TruthQuest team members say they are normal teenagers

ST. LOUIS (BP)--The difference between Christian teenagers and non-Christian teenagers is as simple as a relationship, said team members of the FamilyNet teen-reality television program, TruthQuest: California.

Six team members shared their thoughts about being a part of the first Christian reality television program during a June 10 press conference at the annual gathering of the Southern Baptist Convention in St. Louis.

TruthQuest: California is a joint project involving Baptist Press, FamilyNet Television and Broadman & Holman Publishing. The television show focuses on 12 evangelical Christian teenagers who will travel through the state of California in July learning how the truth of Jesus Christ impacts the world through creative ministries. The series will air in October.

Representing the team at the press conference were Chip Luter of New Orleans, Andy Botts and Cara Yates of Cleveland, Tenn., Richard Sparkman and Tim Harms of Nashville, Tenn., Josh Merritt of Atlanta and Shanna Hawkins of Winston-Salem, N.C.

"As far as the difference between Christian teens and non-Christian teens, we are all teenagers," said the 14-year-old Sparkman. "We are all going to go to movies, listen to music and watch television. It's not like we live at church. Church is a big part of our lives. But Christian teenagers handle conflicts differently and we handle situations differently. We handle them as Christians."

Merritt, 16, agreed.

"We go through as much temptations as non-Christians go through," Merritt said. "The devil is out there to get them as well as us. As far as us being different, the only difference between Christians and non-Christians is we have [a relationship with] Christ."

Martin Coleman, vice president for programming at FamilyNet and executive producer of TruthQuest: California, said the show is heading to the Golden State because of its impact on the American culture.

"We are not setting out to save California," Coleman said. "Our friends at the California Southern Baptist Convention do a great job of evangelizing that state. We picked California because it is the epitome of cool. If you ask kids where do you get your fashion statements, their trends, they will think of California. If we are going to take our truth and test it, we may as well go to the coolest place on earth as far as the world thinks."

During their California venture, they will visit ministries ranging from an evangelical Christian surfing ministry to a high mountain adventure operated by the Southern Baptist Convention's North American Mission Board.

"Every stop along the way, we are going to test these kids, we are going to challenge them, push them either mentally, physically, emotionally and spiritually," Coleman said. "We are going to be there with cameras to document what happens. We can't tell you what the final 13 episodes will look like. I can tell you what it's not. It's not Youth Camp California. We are not just going to go and play tambourines on the beach and hand out tracts. It's going to be a little more involved than that, a little edgy."

Many of the activities planned for the students will remain undisclosed until the show begins filming in July. However, some of the team members said they are a little apprehensive about some aspects of the trip -- like surfing with professional Christian surfers.

"I'm scared about surfing," said Hawkins, who lives in a land-locked part of North Carolina. "After watching 'Jaws,' I'm getting a little nervous."

Students on the team said they are looking forward to building relationships with one another.

"It was amazing how we immediately bonded," Yates said. "I feel like I've known them for 20 years. It was amazing how God has placed each person in this group for a reason."

Harms and Sparkman have been friends since grade school in the Nashville suburb of Franklin, Tenn. Two years ago, Harms invited Sparkman to attend the Billy Graham crusade in Nashville in hopes that his friend would hear the gospel message.

"I knew Sparky wasn't a Christian so I invited him to go to the crusade," Harms said. "Sparky accepted Christ during the invitation. It was a great experience to see him grow, and our friendship has gotten really close."

Said Sparkman, "When you do something like that, you remember every bit of it." Now, the two junior high students are the youngest members of the TruthQuest team.

Since February, the TruthQuest students have been leading Bible studies in their hometowns with materials written by youth pastor and author Steve Keels and published by B&H. Thirteen young people have been led to the Lord through these studies.

"TruthQuest puts out awesome study materials and journals," said Botts, who is the worship leader of the group. "It's such a study help just to read Steve Keels' commentary. I've grown spiritually."

Yates agreed. "I think being a part of this team holds you to a standard like knowing we are going to be representing teenagers across the country. 'Cara you'd better be on your toes.'"

For Hawkins, the opportunity to take part in TruthQuest is more practical.

"I thought it was a great experience because I'm going into broadcast journalism," she said. "But I'm also a believer in Christ. We are mixing two of my greatest worlds and putting them together. What a great experience, writing stories and telling other teenagers about what a wonderful experience Christ is and how you can be cool and go out and share Christ to others."

For additional information on TruthQuest: California, visit http://truthquest.sbc.net.


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