went to, and their relationship developed after she had already started paying for the second trip. Her second trip was to a different base than where he was, so they weren’t together the 2nd trip, and there are no rules stating that the kids can’t be in relationships. Her entire team knew about the relationship, including the leaders. It was no secret. At the end of the summer, the office learned about it and kicked her fiance off that base without notice or explanation. He literally had to live in the streets for 2 weeks before finding a place to stay, and when I asked them about it, all they said was that my daughter is a liar. Nobody has ever accused my daughter of being the terrible person they described. She is loved at church, at work, and in daily life. That same year, a mom to one of her teammates tried to send a certified letter to her daughter. The office demanded that she give them a copy of the letter anticipating it was something they could use against my daughter. When the girl refused, they made her run laps around the lake. The only person on that team that returned another year was the one whose parents are on the board. My daughter is still great friends with the others on that team, and they all agreed that there is a complete lack of love and compassion, and that the oppressive rules are a hindrance to the actual ministry. Many moved on to other ministries.

    • Petula

      I too went to TMI in the 80s. I don’t want to bash the experience, bcz my in country experience was a positive one.
      However as a young perons, it was mortiying that as a 16 yr old girl, who had the audacity to have an unexpected menstrual cycle during boot camp (I always believed from the conditions there) to be forbidden to shower even though there was obvious “flow” on my clothes. SMH. . .it was awful.

    • James

      I went on a trip in 2016 and I can tell you for a fact that nothing has changed. It was the worst experience of my life. When wanting to go home, I was told that I was “not being a good Christian”
      They broke my sprit and created a big hole in my heart that is still healing to this day.

      • Sheila Wray Gregoire

        I’m sorry, James. I hope you can find a good church that shows you what Jesus’ love is really about. Not all Christians are like this–they really aren’t. Just don’t let the anger eat at you.

      • Myra

        I am so sorry to hear of this. When I asked to leave I was belittled/denied. I was told I was not being a good Christian as well.
        You are not alone in this healing process. It’s been nearly 5 years and I am still healing.

    • Myra

      My experience of neglect and emotional/spiritual abuse was in 2016. There are more recent stories, and I personally know of a similar story in 2018. Sadly this is still going on

  2. Melissa

    WOW, these stories are shocking to me! It saddens me greatly that teens are treated this way. To have saved up to go on a mission and have paid to have this sort of treatment inflicted upon them, how terrible. Thank you for bringing this to light so parents (or grandparents) can be educated about this unbiblical behavior that is occurring with this group.

  3. Rachel

    I am in Australia and my brother went on a TMI trip just over a year ago. It all sounded very similar with Special Blessings and doing pointless training such as digging holes for no reason.
    I am going to ask my Mum if I can read the letters he posted her during his time with TMI. I had a bit of an uneasy feeling about the strictness of it all, but as I wasn’t there I pushed it aside. I remember my brother writing about how homesick he was and begging any of us to come to his commissioning service (I was able to go because his boot camp wasn’t far from my city) and we were all shocked at how desperately he was begging us to come and how homesick he was saying he was.
    As time goes on I’m going to get a bit more info from him and find out how it really was in hindsight.

    • Sheila Gregoire

      That’s a good idea, Rachel. He may need to just process it all, and having someone to talk to without judgment can help. TMI teaches you that you should be grateful for the way they treat you, because it brings you closer to who God wants you to be. So it can really warp your view of God. I think if he was able to talk about it that may help.

      • Lydia purple

        I read around their website and Facebook reviews a little bit, and what struck me is that there are very few negative reviews, but there were some by parents or friends who shared the story. And it makes sense, if you get punished for questioning or disagreement, why would you speak up? You don‘t have a voice during the camp, and if it was traumatic or sbusive you won‘t go out and share it in a review right after. The system of no phone calls or access to technology and reading of the letters, and limited visits under strictly controlled conditions ensures that teens can‘t get help, it is a dangerous system that protects those in power without leaving the participants or parents with any opportunity to get help.

        One thing besides the spiritual abuse… there were several reviews of kids who needed medical care and didn‘t receive proper care, even though it was available. This is outrageous! What is the point of that?

        • Sheila Gregoire

          The sickest I’ve ever been was in the Philippines. I had dysentery horribly. I really think, in retrospect, I likely should have been on an IV. Of course, hospitals there may not have been the best places to go, either, so I’m not positive taking me in would have been a good idea. But I’m sure there would be private care that we could have had?

        • Sheila Gregoire

          I took a cue from you and just went and left a review on Facebook with a link to both of the articles! I just want parents to see it. It is sad that so few speak up. I know we’re not the only ones; I got other emails and FB messages from people saying that their experience was similar to mine. I think people just want to put it behind them. The woman who shared about her experience in Australia had honestly tried not to think about it for 20 years. She told me in an email that she had never shared the negative stuff with her parents because she didn’t want to be gossipping. But she realized after reading my account that she needed to talk about it and she still had some healing to do.

        • TMI needs help

          Former team leader from less than 10 years ago—-Yes, I can attest to the lack of medical care or urgency. While at boot camp, our team bathed in run off rain water or was told to get water from the lake which had the alligator—I wish I were joking.
          Like any rational adult, I voiced my concerns & was blown off. Kids were getting staph infections galore. We had no clean water. I encouraged my team to wash in the torrential downpours which are nearly daily in FL. Had it not been for the fierce desire to protect my team, I would have left boot camp. When we returned home after the summer, I voiced many concerns & was shut down. I remember by the time we hit debrief I was told I had to write & sign an apology letter from breaking policy. I laughed. They had abandoned us in a foreign country—yes, but if I said anymore I could be identified. I refused, and when I put my last team member on their plane, I knew I would never again see TMI.
          It was very a cultish environment where staff accused me of being divisive for raising questions about the amount of money the foreign missionaries were receiving. I still talk to our missionary friends. TMI treats them very poorly.
          The thing that just is crazy is that I’m a rule follower. I don’t complain or buck the system, but it was a shock to see the verbal & spiritual abuse. I refused to take part in it. I just couldn’t see how nitpicking these teens who had come to serve the Lord was Biblical. Our church takes foreign mission trips that are vastly different from my experience that summer. The students are loved, protected, and come back with their hearts encouraged by the mission field.

          • Sheila Wray Gregoire

            Thank you for sharing. I really appreciate that. This is what I am hearing, too. I think that many of the people who think TMI is healthy are those who are not in healthy church situations or family situations themselves, and so they think this is normal. It’s not. And it’s certainly not safe. I hope that parents read this and have second thoughts.

  4. sheep

    Sorry, I just don’t get it. What in the world are they thinking? Yes, hardship and trials can bring about spiritual maturity and a much closer relationship with Christ. (they certainly have in my own life) They do separate the “wheat from the chaff”. But these trials and hardships should not be purposefully brought on us by people that are putting themselves into the role of the Holy Spirit. It doesn’t sound to me like there is any love, grace, or mercy involved here at all. It sounds a lot like purposeful cruelty, And for what reason?

    I am a full time missionary and I have been around the world, seen, lived, and worked in many different conditions. I don’t see that the things described here contribute in any way to being able to deal with hardships on the field. If you wanted to get people used to field difficulties, you might have them in a tent, or more likely a house without AC. They can work hard, but have fun doing so. One of the biggest things would be to get them used to unusual food. By all means, dig holes but only if the work that needs to be done requires digging holes. People can work hard and enjoy it at the same time.

    My question is what is this behavior and attitude teaching those that they are going to minister to? I certainly wouldn’t want any part of the God that they say they serve. A God that wants them to abuse people and call it a special blessing. Yuck

    • Sheila Gregoire

      It is seriously YUCK! Really scary. I know so many people love Teen Missions. You see it on the web and on their Facebook page. But it makes me wonder what their view of God is? I think if you grow up in a legalistic home with a view of a very strict, afar God, it would make sense that you would enjoy Teen Missions. You wouldn’t know any differently. But people who truly know Jesus, I think, have a very difficult time living with that kind of legalism and abuse.

      Here’s something else: I’ve been on lots of other teams, and I’ve endured lots of things in the Third World. But I didn’t need to be “prepared” for them, so to speak. We just needed to be encouraged that in Christ, we would get through this, and that when difficulties came, you just had to persevere. Talking about that and praying about that is far more effective than petty obstacle courses and punishments. Just build each other up! Pray.

      • Stephanie

        I did not grow up in a legalistic environment and I loved/love Teen Missions. I think some of what you are saying borders on an “us vs. them” mentality and that is judgemental and not right at all. I’m disappointed that you had awful leaders and I feel so sorry for your experience! I had my own scarring incident at Teen Missions but after four amazing summers, and one bad summer, I do encourage my kids to go (and other kids as well). I also went with Teen Mania and my local church youth group – nothing compares to TMI. My kids come alive at TMI for so many reasons and I’m so glad that they’ve had the opportunity to do so. Yes, the legalism is stupid and can be abusive but the organization’s leadership that has taken over at TMI is diligently fighting to fix/change this. As a parent who has experienced the best and worst at TMI, I am hyper vigilant about my kid’s leaders and their destinations. No where but Third World countries (this is more about the quality of team mates) and no “Napolean syndrome” leaders. If you are an involved parent, you can take care of all of the issues mentioned in your blog before the summer even starts or by volunteering during Boot Camp. I would recommend this instead of trying to turn people off completely…you never know when working against God might look like trying to “help” someone or “exposing” a truth.

        • Sheila Wray Gregoire

          Hi Stephanie,

          I’m glad you’ve had some good experiences at TMI, but I don’t see how parents can get to know the leaders. We were in Canada; TMI is in Florida. My mother never met the leaders; most parents don’t. There’s no way to. And TMI doesn’t like it when family members participate in the same teams.

          I also think that an organization that advertises itself the way that TMI does with regards to what it teaches the little kids is very jarring (the Bible study topics treat small children like they are bad problems that need to be fixed).

          Personally, I think that parents simply MUST know leaders before they send their kids anywhere, and TMI makes it virtually impossible for anyone who does not live in Florida or who does not have the summer off to do this. For this reason, I recommend that parents send kids on missions trips through their churches or through other local churches, or go themselves. My leaders are still with TMI; the leaders of the other team members whose stories are told are still with TMI too. I’m glad you had four good summers, but if you did have one bad one, then that’s pretty bad. I mean, why settle for a 20% scarring incident when there are other opportunities? That’s just what I’m saying. Abuse is real, and when parents have no way of knowing leaders, it’s best to stay clear!

  5. Jamie

    I work with a ministry called Time to Revive ( and I work with the children’s ministry. I see children activated to live out their faith and share the gospel because we tell them (and show them) that we believe children (and teens) can do ANYTHING an adult can do when it comes to following Jesus. When that’s the message being given, and you can see the sincerity of it, then they believe it too, and start living it. Thanks for sharing about this and other “controversial” things that help us rethink how we view things!

    • Sheila Gregoire

      I love that, Jamie! And it’s scriptural, too. “Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith and in purity.” 1 Timothy 4:12.

      Young people can have such a fire for God. Honestly, young people have a lot more compassion often than adults. Why don’t we honour that, rather than try to tear it down?

  6. Cara

    This was post was an interesting read. I remember seeing the ads for this program in Brio and begging my parents to let me go – to no avail. Now I’m glad!

    I just wanted to make readers aware that this program also offers camps to 7-9 year olds, called Peanut Kids Camp! According to the website, the kids are there, without parents, and their days are full from 6am-8pm. They have one fun activity per day. The “Scripture” lessons are one “Neatness and Order, Talking Back, Authority, Stealing and Lying.” That is direct from their website. Yikes! During the evening rallies “Miss Piggy gives cleanliness awards and the Obstacle Course results are announced.” I noticed that in one of the website pictures, there are girls with laminated signs hanging from their necks and it looks like the signs say “I live like a piglet!”, while they’re building something in the woods.

    My fear is that these super young children are being sent to a relatively secluded location and are not allowed phone contact with parents. This situation is bad enough for teens, but 7-9 year olds?!

    • Sheila Gregoire

      I know! It is so scary. They have pre-teen missions teams, too. Taking kids away from parents seems to be a “thing” for them.

      I believe a lot of the Peanut Kids Camps are attended by the children of the team leaders. So the kids are immersed in this culture too, and then they grow up and everyone thinks it’s normal.

      • Tryphaena Halverson

        I was actually one of the very first peanuts! My grandparents were the leaders and I was to young to be there. But I was an exception. I was terrified the whole time. I still have nightmares about the place. And I spent a lot of my childhood there at TMI in Florida. My grandparents were amazing missionaries and did amazing things. But I am glad God led them elsewhere in life. Please do not base some bad people actions on all team leaders. Jo Ann and Bruce Halverson were there 20+ years and helped so many teens and young adults in life. I mean I know my grandpa was kinda strict, but then my grandma would be right beside him hugging the person that was getting scolded. I know he was strict cause he worried about everyone’s safety. And he just wanted everyone to get along and have fun. To continue, I would honestly never let my kids go there alone now that my grands are not there. The same time I was there, another team drowned a bunch of baby armadillos, and I could hear their screams! Then others tried to escape into my tent which was very scary! I was only 6 1/2!! Yes I was too young! But I was serving the lord with my older sister! I just can’t believe what has gone on and changed at this place since my grands left! I see now why God led them away from there.

        • Sheila Gregoire

          Thanks for that story! I would have had nightmares, too. 6 1/2 really is too young.

          Do you know WHY your grandparents left? Like what prompted it? I’ve been hearing things from other people about how the organization has changed, and I’m just wondering if that was the reason for your grandparents, too.

          • Tryphaena Halverson

            All my grandparents ever tell me is God told them to go elsewhere. I know some of it was the change. And looking back it was more of a compound than a camp. Like I said nightmares. They came here to Texas for a while then went back to retire in Orlando. My grandfather is still working with the organization that was here in Texas. They never say anything hurtful or bad about anywhere they have worked. Although I do see more now as an adult that they are conservative in their views and that possibly led them away from TMI. Cause I also know that there were a LOT of people from many other countries on that property that were not allowed to leave. When I would talk to this gentleman from Zimbabwe, he would always tell me he was going to school there. But there was not a college on the property.. that I ever saw. And he was not allowed to leave. I think the last time I was there I was 12 years old. I would even invite him to our church, and he would tell me he just went to the church there.

          • Sheila Wray Gregoire

            Wow. This sentence is really scary: “Cause I also know that there were a LOT of people from many other countries on that property that were not allowed to leave.”

            Really? Like they bring in people from other countries, but they don’t have the right U.S. documentation, so they’re stuck there? That is really scary. I hope that some larger Christian body looks into this.

    • Sheila Gregoire

      Another thing–notice how the Scripture lessons have nothing to say about Jesus? Notice how it’s all about scolding children, assuming that they are bad? I know that’s the point you were making, but that’s how I experienced the devotions as a teenager, too. The whole “The Way Up is Down” was all about stopping us from complaining and telling us that we were inherently selfish and God needed to punish us. It was all about telling us that there was something inherently wrong with us.

      It wasn’t calling us to something higher. It wasn’t inspirational. It wasn’t encouraging. It was just one long scold, all summer. I really got the impression that they didn’t like teenagers very much, and were trying to change all of us. It looks like they have the same attitude for small children, too!

  7. Anita

    Wow…I remember seeing the ads in Brio magazine and begging my mom to go. She said she really got the sense that a Bootcamp was unnecessary and she didn’t want me to hate the whole experience. I was so mad that she wouldn’t let me go…now it sounds like I need to thank her!
    I had a friend who went to Africa a couple of times with TMI and told the same story about having to give up her spending money, not having anything to do on the flights and hating Bootcamp. But overall, she loved being in Africa. Hopefully, God redeemed a good number of people’s experiences like He seemed to redeem my friend’s.

    • Sheila Gregoire

      Yes, I’m sure God does! I think there is a difference between the leaders who actually are sold out to the bootcamp philosophy, where kids need to be crushed and almost humiliated, and leaders who are there simply because they love teens and love God and want to serve. I’m just not sure what group is bigger! (And definitely thank your mom!)

  8. Ronni Peck

    Wow, I was on your blog for something different and stumbled onto this. I went on a TMI trip in 1998 (Brazil Clown), but I actually had a GREAT experience. Maybe I was lucky to have a good group of leaders? I was only able to go on one TMI trip and even though I’m not really much of a Christian anymore, I still felt like my TMI trip was a really good experience for me and really taught me about myself and what I was capable of accomplishing. I still feel like a better person for having gone and that was 20 years ago.

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      I’m glad you had a great experience, Ronni! And like I said–I think my friend did, too. But many have not, and I hope that TMI cleans up its act.

    • Lane

      Hey Ronni, wondering if your leader was Dave Cochrane…

  9. Emily

    I went in 2002 as a 16 year old. I basically went into shock at Bootcamp. I’m just not an athletic person and the obstacle course made that very obvious. I fell every single time on this one obstacle “the slough of despondency.” That meant I wore wet boots and socks for 2 weeks. Unsurprisingly I developed “jungle rot.” I was pretty scared of my leaders. To be fair, they were very nice sometimes but I ended up getting in trouble for things like not saying my number fast enough. Once I got an SB for looking at my schedule during devotions. I was just so anxious because bootcamp seemed so scary to me. I was mortified too as a typical rule follower and people pleaser to be punished so much there. Once some of my cheerios spilled in the mud on the pathway to where we went to wash the dishes. We couldn’t leave litter so I put them on the tray to get thrown away. The people in charge of the dish line said I either had to eat them or get a leader to confirm they really were “accidentally” dropped. I was so scared of getting in trouble I just ate the mud covered cheerios. That’s a memory I can laugh at now because it is so ridiculous. I had amazing team members who encouraged me and truly helped me get through the hard bits. And most importantly God was so good to me that summer. He comforted my heart and once led me to a scripture about “not being put to shame.” He counteracted the shame I felt with His redemptive and kind love. Over and over God would comfort me in my homesickness and fears. Overall, I’m very thankful for the good memories I do have of that summer but like you would caution anyone interested in TM that the authority there is scary and not representing of the loving God we have.

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Thanks for sharing your story, Emily. I’m glad you had some good leaders! I wasn’t very athletic, either, and it was a huge shock to me. And that’s terrible about wet boots! As a parent and an adult now, I can’t imagine anyone letting my child wear wet boots for that long. It’s awful.

  10. TMI needs changes

    I was a leader one summer at Teen Missions. After experiencing what I did that summer, I would never send my children there or recommend it to anyone else. There is no love or grace. It is very strict discipline & legalism to an extreme. As a mom of teenagers, I was stunned.
    And for those wondering, I’m an extremely conservative person, and strong believer who is church staff at a Bible believing church.
    For fear of being identified, I’ll say my experience was less than 10 years ago. I saw our teens placed in many dangerous situations. I witnessed many unsanitary conditions that were worse than the 3rd world country we traveled to. The higher ups treated us like garbage—like we were hired help. We were adults with families who were volunteering our summer. By the end of the summer, I was done with TMI. We were basically abandoned & left to figure things out, again, I wish I could give more details, but I can’t. We ran out of money, and as soon as we hit the US, I used my credit card to buy our entire team food. I tried sponsoring our missionaries, but TMI wasn’t given them our full portion. Essentially, they were capping the amount. (This is fact) The missionaries in the poorer countries are given scraps. This organization is a mess. It’s a blessing Bland stepped down. Kostner should be next.

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Thank you for sharing. I wasn’t aware of that issue with the foreign missionaries, either. I also know that one of my team leaders ended up buying things for us, too, that TMI should have provided.

  11. Karen

    Sorry this is long. I went on teams in 1979 (Nigeria) and 1980 (Australia). The team I went on to Nigeria was a wonderful team and a time of wonderful growth personally and spiritually. Our leaders treated us with respect and we functioned a team in a difficult environment. I was so excited to go agin the next year to Australia. It was a nightmare spiritually and personally. Our leaders didn’t trust us from the beginning and treated us accordingly. I got so many special blessings That I couldn’t count. Usually for taking up for someone. When we got to Australia it got worse. We found out the leaders’ child had some issues going on. We were told he didn’t tell us and he didn’t want our prayers because we were bad/evil. I spent most of my time restricted to camp when other were gone and writing verses. Generally I would try to draw his attention when he went after one of the younger, more timid kids. I seriously hurt my knee and he refused to allow me to go to the doctor (it became a lifetime issue). Even the Australians noticed something was up. When I got back to the US I couldn’t call home until we left the airport. My dad said I needed to come home and there was a ticket in LA for me. They refused to take me back to the airport. This happened two more times until they let me go in Denver (on our way to Ohio). I was left on the curb and told how evil I was and a lier. I was fed up enough (and sick), I remember my answer was that it was between me and God. My mom had suffered a stroke, the reason dad wanted me home. If I understood what my dad told me–he had contact the state troopers (through local police) who agreed to pull over and arrest the leaders if I was not on the plane in Denver (I was still a minor and they had refused my parent’s request to return me 3 times). When I talked with Dad earlier he had asked to speak with our male leader and had explained this to him. That summer changed me and who I became. I had never questioned adults or authority before this, I was active in church and trusting of church leaders. I did learn how strong I was. I think TMI can be good and I don’t know what they are like now. Sad others also had bad experiences.

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Thank you for sharing your story, Karen. That sounds horrible in Australia. I have heard so many accounts of leaders refusing to get medical care for team members. I don’t understand it.

    • Scott Forbes

      Karen… Scott Forbes here from Nigeria 79! Loved that summer and the team we had. Where are you now? I am with International Justice Mission in Canada.

  12. Lynette

    I had great leaders’s and grew spiritually my two summers at TMI. 1981 and 1982


    My daughter has been with Teen Missions since she was 10 and has gone to Africa twice. I volunteered for 2 summers in the nurse tent. I have so much I could say about the former staff and leadership but it will not do any good.
    I was so happy to learn that Mr Bland and ALL of his “followers” have been let go. Teen Missions has changed and I do believe it is for the better. I believe that the new leadership has a real heart for God and not the legalism that has been a huge part of TMI.
    I have a friend who was on staff there and she said to me this past December that the past 4 months that she had been there were the best out of the 4 years.
    I am praying that TMI can shake this stigma that has been attached to them. I pray that they can train our children to share the Gospel and that they will feel the Gospel at TMI.

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Oh, I’m glad there’s been a big leadership change! I’ll have to go on the website and see if my old leaders are still there. That’s great!

    • Cat Schultz

      You are absolutely wrong if you think that Bob and his “followers” were the problem. These are godly men and women who sacrificed their whole lives for ministry. There is an entire board of directors making decisions—over 20 people. Much of the policies are the same. Much of the “legalism” I’m sure still exists. I think the problem is that the world has changed so much since the start of the ministry. There have absolutely been mistakes and there have absolutely been people hurt spiritually by their leader or a staff member, but it is very unfair to assign blame to one person or one group of people.

      • Sheila Wray Gregoire

        Hi Cat,

        I’m glad you recognize that there was too much legalism, and that there were people hurt. I’m unsure what you’re saying, though. Are you saying it’s not the fault of your grandfather and his cohorts, but instead the fault of the whole board? Or the fault of a few team leaders? It can’t be just the leaders, because what people are reacting to is the whole concept of SBs, which came from the top, as well as the legalism that permeated the ministry. I really am glad that you see it, and do understand that people have been hurt. What do you think is a good way for Teen Missions to address the hurt that they have caused?

        • Cat Schultz

          I think your blog fails to recognize all the good that Teen Missions has done over the past 49 years. The hospitals, airstrips, matron units, medical centers, Bible schools, and other facilities that have been built to help others—not to mention the people that have been led to the Lord. You picked three stories of what you called “spiritual abuse” and you spent your entire blog summing up 50 years of service and honor to the Lord as “legalism.” Of course, people had bad experiences and I have no doubt that there are many people who find the strictness of TMI off putting. Those rules are in place to build team unity and for everyone’s safety. Even as the director’s granddaughter, I served plenty of SB’s and I was very rebellious. Through the SB’s and talks with my leaders, God worked on my heart all of those summers.
          There have been thousands of people impacted by the ministry of Teen Missions for honorable reasons—ways that glorify God. I’ve been on 8 teams and never experienced anything like you talked about. So who’s fault is it? It’s the fault of the enemy. The enemy who would want us as Christians to fight with one another and to cause discord among believers. How do we solve the “hurt” that TMI has caused? What does the Bible say? It says to pray for your enemies. It says that the Lord will intercede for us in the time of our suffering and to call out to him. People who have been hurt should ask the Lord for healing. “Come unto me all ye that labor and are heavy laden and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon me and learn of me for I am meek and lowly in heart and ye shall find rest unto your souls for my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”
          That’s the best answer I can come up with.

          • Sheila Wray Gregoire

            Cat, I think what we’re learning about abuse in institutional settings is that it also requires owning up to what’s been done and repenting. I am still getting emails from people who are at TMI now, or who have just left, who are telling me that it’s a very scary place–that you can’t speak up against leadership or you get shunned and shamed. Even the titles of the Bible lessons from previous Peanut Camps were very alarming (focusing on shaming children and assuming that the kids are bad). When there are institutional issues, I think it would be incumbent on the leadership to hire an outside group to come in and ask, “are things being done right? Why are people saying that there is a culture of fear?” Interview former staffers and volunteers who have left. Send out surveys to former team members and invite honest feedback.

            I am glad that Teen Missions has helped so many. I am. But helping does not wipe away harm. The Catholic Church, for instance, did a ton of good works worldwide, but that did not mean that the abuse problems within the church weren’t also serious. Yet that was the stance that was often taken: You mustn’t tell anyone. You mustn’t speak of this, because it could harm the mission of the church!

            What harms the mission of the church is ignoring when people are hurt. The way that we stand up for Jesus is not by standing up for organizations, but instead by standing up for justice, and for love, and for mercy, which includes listening to the voices of the least of these.

            I hope and pray that those in leadership in Teen Missions will do that–will hire someone outside to come in and review their policies, and ask, “are we a shame-based organization? Are we a fear-based organization?” I think listening is always a good idea. There’s no harm in that, not if you’re listening to Jesus and you’re in submission to Him. It’s called peacemaking, and Jesus says that they will be called children of God.

            So that would be my suggestion. You yourself have admitted that TMI has made mistakes, has been too legalistic. So let’s not shy away from that. Let’s take a look at that, and ask, “How can we honour God and really serve those who are entrusted to us?” Because parents do entrust kids to TMI, and I can tell you that I was not treated with the care that I should have been at the young age that I was.

  14. Anonymous

    I’m glad to have found this page….to know that I am not alone in believing that what I experienced in the 80’s on a TMI trip was abuse. Even after all of these years I am still processing what happened and how to deal with it. Some day I hope to have the courage to address my issues directly with TMI and/or write a book about the experience. For now I will refer to myself as anonymous….I am in touch with members of my team and for some reason am not comfortable with them knowing how much I was damaged by the experience and how I have completely turned my back on religion in general. The God of TMI is not a loving God. To say it was horrendous would be an understatement. I also experienced the legalistic practices of TMI. There were a few incidents (safety issues) on the trip where parents should have been notified. My situation might have been different because I was sick for much of the trip, quarantined from the group….told that I was sick because I was not praying hard enough, that God was humbling me because I was too pretty. My parents received my letters about my sickness–they tried to contact me but were unable and had to wait until I got to Florida for an update. My doctor told me a few years ago that I could have died–that is certainly how I felt at the time….and I was ready to die for God. I was 17 years old. What they did is truly criminal.

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      I’m so sorry. I really am. And I hear you. The sickest I’ve ever been was that summer in the Philippines. I’m sorry for the abuse, too. I do believe you. It sounds like you went through a lot of the things that I did, but likely worse. I think it affects those of us who didn’t grow up in really legalistic homes even more because it’s such a culture shock. The others likely already have a little bit of Stockholm Syndrome so they don’t experience it to be as jarring.

      And I agree–the God of TMI is not Jesus Christ, who loves us and is gracious to us. It is very sad.

      • Anonymous

        Stockholm Syndrome… gosh, you’re right! I have never thought of it that way. So grateful to have found your page and all of these comments….I think I need to call my counselor and revisit conversations about TMI. Geez….all these years later and I just can’t seem to get “over” it.

  15. That_TMI_Disappointment

    I guess it’s time to share my story. I wanted to protect TMI and believe they were good, but they need to be stopped before they harm anyone else. First let me say that I went on a trip with the new director. Do NOT believe for a second he will be much better. He may modernize, but that man needs a serious lesson on grace. I am an emotional person and at times it can be a problem but I’m working on it. However, God made emotions and they are good and they make me the person I am. I was criticized for my emotions and often judged for not being the team member TMI wanted. I admit I did have issues, but I could have done so well if I wasn’t berated for being being the least bit imperfect. They sorta tried to spiritually/mentally beat the emotions out of me even though I don’t really have major character flaws. I want to be optimistic but I think I was targeted and I was treated like I was rebellious because TMI wanted to believe I was. TMI almost stole my passion for missions because it was communicated to me that I was not “good enough” to be a missionary and that I was too imperfect to serve God. BTW, TMI will send their evaluations of you to anyone who asks without your permission and they aren’t scared to hide anything negative written there (thankfully the terrible things they wrote on there didn’t harm me, but I almost used them as a reference for college and what they said would have ruined that for me, and but I guess the truth outweighed grace and mercy here.) The part of me that I drives me to believe they need change is that they don’t speak the truth in love. They may speak the truth because I know I am a sinner, I rebel, I’m not perfect, but they almost made it their mission to punish me for it. I am okay being accountable for my actions and take responsibility for them, but TMI forgot that Jesus paid for them on the cross. They expected so much from me but then gave nothing in return even though I paid almost $10,000 to go on the two trips I went on. Ultimately, TMI saw something in me that they thought was wrong and they sought to destroy me for instead of walking through it with me, even after I left. Unless something changes soon and a candid public apology given with an admission of wrongdoing to the hundreds/thousands of children TMI has hurt over the years (though I don’t believe it will happen), do not go there!! It’s not worth the risk. Yes, some are lucky and have great experiences, but TMI is no respecter of persons and will target you no matter how well you may do.

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Thank you for sharing your story. I’m so sorry for everything you went through! Jesus would never treat a person like that. He didn’t nitpick and point out everyone’s flaws.

  16. peter bower

    As a father, it was hard to see my 15 yr old go through boot camp and the “SB”s, living in a tent, etc. She has the sweetest attitude, and a hard worker. Just wanted to say(maybe you won’t keep this post up because you are interested in bashing Teen Missions ) this experience really softened her heart toward the Lord, and completely changed her course in life, as the kids she met on the field made her realize God is calling her to be a nurse working with kids, and now wants to serve Jesus with her whole life. I have a child there now (16yrs) and she wrote to us she is facing challenges, but it feels good to work hard, and be of service to Jesus. My wife went twice in the 80’s, her sister three times in the 80’s, and I cannot tell you how positive an impact Teen Missions has had on our family, to desire to serve Jesus with all our hearts. I am unaware of any other missions organization that allows teens to go on a missions trip for the whole summer and really get into the heart of missions, hardship, dirt, and all. I am sure alot of folks here have been disappointed, but to call SBs spiritual abuse is a bit much.
    I for one cannot say enough great things Teen Missions Int.’l has done for my family, and only wish it was mandatory for our teens today. I am sure, once again, you will delete this entry because it does not go with your mantra of spiritual bashing a good organization. Yes, they have faults, but to call it abuse is too much.

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Peter, I haven’t deleted any comments. So I’m letting yours through. I’m glad your daughter had a good experience; if you read my post, I said that my friend did, too.

      I do find it concerning that you can read other people’s experiences of SBs, including girls being humiliated and given SBs because they had to change their menstrual pads, and not think that this is abusive. But I am glad that God used this experience in your daughter’s life despite the spiritual hardness of many of the staff.

  17. Jen W.

    Thanks for your article, Sheila! I’m Jen, and like Peter, I have a kid in the field currently, and I’m so grateful! I went on teams in 1989 and 1990, and my parents volunteered at The Lord’s Boot Camp. My oldest son went to Ireland a number of years ago, and my current teammember is in Africa. I can’t wait to hear about his trip! He did tell me he loved Boot Camp, even though it was hard and they got some team SB’s!

    A few thoughts. First, having a jerk for a leader, that’s a very real problem. Unfortunately, that’s a risk with any group of people, including other mission groups. There can be jerks in church, jerks sitting next to you at the Ladies’ Bible Study, and yes, jerks leading mission trips. Unfortunate, but predictable. One of my favorite verses is Romans 12:18, “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.” Good to remember!

    Have any of you tried to apply the Matthew 18 principle and contacted these former leaders to tell them how it affected you? Perhaps there’s an opportunity for some healing!

    Regarding SB’s, “Special Blessing” is obviously tongue in cheek, there’s no abuse involved in that. And if you’re digging holes, or weeding, it’s like detention. Annoying? Perhaps! Abusive, no.

    Regarding Petula’s post about her period, she was not allowed to take a shower, but neither is anyone else. I’m sure she took a bucket bath and did her laundry! As a female who had to deal with similar things on my trips, it’s something you just deal with, not something that should scar you for life (Well, many of us have cringeworthy period stories, again, this is not unique to TMI!).

    Lastly, be careful when responding to posts, as it could damage your testimony! Petula did NOT say she was given an SB for changing her pads. Why would you say that? It’s unfortunate that you said that to a Dad with a daughter currently in the field, as this could just fabricate something else for him to worry about. Misquoting a post that is a quick scroll up and easy to fact-check can call into question your previous posts. I don’t necessarily think you meant it, but let’s not exaggerate for shock value or sympathy, as it can be damaging in more ways than one!

    • Adrian

      Jen, psychological crisis occurs when events overwhelm someone’s coping skills and it’s more likely to occur if the person is separated from his or her social support network, such as when a minor is intentionally separated from parents. You are not a mental health expert and you do not get to decide whether lack of basic hygiene access in an environment of constant castigation and punishment creates a crisis for someone else. An ongoing crisis in which the person has no control and doesn’t recover from does indeed create trauma and possible lifetime scars from being emotionally abused. Setting people up to fail, insulting them and assigning degrading and random punishments to them is verbal and emotional abuse. You do not get to control someone else’s experience of abuse. You do not get to minimize the intentional infliction of emotional trauma as not abuse. You do not get to deny that failure to provide adequate access to medical care is neglect. You may not rationalize calling a punishment a blessing as though it’s no big deal when the Bible says we are not to call what is bitter, sweet, or what is sweet, bitter (Isaiah 5:20), love rejoices with the truth (Corinthians 13), and wisdom that comes from heaven is sincere(James 3;17). If someone says they are Christian and are a reviler (verbally abusive) then actual Christians are not to even eat with such people. When Paul rejoiced in hardship in prison , it wasn’t being inflicted by Christians on the mission with him.

      You are in control of your own experience and how you respond, but just because you didn’t have a particular abusive experience doesn’t mean no one did. Just because you don’t have lingering trauma from the experience doesn’t mean no one does.

      The people reporting abusive experiences are not weak, cowardly, or playing for sympathy. They are telling true stories of abuse at a high personal cost because they have to revisit emotional pain they still haven’t processed to tell their stories & they aren’t doing it for 15 minutes of fame but instead they are risking their peace of mind and the disbelief and ridicule of others because by doing so their stories might protect just one teenager or child if the parents read them. One dad having to call the police to get his son home after three attempts is not normal and it’s not just one story showing there are problems. If their stories cause the organization to revise their policies to protect all teams instead of some teams, that is even better.

    • Adrian

      Part 2
      Further, given that Sheila has received a large number of e-mails detailing ongoing psychological issues and some trauma as a result of TMI bootcamp tactics, and some respondents are female, I would state that it’s possible she isn’t referring to Petula’s specific experience and someone else possibly has received an SB for attempting to change a menstrual pad.
      As for pretending that randomly assigned nitpicking punishments designed to break campers’ trust that there is any way to stay safe no matter how compliant they act are a “tongue in cheek,” joke, the Bible says, “Like a madman shooting firebrands and deadly arrows,so is the man who deceives his neighbor and says, “I was only joking!” (Proverbs 26:18-19). Normalizing abuse doesn’t make it ok and it doesn’t result in stronger people. A proper understanding of Christ desiring mercy and not sacrifice ( Matthew 9:13), coping skills, and a dependable social support network, which doesn’t isolate people to verbally and emotionally abuse them or refuse to provide needed & possible medical help but instead actually acts loving and really sincerely protects by providing the best that is to be had in the environment makes people stronger.
      Lastly, many people have addressed the leaders and were shut down, labeled as liars to discredit them with no proof, but there are many people testifying to the same problem of abuse being taught and acted out as a form of sanctification. That is a false gospel. Paul didn’t wait to Matthew 18 Peter in private when his public actions were proclaiming a gospel contrary to Christ in Galatians 2:11-21 because Paul was countering false teaching inherent in Peter’s actions. It is my understanding that those reporting abuse are testifying that TMI is teaching that deliberate abuse by Christian leaders helps to sanctify the mission applicants and that is a false teaching of a false gospel. We are saved by grace through faith.

      Several people have explained that TMI did not cover expected financial expenses, in breach of the agreement they had made with both their own leaders and the teenage mission applicants. TMI should look into these reports and protect minors from emotional and financial abuse and medical neglect instead of sanctifying intentional personal damage and exploitation in the name of love. Instead of an attack, Sheila’s review on their Facebook page should be a wakeup call for them to fix the problems before their reputation difficulties turn into legal difficulties.


      • Sheila Wray Gregoire

        Thank you, Adrian. That’s very well-written, and voice my thoughts exactly (though perhaps more eloquently).

      • Jen

        (Following in Adrian’s example, first of multiple reply posts! 1 of 3)

        Hi, Adrian and Sheila! Wow, thanks for the responses! Adrian, good idea to use multiple posts to get all your points in! I’ll try it just this once because your post was so lengthy, but then I’ll try to go back to keeping it under the word limit, lol! 😀

        Adrian, you gave a definition of psychological crisis, but would you agree that people who face a psychological crisis can demonstrate an overwhelming capacity for recovery? If anyone feels stuck in a place of pain, due to any crisis they may have faced, they should diligently pursue help and deny the enemy any foothold on their mental real estate. I wish we could have immediate, permanent relief from such pain, but more often than not, it is a process. I encourage people to keep moving forward in that process!

        “You are not a mental health expert.” Ironically, I do have a degree in psychology, so I am more than happy (and capable) of having an academic discussion regarding any claims you would like to make about the psychological aspects of the TMI experience and people’s individual responses to them, if that is what you would really like to do. However, for the purposes of this reply, I will stick to the comments in your post.

        “You do not get to decide whether lack of basic hygiene access in an environment of constant castigation and punishment creates a crisis for someone else.” I never made this claim. TMI’s “lack of basic hygiene access” as you refer to it is similar to camping. You bring your own toiletries and laundry detergent. These are not taken away from the kids once they get there. So yes, they have access to basic hygiene products, assuming they brought them like they were instructed to do (and if not, these are available at the Boot Camp store). The kids live in tents, are provided with clean drinking water and more than enough food (dang, TMI’s food is actually really amazing).

        (Continued in next post!)

      • Jen

        (Continued from previous post! 2 of 3)

        “…in an environment of constant castigation and punishment…” For those who experienced something like this at TMI, it was the result of flawed individual leaders displaying poor personal judgment and cruddy personalities. (I referred to them as “jerks” in my previous post. Sorry if that term offended anyone! It’s just my opinion.) Enough people have had such positive experiences at TMI that we can safely conclude that any “constant castigation” is not systemic by design or part of the organizational plan. If it were part of their institutional design, then TMI is failing horribly, because too many people are giving positive reviews, does that make sense? We should be seeing much higher numbers of negatives, but the negatives are staying firmly in the minority, which runs contrary to the suggestion that there is any abuse on an intentional, system-wide level. The high number of positive reviews is evidence that the examples of abuse are the exception, not the rule. (These are just the numbers, folks! Don’t shoot the messenger!)

        These numbers do not, by the way, negate the reality that some people have had horrible experiences, they just demonstrate that the fault is with individual leaders instead of the organization.

        “You do not get to control someone else’s experience of abuse.” Sorry, what are you referring to? That was nowhere in my post.

        “You do not get to minimize the intentional infliction of emotional trauma as not abuse.” Again, what are you referring to? Pretty sure I said nothing of the sort.

        “You do not get to deny that failure to provide adequate access to medical care is neglect.” Sorry, when did I do that? Did you actually read my post, Adrian, or is this just a general response to all the posts so far?

        “You may not rationalize calling a punishment a blessing…” Okay, this one I will respond to. I said that the term “Special Blessing” is tongue in cheek. Yes, it is. Regarding the term, what would you like to call it? Detention? Punishment Hour? I think “Special Blessing” is fine, I don’t think that’s what people are really taking issue with. And yes, Adrian, I read your scripture quotes regarding joking. Christians are definitely allowed to have a sense of humor, so that’s important to keep in mind.

        (Concluded in next and final post, 3 of 3!)

      • Jen

        (Last post in this reply, 3 of 3!)

        You referring to SB’s as “randomly assigned nitpicking punishments designed to break campers’ trust” assigns an incorrect motivation for the system. You seem to be, again, suggesting an overall, maniacal master plan, which is quite simply, not the case. As with any system of discipline, however, SB’s are subject to overuse by leaders with overbearing personalities, or leaders who don’t communicate and therefore don’t realize how many they’ve assigned their team. (Four leaders who aren’t communicating could very quickly rack up almost a week’s worth of SB’s, yikes! That’s too many!)

        So to recap on the SB issue, SB’s are not “designed to break campers’ trust” any more than doing push-ups is in the Army, or detention for in-school infractions. I think there are really two issues that bother people regarding SB’s. First of all, getting just too many of them. Understandable, no one wants to lose ALL their free time for multiple days in a row, that could be disheartening, and that seems to be what happened in some instances (Again, an individual leader issue, although perhaps TMI could look at putting some limits in place to keep some over-zealous leaders from assigning too many of them?).

        Secondly, the nature of the work assigned during the SB. I know that my son’s team SB’s this summer were actual, useful work around Boot Camp, and I seem to recall that mine were, too, “back in the day.” But even if they were trivial or seemingly useless, I wouldn’t have a major issue with that. I once served an after-school detention and had to copy dictionary pages. When I was done, the teacher ripped up the pages and threw them away lol! Annoying? Yeah! But having the work be useful or not-useful doesn’t really seem to be the crux of the issue (Trust me, TMI has plenty of work to go around! I’d be surprised if they ever actually run out of work for people to do!), it’s the overuse of them that can cause the distress.

        I’m kind of assuming based on the way you wrote, that you’ve never been on a Teen Missions trip, Adrian? It didn’t sound like you had any personal experience with it, but that’s okay! You don’t have to have experienced it in order to have an opinion about it.

        Would be interested to hear about it, though, if you’d like to share! Hope everyone is doing great, thanks for reading! –Jen

        • Rebecca Lindenbach

          Jen, your whole argument can be boiled down to “Well, not all leaders are bad, so it’s not actually a problem TMI should have to deal with or be held accountable for.”

          That’s not biblical. “A little yeast works through the whole batch of dough.” Jesus says that the good shepherd leaves the 99 to fend for the 1. You’re throwing the 1 in the dirt and telling them, “you don’t really matter because see? The 99 are OK, so the problem must be with you.”

          As a result, I can’t help but come to the conclusion that you don’t actually understand the gravity the issue here and are more worried about defending TMI than you are protecting the lost and the abused and the hurting. This isn’t a numbers game; this is about real people.

          (Also, this is coming from someone who also has a degree in Psychology and believes greatly that the examples given here ARE abusive in nature and can very much cause intense psychological distress and long-term trauma.)

          • Sheila Wray Gregoire

            Exactly. I’d also like to comment on calling punishments “Spiritual Blessings”. In answer to your question, yes, I would much prefer they be called punishments. TMI gives the impression that God is just waiting to zap you, to punish you, because you’re never quite good enough. So much so that you must call miserable things happy things. That’s very psychologically confusing and spiritually confusing. It’s okay to say that lousy things are lousy. God does not delight in making us squirm or in hurting us. So let’s at least be honest.

  18. Kari

    We had a daughter go on a trip in 2016. It was a country she’d had a desire to go to since age 10 and we were so excited for her. I’d gone on many missions trips as a teen and even lived overseas after high school, and I was certain it would change her life!

    Our daughter has anxiety and depression, and some learning struggles, and hard labor/being fit and active has never been her strong points-we thought we were sending her on a trip to an orphanage to minister-but has always been praised on other missions trips, wants to please, and has a sweet spirit. She came home from this trip worse than
    When she left-crushed and weary. She didn’t tell us many things for some time. She’s in counseling now for it-three years later.

    I won’t go into detail Bc you’ve mentioned most of it…but she was obviously “the weak link” on her team. The leaders and members talked about her, she was left in dark rooms when sick-alone, she was put down for not being able to memorize her verses as quick as the other teammates (when she has learning struggles), even isolated from the team from work to memorize. Her teammates thought she was trying to get out of work. It was horribly crushing to her spirit. She was yelled at and demeaned in front of her peers many times. And most of their time was spent building three feet of a cement wall behind gates instead of interacting w the people of the country.

    Anyhow, she finally had the courage to leave a negative review on the fb page and she’s getting bullied for it. And so did her father and I and we have been too! It’s been absolutely eye opening. We were told by another mom
    Of one of her teammates that our daughter was held to a reasonable standard and couldn’t cut it and everyone on the team could see it and we need to just shut up and own it! She went on and was very nasty and condescending to me! And she was just a team mom. You’re right-you cannot criticize this organization. It’s cultish behavior honestly.

    I wish we’d done better research, I wish we hadn’t sent her or were brave enough to bring her home earlier. All I know is she persevered and God is sovereign in all this. We trust when she heals it will produce fruit in her. We’ve been in ministry 22 years and this is one of the most legalistic organizations we’ve seen. There seems to be no grace at all. Just law and punishment.

    “Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light” (Matthew 11:28-30).

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      I’m so sorry, Kari. So sorry. If she would like to talk, I’d be happy to speak with her on the phone (and I don’t offer that very often!). I’ll send you an email. No pressure, but I’d be happy to listen and assure her that this was NOT of Christ.

      Again, I’m so sorry. And GOOD FOR HER for leaving a negative review! That’s wonderful. That’s what everyone should be doing. It is cultish behaviour absolutely, but we need to speak out. And what other people say to us or message us really doesn’t matter. Just stand firm, that this is not correct behaviour.

  19. Jen

    Hello, folks! Jen here!

    My son came home on Friday from his TMI trip, so let me give you a quick update! First of all, a lot of stuff went wrong on his trip! He was sick (very sick), quarantined, his luggage was lost and didn’t get to him until after he’d been in Africa three weeks, and someone else misplaced his sleeping bag and air mattress so it never got to him on the field. He did get his sleeping bag back at debrief! Air mattress is still missing, I wasn’t happy about that because those darn things are expensive!

    All that being said, he had an amazing time and he is so glad he went.

    A few changes I noticed about TMI this summer: TMI did not have “Miss Piggy” this summer at Boot Camp. They instead had “Mr. Clean,” and did not call out the three dirtiest teams. Although I personally didn’t have a problem with Miss Piggy, it could be that this is an attempt to fix some of the things that were seen as too harsh? Not sure! I’m also not sure if it’s a permanent change, or if it was just for this summer.

    My son did not get any individual SB’s during the whole summer, although the team did get a handful of team SB’s, both at boot camp and in the field. I thought it was very odd he didn’t get any individual SB’s (Hey, even good kids can get them sometimes!), and he said that –no one- on his team got even one. Wow! That’s very unusual. I’m not sure if this is another change that TMI is doing, heading away from the individual SB’s? Apparently they were still possible, but no one on his team got one. (Unusual!)

    Also, he said they filled out leader evaluation forms at Debrief. I can’t remember if we did that “back in the day,” but I think it’s a wonderful idea!

    Anyway, so glad to have him home, and I just wanted to provide you folks with some of the current changes!

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Jen, Oh, I’m so glad that they got rid of the Miss Piggy thing, and they don’t seem to be shaming as much anymore! That’s wonderful. I hope at some point they address the mistakes they made and apologize and acknowledge wrong, rather than bullying people and threatening with lawsuits.

  20. Chris

    It saddens my heart to see these bad experiences that people had. I went as a team member in ’89, ’94, and as a leader in ’01. Both of my trips as a team member were fantastic experiences, and the head leaders I went with in ’01 were wonderful people. My trips were life changing and I have been on mission trips with other organizations since then. I enjoy the other trips, but nothing (for me) can replace the experiences I had with TMI.

    Make no mistake – some of the things mentioned in the comments and article are inexcusable and should never have happened. I can’t speak to those, I wasn’t there, nor did I have those experiences. I simply wanted to say that I had very different experiences.

    My experiences were good enough that I encouraged my daughter to go, and at the age of 14, she did. She went this summer to Israel, with staff leaders, and she had such a great time she is already planning on going back without any prompting from me. The leaders were wonderful, I met them when I went to commissioning (and I have all of the experiences my daughter relayed to me).

    As others mentioned, things are changing with the new director, Miss Piggy is gone, the worship has been updated, there was a great energy when I was there. A staffer mentioned that the Grubby to Grace and God’s Gentlemen curriculum were being redone, so it sounds like some changes that have been a long time coming are being made.

    Again, for anyone who had bad experiences – as a Christian I am sorry that this happened to you. I hope you have come to find or will find that although there are places that legalism still exists, love and grace are the core of Christianity.

  21. Ruth

    I’m Australian and went to the Teen Missions in 2016. I was truly scarred by the experience.
    At Bootcamp a leader inspected our clothes, they said that my shirt was too revealing as when I lifted my arms to a right angle and the leader bent down and looked inside my shirt they could see the side of my bra. I was also told that my jeans were inappropriate as they were ‘high waisted’ (even though this wasn’t a requirement listed) and that my body shape was immodest. They bought me new jeans and when I tried them on my body was still the same shape, so they were also deemed too immodest.
    In Tanzania the women generally wear skirts, its disrespectful to wear pants. However, Teen Missions says you must wear jeans when travelling. So all throughout Tanzania we were told that we could not wear our skirts and had to wear jeans, even though it was culturally insensitive.
    I was labelled rebellious because I would hum secular music, I suggested that we could do a bush dance as our Australian night (apparently dancing is ungodly) and I got ‘Special Blessings’ – a type of punishment – for expressing views that were different to those of the leaders. I got in trouble for praying with my friend in our tent, you weren’t allowed to pray without a leader present. At Bootcamp I got in trouble for being too close to one girl – you couldn’t make best friends in the group. I got in trouble for questioning why the boys weren’t allowed to help cook at the Bootcamp.
    In Africa I got a UTI and when I needed to go to the bathroom I wasn’t allowed to go until I recited a number of Bible verses correctly. I ended up wetting myself as I was in pain and couldn’t remember the KJV Bible verses correctly.
    We had to give all our money to the leaders for safekeeping, then we were told that we had to line up and tell our leaders how much we wanted to give as the offering and they would remove it from our money – you had no choice.
    I could not believe what I was witnessing – there was no love of God in their methods. It took me years to get over Teen Missions and I still get anxious when I think about it.

  22. Jo

    Hello all! I went on a team about five years ago. I had just turned fifteen, and I was very excited to serve the Lord to the best of my ability. I was sure that I was going to come out of the experience with an even bigger fire for Jesus in my heart. The first day I arrived a few people asked me who my leaders and when I told them they told me to be prepare for what might be a difficult summer. They had been with the organization for a very long time and were known to be harsh. I brushed off the comments and tried to go in with the best attitude possible.

    In boot camp, after an evening rally one night, a team member and I were confiding with each other about our home lives. I confessed that I was struggling with my sexuality, but ultimately all I want to do is serve Jesus. The next day, my fellow team members were giving me strange looks and would hardly speak to me. I finally walked up to one of them and asked if I had done anything wrong, and she told me that this certain team member had gone around and told all 27 team members and leaders about my problem, and it was making everyone uncomfortable. Later in the day my leaders pulled me aside and told me how disgusted they were and they brought me to Bob Bland directly, and I had to listen to him tell me how I was being selfish and ruining the other member’s summer. The team member I had confided in was also my tent mate and he started leaving the flashlight on all night. His reason was that he didn’t want to do anything to him and he was helping me with my temptations.
    In the field things did not go much better, I was made to stay on the top bunk of my leaders bunk so he could keep an eye on me. In the God’s Gentlemen classes they would bring up how the lessons don’t even apply to me because of how I choose to be and I should be embarrassed. I would receive SBs if they thought I was acting out in any way and I was made to scrub the bathroom floor with a toothbrush. My leader would also stand right outside my curtain when I showered to make sure I wasn’t looking at the other guys. I started to speak less and less, yearning to fly back home more with each new day. Until that moment, I had never felt so defeated in my life. The trip was becoming something it was never supposed to be about. There were a few other things about my trip that left me unsettled. We were a construction team. We sweated all day long laying brick, and mixing mortar and our leader’s wife would only feed us soup. She and the other leaders would become very angry when the members would ask for seconds or something that would actually fill them up. They threatened to make us do SBs all day long if we ever complained about not getting enough to eat again, and eventually everyone just kept quiet. One day two team members were caught sharing food and as punishment they were meant to scrub the bathroom floor with toothbrushes.

    I went home that summer completely broken inside and wanting nothing to do with God or the church anymore. I found out later that many team members fell apart once they came home (suicide attempts, running away, depression, etc.) I do not mean in any way to bash this organization. There were many good moments during my experience and I still hold onto those memories now. If you have read this far, I thank you so much , as I’m not the best at forming sentences. Blessings to you all!

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Jo, oh, my goodness, I’m so, so sorry for what you went through! So sorry. That is just devastating. I really hope you’re in a safe community now. I’m so sorry.

      This doesn’t surprise me, though. And I hear you about the food. Food has been an issue in many of the notes that have been left for me. But you should never have been humiliated and singled out and treated that way. Do these people honestly think any of that reflects Jesus? Where is Jesus in any of that? I don’t see Him. That’s legalism and a shame-based culture, more in line with other religions than with knowing the Lord. I hope those leaders never serve again.

  23. anonymous

    curious…. i saw something posted on a facebook FTM group that alluded to some sort of allegations against someone (or multiple) people from TMI. The pinned note was stating explicitly that no one could talk about it or speculate. it was dated july 2019…

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      That’s a huge red flag. People should never try to cover up abuse, because there may be more victims. Tell others that they are allowed to talk about it!

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Can you tell me the name of the Facebook group?

      • A

        There have been deaths (confirmed by former BMW/leader) and instances of abuse, but I only know a few details of one case: 1997 India, team member died while not riding a train properly. Late-2000s, another BMW said a TMI Board member (male) propositioned him. Nothing came from his complaints. He was told to shut up about it in private and on a public TMI forum that must be long gone. How does that line up with TMI morality?

  24. Angela Aloisi

    I too can say all I have heard here I experienced. I was not allowed to pee, so I sat in a puddle to hide my shame of wet pants. I couldn’t bathe but in a crocodile infested lake deemed bathtub lake. I thought I was going to die on the obstacle course with my heart issues, but I was driven on and humiliated. The girls were all competing against these big boys and always made to feel bad about being slow and weak.
    Memorization was demanded, as was being drilled on them for points. I was never a fast talker like some and the same people always got praised. I got triple blisters, they separated my boyfriend to another team, they manipulated me out of all my spending money, and the leaders were like robots and unfeeling. The visas of 4 people were mistreated somehow and we were separated from the team, left for days in a sketchy airport in Africa and had to sleep on a floor in a church for 2 more days before meeting back up with the team. Missed all the actual ministry time and only got to work. I signed up for doing clowning, story telling, ballooning, singing and skits, and was not trained for any construction, yet that is all I ended up doing. . .and working for the chicken factory at a “Bible college” we camped at. We were tenting almost every day, no matter how cold or hot. Cold showers or a bucket or pond to bathe in. We were packing to fit our stuff in a duffle bag, but told at the end of bootcamp that it would need to be half empty to fit food. I did not plan on dumping half my stuff out. Also the food was not all provided for, and at times I was expected to eat out. . .with the money they talked me into giving away! I had to beg off less generous teammates! Overall, it was a miserable trip and yet at the time, my legalistic family would have probably thought it fine. Thankfully I have grown and learned a much better path for my spirituality than christianity, because after that, Bible school and being a pastor’s wife, I see it is all a form of godliness at best.

  25. anonymous

    Starting at bootcamp there were definitely many health/safety concerns, one of my fellow team members were clearly suffering from heat exhaustion, what was the solution? Put him in a super hot tent for the whole day, I kid you not. Strep throat was going around on my team, and our leaders didn’t do anything about it….. I felt a fever coming on one day, how did I know ? Well, I was freezing… In the Florida swamp… In the middle of the day…. I told my leader and she said okay… and then nothing happened. She didn’t check my temperature and she didn’t care about my concerns I still had to do physically demanding work. Also, I’m from Canada basically, so when I went to boot camp I was having asthma issues, VERY CLEARLY… I could not keep up in line for that reason and was yelled at to keep walking. I had hormonal issues at the time and was bleeding for 2 months straight and was never given a lot of time to change my pads or tampons and when I tried to do so…. I was taking too long and almost got an SB. There was a girl at boot camp on my team who actually did get an SB for taking too long to get out of her tent when she was trying to change her pad. Also the OC is just unnecessary and you’re left in wet socks and shoes the whole day getting blisters and all that. \

    First of all I hate that a 19 year old and a 20 year old were both put in charge of us when we were only a few years younger. There were many times that my leaders made comments about how it was like we were in juvy and kept comparing us to prisoners like we were doing something wrong… and kept telling us homeschoolers how we’re uneducated(yet, us homeschoolers were the most efficient people on that team). And I mentioned we all had strep and no one did anything about it, so guess what? When we were on the field…. Half of the team already had pneumonia or lung infections due to untreated strep.

    The other kids on my team were troubled brats and it seemed like all tmi kids were like this, at least all the ftms. They were very gossipy and exclusive of me because I was different(autistic), they made comments on my weight and the clothes I wore…. And excluded me from everything, my laundry detergent and money was stolen several times by a sneaky girl. Nothing was done about it. And once someone else’s money got stolen so the whole team was threatened with not being able to buy souvenirs …. For real. Even though we raised the money to go to that country. Nothing we did was mission related either, it was more like we were being taken advantage of and paid $5000 to travel across the world just to mow someone’s lawn. The school we were helping had the staff… they had the money… hell, they had solar panels on the roof and satellite dishes and surveillance cameras, but they couldn’t clean their damn school up? It was a disaster and teen missions goes to the same school every other year and it always goes back to looking the same. So it’s laziness and them taking advantage of us, we didn’t even do any evangelism or anything like we were told we would do.

    I felt really depressed a lot and stressed because summer is usually my lower time for bipolar, so I took that time to nap and was called lazy for taking naps in my free time. I also had issues with stims and the leaders just calling me weird for flapping my hands and snapping my fingers and stuff and they embarrassed me by calling me out on it. They knew I had autism, it was on my medical information
    I’m disappointed because I came into this wanting to serve the Lord and I was wanting to take this serious, but instead I get a summer where I’m mistreated by teammates and have to spend a summer with troubled kids… and a summer where I feel like I’m basically in prison.

    • Rebecca Lindenbach

      Wow, I am so sorry. That is truly horrible how you were treated–it astounds me that this is allowed to continue.

  26. Anonymous

    Wow, this was an interesting read. I spent 4 summers at TMI, 2011-2014. Of course I do look at my summers with fondness, but after reading this post I do realize how messed up some of the stuff was.
    Specifically in 2014, on the field we would get up at 6 am and walk a mile (there and back) to the well carrying 5 gallons of water. We made the trip 2-3 times a day, as well as did other manual, hard labor. Whenever I think about the trip, I often think about how hungry I was. There were about 20 members on my team, so I understand it was hard to put together decent sized meals in the middle of Africa for that many people, but we were expected to do hard work after eating very small portions. There was even a girl on my team who passed out one day from exhaustion. Along with that, while I was on kitchen duty one day, the leaders denied the team seconds even though there was so much food left over, but it was reserved for the leaders and the team members on kitchen duty. I remember people we so excited to be on kitchen duty because they would actually be full for the day. I lost over 10 pounds in 8 weeks.
    Another example that took place at boot camp is the OC, specifically the slough. I am not an athletic person and fell in the slough every single day we ran the OC, all 4 years. The leaders would give us bread bags to try put in our boots to try to keep the water off our feet but they were totally pointless. I walked around with sore, wrinkled wet feet all day, only to have them become wet and wrinkly the next morning. Many of my teammates acquired all sorts of weird foot rashes/fungus’s at boot camp and it’s honestly I miracle I didn’t. I understand the idea of team building with the OC, but how does jumping over a river make your team better equipped for a missions trip?
    That being said, I think that TMI is an organization with great potential. I just feel like they are so stuck in their ways. I mean, they haven’t changed their methods since opening in the ’70s! I feel as if they want their team members (who pay thousands of dollars) to struggle, for no real reason. I had a few great summers at TMI, and I luckily never had any problems with any head leaders (assistant leader are a different story). My sister has been wanting to go for the past few years and now I am not so sure it is a good idea.

  27. James White

    Wow. That’s a lot of victims. But given how – what – hundreds of thousands of kids have gone to Teen Missions and had their lives changed for the better, it makes me wonder why YOUR experience was so evil.
    Perhaps your group leaders had issues? Being human and all? Or did you?
    I can say that in 1978 I went with TM to the Dominical Republic and it changed me forever – for the better. It was the first time I had to WORK and be RESPONSIBLE for my own decisions. Yes we cried at that horrible 5:00am obstacle course.. but we DID learn to work as a team. We pulled Joey and Dot over that wall as though they mattered as much as the rest of the team – because we learned that they DID matter. There is a SUPER good reason why they chose a MARINE BOOT CAMP as their training ground. I learned for the first time about authority – both having and obeying it. I learned that I must be responsible for those who cannot keep up – if our “team” (think “world”) is to make it.
    When I see everything wrong in the world today… I can’t shake the feeling that the whole “I am a victim” thing… the #MeToo thing… has made us a society of weak, gossiping victims.
    Wouldn’t it be so much better if we were strong, capable and feeling that our own decisions were what shaped our lives?
    Just saying… To tear down a 50-year-old institution that has done so much good – literally across the planet – and has hundreds of thousands of grateful alumni… what does that say about your own personal decisions?
    Maybe you missed the point?

    • Myra

      I can’t think of any way you could have commented with less love or compassion for the people that have been hurt by this organization.
      You even admitted yourself that the number of victims is large, so why are you trying to diminish the pain these people felt?
      My trip in 2016 left me suicidal. I was broken down by the leaders and legalism of that organization. It wasn’t a cry wolf “me too” moment, it was an experience I still have nightmares of to this day.
      It disturbs me that you can read these comments, these stories, and still try to justify the blatant abuse by TMI. There is not anything wrong with us who have shared our stories, there is something wrong with you for trying to silence us.

    • Meg

      James, I went on a TMI trip and had an overwhelmingly positive time as well, but I think you should give these submissions another read. Just glossing over them, I notice there are mentions of humiliation, strep throat, depression, even death. Not everyone’s experience was a nightmare, but not everyone’s was a dream come true, either. I learned and grew a great deal and met some amazing people I would have never met and I am grateful for that, but Boot Camp is generally something no one remembers fondly, even if it does teach them important life lessons. These peoples’ experiences are real and they have nothing to gain by sharing their pain. Please reread the posts, and put yourself in their shoes.

  28. Ash

    So as a teen who has gone on 4 teams and plans to go again once Covid isn’t canceling everything, I can say teen missions has gotten better. In the last year or two bob bland was forced to leave the organization and there is a new leader (Richard Barber). They are currently trying to revise the systems that allowed such awful leaders to take kids. I can say I’ve been on some rough teams. But even just the year after he left, bootcamp had an entirely new dynamic. Also they have changed the system. There is a free time and a bath/laundry. So you may miss swimming or not have extra time to write letters but you will have time for hygiene. Teen missions definitely has some flaws but they are taking steps to reform it now. When comparing stories with my mom and dad (both former team members in the 90’s) I can say teen missions is very different but I think it’s gotten much better.

    • Myra

      I’m glad to hear some changes are being made. However lack of accountability on their end is so huge. Plus two of my leaders that were spiritually/emotionally abusive are now board members of TMI. So there is still a long way for them to go

  29. Valarie

    I went as a Leader’s kid – back when we could – in the early 80’s….along with 4 siblings. Since that time, three other teams were in my future: ’85, ’86 and ’88.
    Yes, it was hot and uncomfortable in Florida’s summertime, but a lot of great lessons were learned such as: working together as a team, being of service to those around you and memorizing Bible verses every day. I’m sure I am one of those in the minority when I say that I, actually, enjoyed the harder work classes – two being brick laying and steel tying. I loved the challenge of the obstacle course and the evening rallies were about as good as they got – the Big Top filled with excited youth – bursting with energy and passion to go all around the world to serve the Lord. Kids that CHOSE to be there….yes, we were kids that WANTED to serve the Lord, even when it was uncomfortable and hard.
    Of course, there were kids that wanted to go home and those who did but, for me, it was time away – going to a new country, experiencing a new life, making new friends and learning to be thankful for what I have, where I was blessed to be born and how I could serve the Lord. I guess that is what fueled the fire for me…getting out of the good ‘old United States where we have everything (too much) and tasting, if just for a brief period of time, the diverse cultures and happiness of those in other countries where they have less, yet are more joyful in the Lord.
    After returning in 2011/2012, I noted the difference in those going on teams and those leading teams – so different from the teams I was on….less enthusiasm, lesser work ethic, kids there because their families hoped for a change in their lives over the summer. Kids who struggled to keep their feet from dragging on the ground.
    I wouldn’t trade my Teen Missions days for any other summer, if offered.

  30. A BMW Student

    I have been very involved in Teen Missions. More than anyone who has commented so far. I went on multiple teams, was a student in their Bible school, lead teams, and lived at one of their bases overseas for what was supposed to be my one year internship. I say “supposed to be” because I chose to leave the organization but remain in the country about 5 months into the internship. I was a part of the organization at the time of the switch from Bob Bland to the new director. I can tell you from a personal experience that it is even worse than anyone so far has described. The change in leadership has done nothing to remedy the problems. Their toxic treatment of others goes far beyond the summer programs and extends to every part of their organization. The team members can be treated very harshly, especially by staff members, and the summers have a distinct lack of grace, with problems from a leadership standpoint being swept under the rug while the teenagers are almost expected to uphold perfection. But there is so much more that I would need to write a short book to describe it all. Their Bible school students are treated like garbage. As though we were completely worthless in their eyes. The pressure, criticism, demanding schedule, lies, emotional manipulation, gaslighting, etc were a constant. I had panic attacks that I had never had before or since, cried so hard i threw up a couple times, and had to go to counseling months after leaving because I hadn’t recovered emotionally (I also went to counseling while still attending the school). The students, interns, and staff at their international bases are not treated any better. For many international students this is their only experience with Christianity. So much damage is being done in the name of God. I will never recommend them to anyone looking for a place to serve, and I truly believe that a complete and permanent shutdown of the entire organization is the best thing that could happen. However, God is in control and He can and WILL use what the enemy means for evil and turn it into good and I have seen many examples of that through my time with Teen Missions. There are MANY testimonies of God changing live and hearts during the summer programs, international outreaches, and Bible schools. My own testimony includes that. As miserable as those years were, I would never go back and undo them because God taught me and changed me in incredible ways. However, that does not mean that the ministry as a whole is not damaging and unhealthy, or that they should continue to operate and cause hurt to others. God brought about good in spite of, not because of, the many flaws and toxic qualities of Teen Missions. Praise be to Him for that!

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Thank you for sharing your story. I’m not surprised to hear that it hasn’t gotten better. I remember that director from when he was my team leader. To this date, I have never, ever encountered anyone as controlling and judgmental as he was. I grew up in such totally different Christian circles it took me by surprise, and it was very jarring. I hope that more attention is drawn to what has been happening, and people are set free.

  31. Sad Parent

    Oh my gosh I am feeling awful. For some reason I thought about TMI tonight and decided to google it. I came across your page. I allowed my son to go with TMI in the 1990s [place redacted to keep privacy–ed.]. He really wanted to go and we didn’t have internet to check things out back then. As far as I could tell they were a legitimate organization. He talked about some good things that happened there when he got home but never talked much about boot camp. He was more a sensitive intellectual rather than an athletic kid but he loved Jesus and wanted to serve. He did make one good friend while there which may have saved him from the worst of it. He did mention that someone had stolen all their money from the leader who was keeping it and they never found out who. Also that they were put into closed box trucks for short distance travel. After he got home he developed some anger issues and is now an atheist. We don’t talk much, especially about “religion” but I am wondering if his experience with TMI influenced him in the wrong direction. If I didn’t know that God is in control I would feel hopeless. I know it was a long time ago but I am wishing I had not let him go.

  32. robyn

    How has no one called CPS on Teen Missions International? While reading some of these stories to my husband, he said they literally sound like POW camps.

    • Salvin

      I did. After my experiences, after therapy, after the trauma, after the nightmares, I finally did. I alerted the Florida state police. I haven’t heard a word since.

  33. Annie H.

    I went in 2016. It’s worse than before.

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      I’m so sad to hear that. We need to get this information out there so that parents are warned beforehand. I’ve heard so many stories of parents who sent their kids, and the kids come back with PTSD and leave the faith. It’s awful.

  34. NPH

    I went on 3 TMI teams. My sister did 3, my friend did 3, his brother and sister twice each. 14 different teams and not one of us has a horror story to tell. I thought Boot Camp was a blast. The first summer was a little tough because I was so young, but one of the leaders took me under his wing and showed me kindness I will never forget. And, I learned a ton. SB’s were not that big of a deal. I recall being awarded for successes and good behavior more than being punished. I experienced tremendous spiritual growth each summer. I do not want to discount all the horror stories I’ve read here. I believe each one of them. However, we did not have the same experiences over 14 different trips and TMI deserves to have someone speak up and say that it’s not always bad all the time.

  35. jeff

    I went in 1985. Transformative event in my life and a great experience. Boot camp was an absolute blast. I never took “Special Blessings” to be anything other than a funny play on words. The scripture memorization and contests were a great challenge. Buzzing out and helping our team win during debrief was a highlight.

    As far as the discipline is concerned – you have teenagers from around the country all together going overseas into what can be difficult situations. They have to know to work together as a team and trust each other. You have to have discipline and expectations. There have to be boundaries. Maybe kids today are expecting a vacation?

    Not discounting the stories here but nothing but good things to say about my experience. Wanted to send my own teenagers but elected for WYAM as a gap year instead.

    Perhaps it’s changed for the worse over the years. Perhaps kids have changed over the years. Certainly it’s not for everyone – but some people will absolutely thrive.

    Again – nothing but GREAT memories.

    • Brainwashed

      Whenever I read the comments on articles about the bad of Teen Missions I hold my breath with anxiety that a former team member will be describing me. I was a victim of TMI and was incredibly brainwashed into being strict and at times unkind. If I could go to all my team members and say sorry for the system of abuse I participated in I would. Teen Missions messed me up. As someone who is a natural rule follower and people pleaser I was so easily manipulated to support the system, while still going through my own abuse.
      One of the things that messed me up the most was before I even joined staff. I was a volunteer assistant leader, the other leader was a male BMW student, the head leaders were a female Florida staff member, and an international staff member. At Boot Camp everything seemed good, the head female leader was always busy so I didn’t see her much, but once we got to the field she became so mean to me. I had never been a leader before, let alone cooked for 25 people, and she belittled me so often for the smallest things like asking how much juice I should make. She made me cry in front of team members and then yelled at me to get out of the kitchen if I was going to cry. One night the other assistant leader called me out of his tent because he was wanted my help with something and it was really bright out from the moon so we talked for awhile. The next morning the lady freaked out at me for being so irresponsible and said I’d basically never have a future with TMI ever again! But to the other leader she just joked and said he shouldn’t stay up so late. So much else happened, like her denying me food, but the worst was that the she seemed to do this EVERY summer as I heard from other female assistant leaders! When we did our end of summer evaluations I was honest about her and so were the team members. I eventually talked to higher up staff about it and they felt bad for me but her behaviour was never corrected or stopped. I definitely had PTSD from that trip.
      But now I want to confess some of my own wrong doings while within TMI. Like I said, I am a rule follower and a people pleaser. TMI wanted us to be strict then I could be strict. I always tried to be fair and have common sense and treat the teens according to their needs, but I wasn’t perfect. The first team I lead was very athletic and motivated, and the next summer was the opposite which made me push them harder than necessary. I didn’t want my team members to get dehydrated so I would have a lot of water breaks where we all needed to sit and drink our whole bottle of water. That would be good except sometimes I would rush them and one time a girl chugged her water to hurry up and then threw up. I shouldn’t have done that. I know I contributed to a system that hurt people and myself, and maybe the worst part about me was being someone who turned a blind eye to the bad stuff. When someone complained I would turn it around and point to the good. I ignored people’s concerns and (unknowingly) joyfully participated in an abusive system that I thought was perfect. I’m in a place where it’s not yet safe for me to talk about these things publicly with my name, but I do want to express my grief for my actions and those I hurt, and if anyone reads this thinks maybe I was your leader then please know I am very sorry for who I was during the time you spent with me and I am open to talk if needed.

      • Sheila Wray Gregoire

        I’m sorry for what you went through too. Thank you for this apology. I think my junior leaders were really bullied by their leaders as well (who now run the whole organization).

  36. Bonnie

    This so called Christian Mission needs to be shut down. Has anyone tried? A class action suit? Going to appropriate authorities?

  37. Candy

    I went several years to various locations with teen missions and had nothing but phenomenal experiences!! Bob bland and his staff were wonderful. I did have a broken have a broken ankle one year and was treated with the utmost professional help and given the best care possible!! Inevitably,
    my teams received a couple of SP’S, but truly looking at them now they were deserved and I have Have nothing but positive memories from the years I was there.. I feel horrible that other people experienced such terrible things because these were the best sellers of my life!!!!

  38. Joel

    I went to PNG in 1994. It was the best experience of my life up until then and I was so sad to go home. I am disappointed to read about all the awful experiences that people have had. I wonder how the other members of my team felt.

    Teens are particularly vulnerable and it sounds like TMI really needs to do a better job of vetting leaders.

  39. Lynda Hostetler

    Wow. My stbx went on 2 TMI trips, as did all his siblings. In fact, I wonder if his brother was on the same trip with you to the Philippines. This may be part of the key to unlocking why he is how he is. He apparently had so many mixed messages growing up and now this revelation. He grew up in the BIC church, talk about mixed messages! There’s far more to his story, but this revelation is huge! I never would have imagined. He and his siblings all loved TMI. In fact, when we were in Florida, I had a tour of the place by R&G. They had a ball reminiscing. I believe they have since retired.


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