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Eight Lancaster County Men Win the 2021 Ultra-Cycling Event, Race Across America

July 14, 2021

On June 25, 2021, eight cyclists from Lancaster County and twelve crew members, all representing ZOE International, finished first place in the non-stop, 3,000-mile transcontinental relay race from California to Maryland, Race Across America (RAAM).

The 2021 RAAM consisted of 7, 8-man cycling teams and 17 teams of 2, 4, and 8, along with 12 solo racers. The ZOE cycling team completed the race in 6 days and 27 minutes with an average speed of 21.03 mph while climbing over 100,000+ feet.

“After competing in 2019, we knew our limitations and capabilities and thought we might have a chance to win this year,” shared Brad. “We set out to do our race and not let the competitors set the race for us. We knew we couldn’t make a mistake. So we plugged all the gaps we had in 2019, and we trained a lot harder this year. Ultimately, we capitalized on the experience we had from 2019 to win the race in 2021!”

For 39 years, the RAAM has become a global icon, challenging ultra-cyclists from over 35 countries to push their physical and mental limits to the utmost. RAAM has also become an enormous platform for cyclists to raise funds for charities that they hold close to their hearts. Each year, RAAM cyclists raise over 10 million dollars in donations, dispersed to multiple charities.

In 2019, the 8-man cyclist team placed third and raised over $175,000 for ZOE International.

ZOE RAAM Team cyclists at the finish line winning first place

ZOE RAAM Team cyclists at the finish line winning first place

This year the team raised over $350,000 for ZOE International. The issue of child sex trafficking is an issue that is close to the team’s heart. “The idea to compete in this race all began when I first traveled to ZOE International in Thailand in 2014,” said Brad Ortenzi, ZOE International Eastern US Regional Director and Race Across America Director and Cyclist.

“While visiting the home for children who have been trafficked at ZOE Thailand, I was inspired by the children’s fight. Every one of them was a fighter – fighting to get their life back. Contact: Brad Ortenzi (717) 708-8109- cell brad@goZOE.org Lonna Gibson (661) 388-1295 lonna@goZOE.org – Continued – Lonna Gibson (661) 388-1295 lonna@goZOE.org Their fight inspired me and changed my life. Competing in the Race Across America allows ZOE to take this fight against child sex trafficking across the United States.”

The eight-man cycling team included Nate Eakin, Matt Lapp, Allen Fisher, Sam Lapp, Elmer Fisher, Jonathan Fisher, Allan Fisher, and Brad Ortenzi – all from Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. Many team members began training as early as the Fall of 2020, putting in the hours on stationary bikes, riding outdoors, strength training, and swimming.

Cyclist Allan Fisher added, “I wasn’t aware of human trafficking happening in the states. ZOE is bringing freedom to many children, and I want to stand with them because I believe in what they are doing.”

Not only do the cyclists compete in the race, but they also have a goal to raise $20,000 each for ZOE International.

“It costs about $70,000 for us to compete in the race, including the entrance fee, uniforms, helmets, fuel, and travel,” said Brad. “Any additional monies raised over the cost of expenses are donated to ZOE International to help rescue more children and care for and restore the rescued children entrusted in their care.”

Current sponsors for ZOE’s RAAM team are Breeo, Country Lane Gazebos, Weaver Construction, Lapp Structures, Sensenig’s Feed Mill, Select Carpentry, Earthsource, Fisher Brothers, Eagle Rental, Urban Southern, TLS Carpentry, US Boiler Company, Lititz VFW, Lancaster Bike Shop, Bicycle Barn and Campaign Against Sexual Exploitation (CASE).

Locally, Brad is also the Coordinator for the Lancaster County Task Force working alongside the District Attorney’s office and is a few months away from officially launching. The Lancaster County Human Trafficking Task Force will investigate, prosecute, and find restorative paths for trafficking survivors within Lancaster County. This will also include community outreach with prevention education and awareness of trafficking.

ZOE International was founded in 2002 with a mission to reach every person with God’s love and rescue every child from human trafficking through prevention, rescue, and restoration efforts in the USA, Thailand, Mexico, Japan, and Australia. More information about ZOE International can be found at goZOE.org and the 2021 Race Across America at www.raceacrossamerica.org.

Contact:

Brad Ortenzi (717) 708-8109- cell brad@goZOE.org

Lonna Gibson (661) 388-1295 lonna@goZOE.org

Lancaster Cycling Team Prepares for Race Across America RAAM

June 14, 2021

8 Lancaster County cyclists prepare for 3,000-mile bike race to raise $250K to fight sex trafficking

Erik Yabor – Staff Writer

A group of Lancaster County residents are preparing to set off on a 3,000 mile bike trek to raise money for an international nonprofit that combats child sex trafficking. An eight-man relay team and 12 crew members depart from Oceanside, California, on Saturday with a plan of arriving in Annapolis, Maryland, less than a week later as part of Race Across America (RAAM), an annual ultra-endurance cycling race that spans the United States. 

Brad Ortenzi and other ZOE bike riders“It is a race,” said team leader Brad Ortenzi, 53, a former Ephrata police detective who served for 20 years, “but it’s more of a platform for nonprofits and cyclists to either raise awareness for a project or to raise funds for charities.” RAAM cyclists raise more than $10 million each year for their charities of choice, according to the organization’s website. The Lancaster County team’s sponsored charity, ZOE International, is focused on helping survivors of child sex trafficking across the globe.

“ZOE is bringing freedom to many children, and I want to stand with them because I believe in what they are doing,” said team member Allan Fisher, 33, of Gordonville.

Ortenzi, ZOE’s Eastern U.S. Regional Director, has been involved with the faith-based international nonprofit with operations in five countries since 2014, when he visited their refuge house in Thailand to meet with child survivors of sex trafficking. “Every one of them was a fighter – fighting to get their life back,” he said. “Their fight inspired me and changed my life. Competing in the Race Across America allows ZOE to take this fight against child sex trafficking across the United States.” The Lancaster County team’s goal this year is to raise $250,000 for ZOE, with more than $198,000 already raised, according to ZOE International’s website.

Children’s stories motivate mission

Ortenzi had been working undercover online seeking out traders of child pornography, a job he described as “heartcrushing” work, when he began looking for a new career he could take on post-retirement. It was Ortenzi’s pastor who suggested that he reach out to ZOE, believing he would be a natural fit due to his background in law enforcement. “It was clear from the beginning that Brad has a passion for justice,” said Brian Flewelling, a pastor at Petra Church in Earl Township, which Ortenzi has attended since 2012. “He has a skillset that is unique to anyone else in the field.” Flewelling helped facilitate a meeting between Ortenzi and a person who was connected with leadership at ZOE’s Los Angeles campus.

“To see (Ortenzi) emotionally moved by the mission and mandate that ZOE was carrying, it was clear that something was happening in his heart and his spirit where their vision was being shared,” Flewelling said. “He really felt a need to be a partner in that.” From there, a trip to ZOE’s refuge for child victims of sex trafficking in Thailand was quickly arranged.

photo of Brad Ortenzi ZOE International Eastern USA Regional Director

photo of Brad Ortenzi
ZOE International
Eastern USA

 

“They were cared for, they were loved, and they were on their way back to a really healthy path,” he said. Ortenzi later wrote in his journal that “it seemed like they had a grasp on joy that I didn’t.” “Never being around trafficked children before, I expected the worst,” he said. “We just didn’t see that. These kids were really on a good path.” During one prayer session, an 8-year-old girl who had been rescued from sex trafficking offered a prayer. It was for Ortenzi. Though he didn’t understand the child’s Thai language, Ortenzi said the moment made Ortenzi and his wife feel he had a new calling in life.

“’You have skills right now that could help free rescued trafficked children, and there’s no amount of retirement that could add up to that,’” Ortenzi said his wife told him. Moving from Lancaster County to Thailand was a gargantuan undertaking, Ortenzi said, but “this was something we wanted to be a part of.”

Regional Director Ortenzi and his wife arrived to find what he described as a “first-class operation” consisting of about 100 Thai staff and another two dozen international missionaries, but what really impressed him was the bravery and resilience of the children.

“It was a culture shock, but we were both world travelers before,” he said. “In the military I was all over the place.”Now back in the U.S., Ortenzi has since been tasked with helping coordinate a new anti-human trafficking task force by the Lancaster County District Attorney’s Office, an effort ZOE is assisting by donating his time to the county.

Riding to raise funds, awareness

Ortenzi first came up with the idea to ride bicycles across the country to raise money for ZOE in 2018, when he and 46 others rode from Virginia to California, raising nearly $300,000 for the nonprofit, in an event unrelated to RAAM.“We realized we probably had a pretty good idea here,” he said. Ortenzi and his wife were in the process of moving back to Lancaster County from ZOE’s Thailand branch in 2019 when they learned about RAAM and decided to enter their own eight-member relay team, nearly identical in lineup to the team that’s competing this year. Some of the team members had been cycling with Ortenzi since that first cross-country trek in 2018. Others he knew from church, or from friends of friends. “They’re all just guys who love cycling and really connected with what ZOE is doing,” Ortenzi said.

The Lancaster County cyclists took their training and preparations seriously for the race, “but once we got on the road it was more intense than what we thought,” Ortenzi said. “We didn’t really know what to expect, and quite honestly we were sort of going naïve into the situation,” he said. “We trained hard and we tried to prep hard, but the logistics of this thing were almost astronomical.” The team was racing at a much faster rate of speed than what they were anticipating, throwing their lodging plans into disarray. “We were pretty much on the run and we had to make some major decisions and change things up,” Ortenzi said. Even with the logistical hurdles, the team placed third in its division, finishing with a time of six days, five hours and 52 minutes – an average of 20.3 mph.

cyclists in a hudle

cyclists in a hudle

“RAAM officials had mentioned that they don’t remember a rookie team ever being on the podium,” Ortenzi said. “They were pretty surprised, and we were pleasantly surprised as well.”More importantly, the team raised more than $175,000 for ZOE International.This year, team members are taking into account the lessons they learned in 2019 and are hoping to avoid some of the same mistakes they made.Training began at the end of last fall, with team members hoping to reach the peak of their cardiovascular fitness right as the race is set to begin.

Training can involve “a little bit of everything,” Ortenzi said, including swimming, weight training, running and meeting with personal trainers. Many of the more recent training regimens have taken place on bicycles, with team members riding at least four to six times each week, sometimes for hours at a time.The thousands of hours spent training for the race since the fall were made possible because of the race’s philanthropic focus, Ortenzi said.To that end, more than one dozen local businesses and organizations are backing the team.“Lancaster Countians really seem to rally around us and engage with what we’re doing,” Ortenzi said. “It became a really great awareness project for ZOE here in Lancaster County.”

People interested in donating to ZOE International’s cause can do so at https://gozoe.org/raam-2021/.

 

 

 

 

Race Across America 2021 June 19, 2021

May 12, 2021

ZOE International is excited to participate in the 2021 Race Across America. For 39 years, the Race Across America (RAAM) has become a global event, challenging ultra-cyclists from over 35 countries to push their physical and mental limits to the utmost. In addition, RAAM has become a huge platform for cyclists to raise funds for charities that they hold close to their hearts. Each year, RAAM cyclists raise over 10 million dollars in donations that are dispersed to multiple charities.

 

In 2019 ZOE International entered an 8-man cyclist team into RAAM and placed 3rd in their division and raised over $175,000 for ZOE!

cyclists in a hudle

Cyclists in a huddle

 

In 2021, we are doing it again! On June 19, 2021, eight ZOE team cyclists and 12 crew members will set out on a non-stop, 3,000-mile transcontinental relay race from California to Maryland with the goal of raising $250,000 for ZOE. We have the cyclists and our support team ready to go, but we need your help. We can’t do it alone!

 

Current corporate sponsors for ZOE’s RAAM team are Breeo, Country Lane Gazebos, Weaver Construction, Lapp Structures, Sensenig’s Feed Mill, Select Carpentry, Earthsource, Fisher Brothers, Eagle Rental, Urban Southern, TLS Carpentry, US Boiler Company, Lancaster Bike Shop, and Bicycle Barn. Funds raised will support the costs of participating in RAAM ($70,000) for items like entrance fees, uniforms, fuel, and
rental vehicles.

photo of brad and ZOE cycling team

photo of brad and ZOE cycling team

 

Any additional monies raised over the cost of expenses will be donated to ZOE International to help rescue more children who have been trafficked and care for and restore the rescued children entrusted in ZOE’s care.

 

More information about RAAM sponsor benefits and the cycling fundraising pages can be found on our website.

Brad Ortenzi ZOE International Eastern USA Regional Director

May 12, 2021

In 2013 Brad Ortenzi and his wife Lori felt they were being called into ministry, but didn’t know exactly what that would look like. “At that time, I was working with the Lancaster County District Attorney’s Child Pornography Unit in Pennsylvania, of which I helped to start,” shared Brad. “I had worked a lot of child sex crimes in my career, but not at this level. My heart began to break for kids even more so than it had before. I was working online acting as a pedophile and getting child pornography from pedophiles. Or I would be online chatting with the bad guy, as a child, and the bad guy was trying to entice me for sex. I would get the child pornography and have to view it to document the affidavits.”

Brad’s heart was breaking for these kids who had been sexually exploited while in the background of his life he was being called to ministry. One day he heard about ZOE and their mission to rescue kids and reached out to the founders, Mike and Carol.

 

“Mike and Carol invited us to Thailand to see ZOE first-hand, and it was there that I experienced a life-changing event,” shared Brad. “One night in Thailand while we were participating in a prayer session with the kids, ZOE staff, and missionaries, one of the children came up and laid her hands on me and started praying for me. I just broke down. God spoke to my heart and said, ‘you have been chasing after justice your whole life, well this is what my justice looks like.’ My heart to God was like, whatever this is, I am in. I want a part of this. I want to use my investigative skills to help kids
and add to that the spiritual side of healing
and restoration.”

 

After this life-altering experience, Brad and Lori went home from this missions trip with a new purpose and direction for their life. They went back home and took an early retirement. In November 2014 they sold their house and their cars and returned to Thailand as full-time missionaries with ZOE.

 

Director of ZOE Child Rescue Thailand

“I was being called to be the Director of ZOE Child Rescue in Thailand that was established in 2004,” said Brad. “I managed five teams. ZOE’s philosophy with missions is, you are there to work yourself out of a job. We are there to bring our experiences and skillsets of who we are, to pour into the Thai nationals, so that we can eventually back out and have them run what we’ve started. The training consists of discipleship, leadership and development.”

 

For five years Brad held this position at ZOE Thailand. “I enjoyed pouring into the Thai staff,” said Brad. “They were all so loving, caring, hard-working, and passionate toward the kids. I was honored to help build the structure of five teams and overjoyed to watch them run with it and make it even better.”

 

Prior to going into police work, Brad served in the Marine Corps for four years and then worked 20 years as a detective in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. “Those five years in Thailand were by far the most remarkable and memorable years of my career,” said Brad.

Eastern USA Regional Director, ZOE International

In 2019, Brad and his wife Lori left Thailand and moved back to the states. “Before moving back, I spoke with Mike and Carol to inquire about the possibility of expanding ZOE on the East coast,” said Brad. “We were all in to begin networking and building donor relations and I became the Eastern USA Regional Director for ZOE.”

Lancaster County Human Trafficking Task Force

photo of Brad Ortenzi and task force

Photo of Brad Ortenzi and task force

Through the east coast expansion efforts, Brad began speaking on some Human Trafficking panels and connected with Lancaster County’s Assistant District Attorney that he worked with on the Child Porn Unit. She expressed that she needed someone with Brad’s skills to come on board the County Task Force and help coordinate and put it together.

 

“In 2020, the Founders of ZOE agreed to donate my time to Lancaster County for me to serve as the Coordinator for the Human Trafficking Task Force,” said Brad. “As the Coordinator, I research other task forces in Pennsylvania; look at how they are structured and what is and isn’t working, and research best practices. I have been taking that research to the District Attorney’s office, and giving her my suggestions on how we should proceed. I have since created a draft and structure of the task force using a little bit of what’s working in other states, and also what is working in ZOE Thailand and Los Angeles. I have also been working to collaborate with other government, nonprofit organizations and ministries to meet the needs of the task force. I am excited. We are few months away from officially launching the task force.”

 

The Lancaster County Human Trafficking Task Force will work to investigate, prosecute, and find restorative paths for trafficking survivors within Lancaster County. This will also include community outreach with prevention education and awareness of trafficking.

 

“With ZOE’s work with the Task Force, we are going to find the gaps that need to be filled by agencies and nonprofits,” said Brad. “The vision for the future of ZOE East Coast would be to build out an advocacy system like we have in Los Angeles. There is also a possibility of opening a restorative home in Southeast Pennsylvania and enhancing some type of Christian-centered foster care for trafficked children.”

The Heart of Brad’s work and passion

“People often ask me why I do what I do,” shared Brad. “My ultimate desire is to see restoration of the children. And, it comes down to the duality of Jesus. He has a warrior heart that fights to rescue His children and He will stop at nothing to make sure those rescues happen. And then there’s the protective loving side of Him, along with the duality of His daddy restorative heart. He just wraps his arms around his kids once they are safe. That has changed my life.

I have come to a whole different level in my appreciation for who God is and how He cares for us. It’s all about the end game for me — that child accepting Jesus into their heart and worshipping Him.”

 

ZOE Cycling Events – Race Across America and Road of Justice

photo of brad and ZOE cycling team

photo of brad and ZOE cycling team

ZOE’s Cycling events came about when Brad and Lori had a desire to help fundraise for the new ZOE Home for Youth that was to open in Los Angeles in 2021. “We were avid cyclists and living in Thailand at the time,” said Brad. “We thought, what if we planned a coast-to-coast cycling event – which became the first Road of Justice in 2018 – and invite people to come with us and raise awareness about human trafficking and empower people to be fundraisers for ZOE.”

 

The 2018 Road of Justice started in Virginia and finished in Santa Monica. “Over 45 cyclists biked 3,800 miles, in over 46 riding days,” said Brad. “Some rode for a day, some rode for weeks or months. We raised close to $300,000 that year. We realized then we had something that could work for ZOE.”

 

In 2019 ZOE entered an 8-man cycling team in Race Across America (RAAM). For 39 years, the RAAM has become a global icon, challenging ultra-cyclists from over 35 countries to push their physical and mental limits to the utmost. “We started the race in Oceanside and finished in Maryland,” said Brad. “We biked 3,000 miles in 6 days and 5 hours and came in third place. We averaged 20.3 miles an hour for 3,000 miles and climbed 100,000 feet. Together the team raised over $175,000 for ZOE.”

 

RAAM logo

RAAM logo

In 2021 Brad and his team of 8 cyclists and 10 crew plans to participate in RAAM on June 19, 2021. “Our goal is to raise $250,000 for ZOE to help fight human trafficking. Looking at the rosters of the other teams, we have a shot to win this!”

 

Another ZOE Cycling event, the Road of Justice, is scheduled for October 11-16, 2021. Any cyclist can participate in this event. The race will begin in San Francisco and end in Santa Clarita. For more information or to participate as a cyclist, visit our website.

 

What is Human Trafficking?

April 14, 2021

        You may have heard about “human trafficking” in the news, from social media, or maybe even from someone you know. But what is it exactly? How and where does it happen? How does someone become a victim? And who are the traffickers? How can you help? Although human trafficking is a complex issue with many layers, we hope to answer some questions you may have that can encourage you to want to learn more.

Girl lonely on a bed

“Human trafficking” is a crime that involves forcing, defrauding (deceiving), or coercing (pressuring or threatening) someone to provide labor or commercial sexual acts. According to the International Labour Organization, there are currently an estimated 40.3 million human trafficking victims worldwide, including forced marriages. Exploiters profit off of the forced labor and forced sex of victims.

How Does Human Trafficking Happen?

A person may be offered an exciting job in a different country, only to find themselves arriving to the other country, having their passport taken, forced to work under dangerous conditions doing completely different work than expected, and told they have to pay off the debt of their travels, housing, and visa before they begin to earn any income. This is labor trafficking. In another scenario, a woman may be romanced by an attractive man who showers her with gifts, attention, and “love,” only to isolate her from her family and friends; begin to verbally, emotionally, physically, and sexually abuse her; and pressure her to provide sexual acts for money in order for them to make ends meet. This is sex trafficking.

What About Child Trafficking?

feet of child in sandals walking in dirty place

Globally, 1 in 4 victims of human trafficking are estimated to be children. “Child trafficking” involves selling a child for labor or sex. When children are involved, force, fraud, or coercion do not have to be proven for it to be considered trafficking, as children cannot consent to being abused. A family friend may offer to move a child from their remote village to the city to attend a good school, but upon arrival, the child may be abused for sex in a brothel. Or a child may be invited to run away from a group home by an older friend and taken care of by someone the older friend knows, only to be told they owe what has been provided to them and now have to go on the street or to a motel and provide sexual services for money that is paid to the trafficker.

 

What are the Psychological implications of human trafficking?

Girl sitting on stairs outside

While victims of trafficking can be kidnapped, drugged, and forced into exploitation, many are psychologically groomed and manipulated into making them feel like they have chosen the life and circumstances they are in, not realizing they have been targeted because of their need or desire for food, money, clothing, housing, drugs, love, or friendship in order to be exploited.

Traffickers target the vulnerabilities of individuals, especially in their greatest time of need in order to profit off of them. How different could the outcome be if in crisis, the person met a safe person who wants to help them instead of someone who wants to make money off of them?

What About Labor Trafficking?

Man working in field

Labor trafficking can occur in industries like agriculture, food, domestic work, and entertainment, while sex trafficking can occur in pornography, massage businesses, and escort services on the street, in hotels, in homes, and on the internet.

Who becomes a human trafficker?

Traffickers can be part of organized crime networks, friends or family, gang members, intimate partners, employers, and business owners. But traffickers can also be victims of violence and abuse themselves, sometimes groomed to become exploiters by those close to them.

What can I do about Human Trafficking?

While all of this information is overwhelming and the problem is daunting, we as individuals and communities can be part of the solution by:

  • Protecting ourselves and our loved ones by being safe people for them to seek help from when they are in unsafe situations
  • Educating ourselves about the signs of trafficking and asking questions and offering support if we are seeing signs of someone who may be in unsafe situations
  • Raising awareness about trafficking with our personal networks
  • Educating ourselves about internet safety and monitoring the internet usage of the young ones in our lives
  • Donating time, professional skills, or financial support to local organizations who are helping survivors of trafficking
  • Learning about becoming a foster parent to children who need a safe home
  • Advocating for someone to share about human trafficking at your child’s school, church, community group, business
  • Reporting suspected trafficking to the National Human Trafficking Hotline at (888) 373-7888

 

ZOE International is committed to ending child trafficking through prevention, rescue, and restoration efforts throughout the world. To learn more, visit gozoe.org.

 

FINDING NEW WAYS TO BE A VOICE FOR THE VOICELESS IN JAPAN

February 10, 2021

Japan,

the land of the rising sun. It’s a name that is associated with state-of-the-art technology, a superb transport infrastructure, attention to detail, quality workmanship, and a humble, polite culture. No wonder that people are surprised to learn that below the shiny surface, things are not always what they seem.

 

A long history of sexual objectification of women and children has led to a society that has become numb to the sexual exploitation of children. Thousands of children are trapped in various forms of trafficking with nowhere to turn!

 

But there is HOPE.

 

ZOE Japan is called to be a voice-for-the-voiceless, and we are fully committed to the kingdom goal of eliminating child trafficking in Japan. God has blessed our small team with a unique set of skills that enables us to reach out to vulnerable children and victims in new ways.

 

For example,

Japan is the home of manga, a unique style of Japanese comic books or graphic novels. It is a powerful communication tool with great potential to be used for prevention work. After all, Jesus himself was a great storyteller and although He did not use manga, His parables continue to convey crucial messages to us until this day. Our trial project to produce our own short manga story was an interesting learning experience, and we are encouraged to see that our format seems to appeal to Japanese young people. New stories are now underway.

 

In addition to various speaking opportunities and outreaches, we have just launched our own podcast channel in English, with a Japanese version coming very soon. Each episode helps the listener to gain a deeper understanding of the challenges that Japan is facing, the various initiatives by the government, ZOE and other NPOs to combat child trafficking, and the additional programs and resources that are required to make a true impact. Our first three episodes can be found on any major podcast app by searching ZOE Japan, or directly on our dedicated web page www.gozoe.jp/podcast.

 

We are also excited about:

New doors that are opening to reach Japan through the performing arts, and have taken the first step by producing a beautiful music video in collaboration with a local Christian artist. The video is sure to touch the heart of any vulnerable teenager, and provides a bridge for us to share the gospel of Jesus, and to educate them about the dangers of trafficking. See the video on the ZOE Japan YouTube channel: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6xbRRC8dl1E

 

God is moving in Japan, for sure.

 

If you feel the Holy Spirit tugging at your heart strings, then don’t hesitate! Partner with us today, because together we can reach every person and rescue every child.

Collaborating with Law Enforcement to Recover Human Trafficking Victims

February 5, 2021

ZOE collaborates with human trafficking task forces in Thailand, Japan, and the United States, including law enforcement, government, and community agency partners. In Los Angeles, ZOE is a partner of the Los Angeles Regional Human Trafficking Task Force. Such collaboration is vital to identify and recover victims and investigate and prosecute traffickers.

In January 2021, ZOE had the privilege of speaking before the Los Angeles Board of Police Commissioners, along with other community organizations and survivor leaders, to express support for the City Council to fully fund the Los Angeles Police Department’s Human Trafficking Task Forces in the midst of possible department budget cuts.

ZOE staff on ZOOm for Human Trafficking task force meeting

During the 2020-2021 fiscal year, budget cuts limited human trafficking operations outside of regular business hours. These cuts reduced opportunities to recover human trafficking more victims, including children.

Human trafficking investigations and operations require many hours, and usually months, of building rapport with and interviewing victims, investigations, and collaboration efforts to successfully identify and recover victims and investigate and prosecute cases against traffickers.

During the meeting, ZOE’s Chief Operating Office Dave Cox told the commission the following quote:

“Without dedicated law enforcement efforts, child trafficking will grow in our city.”

In the end, the commissioners voted to recommend that the City Council fully fund the human trafficking task forces.

We are thankful for our dedicated law enforcement and other partners who work tirelessly to help recover our most vulnerable children from human trafficking.

 

Author Ester Yu

Love-less Love Hotels

January 28, 2021

Japan is notorious for its sex industry, more often referred to as the adult entertainment industry. All major train stations are surrounded by izakaya (a Japanese traditional bar), hostess bars, karaoke venues, and Love Hotels. Sadly, these “Love Hotels” promise everything but love.

 

Love hotels offer customers elaborately decorated rooms that can be booked for anything from one hour to multiple days. All kinds of sexual toys, cosplay clothing, food, and accessories can be ordered for room delivery without ever encountering any hotel staff face-to-face. Even the check-in process is completely contactless in order to protect the privacy of customers. An article on May 12th in Japan Today reports that the demand for this so-called “love” did not decline with the COVID-19 pandemic, but instead has increased in suburban areas.

 

Regrettably, these hotels are not frequented by married couples looking for a romantic getaway, but instead are often used to exploit women and children or engage in extramarital affairs. It is even considered a common and acceptable business practice for business colleagues to go to an izakaya for drinking after work, followed by karaoke in a hostess bar, finally leading for a Love Hotel for a few hours before catching the last train home. If only we could stand on the rooftops of these hotels and shout out: THIS IS NOT LOVE!  

 

The Bible teaches us about real love:  

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. 1 Corinthians 13

 

In a recent case:

in the Machida/Yokohama area, a 10-year old girl was groomed through TikTok by a 34-year old perpetrator. Excited to meet her new online friend face-to-face, the young girl was probably surprised to find that he was an adult male that had more than friendship in mind. Already familiar with her school name and home address, it was easy for him to threaten and manipulate the frightened child to accompany him to a Love Hotel where he sexually assaulted her. If only we could’ve accelerated our prevention efforts and ensured that the hotel staff were trained to identify and report this trafficking case before the abuse could take place.  We could’ve saved this child from the guilt, shame, and fear that she had to suffer! This is just one of many cases that happen daily in Japan.

 

There are several ways that you can partner with us to stop the exploitation at Love Hotels. Firstly, make sure that the children you have contact with are aware of the dangers of grooming through social media. Secondly, pray for ZOE Japan as we work with various stakeholders to call for stricter regulation over the Love Hotel industry, including mandatory training for hotel staff and the availability of awareness and prevention materials in hotels to provide information to potential victims. Thirdly, consider a one-time or ongoing donation to ZOE Japan so that we can expand and accelerate our prevention efforts.

 

May those who purchase services at Love Hotels and the staff discover the TRUE LOVE of Jesus and invite Him into their lives to fill the void in their hearts and set them free!

 

Author:

Annerie Van Wyk, ZOE Japan Missionary

Cuties and the Exploitation of Children

October 20, 2020

On August 19, 2020, Netflix began promoting a French film called Cuties, which was set for worldwide release on September 9, 2020. The film (originally called Mignonnes) by French Senegalese director Maïmouna Doucouré and Netflix’s marketing campaign brought about worldwide criticism, petitions to remove the film from Netflix, and campaigns to #cancelNetflix due the public’s concerns that the film promotes the sexualization and commercial sexual exploitation of children and appeals to the appetites of pedophiles.

On September 23, 2020, a grand jury indicted Netflix for the “promotion of lewd visual material depicting a child.”

Although Doucouré has stated that her intention was “to show that our children should have the time to be children, and we as adults should protect their innocence and keep them innocent as long as possible,” in the making and promoting of the film, young girls were exploited in the process and continue to be exploited every time someone views the film. The lead actress is just 11 years old.

Legal Exploitation

Imagery in films like these normalize the sexualization of children and are legal forms of online child sexual exploitation. Individuals and companies are profiting from the exploitation of children in this film. Exploiters can easily take images and videos from this film and upload them to sites profiting from commercialized sexual abuse imagery of children. In addition, with children watching films like these, they are being exposed to and influenced by sexualized behaviors and media representations of children.

Child Sexual Abuse Material (CSAM)

As a society, we need to take a stand and draw the line against media imagery that fuels the demand for the commercial sexual exploitation of children. According to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC), their CyberTipline has received over 65 million reports of the online exploitation of children, 312 million images and videos have been reviewed, and over 18,900 victims have been identified by law enforcement. NCMEC further reports that survivors of Child Sexual Abuse Material (CSAM) “speak to the long-lasting damage and impact of their images and videos being circulated on the internet.

Subscription-based Services

The lack of control of both the files’ existence and circulation leaves the survivors struggling in their recovery.” In 2018, “teen” was one of the Top 10 search terms from the most consumed pornographic website. During the COVID-19 pandemic, the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children reports that “[s]ome child traffickers adjusted to the reluctance of buyers to meet in-person to engage in commercial sex. Some traffickers are now offering options for subscription-based services in which buyers pay to access online images and videos of the child.”

The sexual abuse imagery of children exists because there is a demand for it. Let us fight to protect the dignity of children, especially in media, imagery, and the internet.