IN THE BEGINNING, Todd Starnes was watching MTV's Road Rules, and it was only moderately good. In that reality show, a group of twentysomethings travel the country in a Winnebago, parasailing and bungee jumping and generally finding out about themselves, which pleased Starnes greatly. But they were also swearing, and boozing, and falling into one another's hard, tattooed arms with abandon. That was bad.
Starnes, 33, an assistant editor at the Baptist Press, a Nashville-based Christian news wire, took his concerns to FamilyNet Television, a national cable network. Thus was begotten TruthQuest: California, a 13-episode, 30-minute show that debuts in October, in which 12 not particularly unruly Southern Baptist teens cruise Cali in a 45-foot motor home, spreading the Word and partaking in adventure sports.
To do this, they will visit "cutting-edge ministries" across the state. In one episode, they'll surf, hitting the waves near San Diego's Crystal Pier on longboards rounded up by local beachside pastor Evan Lauer. (Lauer holds monthly summer services on the sand for his surfer congregation. "When the waves pick up," he admits, "the members do get fidgety.") After they've been tossed in God's great washing machine, the TruthQuesters will head over to the boardwalk, where they'll hand out sunblock.
Later on, the gang will top-rope in the Swan Slab area of Yosemite and rappel down 120 feet of Lena's Crack before joining Steve Hughes, an in-park chaplain, for some proselytizing. In the past, says Hughes, he's helped visiting church groups hand out refreshments. "We'd tell climbers, 'We just wanted to let you know that God loves you and here's some juice.' The climbers are like, 'Hey, wow, this is free?'"
Two weeks on a co-ed bus (with additional stops for a ropes course in the Sierra Nevada and a river-rafting trip) may lead into temptation, but don't hold your breath. "People need to see that not every teenager has a foul mouth, or is out there being promiscuous or smoking," says TruthQuester Sarah Brown, 16, of Youngstown, Ohio. "You know, we actually do positive things."