An American Christian Chapter IV — Master’s Commission and Generation Training Center Part 2
Unwritten Rules and Policies
If you haven’t read Chapter I yet, please start here.
Punishment for breaking an unwritten rule was rarely formal. Although, any sort of argumentive backtalk or defiance could result in a few hours of Monday Club. Generally, students were pulled to the side and dealt with by one of the leaders, which was almost always Devon.
Devon had built a reputation for being hot-headed and unwilling to try and understand anyone else’s point of view. He often felt like the program’s drunk step-dad, stepping in when fun was going on and ruining it with his belligerence and anger becasue he wasn’t being obeyed. It’s not to say he didn’t laugh and have fun, but none of it ever felt genuine. It seemed like nothing more than a distraction, where his intent would shift like that of a playful bear before it mauls you.
I mention Devon specifically because He was responsible for almost all of the unwritten rules — at least the ones that didn’t pertain strictly to how clothes fit a girl’s physical form. That was generally left up to his mother, Beth, and his older sister, Lauren. The two of them always seemed to find a flaw with girls who weren’t built like they were, and didn’t dress that way either.
A lot of unwritten rules often applied more to the female students whenever Lauren or Beth found what they considered to be a flaw in the girl’s modesty. These modesty clauses were also dependent on the girl and relied mostly on what her body type was. While there was plenty of sexism to go around, I feel it is important to note that some of the more shallow modesty rules came directly from female leadership.
While the written rules themselves were mostly set in stone, the unwritten rules wavered and only applied to certain students, or everyone except Devon, Lauren, and Noah.
Here is yet another brief list of unwritten rules:
- No dancing — which included solo dancing that could be perceived as provocative, even when it wasn’t. However, you were encouraged to jump repetitively to show the “joy of the Lord” during prayer and worship.
- Girls with larger breasts were not allowed to wear any clothes that appeared to accentuate their form.
- Wearing flip-flops was strongly discouraged (it was considered undignified for women, but allowed. It was considered a homosexual trait for a man)
- No conversations longer than five minutes between opposite sexes; in public or private (i.e., running into an acquaintance inside or outside the program). Generally, a third party would be asked to join after two minutes.
- Bra straps were not allowed to be seen outside of your clothing, nor were any underwear lines allowed to be seen under your clothing. Clothes had to be loose enough to hide them.
- Girls were not allowed to show any skin while sitting or bending. You would receive a modesty chat if your shirt bunched up. Guys could not have underwear showing, but their skin showing was never an issue.
- Strongly encouraged not to spend time with non-Christian friends and family except when it was unavoidable.
- No drinking of energy drinks larger than 335ml Red Bull cans, publically. (We were told anything larger looked like beer cans) Rockstar Energy drinks were not allowed because their website promoted a “party lifestyle.”
- No video games with a fantasy element to them, such as Warcraft or Everquest. Violent first-person shooters were ok, so long as it had a war element to it.
A frustrating rule for us all, but specifically the guys, did not allow you to go to bed earlier than Devon on a trip. You would be shamed, harassed, and ultimately chewed out for not participating. All our travels were comprised of ministering in various churches within driving distance of our home. Some were further away and required a few overnights, which always incorporated this unwritten rule.
At the end of the year, the entire group would go on a two-week trip out of the United States. The three years that I was able to go took place in Scotland, where we were housed in various locations around Glasgow and Edinburgh. There was an eight-hour time change that we had to endure, and Devon ensured that the guys did not sleep until he was ready for us. This involved us staying up and playing hacky sack (yes, we did that often) until after midnight on the day we landed, only to be fully ready to leave the next day at 6 am.
This unwritten rule would apply to the whole team on the nights we stayed up late playing Mafia (which leadership took note of to see how good some of us were at lying). No matter your gender, no one went to bed until Devon was finished.
Devon took the verse from 1 Corinthians quite literally and would quote it often:
“No, I strike a blow to my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.
1 Corinthians 9:27 NIV
While he didn’t literally hit himself or anyone else, he did force his body and ours to perform past its limits. We would pray for “supernatural strength” while we tried not to pass out from pure exhaustion. This created a twisted sort of amour-prope that developed in those that defied sleep to retire late and get up early. Some of us came into the church as early as 5 am to spend more time in prayer before we were required to show up. I was one of these people.
The desire to prove ourselves ad nauseam, despite the mental and physical toll, was baneful. Students often experienced some form of a breakdown, for which they were also punished.
One of the more cruel policies was called “Crawl in, don’t call in.” This was a reference to coming in when you were sick, no matter what was wrong, instead of calling in. After you arrived, the leadership would determine whether you were ill enough to make it through the day. According to them, most people weren’t sick; they were just tired and wanted more sleep. In four years, not once was I allowed to go home, no matter how sick I was. One student had quite a scary experience, which I’ll share here:
During my first year of GTC, I got a nasty cold at the beginning of the week. I was still told to come in every day and that It didn’t matter that I was sick.
Per the worship time policy, I could not sit, and I had to stand and sing. When we broke out into devotions, I wasn’t allowed to lay down. Another student told on me for falling asleep during the hour-long devotion time because I was not feeling well. So I spent the week crawling in and not calling in and was denied staying home every time I asked.
We had been planning a large youth group event to kick off the school year during this time. To “prepare a way for the Spirit” we were all instructed to fast and attend an overnight prayer meeting. Now I had a terrible cough, low-grade fever, difficulty breathing when exerting energy, and was living off DayQuil. I was told I still had to fast, and I had to attend the prayer meeting because “in our weakness, He is our strength.” I was effectively told that lives would not be saved if I did not buck up and pretend I wasn’t sick.
I was told several hours into the prayer meeting to rest, but I was still expected to be back the next day to set up for the event. I made it home that night to my host family. My host mom asked me how I was feeling, and I could barely talk. She, very lovingly, told me I should call in tomorrow and gave me some cough medicine.
I slept in as late as I could on Saturday, took way too much day Quil, and attempted to power through the day. I was told by leadership to smile more and that I looked like I hadn’t spent much time getting ready that morning. I had no voice or energy to respond, and I just kept going. The event happened; I don’t remember much of it. I could not squeak a single sound and, at this point, had a high-grade fever. I was in tremendous pain and was having difficulty breathing most of the time. I remember everyone leaving late, getting to my host home, and just going to bed fully clothed. The next morning, I woke up to my host parent checking on me to see if I was ok. She felt my forehead and told me I wasn’t going anywhere and that I needed to call Beth Jones because per host mom’s words, “Beth will understand as a mom. Don’t call Devon.”
I didn’t even try to argue. I had zero energy. I called Beth Jones and left a voicemail. About the time I was supposed to show up to set up Sunday service, Beth called me back and asked me if I could try to make it in. I needed to try my best, and then I could come home and rest after the service. My host mom could sense where the conversation was going and asked to have my phone. She told Beth that I would not be coming in that day, and I was severely sick. Then she added that she promised my mother she would take care of me like her own. She stated that taking care of me meant taking me to the doctor that day. She also said she wasn’t going to push me to go back to GTC until I was well and then hung up the phone.
That morning while everyone was at church, a friend helped me get dressed and into the car because I was utterly depleted. I went to the ER that Sunday and spent a good portion of the day getting chest X-rays, liquid IV, and antibiotics because I, at the age of 19, had laryngitis, was dehydrated, and had PNEUMONIA.
The “Crawl In Don’t Call In” policy directly impacted my quality of life. Being a healthy 19-year-old, the likelihood of developing pneumonia had I stayed home and rested is very low.
While this case was one of the more extreme examples, it was certainly not an isolated incident. Generally, the most that people were allowed was an opportunity to lay down on a couch in a dark room for an hour or two. This obviously didn’t apply to the leadership when they didn’t feel well, and Lauren would often be out for the day for a simple headache.
We were told to pray through it. We were told it was an attack from the enemy. We were told we were never as sick as we thought. We were told to act fine, and we would be fine. Most of all, it was always implied we were weak-willed if we complained and that we were harboring some secret sin as the reason for our onset illness.
I wanted to give these first few separate outlines before delving into any specifics. There needed to be an understanding of Master’s Commission and GTC, the church, and the Jones family before going into more complicated subject matter. I’ve tried to do this as comprehensively as I can while also being brief. There is no short way to explain any of this, and there is no way to grasp each individual’s account fully. I will do my best to share perspectives and anecdotes from various interviews and discussions with past students.
Bear with me; it gets much worse.