SAN DIEGO (BP)--"TruthQuest: California," the nation's first Christian reality television series, began July 11 on-site filming of 12 teenagers and their encounters with Southern Baptist evangelistic and teambuilding ministries.
The students, ages 14 to 18, are traveling across California in a charter bus, stopping in San Diego, Los Angeles, Yosemite National Park, Lake Forest and San Francisco. The teens will be videotaped while participating in various Southern Baptist ministries, including a surfing church, rappelling ministry and a coffeehouse for troubled teens. Their adventures also will be chronicled through news features and daily journals to be posted on Baptist Press.
Will Hall, vice president for news services for the SBC Executive Committee and executive editor of Baptist Press, said the TruthQuest: California project has a number of objectives. "Primarily we trust that there will be a rich spiritual experience for the team members and those with whom they engage during the ministry journey. We also trust that those who read Baptist Press reports or view the FamilyNet series about the team's experiences will be inspired by the Southern Baptist ministries that will be visited."
While Southern Baptists are engaged in cutting-edge ministries across the country, Hall said California "was as good a starting place as any to find ministries that are innovative, dedicated, passionate and even radical about sharing hope and truth in the person of Jesus Christ."
Martin Coleman, vice president for production and programming at FamilyNet and executive producer for TruthQuest: California, said he hopes the series will reflect the Christian reality at work in the students' lives.
"I want people to see the Christian life is rich, and it's fun. I want them to see there is something more to this than just words -- that these kids are living it in their relationships through their behavior and their choices -- and they are doing it with smiles on their faces."
Todd Starnes, assistant editor of BP and creator of the concept for the 13-episode series, sees the mainstream media as "interested in seeing if this will work. It is a novelty concept -- putting a bunch of Christians together. I think the world believes there isn't much of a difference in the way we live our lives -- but there is."
Coleman said the teenagers are gradually becoming more comfortable with the cameras even while they are being asked to step out of their comfort zone.
"I think the kids got really serious. It became clear that there are some real life-and-death issues they are going to have to confront," Coleman said, referring to a phone call relaying information about the death of a friend of one of the TruthQuesters. "We've been talking about them sharing their faith and asking, 'If you died today, do you know where you'd go?' All the sudden it is real. These kids had a wakeup call."
TruthQuester Sarah Brown, 16, of Rising Star Baptist Church in Youngstown, Ohio, lauded the evangelistic training the team received from Bill Faye, author of Sharing Jesus without Fear. She also praised the TruthQuest Sharing Jesus without Fear New Testament the team is using.
"I expected to witness on the show," Brown said. But the training and this tool have "brought such boldness. We go looking for chances to share. We don't wait for someone to come up to us. We aren't preachers. [But] we are out of our comfort zone.... I've never felt such a need to share my faith like now. I am more conscious of the need to plant that seed."
While teenagers are learning how to overcome certain challenges, production staff are being forced out of their comfort zones as well.
"It think this is the first time BP has participated in a journalism project with other entities," Starnes said, referring to Family Net, which is producing and airing the series, and Broadman & Holman, publisher of the TruthQuest Study Bible. "All three of us are vitally important to the project."
Ron Ingram, technical director of TruthQuest, said the biggest obstacles are the logistics in filming.
"We have so many people traveling in the group," Ingram said. "We have 18 on the production staff with FamilyNet, then we have 12 students and seven chaperones," he said, in noting the potential for challenges.
The TruthQuest bus is also host to a mobile BP newsroom. Five of the seven chaperones are serving as print/photo journalists and writing coaches for the students as they prepare daily accounts of their encounters.
"I think as journalists that we want to use our craft to bring honor to God," Starnes said, citing this as a critical point to impress upon the TruthQuest teens.
"They will see within BP and Family Net there are writers, audio technicians and videographers who are using their craft for kingdom work. They are going to encounter workers along the way who are doing the same, whether it is the NAMB mountain climbing missionary or Evan Lauer, the pastor of Coastlands Baptist Church in San Diego. If we can show them how to use their gifts to honor God, then I think TruthQuest will have been a success."
Ingram said the key element for the production crew is to have the cameras running at all times.
"You just don't know what is going to happen," estimating "mountains" of videotape will need to be edited down in order to fit within 13 half-hour episodes. "This project is just enormous."
Katie Royals, 17, of First Baptist Church, Jackson, Tenn., commented especially about her search for spiritual blessings from participating in TruthQuest: California.
"I came into it wanting to be bolder in my faith and sharing [Christ] with others," she said. "One of my hopes is that I get more comfortable sharing with people."
Royals added, "The whole thing is a blessing" when asked about working with BP, FamilyNet and Broadman & Holman to inspire believers and reach seekers in print and video. "All these people are trusting us that it will go well and that it will be a good witnessing tool."
Starnes expressed particular praise for the students' commitment to spiritual growth and personal evangelism, but noted, "This is just a slice, a cross-section of the future generation of Southern Baptist leaders. Who knows how these kids are going to be plugged into service with our convention."
Although filming for TruthQuest ends on July 23, FamilyNet will continue production until the series airs in October. For FamilyNet affiliate information call 1-800-832-6638. For more information on TruthQuest, go to http://truthquest.sbc.net
(BP) photos posted in the BP Photo Library at http://www.bpnews.net. Photo titles: ON THE UP & UP, FREEMAN'S CLIMB and TELLING THE STORY.