Almost a year after the Teen Mania Ministries Honor Academy redesigned its controversial event, ESOAL, and renamed it The PEARL, the organization is suspending the event indefinitely.
“Hundreds of alumni have contacted us and are very sad to see the event go,” Cindy Mallette, communications director for Teen Mania Ministries, said.
A letter written to the staff, interns and alumni of the organization cites media scrutiny as the cause of the suspension.
“While we are sad to have to take this step, we are confident that the creativity and passion embodied by the (Honor Academy) leadership and staff will mean those lessons learned through ESOAL and PEARL will still be taught,” reads the letter by David Hasz, executive director of the Honor Academy. “We don’t know what shape that will take, but we are confident that with this change will come great new opportunities to seek the Lord and His will.”
One of those branches, the Honor Academy, trains teenagers from across the country to take Christian disciplines into adult life and the workplace.
ESOAL, Emotionally Stretching Opportunity of a Lifetime, was one of a series of “life-transforming events” incorporated into the yearlong internship for high school graduates. The 90-hour event included intense physical exercise, originally modeled after military boot camp activities. The event began in 1999.
ESOAL was first called into question in 2010 for alleged physical and psychological abuse. Many former interns detailed their experiences with the organization on recoveringalumni.com.
The organization put together a committee in response to the attention to address the issues presented. The committee released its findings in September 2011.
The report detailed specific recommendations proposed by the committee, made up of medical professionals, a social worker and a local youth minister, for improving the safety of the program.
The recommendations included in the report are suggested medical training for staff, retaining a medical professional or examining participants more closely before they participate.
The organization incorporated all of the suggestions and revamped ESOAL and renamed it The PEARL for Physical, Emotional and Relational Learning.
But critics still had a problem with the event, saying in 2011 that the psychological impact was not thoroughly addressed.
The founder of recoveringalumni.com, Micah Marley, called the announcement “a small victory” but is still concerned about the Teen Mania environment as a whole, she said.
The decision to suspend the event is something Teen Mania officials had talked and prayed about for about six months, Ms. Mallette said, and wanted to announce it before the new semester and the time for the annual event approached. She referred to the Honor Academy Facebook page, where many alumni expressed sadness and frustration about the event’s suspension.
“The decision was made because we represent the Gospel and don’t want this to be a stumbling block for people, as referred to in 1 Corinthians 9:12,” she said.