Bluestem Prairie has no problem with Terry Henshaw Ministries, Inc's "The 99" pitching its tent in the parking lot of the Kandi Mall in Willmar in order to evangelize the citizens of Willmar and Kandiyohi County. It's a free country.
Our great-great-grandmother's fourth (and final) husband was a circuit-riding preacher; it's an honorable profession.
What is problematic is the West Central Tribune's failure to note the religious motive of the production, beginning with the headline of the article, Reality theater production opening today in Willmar designed to shock.
West Central Tribune reporter Jacob Belguim reports:
. . .“I wanted to move from success to significance,” said The 99’s creator Terry Henshaw of his motivation for producing the show. Henshaw owned a sports complex in Tulsa, Okla., before developing The 99.
In fact, Henshaw's ministry predates "The 99," according to the Tulsa World (via ZoomInfo).
A cavernous 20,000-square-foot inflatable tent on the parking lot of the Victory Bible Institute campus soon will house a traveling production designed to save the lives of teenagers.
Terry Henshaw, director of missions for Victory Christian Center, said the realistic walk-through theater will begin a two-year tour of U.S. cities in April.
It is called "The 99" for the 99 young people who die each day of various causes, Henshaw said.
The production ushers visitors through a variety of sets with live actors illustrating the leading causes of deaths among teens.
Rooms at the end of the production will present the Christian response to the needs of teenagers, and offer visitors an opportunity to discuss what they have seen with counselors.
Impact Productions in Tulsa wrote the script and produced the soundtrack for the presentation. Nearly 30 years ago, Impact President Tom Newman produced "The Toymakers Dream," a multimedia dramatic presentation out of Victory Christian Center that traveled the world for years.
Henshaw developed "The 99" over the past two years at the direction of Victory pastor Billy Joe Daugherty.
"Victory is going after the teenagers of America," Henshaw said. . . .
More here about the ministry in Feature: Christ Significant? Powerful Answer Playing Out Across US by Team 99, a 2011 article on the Christian Coalition of America's website.
Again: it's certainly Henshaw's right to conduct his ministry and the Kandi Mall to set up the tent (we're presuming it's private property).
But it's the West Central Tribune's responsibility to report the facts. Instead, there's this "moral tag" (a no-no in journalism) at the end:
The 99’s news release states that the production is “not based on fear and scare tactics, but rather is based solely on reality.”
It’s no haunted house, but it is a haunting tent.
Elsewhere in the country, the lack of disclosure has created news. In 2011, the Fairfield (CA) Daily Republic's Susan Winlow reported in ‘The 99′ raises questions at SCC:
The big white tent in the parking lot at Solano Community College generates a lot of attention.
Not all positive.
Some claim they were duped into believing it was a reality event designed to teach kids between the ages of 12 to 24 about the five leading causes of death of young people. They instead found out that the last portion of the live walk-through show is Christian-based — asking participants to pray, leading them out of the devil’s clutches toward the light of God and then offering “counselors” at the end of the presentation.
I think it really did push a lot of religion into it, especially when they asked us to pray,” said Mario Armendariz, a 17-year-old who is home-schooled locally. “I didn’t feel right praying with someone from a different religion or someone I didn’t know.”
Its religious connotation wasn’t translated to the public, said Peter Bostic, executive director of institutional advancement for the college. He called it a “good marketing job” and added that “you don’t see any sign externally about their objective from an evangelical point of view.”
A flier picked up at Crystal Middle School shows no religious affiliation and no mention that several of the rooms are religious re-enactments.
The outside of the white tent seems to list no religious affiliation. A Daily Republic reporter was refused entrance and a photographer was given minimal access — confined to the first two “rooms.” A call to its headquarters and a search of the website, http://whatisthe99.com, fail to reveal its parent entity — the founder’s name is Terry Henshaw, but that isn’t listed on the website. Its Facebook page doesn’t list its leaders and its MySpace page isn’t working.
“The website is not very revealing and I wonder if it’s deliberate,” said SCC instructor Annette Dambrosio. “It should be up front. If they want to recruit, they should be up-front about it.”
Transparent — or not?
Its overt Christian affiliation wasn’t discovered by Solano Community College until later in the game: at a Board of Trustees meeting in January. That’s when Joan West, a pastor at Liberty Christian Center — which represented “The 99″ locally — was asked if it was a faith-based event, said Jowel Laguerre, president/superintendent of the college. . ..
After West presented to the board in January and the religious affiliation was confirmed, SCC chose not to partner with the group, which would have given the group free use of the parking lot, Laguerre said. The group’s founder, Henshaw, instead signed a facilities contract with Bostic, like any other entity renting a piece of the school, at the end of April and paid $2,016 for use, according to the contract. . . .
A photographer for the paper noted in Ultimate near-death experience or underhanded approach?, his first-person account:
Anyone trying to find out what is inside that big white tent in the Solano Community College parking lot will not find any answers on the event’s website.
A glance from the outside doesn’t reveal much either, only a sign saying it is the “Ultimate Near Death Experience.” . . .
Nowhere on the outside of the tent did it say anything about its blatant religious intent. How could something that started out as seemingly innocent pseudo-entertainment, turn into a lesson on eternal damnation and take itself seriously?
I wasn’t bothered by the religious message itself. It was the underhanded way in which it was presented that was so irksome. Apparently the people behind “The 99″ think that the only way to get their message across to the younger generation is to clothe it in sensationalized, B-movie gore and violence.
Do they really think that the younger generation, who is obviously target audience for “The 99,” needs to be shocked into believing?
Apparently so--and to be lured in by "mysterious" marketing. In 2013, the Tampa Tribune reported in The 99 aims to scare teens onto right path:
And though organizers don't want to stress the faith element for fear that will keep some people away, there's no denying it's an integral part of the experience as well.
The last two viewing rooms feature a raw crucifixion scene with a bloodied Christ on the cross, and a shortened version of the Christian video, “The Train,” a story of a father who sacrificed his son to save a train full of passengers. The final stop is an area manned by trained “encouragers” who are standing by if spectators want to talk about issues in their lives or to hear about the Gospel and eternal salvation. . . .
He says word-of-mouth generally doubles the turnout every weekend, with some people waiting in line for as long as two hours. His main concern is that some youth might avoid the 99 if they get the impression it's “too churchy or preachy.” Promotional materials are deliberately “mysterious” instead of religious to create some buzz and intrigue.
It might be Henshaw's job to draw audiences through "mystery", but it ought not be the business of the West Central Tribune to truncate Henshaw's resume or conceal the ministry he leads. For a 2013 990 tax filing for Henshaw's ministries, read the PDF here.
We're also curious whether those figures from the CDC, upon the show drew its name in 2008, are still accurate.
Love the WC Tribune, but this article is an epic fail in reporting.
Photo: A cropped image of The 99's tent from the West Central Tribune, which accompanied the iamge with this cutline: "Workers set up Thursday in the Kandi Mall parking lot in Willmar outside the 20,000-square-foot tent that houses The 99, a live, walk-through reality theater production designed to shock. Beginning tonight, patrons can walk through and view graphic scenes of deadly consequences that young people could have been avoided if they had made smarter choices. (GARY MILLER | TRIBUNE)."
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