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July 9, 2018 - 3 comments

The Last Two Miles

The Last Two Miles
A journey through the desert

by Betsy Meenk

Facing challenges in our lives are often the best times to learn valuable lessons for living life to its fullest.  It was during a recent 4-day cycling challenge that I learned lessons in selflessness that I hope will help equip me to overcome tests and trials in a God-honoring manner in the future.  

The organization I work for, ZOE International, conducted a 64-day coast to coast cycling challenge called Road of Justice in order to bring awareness to the issue of child trafficking.  The organizers of this event, Brad and Lori Ortenzi, took on this challenge with focus and determination that was inspirational. They road every inch of the 3,700 miles through all kinds of terrain, varying weather conditions, sore muscles and a host of other challenges.  Keeping them going when their bodies and minds were done was the thought of all the pain and suffering a child caught in the trap of human trafficking must endure. Bringing attention to this atrocity in order to end it was their singular focus.

I had the privilege of spending a week on the road with Brad and Lori and other cyclists who joined them along the way.   3 of those days were spent on my bike making our way from the Grand Canyon to Needles, California, approximately 245 miles (my 4th day was the last day of the ride; Fontana to Santa Monica).  It was the last 2 miles of that 3rd day near Needles, California that opened my eyes to a valuable principle I thought I knew but I discovered I still needed to grasp.  What follows are the lessons I learned from those last 2 miles.

It was the last day of a 3-day ride before we got a rest day.  The first two days had their challenges but this 3rd day pushed me both physically and mentally.   At about 50 miles in, we were faced with a 4-mile climb that had as much as a 7% grade at times.  The other riders in the group that day made this climb look easy as they all passed me struggling up this hill.  I am fairly new to cycling and I am not a good climber so this really pushed my limits. As I fought my way up the hill, my sister stayed with me cheering me on.   At one point Brad came back to ride with me pulling me up the hill with his words of encouragement. Either one of these riders could have made it up the hill much faster to get off their bikes for a much deserved rest but instead chose to stay with me!  At the top of the hill, I was met by a line of the other riders cheering me on.

I know I could not have made it up that hill without the motivation of the other riders.   It became very apparent to me that day that I was a member of a team and that the strength of the team was in each individual rider looking out for the others.  It reminds me of Rudyard Kipling’s law of the jungle quoted in the jungle book: “the strength of the pack is the wolf and the strength of the wolf is the pack”.  I definitely got my strength from the pack on that hill. The reality of drawing strength from team members would set me up to learn a valuable lesson in selflessness.  That lesson would come at the last 2 miles of this 3rd day.  

After climbing that hill, we had the most amazing and exhilarating downhill that seemed to magically erase the pain of that 4-mile climb.  The rest of the ride that day should have been fairly easy but at about 10 miles out something began to happen in my body. Although we were on a flat road, I felt like I was climbing again.  It was hot (upper 90’s) and every pedal stroke became a mental exercise to keep going. Just before the California/Arizona border the group stopped for something. I was feeling a bit nauseous so I got off my bike to sit down in the shade for a minute to cool off while the group did whatever they needed to do.   Brad and my sister were close by and asked if I was okay. I told them that I was just a bit nauseous but that I would be okay. As I stood up to get back on my bike I felt a little light headed so I sat back down to try and clear my head. Seeing my condition, my sister dumped cold water on my head and Brad encouraged me to call it a day and take a ride on the van the final 2 miles.  My immediate thought was, “No way, I am not giving up with only 2 miles to go. I can push through.” My body and others on the team convinced me otherwise, sighting facts about the dangers of heat exhaustion and so in the van I went. I felt totally defeated as I sat crying in the van and trying to cool off while my teammates loaded up my bike. 2 stinking miles to go and here I am sitting in the van!  I was feeling quite sorry for myself! Before getting back on his bike to complete the day’s ride, Brad poked his head in the van to check on me. The two simple words he uttered at that moment would play over and over again in my head the next several days. He simply looked at me and said, “No pouting!”

No pouting?  But pouting is just what I wanted to do.  I failed. I didn’t finish. I was weak. What did the other riders think of me?  I was pouting because I was thinking of myself; not about the group of riders I was with; not about the children we were riding for; just me!  Why no pouting? Because this was not about me, it was a team effort that we were ALL doing for children who were suffering through the horrors of human trafficking.   It really didn’t matter if I rode my bike another two miles or not. This wasn’t about my personal goals or my achievements. It was about children who needed help! I had lost my focus.

I would like to say that Brad’s words snapped me out of my selfish stupor at that moment but that is not the case.  I continued to pout and regret my decision to get in the van and not finish those last two miles on my bike that day.  I thought ending my ride two miles short of the finish line would haunt me the rest of my life. But after a rest day it was my turn to drive the support vehicle which would help to form the deep and hopefully long lasting lesson of “no pouting”.  As the driver, it was my responsibility to be available to the riders to provide water, snacks, find rest stops or anything else they needed. I stayed behind the riders most of the time over the long and monotonous roads of the Mojave Desert and watched them work together to overcome some pretty daunting riding conditions.  There were six riders but after following and watching them work together for 3 days, I no longer saw six riders; I saw one unit. Because I was by myself in the van I had plenty of time to think and contemplate the selfless team effort that was unfolding before my eyes in comparison to my pouting episode in the van a couple of days earlier.  Oh, I had so much to learn from these determined individuals that I had come to admire so much.

Even now as I play those days over and over again in my mind, I am reminded of the words of the Apostle Paul wrote to the church at Ephesus: “You were all called to travel on the same road and in the same direction, so stay together, both outwardly and inwardly.”  Then to the Philippians he wrote: “Work together with one mind and one purpose. Don’t be selfish; don’t try to impress others. Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourselves. Don’t look out for your own interests, but take an interest in others too.”

I will never know if I could have done those last two miles.  But instead of that thought haunting me, it is teaching me a valuable life lesson:  This life is a journey we are on together. There are going to be hills to climb and challenging circumstances to face.  It is going to take all of us working together, encouraging each other to make it to the finish line. Along this road we may find ourselves out front leading.  Other times we may have to “sit on the van” for the benefit of the group. Either way, we travel together, we finish together, we win together.

To my fellow cyclists:  thank you for helping me climb mountains!  Thank you for teaching me to face challenges and conquer them selflessly.  Most of all, thank you for the sacrifices you made to help rescue more children and get them to the finish line!   

June 25, 2018 - No Comments!

From the Road

After 64 days and 3700 miles on the road, 20 Road of Justice cyclists crossed the finish line in Santa Monica Beach on JUNE 23rd, Saturday.  This cycling challenge was started by two of our ZOE missionaries, Brad and Lori Ortenzi. The ride officially kicked off on April 21st in Virginia.  Along the route, other cyclists have joined them in various states.

Below is a brief comment from one of cyclists, Patrice O’Neil.  

Hi everyone:

As most of you know, I’ve recently participated in the The Road of Justice fundraising ride across America.  Don’t worry, I did not do the entire ride - just 3 days. The ride ends tomorrow in Santa Monica, CA. Riders Brad and Lori Ortenzi and Tina Hipp get to dip their front tires in the ocean, completing a journey that started for them in VA on April 21st.  It’s a remarkable accomplishment. I’m so honored to have taken part for just a few days. My sister, Betsy, daughter Tracey, and friend Frances partnered up with an exceptionally dedicated and really, really hilarious group of people for 3 days in AZ. We experienced weather ranging from 47 degrees in the morning to 110 degrees in the afternoon; rain; flat tires - lots of them on Hwy 40, elk, coyotes, 23 mph headwinds (wicked hard), miles of climb, exhilarating steep descents, wild burros looking for snacks, and even had the strangest encounter initiated by carrot cake - ever. We rode between 85-95 miles each day.  

All along the way where it was possible to ride in pairs, we had incredible conversations with Brad and Lori especially. They both have been living and working in Thailand for several years.  I thought I understood ZOE International before but I truly had no idea of the depth and complexity of their work. In a nutshell, they work to prevent, rescue and restore kids and families affected by human trafficking. It’s a tricky, delicate, and very complicated work.  They are passionate about not exploiting children in any way, so you will never see a picture of one of their rescued children, or even hear a specific story. They protect the dignity and privacy of every child - always. It would surely make fundraising easier if they relented on this one point, but to their great credit, they’ll do things like ride across the entire U.S. instead.  They are unerringly respectful of the Thai culture and endeavor to work themselves out of a job as quickly as possible. Every bit of work revolves around carefully cultivated relationships and lots and lots of love. This same respect and care is being applied to their burgeoning efforts outside the L.A. area where they are building a facility to house, care for, and love girls rescued from trafficking.  

I can say with utter confidence that I have never been so impressed by an organization or group of people.  I know there is a lot of attention rightly being given to the children snatched from their parents at the border and I hope that you, as have I, are supporting efforts to reunite families.  I know many of you have already donated to the ZOE fundraiser, and for that, I am truly grateful. I am going to ask you to consider one more donation to ZOE as this particular fundraiser comes to a close.  The overall goal for this effort is $350,000. We’re shy of $250K. Any small amount will be a measure of encouragement and appreciation for the dedication and love expended by these fine people.

On the afternoon of day two, I rode with my sister for several hours.  Most of the group had pulled far ahead of us. We struggled mightily, as had those faster riders in the front, against 23 mph headwinds.  We were frequently pushed off the road by the wind. It was by far the hardest ride I’ve ever done. Brad and Lori circled back and rode with us just to keep us going.  They changed Betsy’s flat tire (her 4th!). We rode and rode and rode, until they encouraged her to take the lead. I didn’t realize we were at our destination and started to trundle past the cheering group on the other side of the road.  Betsy rolled in to high fives and pats on the back. The wind had sucked my brains out of my head so it took me a minute to realize this was our group. (Who else in their right mind would be out there anyway?)

Thank you!
Patrice

To donate to Road of Justice: https://give2.gozoe.org/checkout/donation?eid=130020

June 25, 2018 - No Comments!

Missionary Quarterly Meeting

by Andrea Cross

Once each quarter, the missionaries in Thailand get together for a day to worship together, have devotions and hear testimonies about what God is doing throughout all the different departments, areas and countries that ZOE is involved in.

It’s a highlight for most of us because so often we are focused on one or two areas of the ministry and these meetings give everyone a chance to hear updates, praise points and developments. They are also a chance to pray for needs, be encouraged and have a few laughs (and sometimes we shed a couple of tears too).

This quarter I was wondering if our meeting would be cancelled because so many of the missionaries are back in their home countries right now but I was excited to hear that it was going ahead.

Once again, there was a wonderful spirit of worship, a great devotion lead by Ben Wood and a praise update given by Lynne Ginoza. The surprise of the day though was that after watching a very encouraging movie called ‘Greater’ and fellowshipping over lunch, Brandon Kim had some super fun, team building games for us all to play.

We had a guys verses girls, Family Feud competition which the women won as well as gamecalled BFF – where Dave Cross and Jessica Dodd came out champions!  What an amazing blessing it is to be in a team who pray, praise, worship, cry and laugh together.

I look forward to the next quarter where we can gather once more and celebrate all that God is doing in and through this wonderful team here in Thailand.

  

  

June 20, 2018 - No Comments!

How far would you go?

by Lori-Ann Tsang

Are you familiar with the song by The Proclaimers, “I’m Gonna Be?” It’s a catchy tune and the chorus goes…

But I would walk 500 miles
And I would walk 500 more
Just to be the man who walks a thousand miles
To fall down at your door

It’s a song about what a man would do for love of a woman. In many ways, what our Road of Justice team chose to do was for love as well. But it was out of love for God and for the children who are in need of rescuing.

As Simpson and I supported our ROJ team for two weeks as they biked through Colorado and part of Utah, I was constantly amazed at their fierce determination, perseverance and strength.

We had the easy job of supporting them and making sure they were safe, hydrated and fed. They were doing all the heavy lifting… biking 70-100 miles a day in all kinds of weather and climbing thousands of feet in elevation. They are an inspiration.

Each day was a lesson in endurance, obedience and willfully choosing to keep pedaling. Why would anyone choose to bike 3700 miles over the course of 64 days? Obedience. God gave them a vision and a purpose to raise awareness of human trafficking and to raise funds for ZOE International that saves children who have been or may be trafficked. This was their call, their reason, their purpose. This was why they endure and continue to pedal on.

In the short time we were with them, they climbed 6000 feet a day at least 3 times. They biked up hill against 25-30 mile winds for many miles. They sat out a hail storm that covered a once green field in white pellets of ice. They climbed the Rockies to an elevation of 11,312 feet and crossed the continental divide. Even as I write this they continue on toward the West Coast and the completion of their journey. They have been biking through record high heat of 100+ degrees farhenheit and hot desert winds.

They will finish their ride on Saturday, June 23rd in Santa Monica, California.

As we have cheered them on and supported them, I

have had to ask myself “What would I do?” “Would I bike 3700 miles?” Many of us can’t or don’t have the capacity or ability to do this. But I have to ask myself, what can I do? What can YOU do? What is God asking of you?

Please pray for our team as they make their way west. Please prayerfully consider joining us in our fight to end human trafficking. I hope you are inspired and encouraged by our team. I know I am.

www.roadofjustice.com

June 6, 2018 - No Comments!

The Real Enemy

by Yuri Yamamoto

We at ZOE Japan, often go out to the downtown streets to pray for the city, people, and children. We believe that prayer is the first thing we always have to start with if we want to change something, especially to end human trafficking. Human trafficking exists in Japan, as well as in other countries. We know as a fact that not everyone willingly chooses to work in the red light district.

One of the nights during our prayer walk, God brought to me one middle-aged man who was sitting down in front of a train station. As we talked, he slowly shared his life story with me.  His mother is very ill and always in the hospital, his liver is in a critical condition that he could die at any moment, he does not have any friends that he can talk to, and amongst all of his struggles, has AIDS. He shared that it was because of his past lifestyle of many unsafe sexual relationships and having gone to many brothels in the past.

He said, “I will die alone like an animal. There is no hope or joy in my life.” Listening to how miserable he feels about life really broke my heart. I felt the urgency to share the gospel of Jesus Christ with him. I told him how Jesus came to die on the cross to forgive him and to wash his sins away. He refused at first saying, “No! I have done too many sinful things that shouldn’t be forgiven.” He also rejected my offer to pray for him. So I continued listening to him and shared God’s words about how much God loves him and wants him back.

After talking with him for a while, he started trusting me more and allowed me to pray for him. After my prayer, he had a BIG smile on his face and said “It is impressive how you prayed for every little detail that I shared with you tonight. I hadn’t had a conversation with anyone in forever!” He thanked me numerous times and told me he would go see his mother in the hospital the next day and tell her about the things I shared with him.

How wonderful it is to pray for people like him and see the change in his heart! Meeting him reminded me that our real enemy of exploitation is not people, but the one who blinded this man’s eyes and kept him captive for many years.

For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places.” -Ephesians 6:12

Please join us in prayer for many people like him and ZOE Japan missionaries as we continue to go out and share the love to Jesus as well as the Good News! We want to see the change and be God’s instrument to bring true freedom to this country!

May 30, 2018 - No Comments!

CMTA 2018

by Karen Miyamoto 

Recently, I was blessed to be able to attend the Annual Children’s Ministry conference that was held in Pasadena, CA.  ZOE has attended this event that is open to Children’s Ministry leaders for the past 7 years.

 

Being surrounded by leaders and volunteers that are eager to learn how to impact the next generation is always so encouraging.  These leaders and volunteers come to this conference to continually seek new and creative ways to share the love of Jesus and the

gospel their kids.  This event is always fun for me because I get to spend time with some amazing ZOE volunteers that help me at our booth for 2 days.  It’s also great seeing current ZOE supporters stop by our booth to say HELLO as well as getting to meet new people who love the work we are doing.

Dr. Jason Plunkett

This year, our newest addition to the ZOE team, Dr. Jason Plunkett who is our USA Regional Director, taught a break out session at the conference.  The topic he shared about was how the church can get involved in combatting human trafficking.  He enlightened the attendees on various human trafficking statistics as well as different signs to look for to spot a possible victim. Dr. Jason’s session was very informative and educational.

Along with various breakout sessions educating leaders and volunteers on how to teach, interact, and make church a fun place for kids, there were around 40 other vendors/ministries selling products related to Children’s Ministry and/or sharing outreach opportunities children can get involved in.  Speaking with other vendors and ministries always reminds me that there are so many people out there doing great work.  Though I may never see them again, we all take a small piece of the puzzle, to help make a difference in this world.

Being able to share about ZOE’s Kids Helping Kids program at this event with leaders impacting children is always fun.  Kids Helping Kids is a program designed to help children learn in a fun and interactive way about caring for others in need and empowering them to know that no matter how small they are, they can make a BIG difference in the world. Children are given plastic tubes to collect $15 in quarters. This small amount of change can feed, clothe, and educate a child in Thailand fora full week! Funds collected through this program play an active role in assisting ZOE International’s efforts to help human trafficking victims in Thailand.  If this program is something you would like to get your church or home school group involved in, let us know!  It’s a great tool to be incorporated during VBS as well as the holiday season.

If you are a church leader or volunteer that works with children, I highly recommend registering for next year’s CMTA conference.  You will be inundated with so many amazing resources and beneficial breakout sessions.  It’s also a great place to network with other leaders from different churches.  Working as a team is always much more fun.  Click here to get more information about CMTA.

May 22, 2018 - No Comments!

Japan’s Needs are Unique

As we face the problem of human trafficking among Japanese children, we discovered many problems related to sexual exploitation, such as force of appearances for pornography and other sexual exploitations. The background is different from other countries that are havingissues of sex trafficking due to poverty. The situation in Japan is quite unique.

Many parents tend to put children under pressure for them to be academically successful. “Success” means to get good grades and get into a good university, which then will lead to a successful career in the future.

In Japan, there are an estimated 34,288 reports of missing children and young people from teenagers to those in their 20s in 2016. Family relationships seem to be a main cause for this.  There are cases where children are being neglected by parents as well. “Trust” and “security” are missing in the relationship between parents and children.

There is a famous Japanese proverb that says, “Deru kui wa utareru” (the stake that sticks up gets hammered down).  It means “if you stand out, you will be subject to criticism.” In schools, children are under the constant pressure to act and behave in the same way as others around them. There is risk of being bullied if a child chooses to do something unique or different from the majority of the group. This is a very exhausting friendship children face in schools as well as society.

There is a lack of encouragement, someone to say “you are valuable the way you are”

around these children. Traffickers prey on these children who are craving love and affection. Sadly, the strategy to coax those into trafficking is similar to those in other countries.  Traffickers camouflage themselves to be a scouting agent for modeling jobs, and sometimes even a potential boyfriend/girlfriend. Before a child realizes it,he/she is victimized to appear on various pornography outlets and forced to do other sexual services. They are in bondage to the trafficker who gives them an irrational debt and proclaims not to release him/her until the debt is paid. They also know all of the child’s information, including parents, friends, school, and etc.

Japan is a country that is economically blessed and our physical and material needs are always taken care of, but the voice of children crying out for love and affection is drowned out by the noise of parents and society.

What do Japanese children need?

  • Loving and caring parents (adults) who accept and value them for who they are
  • Biblical counseling that can help children to make better decisions in life
  • Biblical truth and teaching about sex that God has designed

One thing we can all do for the children of Japan is PRAY!  Needs are great in Japan. Not necessarily physical or material needs, but spiritual need is crucial. This is why ZOE is passionate about doing prevention work in Japan through sharing the love of God in Christ. We believe that we can make a huge difference and bring light to children’s lives through Jesus.

May 4, 2018 - No Comments!

Not So Flashy

by Marji Iacovetti

Obtaining accreditation for a nonprofit organization is a daunting task. The process can take 80 personnel hours each week for 18 months. It is also a new legal requirement for organizations that provide residential care for youth in California…so ZOE is beginning theaccreditation journey.

We purchased manuals that describe more than 1,200 standards surveyors will use to rate ZOE during a site visit to our Southern California facilities. Two of our staff members flew to Florida to attend a 3-day accreditation conference. ZOE is also contracting with a specialist who is helping us draft several dozen procedural documents.

Earning accreditation is challenging and costly. When donors think of compelling causes to support, few think about ensuring compliance to hundreds of detailed standards.

In truth though, dollars (and hours) ZOE will spend earning accreditation will bring a solid return on investment. The process will help us to gather useful data, measure our effectiveness, identify needs for improvement, avoid waste, and move forward strategically. It will equip us to serve well.

Accreditation is all about providing excellent care and ZOE is deeply committed to doing that very thing. If you feel drawn to provide financial support for a not-so-flashy but truly meaningful project, please call ZOE’s U.S. office at 661.255.7963.

April 2, 2018 - No Comments!

National Social Work Month

By Vickie McCoy

Did you know that March was National Social Work Month? 

I did not, until today when I attended a Commercially Sexually Exploited Children (CSEC) Service Providers Roundtable meeting and the facilitator started the meeting by thanking all the social workers in the room for the work they do.

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February 19, 2018 - No Comments!

Bringing Young Leaders Together

by Hanne Fellers

The beginning of the year is usually a busy time for our U.S. office due to January being human trafficking awareness month. We were able to help spread awareness about human trafficking to over 500 people just on January 11th - which is the national human trafficking day in the US declared by the President since 2010.
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