When Bishop Deron Cloud, pastor of the Soul Factory, a church with congregations in Waldorf and Forestville, first announced his plan to teach life lessons to adolescent girls, he wasn't sure what the response would be.
A few months ago, when he opened the latest edition of a three-day event that is a cross between a seminar and a camp meeting, more than 350 teenage girls showed up.
They came to a program Cloud dubbed "The Girl's Experience Phase II" at his church in Forestville, he said, because they wanted "to find out what time it is" when it comes to relationships, self-esteem, sex and other issues they confront as teenagers.
As the event opened last summer, Cloud told the cheering teenagers and adults that he wanted them to know the facts of life that "Lil' Kim, Missy Elliott and Destiny's Child won't tell you."
Sessions during the three days reflected Cloud's belief that many teenage girls are missing out on a mentoring relationship with a male family member. "Who's Your Daddy?" and "Everything Daddy Would Have Taught His Daughter If He Could Talk" were among the presentations. Cloud used facilitators, videos, skits, music and live testimonials to help get his message across. The program also included career counselors who talked to participants about academics and the girls' futures.
"What I hope to accomplish," Cloud said, "is for a girl to decide to totally cut men back until she's ready and focused on her life.
"The last thing you need is to be pressed for a man to take care of you," said Cloud, whose stepdaughter is in her second year of medical school.
Cloud's play, "The Girlfriend/Boyfriend Thang," was presented to participants on the first day. He has worked on the production for 15 years.
The stage in the huge sanctuary exploded with teenage dancers mimicking the moves in music videos. They were accompanied by the latest rap music pounding from speakers. Just about all the young girls in the audience sprang to their feet, clapped, danced in place and sang along -- every uncut and raunchy word. And just in case any of the parents missed a word or two, Cloud, 39, passed out printed copies of the lyrics.
"From the beginning, I wasn't too sure where [Cloud] was going with the music," said Monica Reed, a Waldorf mother who brought her daughter, niece and their friend, ages 12, 14 and 15 to the Experience. "It was like, 'Wait, this is backwards,' " Reed said.
Undaunted by the adults' shock, Cloud continued to delight the young crowd with music, excerpts from music videos and theme songs from television shows. The girls happily lobbed back the lyrics on cue.
In the midst of all that pop culture, though, Cloud threw out a single Bible verse, Matthew 6:22 -- "The light of the body is the eye" -- and cued the girls for a response. The sanctuary fell silent.
Cloud gradually changed the mood by drawing out the hidden meanings in the lyrics he had played and they had sung. He mentioned the consequences of promiscuity, unwanted pregnancies, sexual abuse, verbal abuse, domestic violence, self-degradation and incest, highlighting his points with more live testimonies, videos, skits and news reports.
"What I want to be able to do in the next couple of days," Cloud said to the crowd, "is to give you a history lesson. We've laughed. We've had a good time. Now, I need you to listen to me."
"It was very powerful how in the end, [the girls in the crowd] weren't interested in singing that same music. So, I couldn't have said it any better myself. I thought it was excellent," Reed said.
Many of the staff members and volunteers who facilitated sessions over the three days could teach with examples from their own lives. "I worked with the 14- to 16-year-old girls," said Anya Farrar-Lucky, 34, of Waldorf. "That's when I was my most rebellious, when I was younger. I had some life-changing things happened to me when I was between 14 and 16."
At the end of each day's program, the girls spent the night -- with attentive chaperones -- at the Colony South Hotel in Clinton.
The days were not focused on heavy issues around the clock. There were movies, food, basketball, a luau, African and Hawaiian dancers, and the ever-present Cloud -- laughing, dancing, playing games with the girls and canvassing the area on a scooter.
Brittany Suber, 17, of Lanham said the experience was life-changing because it "showed us how real life is, everything we go through."
Cloud asked the girls to let him be their father for three days and to talk to them about what their own fathers either tried to tell them, couldn't tell them or weren't around to tell them.
"I had been going through things with my dad and boys," Michelle Epperson, 13, of Waldorf, said. "I thought this would be good for me and teach me something."
When the Experience concluded on a Saturday evening with a "graduation ceremony," plenty of parents stood by waiting for their daughters.
"This is the second daughter who's come to the program," said Clarence Ray of Bowie, who was with his wife, Terri. "It reinforces the things that we've been teaching our daughter her entire life, and that is to follow the word of God and live a holy life, and respect her body. Therefore, other people will respect it as well."
Marty Graham of Lusby sent her daughter, Derkia, 15, to the program. "I would have done or paid anything for my daughter to go," Graham said. "It really impacted her."
For information about the Soul Factory churches and this program for girls, visit www.soldiersoutreach.com or call 301-772-7325.