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Christmas Around the World

November 15, 2020

Prior to moving overseas in 2010 to work cross-culturally, I had only ever ‘missed’ being with my family on Christmas Day once. On December 24th, 2003 my husband and I were traveling through Rome and spent a wonderful (freezing cold) Christmas Eve at St. Peter’s Square in the Vatican City. We woke up in Florence on Christmas Day and then went on to Nice in France. It was our first experience of Christmas in winter. 

Growing up in Australia, December is summer time. It’s our big school break and Christmas Day is usually hot! Many people attend or watch on television Christmas Carol events in the lead up to Christmas Day. Typically on the 25th, my extended family would have a hot roast for lunch and then enjoy either BBQ meats or cold meats like ham off the bone, seafood and salads for dinner. Christmas crackers would be found at each person’s table place. After cracking them open with the person sitting next to you, we would pull out a colored paper crown to wear during dinner, a small toy, and a joke on a small strip of paper. Jokes would be shared across the table and after eating, everyone would gather around the decorated Christmas tree to exchange gifts.     

In Thailand with just over 1% Christians, Christmas is very different. For the majority of Thai people, who are Buddhists, rather than Christmas, the coming of the New Year is celebrated. You will see some Christmas decorations in the malls here, and occasionally even hear Christmas carols playing but Christmas Day is a regular day (not a holiday) and if it falls on a weekday, you’ll still see public schools in full swing. 

When you think about Christmas, what images come to your mind? Depending on where you live in the world, your experiences of Christmas will vary according to your country’s religious beliefs, culture, traditions and climate.

ZOE works in America, Thailand, Australia, Japan and Mexico. All very different nations! So we wanted to find out what Christmas is like for people living in those countries. This month on social media, you’ll see our staff from all around the world sharing their personal memories and experiences in the country they grew up in, or live in now. I don’t know about you but I can’t wait to hear whether or not there’s any truth to the notion that Japanese people enjoy KFC on Christmas Day!

-Andrea Cross

REVENGE PORNOGRAPHY

November 12, 2020

Every year, as the school year draws to an end, many students are breathing a sigh of relief, eager to escape the daily routine of going to school. Because on top of the academic pressure, cram schools, and after-school activities, some students are now facing a new enemy…“revenge porn.”  

“Revenge pornography” is when explicit photos or images of a person are distributed (mostly online) without his/her consent with the intention to embarrass or cause emotional harm.  

According to the National Police Agency in Japan, the number of cases continue to rise with as many as 1,559 “revenge porn” cases affecting children reported in 2019. More than 80% of those cases were related to junior high and high school students, but sadly even preschool children fell victim in more than 50 cases.  

Sometimes children become victims by participating in sexting, the sending and receiving of explicit content such as nude selfies, which are then later used by previous romantic partners or friends to embarrass or bully them. In a recent case reported by local media, a group of junior high school boys secretly filmed girls in the locker room and sold the photos and videos via online chat.

Victims find themselves in a constant state of fear and anxiety, often leading to severe depression, or worse. Their vulnerability now exposed, they become easy targets for child sex traffickers who will use deception or manipulation to exploit them further.   

ZOE Japan is blessed to have a strong relationship with another NPO in Japan that supports victims of “revenge pornography” and removes the harmful images from the web. Through this relationship, we are able to observe, learn, and participate in the counseling process to ensure that survivors receive the necessary legal support to clear their names and start the restoration journey. It’s a wonderful opportunity for us to expand our professional network and gain experience in supporting survivors.  

Please pray for spiritual protection, strength, and wisdom for our team members, and for opportunities to share the love of Jesus with survivors and staff.  

-Japan Team

ZOE Japan to Meet with Government Officials

October 14, 2020

ZOE Japan to Meet with Government Officials

On October 29th and November 30th, ZOE Japan will have the unique opportunity as JNATIP members to meet directly with various government officials to discuss policy reforms and various anti-trafficking initiatives.

There are several topics on the agenda to be discussed with different government departments; and all of them are very important for the purpose of protecting children and people in vulnerable positions. 

One of the main agenda items is related to simulated and virtual child sexual abuse material (child pornography). In Japan, possession of child sexual abuse material  became illegal in 2014, but it excludes simulated or virtual child sexual abuse material  such as anime, manga, child sex dolls, and virtual reality. Those in favor of continued freedom to produce these kinds of materials argue for freedom of expression in the arts, and that no real children are being harmed in the production of these materials. There are also arguments that it could prevent pedophiles from committing crimes against children in real life. 

However, according to the book Pedophilia Disorder – It Is Not Love written by Akiyoshi Saito, a psychiatric social worker and the Director of a rehabilitation clinic for people with various forms of addiction, the majority of patients who have been charged with a crime and being treated for pedophilia at his clinic had the regular habit of watching or looking at child sexual abuse material  multiple times a day. This indicates that the contents were not keeping them from committing a crime, but the material might be increasing their desire to abuse a real child instead of providing an outlet.

The real concern is not whether the child is real or not, but instead the intention of the material to sexualize children, potentially leading to more abusers and victims in our communities. We need to make every effort to eliminate content that could place children at risk. 

We are hopeful for an open discussion with the government representatives that will lead to   tangible action points to modify the law to protect children from being sexualized or objectified in any form.

The second topic that we will address is the “age of sexual consent.†During the Meiji era (1880s), the age of consent was set at 13 years old, and remains valid until this day. This has been a hindering issue when identifying human trafficking cases and punishing child traffickers. When a 13-year-old child has the legal authority to consent to sexual activities, it creates a huge challenge to provide evidence of exploitation, with abusers simply claiming that that child consented and receiving very light penalties if convicted.  

For example, if an abuser connects with a minor through a social media platform and they develop a “romantic relationship,” often, it turns into a sexually abusive relationship which can also be filmed, photographed, and uploaded online. In addition, there are cases in which accommodation and food are provided to runaway children, and sexual activity is required in return. Such cases clearly fit the definition of human trafficking, but if the victim fails to legally prove that it was clearly nonconsensual by use of means of threat or violence, this often leads to very light sentences for perpetrators (if convicted) and a high rate of repeat offenses.

This age of consent not only fails to deter crime and exploitation but also provides legal advantages to traffickers and abusers.

In the upcoming meetings, we will have the opportunity to discuss the possibility of raising the age of consent to 16 to protect young people from sexual crimes at a fundamental level and to punish child sex offenders.

As we are taking these bold steps to be a voice for the voiceless children of Japan, please pray that we will experience God’s favor at the meetings, and that the decisions made will reflect His perfect will for Japan!

Written by Yuri Osborne (Japan Regional Manager)

Hi-rise building

A New Aquarium: Delivering Health and Wellbeing Benefits

October 1, 2020

A New Aquarium: Delivering Health and Wellbeing Benefits

I remember that my grandmother used to love to sit and stare at the aquarium my older brother kept at home. As a teenager, I never really understood how she could just sit there and watch the fish swim for hours. Have you ever done this? Just sit and watch fish swim? Or have you ever been to a large public aquarium and spent way too long in the darkened room with that huge tank holding all the different species of fish and other sea creatures? 

Aquarium of gold fishIt is captivating and actually very relaxing and calming.

Recently, we installed a fish tank at our Child Rescue Center in Thailand. When the girls heard about it they were so excited. In fact, one of them asked if she could purchase her own pet fish to raise in the aquarium. With much joy and anticipation she and one of our ZOE moms bought a fish each to raise in the tank together. 

close up view of aquarium of fishIt is a simple aquarium with a good number of fish but it has been so LIFE-giving and restorative for our youth. Not only are they able to sit and enjoy watching the fish, they are also taking ownership and caring for the fish and working together to clean the tank regularly. It’s become a fun family activity that they do together.

child looking at an aquarium of fishFun fact: Did you know that there are studies that show how watching fish swim in an aquarium can actually help reduce stress and anxiety and help with relaxation?

– Written by Lori-Ann Tsang

LINK to study

Frog Blog: A Ribbeting Story of Self-Sustainability

September 29, 2020

A Ribbeting Story of Self-Sustainability

“Then the Lord spoke to Moses, “Say to Aaron, ‘Stretch out your hand with your rod over the streams, over the rivers, and over the ponds, and cause frogs to come up on the land of Egypt.’â€Â  – Exodus 8:5

Frogs, frogs, frogs! The folks in Egypt were fed up with frogs so Pharaoh entreated Moses to get rid of them. It might have been a different story had it been set in Thailand. Thai people love to be fed up with frogs. In fact, fat frogs are a delicacy to Thai taste buds!

As part of ZOE’s food self-sustainability program, we have recently started growing frogs. Our staff, students, and children love frogs and we can expand our menu without increasing our overall costs.

The frogs are raised in a concrete basin measuring 3×3 meters and 2 meters deep. A portion of the basin is covered with shallow water while the top is covered with a protective mesh to keep birds and other predators out. ZOE also raises catfish and tilapia on our fish farm, but whereas the fish take up to a year or more from fry to frying pan, frogs leap from tadpole to table in 3-4 months. Thus, we can harvest at least 3 “crops†of frogs every year.  

Toads basking in the sun next to a tree trunkEach army of frogs comprises several hundred animals. We buy them when they are just past the tadpole stage for about six cents apiece and feed them with pelletized frog food. When fully grown, the frogs are the length of a smartphone and as thick as a man’s fist.

The chefs in ZOE’s kitchen love frogs, too, because they are easy to cook and can be prepared in a variety of tantalizing and tasty ways. Some like them best boiled, braised, baked, or barbecued. They are great grilled or roasted. Fried, fricasseed, or flambéed frogs are flavorful favorites. And any spread will surely be more scrumptious with steamed, sautéed, seared, smoked, simmered, stewed, or stir-fried frog! Serve with rice or noodles and – voilà! – a feast fit for a king (if not for a Pharaoh)!

Today sitting on a blockWith our first frog yield due in a hop, skip, and a jump, we expect our ZOE family will soon be jumping for joy themselves!

– Written by Ron Boyer

 

How I See Myself

September 23, 2020

How I See Myself

Age-related long sightedness is considered a normal part of getting old. As someone in their 40s, who is realizing that small text is increasingly getting harder to focus on, I am well aware that by the age of 45 many people need reading glasses.

Thankfully though, needing reading glasses does not impact the way that I am learning to see myself. It takes focusing on the truth to see “the inner me†– the way God sees me – and this type of “sight†has no age limit or restriction. But it does take some practice! 

children looking at a mapRecently I had the opportunity to share about this topic with the teens at the ZOE Learning Center. Through many different activities, from looking through different lenses and objects, to examining different perspectives, we learned that there was often more than just one way to look at something. 

Although everyone’s life story is different, there are many things that we all have in common.

  • At different points in our lives, we all face setbacks.
  • When we face setbacks we have choices about how we respond.
  • We all have a choice to see ourselves through our own eyes, or through God’s eyes.
  • We all have a choice about whether we listen to lies or truth about who we are.

By recognizing that there is often a mismatch in the way we see ourselves compared to how God sees us, we can choose which lens to look through. I don’t know about you, but for me, the way He sees me is a much nicer view! When God looks at me He sees a beautiful creation, no mistake, chosen, wanted, loved, forgiven … And I must admit sometimes (more often than I care to admit) that’s not the way I see myself.

Children looking through city imagesThere are many life lessons that I learn through nature. And the aloe vera plant is one example of something that has taught me a lesson this year. Aloe vera is one of those things that I have growing in various parts of my garden. It sprouts up easily and seems to thrive almost anywhere. To be honest, I used to just see it more like a weed than anything special until I learned and understood how amazing it really is.  From being good for your skin, your hair, pimples, itchy bites, sunburn, even in smoothies … it’s really quite incredible.

Children listening to a Woman team member teach Sometimes we might feel like a weed, pushed aside, unwanted, useless, out of place in a garden of more beautiful plants, but God doesn’t see us like that. He sees us as amazing. And the aloe vera plant reminds me to see myself, and others, in the same way He does!  

child looking at Where's Waldo book

By Andrea Cross

A Rider’s Perspective

September 18, 2020

 

ROAD OF JUSTICE FROM A RIDER’S PERSPECTIVE

– Written by Betsy Meenk Alviani –

I just participated in and completed one of the hardest physical challenges I have ever encountered. ZOE’s Road of Justice was an 8-day 630+ mile cycling ride from Brunswick, Maine to New Holland, Pennsylvania. It was filled with beautiful views of the eastern United States countryside, fellowship with passionate people, and some of the toughest climbs I have encountered to date on my bicycle.

Brad Ortenzi and other bike race ridersOne of the things that kept me going was focusing on the purpose for why we were riding. Each morning before we set out on our ride for the day, our leader Brad Ortenzi, would give us something to focus on. Sometimes it was a specific child at ZOE and the challenges they were facing. Other days it was the Child Rescue team or the children who have not yet been rescued. Instead of crying about a hill we had to climb, we were encouraged to pray for our daily focus. That really put everything into perspective for me!

road race bicycle roadClose to the end of a tough Day 7 I was thinking that I only had to survive one more day and then I would be done. It gave me hope! This immediately made me think of the children who are trying to survive one more day in the dark and brutal world of child trafficking. They don’t know when or IF their pain will ever end. They have no hope! And this is why we ride; to bring rescue, hope, healing, and restoration to these children. If our riding can bring awareness and get more people involved in the fight or raise the much needed funds to rescue one more child then this 8-day challenge was well worth the effort!

road race bike riders standing for a photo by the beachFighting child trafficking is hard, sometimes messy, and often feels like an uphill battle. But with all of us pulling together we CAN end child trafficking for one more child, and then another, and then another……!

Get involved through prayer, education, volunteering, or financial support.

 

ZOE Means Life!

September 9, 2020

ZOE Means Life!

Did you know that the Greek word for ‘life’ is ZOE? It’s no coincidence that founders Michael and Carol Hart chose the name with this in mind when they began fighting child trafficking back in 2002.

Most people who know about ZOE are aware of the trafficking side of our work. 

But have you ever wondered why a name that means ‘life’ was selected? 

In the Bible, the word zoe ζωή refers to eternal life with God but in fact, it changes our earthly lives in every good way too, and is offered free for all who believe and accept Jesus. 

As a Christian organization, we want the whole world to have the opportunity to have this kind of abundant LIFE with God. It’s why ZOE exists!  

So how do we actually bring this ‘zoe-life’ to the world?

We reach people who do not yet know about God’s love, or the gift of eternal LIFE. 

Oftentimes this looks like bringing practical help, meeting physical needs and sharing God’s plan with people in remote, small, vulnerable and unreached places. 

But we also rescue children who are orphaned, trafficked, or abandoned. 

We fight child trafficking through prevention, rescue and restoration. 

When we see freedom and healing, it brings us so much joy of course, but when we see people choose to receive God’s ‘zoe-life’, we know that they will experience freedom and life forever!

At ZOE, we are on a mission to show people God’s love, and have them experience His LIFE, for themselves.     

Dance Performance, Note to God 

September 7, 2020

Dance Performance, Note to God

For some of the children at ZOE, dancing is one of their favorite ways to pass the time.  And dance has many proven benefits: It can help you to express your emotions, relieve stress, increase physical fitness, improve confidence and self-esteem, and encourage creativity and imagination. 

One of the positive outcomes of the recent COVID lockdown was a newfound collaboration with Prisma Dance.  This dance studio in Hawaii has a mission statement that shares ZOE’s heart: To fulfill the Great Commandment – Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength (Deuteronomy 6:5) (Matt 22:37) and to fulfill the Great Commission – Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you(Matthew 28:19-20a).  Their vision is Christ-centered dance training focused on glorifying and worshiping God, and sharing Christ with the world through dance.

What a perfect partnership for ZOE!

Nicole Lam, Prisma’s founder and director, volunteered to create a special dance just for our ZOE girls.  She made detailed videos to teach the girls and the girls practiced diligently on Saturday mornings to perfect their art.  The dance was choreographed to a song called, Note to God.  This song is an emotional prayer, a letter to God to mend the world of all the bitterness and hate.  It talks about finding love, granting faith and giving hope, even when it seems like all hope is gone.

Our 7-member dance team shared their powerful performance with the whole ZOE family at a recent worship night.  It was not only a chance to express their emotions but the girls also received encouragement from their family as they worshiped God in a unique way.  Thank you Jesus for our new friendship with Nicole and Prisma Dance.  May God bless their ministry abundantly!

Author – Cissy Boyer

 

Acts of Grace

August 23, 2020

Acts of Grace

ZOE has been blessed with many generous donors over the years. Whether through individuals, churches, businesses, or foundations, we have seen God’s hand of grace moving in our work.  One of our greatest joys is to share God’s abundant overflow with others who are doing His work to feed the hungry and care for the poor. 

ZOE has been working with two of our most generous donors – the Children’s Hunger Fund and USANA – to ensure that much-needed help gets delivered directly to those who need it most.

Hut in the slum village of Chiang Mai, ThailandThanks to Children’s Hunger Fund, ZOE has established the “Mercy Network,†73 local churches that have been providing food and other necessities to families in their neighborhoods for years throughout Thailand. Recipients don’t have to be church members or even Christians:  God is not a respecter of persons and neither is hunger!

One of the Mercy Network churches is Acts of Grace Church in the heart of Chiang Mai’s slum area. When USANA leaders visited ZOE, we took them to see the work that Acts of Grace was doing with the children who lived in the slum area. They were so moved that they wanted to get involved in that work. USANA committed to feeding 100 kids and to rent a soccer field every Saturday so that the children could have a safe place to play and nutritious meals. In addition, the program has been effective as an outreach to the families of the kids who come.

During the COVID-19 lockdown, the church wasn’t able to rent the field but they continued to cook and deliver meals door-to-door in the slums every Saturday. Now, both the meal and soccer field programs are back in full swing!

We are so thankful for partners like USANA and Children’s Hunger Fund. They are true examples of acts of grace!

– Written by Ron Boyer

rice fields and hills in ThailandMercy Network is a regional network of like-minded churches committed to gospel-centered mercy ministry. ZOE partners with local churches who have a passion to reach the lost with the gospel of Christ. ZOE provides food boxes to the local churches for them to use as a means of building relationships within their respective communities.

Something to Smile About

July 29, 2020

Something to Smile About

“If a brother or sister is without clothing and in need of daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and be filled,†and yet you do not give them what is necessary for their body, what use is that?†– James 2:15

Thanks to quick action by the Thai government, imposing a travel lockdown and other measures in the early days that continues until now, Thailand has had low numbers of COVID infections and deaths. But the Land of Smiles has been hard hit economically during the pandemic. Prior to COVID, 20% of the Thai economy was dependent upon tourism. With hotels, restaurants, tour buses, and tourist attractions empty, the impact has been magnified, rippling across all sectors of society from farmers to furniture makers, truck drivers to tour guides.

For the past decade, ZOE has partnered with the Children’s Hunger Fund and Life Impact International to get food, shoes, and other necessities into the hands – and onto the feet! – of thousands of the most needy families in Thailand. Over time we’ve developed a widespread network of more than 70 local churches in some of the poorest communities here. Thus, when COVID collided with the economy, we were ready to pick up our pace and roll! Our partners stepped up with extra resources and ZOE’s team loaded up our 4-wheel drive trucks with food and supplies and hit the roads and the mountain trails.

ZOE Thailand man and woman team proving food to a villager

In just two months, July and August, we delivered 4,635 mercy boxes to many of the churches in our network where pastors and congregants distributed them to hungry neighbors, providing much-needed food and supplies to over 800 families. Now that’s something to smile about!

ZOE Thailand men team proving food to a villagers
Mercy Network is a regional network of like-minded churches committed to gospel-centered mercy ministry. ZOE partners with local churches who have a passion to reach the lost with the gospel of Christ. ZOE provides food boxes to the local churches for them to use as a means of building relationships within their respective communities.

-Written by Ron Boyer

 

Self Sustainability and Covid19

May 25, 2020

Self Sustainability and Covid19

What new hobbies have you picked up while remaining at home in self-quarantine? 

Research by a U.S. culture website indicates that some of the most popular hobbies picked up during the coronavirus outbreak include reading, working out, yoga, and baking. But a new wave of home gardeners has also emerged. Interest in gardening and farming is experiencing a boom among people around the world and is one of the more positive trends to emerge from this crippling pandemic.

People around the world are turning to gardening as a soothing, family friendly
hobby that also eases concerns over food security as lockdowns slow the
harvesting and distribution of some crops. Fruit and vegetable seed sales are
jumping worldwide.” (reuters.com)

The number of people wanting to grow their own food, become more self-sufficient, healthy and sustainable has increased substantially during the pandemic. It has also highlighted how reliant many of us are on imported foods – including fruit and vegetables. 

In Australia, plant nurseries around the country are reporting a significant increase in vegetable seed sales. Andrew Clark, a nursery owner in Tasmania said, 

The seedling area and vegetables have been completely depleted over the
weekend and we’ve sold in a week what we typically sell over a month.
Consumers are certainly showing more interest in self-sufficient gardening,
and they’re also looking at projects to keep them busy if there are further
lockdown regulations.”

But unlike this new wave of ‘hobby’ gardeners, ZOE’s agriculture team has been sowing into the goal of self-sustainability in Thailand for many years now. Well before anyone could imagine a time of lock-down, closed international borders and a worldwide pandemic, planning and preparation began for several self-sustainability projects that are now proving to be very significant in terms of satisfying the food needs of our Thai families. 

Our self-sustainability program sits on a 35-acre property and includes a fish farm, water conservation, organic vegetable gardens, green houses, mushroom and garlic huts, cornfields, a rice warehouse, pig farm, and many fruit trees. 

One of the greatest benefits of moving towards self-sufficient living is that it has reduced ZOE’s operating costs. Growing some of our own food is just one way that we can help save money and is important because it has direct implications for ZOE’s ability to independently meet the dietary needs of those for whom we care, regardless of external circumstances. 

As a foundation, we are prohibited from creating a for-profit enterprise. This means everything we grow is for our personal consumption only. To create variety in our diets, we grow smaller crops and vary what we grow. Our staff and children prefer eating our personally-grown food because it’s organic and we harvest everything at the peak of ripeness.

In this time of uncertainty, ZOE Thailand’s self-sustaining projects have been a huge blessing! We have approximately one year’s worth of stored rice for our ZOE family and six months’ worth of stored corn to feed our pigs. Our pig and fish farms have produced all the protein needed. Our two water reservoirs have helped keep our agricultural projects going so that our fruit and vegetables can provide essential vitamins and minerals. Both our green house and aquaponic farm provide environments for growing vegetables in Thailand all year round … and all of this has offset our costs so that we can continue to rescue and care for children.

Author- Andrea Cross