This year, ZOE International celebrates 20 years of reaching those who have not yet heard about Jesus and rescuing children from the horrors of human trafficking. ZOE is named after the Greek word for LIFE in the Bible. Jesus said, ‘I came that they may have LIFE (ZOE) and have it abundantly.’ ZOE Founders Michael and Carol Hart unapologetically lead with their faith in God as the only Source who can truly change lives for the better.
“It is shocking in our modern world that 3.3 billion people have never heard about Jesus or what He came to earth to do for them,” said Michael Hart, ZOE Founder, and CEO. “Even though we have radios, television, and the internet, many don’t know that God created them and loves them. We as Christians must do something about that.”
When Michael and Carol Hart founded ZOE International in 2002, they were excited to start in a foreign country where the population was less than 1% Christian, and the gospel was needed. “We think it is unfair that some have heard about Jesus multiple times and others have never heard about Him,” said Michael. “We aim for the rest of our lives to make that right by leading every day in the Great Commission. Until every person is reached with the gospel, we aren’t done. Until every child is rescued, we aren’t done. We accomplish this by training and empowering leaders in their nation. They know the language and the culture and are much better than us at reaching their people.”
ZOE has also never been ‘headline-driven; they began their work 20 years ago when human trafficking was not yet on the global stage, and very little could be found on the subject. ZOE Founder and President Carol Hart added, “Many people feel overwhelmed by the enormity and darkness of child trafficking. It is difficult to believe that the buying, selling, and trading of children exists, but it does. We have the power to do something about it! God’s love for people motivates our global first responders, advocates, restoration and prevention teams, our generous donors, and all who work with us each day to keep fighting for freedom and every child touched by this evil.
In the beginning, the reasons not to do this work were overwhelming, but our hearts were in total agreement when God clearly spoke to us, ‘I hear their cries, and I need your life….’ So we set up ZOE International, our 501(c)(3) in Santa Clarita, California, sold what we had, and moved to Thailand, where we didn’t know one person. It was scary because we were unqualified. We had no experience doing this type of work. Our personal money would someday run dry, and we only had a handful of donors. We needed to provide for 47 children at risk for trafficking from day one. In part, we also knew that the buyers and sellers of children were fueled by criminals and sometimes very powerful people. We had no protection, nothing that could help us in their country. But we had God, and we were sure He was leading us, and we were following the vision He put in our hearts.
GOD taught us how to navigate successfully in a foreign land all these years. It was He who removed the ‘impossible’ that always seemed to be in our way. We know God speaks to people to send the finances needed. We never had to stop moving forward and taking ground. It was He who provided our daily protection. We had front row seats to watch the gentle way God would open the hearts to generations of lost souls and heal the broken hearts of children from trauma.
For ZOE to succeed in this work, it takes that ‘1 in a million’ employee/volunteer who can truly love the people we serve. We have the privilege to serve alongside the most devoted-selfless-brilliant individuals.
Because of our desperate need for God’s involvement every day, we are firsthand witnesses and Master Historians of His faithfulness. There would be no success, no ZOE if God were not real,” said Carol.
From the beginning, God’s favor has been on ZOE with numerous miraculous stories of rescue and restoration, unsolicited generosity, important partnerships with local and federal governments, and law enforcement. People of all ages are coming to Christ in seemingly some of the most challenging and far-flung places.
“It takes an army of dedicated people to sacrifice and give to support our work,” said Michael. “Our donors are just as important as our front-line workers. That front-line worker will never scoop a child up in their arms without the donor behind them or share the gospel in hostile areas without our donors right beside them. We are in the places we are in and doing the work we are doing thanks to our beloved donors.”
Although human trafficking is thought to be more active in other countries, ZOE knows the desperate need to work right here at home in America due to the fast-growing domestic child trafficking crisis. “Children and families here and worldwide are manipulated, lied to, coerced, and forced into seemingly hopeless situations by traffickers. Their main targets have been the poor, unprotected, uncared for orphans/foster children. Today, children from ‘wealthy – normal’ families are equally at risk. Traffickers don’t discriminate. Their prey is as young as infants. They are greedy opportunists. If we don’t push back, the trafficker’s reach will continue to grow.
We were influenced and raised to fight for fairness and freedom in our beloved America. But it is because we are believers in Jesus Christ that gives us the courage and the drive to do the right thing. Human Trafficking is the 21st Century’s Human Rights issue globally. After 20 years of looking for long-term solutions to end child trafficking, we have a path to freedom, but we need the local Church,” said Carol. “We believe that the Body of Christ carries the answer inside of each of us for every crisis on earth.”
As ZOE celebrates its 20th anniversary, ZOE International is looking ahead to reach the masses and share the gospel through media and technology. “Yes, the solution is audaciously huge,” said Michael. “Some people comment that it is ridiculous to say that the gospel is the answer to stopping human trafficking. From our experience, we know when it is narrowed down to the hurting person in front of us – they need to know Jesus.”
ZOE operates in the United States, Thailand, Australia, Japan, and Mexico and employs over 190 people globally.