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All Posts in Child Trafficking Rescue

September 17, 2019 - No Comments!

August STM Blog

It has been said that a picture is worth a thousand words but I say one word is worth far more than a thousand pictures to convey the work that God is accomplishing through ZOE International in Chiang Mai, Thailand. That one word is GO!

GO! see the vision of ZOE founders Mike and Carol Hart come to life. God is working mightily through this precious couple and a dedicated team of missionaries to combat human trafficking through prevention, rescue, and restoration. While our short-term mission team did not witness the risky work of children being physically rescued from brothels and bars, we did work alongside the ZOE staff and students to educate teens in two Karen hill tribe village schools about ways traffickers trap young people into this growing form of slavery. We did see restoration taking place daily in the youth living at ZOE through an education that equips for life on earth and for eternity. We did see young Thai adults enrolled in a Leadership Training program mentoring those recently rescued. Go see for yourself the power of God at work.

GO! see the Holy Spirit penetrate the hearts of children as they boldly worship Jesus with their whole being, as they lovingly serve those around them, as they gain self-respect and control over their lives for the first time. Go see for yourself how these children who were once abused, lost and alone, come to embody Jesus’ command to love God with heart, mind, and soul and to love others as they love themselves.

GO! see long-term missionaries equipped with every needed skill from all over the world work together in love and unity because each is serving the same Lord. There is a spirit of humility, respect, and love that permeates the entire ministry. The grace and mercy received from God is poured out in spades on these precious little ones. Go see for yourself people who love God go to the far corners of the earth to spread the Good News.

GO! see how the missionaries and Thai workers together have developed a sustainable campus that includes its own water system, a state-of-the-art pig farm, and gardens that provide for 300-500 meals each day. See how a grant from the U.S. funded a shop that allows students to learn life skills of carpentry, welding, and mechanics.

GO! see how God will open your eyes, your ears, your hands, put wings to your feet and thereby change your heart. Our team of 26 short-term missionaries from all over the U.S. were each stretched out of our individual comfort zones but bonded together as the body of Christ, equipped to accomplish more than anyone of us imagined possible. We each went to serve others but ended up being served by those individuals. Go see for yourself how all things are possible with God.  

As for me, as I head back home with a renewed dedication to serve boldly, humbly, and faithfully wherever God has me. I am but one person but because Jesus Christ lives in me, I am perfectly equipped to do His work so I look forward to being involved as ZOE International extends into Japan, Australia, and Los Angeles. When Jesus says "go,” I go. 

GO ZOE! GO GOD!

Written by Nancy Shaw

May 3, 2019 - No Comments!

The Mountain Before Us

ZOE International
Brad Ortenzi

I stood in the dark looking for the peak of Doi Inthanon, Thailand’s highest mountain. The 30-mile race to the top was about to start and 7,000 cyclists straddled their bikes, crowded together at the starting line. We all shared the same unspoken knowledge that the next few hours were gonna hurt. “What am I doing here?” I asked myself. I was about to cycle up an 8,000-foot mountain that punishes anyone wanting to reach its heights.  Some cars can’t make this climb.

This predawn experience reminded me of my first few weeks in Thailand when I asked myself that same question, ”What am I doing here?” Almost 5 years ago I had left people I loved and a career that was a great fit for me to come to Thailand to fight child trafficking with ZOE. We knew that God was calling us here, no doubt about it. But upon arrival when it came time to create goals to find children, I had a vision of a huge mountain in front of me. The mountain represented child trafficking and the hold the enemy had on enslaved children. I was daunted and fear began to fill my heart. I was called here to use what I had learned the previous 20 years to lead a team to help rescue enslaved children. Now when it was time to lock and load, I wasn’t sure where to begin. As I studied the mountain, I could hear the enemy laughing at me.

The next few months were the most difficult of my life. Not because that was God’s design but because it took me awhile to learn to be yoked with the Great Rescuer who was leading me in this fight. You see, I thought the abilities that had served me well in the past were the key to fighting child trafficking in Thailand. Nope. Instead, I learned that the key to climbing the mountain of child trafficking was first sitting at the feet of Jesus.  His presence emboldened my identity in Him, filling me with courage, inspiring me to serve, as I claimed the gift of joy of a life in the service of the King. As I learned to sit at His feet, the wisdom He gave began to bridge gaps, build relationships, create structure, and ultimately build teams that rescue children. And without me even realizing it, we began to climb the mountain.

This memory of my first few months in Thailand filled me with courage as the race started. The nervousness turned into determination and I slowly began to cycle up the mountain, one crank at a time. Five hours later I stood at the top of Doi Inthanon looking over Thailand’s beautiful jungles and thanking God for the journey. Not just the journey of the past five hours but the past five years. This journey was rugged, untamed, and difficult but most of all: amazingly beautiful, just like the jungle I was looking over. In this journey, I’ve been privileged to have had a front row seat watching the Great Rescuer fight for His children with a passionate love that is unstoppable. And after the rescue of children, watching the fearless Rescuer become the compassionate loving Redeemer who heals and restores. I wouldn’t trade this climb for anything.

As my time in Thailand comes to an end and I travel home to the East Coast, I’m excited to see what God has planned for ZOE. Most importantly, I am reminded of a lesson learned that all of us in this fight for the freedom of children need to remember: To conquer the mountain of child trafficking, we must start at the feet of Jesus.

January 1, 2019 - No Comments!

New Hope, New Life, New Year

As we look towards 2019, ZOE is a place where beautiful stories of rescue, hope, life, and love can easily be found.

With permission to share, we think this powerful testimony of one girl’s journey from rescue to healing, will bring renewed hope for the future and great expectations, to all who read it. Please continue to uphold all ZOE’s rescued children in your prayers as they embrace new seasons, new beginnings, and the New Year.

~

It’s hard for me to tell my story. Before I came to live at ZOE my life was not good. Many times I felt like I wanted to get out, but I never could. I felt trapped. I knew that children shouldn’t be doing what I was doing but whenever I got a small amount of money, it gave me what I needed to survive. For a while, that little bit of money numbed my pain.
To survive, I tried to block out anyone who would show me real love. I no longer cared how anyone else felt. I just focused on the money, but deep down I was not happy. I felt like my life had no value, so I would just keep doing the same things. I was ashamed, broken and lonely.

Coming to ZOE really changed my life. I learned that I am VALUABLE in God's sight. It was strange at first because I wasn’t used to people being kind and caring. I was welcomed into a warm and loving family and the longer I stayed, the more I grew to love the ZOE staff and the mothers so much. They helped me learn many new things. For the first time I saw and understood what real love looks like. I learned about forgiving and sharing. I learned that my life is important… that I am important.

It is hard to explain how different I feel and how much I love God. I understand how much He loves me and I am trying to change the way I had thought about myself and now I have new thoughts about the future.

There are many things that I want to thank God for. God does more than I ever think He can. Even just the other day, I was worried because I thought I would need to leave ZOE and go somewhere else, but I wasn’t ready to leave and I was scared. I kept praying to God. I did not want to go but I knew I would be ok because I knew that God would be with me. When one of the ZOE staff came and reassured me that I could continue to live at ZOE, I knew God had answered my prayers.

I will now be able to finish my grade level at the ZOE Learning Center and then in the future I want to study Business Administration. I would like to become an expert in English. These are the new thoughts I have about my future.

I know that sometimes I still make mistakes. I know it will take time to change, but I want to try. Thank you God for rescuing me!

December 27, 2018 - No Comments!

What’s in a Name?

By Andrea Cross

Many children who come to ZOE’s Child Rescue Center do not have the correct documentation or citizenship papers to attend some educational institutions or, later in life, apply for certain jobs. Without the right documents, children and young adults can feel restricted in terms of their future job and study prospects.    

Part of what our ZOE Child Rescue team (ZCR) does is to travel, sometimes for many hours, to search for any helpful leads or useful information for children in this situation.

One of our ZCR team members recently came back very excited after finding an ID card and a school to access important documentation for one of our newly rescued girls. Now she can obtain the certificate she needs to apply for a non-formal education program she wants to attend, and she was also able to get her first bank book!

While this type of work may be tedious, tiring, and non glamorous, it can be some of the most life changing for the children we help. This girl now has the opportunity to continue her education, and as she moves forward in life, her vulnerability and the likelihood of her being revictimized is reduced.

December 17, 2018 - No Comments!

How ZOE Is Rescuing Every Child

by Lori-Ann Tsang

Sometimes, the best things we do in life are the things we do proactively.  Especially, when we plan for, anticipate and then are able to save a life or prevent a tragedy or make sure those entrusted to us are safe.  A lot of what we do at ZOE comes after a child has been victimized. We are part of their RESCUE and RESTORATION. But we also know that we need to be preventative (proactive).  That is why another large part of what we do is PREVENTION.

Our team goes at least twice a month to villages and schools to educate children, families and communities about Human Trafficking and how traffickers will lie or manipulate their way into a community, earn trust and then traffick a child.  This is pretty weighty information. Especially when you are looking at a presenting it to children between the ages of 2 to 10 years old.

Recently, our team wondered how they were going to navigate this and tailor their presentation to these precious young ones. What happened exceeded all their expectations. “We were amazed by their attention.  They are smart and bold,” our team reported. As they were finishing up, they asked the children if they had any questions. The question that came was surprisingly insightful and beyond this child’s young years.  “What if I saw trafficking in my village, who will I notify and what if the one I informed was the suspect, what should I do?” Our team was able to address this question and ease this child’s fears. Giving them knowledge and tools that they can use to keep themselves and their friends safe… to never be trafficked… to give them hope for their future. This is how we are RESCUING every child.

November 26, 2018 - No Comments!

So, Come

by Andrea Cross

After a hard day at school or work, the location where we are free to be ourselves: to laugh, to cry, to reflect, to process and acknowledge our emotions and thoughts, is our home.

Usually we can try to ‘hold it together’ when people are relying on us, when we need to get our job done, finish a test, complete an assignment or manage our everyday tasks.  But for most of us, ‘home’, is a place of safe refuge, unconditional love and limitless acceptance – well it should be, right?

I was reminded recently about the children who ZOE has helped to rescue. When they arrive, they’ve generally had little-to-no control over their environment and circumstances so, understandably, they experience varying emotions from distrust, fear, shame and grief. They may also have injuries, be unwell or arrive addicted to substances.  

For them to understand that they have reached a place where they are free to be who they were created to be, where they are loved and accepted for who they are, where wounds can heal and joy be restored…it’s an overwhelming experience and one that is often hard to believe.

As I stood in the Child Rescue Center recently, a place where the journey begins, I felt so tremendously grateful – not just for the beautiful buildings, gardens and facilities but for the amazing people who stand ready to embrace these precious children.

This poem is about them.

SO, COME

Come with your tear streaked eyes,
Come with your loneliness,
Come with your abandonment,
Bring it.
You are no longer alone.

Come with your hidden pain,
Come with your rejection,
Come with your silent anger,
Bring it.
You are no longer invisible.

Come with your shattered trust,
Come with your fears,
Come with your broken dreams,
Bring them.
You are no longer unheard.

Come with your scars,
Come with your shame,
Come with your unworthiness,
Bring them.
You will no longer be blamed.

Come with your silenced voice,
Come with your wounded heart,
Come with your numbing pain,
Bring them.
You are no longer imprisoned.

Come with your chaos,
Come with your loss,
Come with your rejection,
Bring them.
You are welcome here.

And the longer you stay,
The more you’ll begin to understand,
You are brave.
You are worthy.
You are incredible.
You are truly one of kind.
So, come.

By Andrea Cross

*This poem speaks of the love and kindness that the ZOE staff display day-in and day-out to the ones who have never known and experienced ‘home’ before and the beautiful freedom that comes from being accepted and embraced ‘just as they are’.

November 8, 2018 - No Comments!

Recently Rescued Youth

by Lori-Ann Tsang

ZOE fights for the rights of children who have no one else to fight for them. The children that we rescue come from a range of backgrounds, including being orphaned; on the market to be sold; directly rescued from being labor slaves, begging slaves, and sex slaves or having been subjected to heinous crimes and abuse.  

ZOE will always act in the best interest of each child. Once a child comes into the safety of our care, they are instantly welcomed in and treated like family. Many children only need to stay at ZOE for a short time while evidence is collected, court cases are heard and their situation is assessed. The children and youth who arrive for emergency care and protection at our Child Rescue Center experience love, support, counseling and healing.  God is beginning His restoration process.

  •      For children who are trafficked internationally, ZOE will help repatriate them with their family, sending a team across country borders, to help a child settle back home. ZOE will remain connected with these children and their families to be confident that they are continuing to be cared for.
  •      For children who are trafficked domestically, ZOE will help reunite and reintegrate them with their family.  With support, including trafficking awareness education, as a priority, these families are given the best chance to provide long-term safety for their children in future.
  •      If there is no suitable carer, or biological relative who can look after a child, they will continue to live and be cared for within a small family group at ZOE. Even after children reach 18 years of age, they will be taken care of whilst working towards transitioning to semi-independent, and then fully independent living, as they feel ready.

Upon waiting to be reunited with family, one youth recently shared about the change in their attitude that has happened since staying at our ZOE Thailand campus. Prior to being rescued, they shared about wandering away from their family and not really caring about anyone or anything.  Since being with us, there is a desire to return to family and be a part of helping at home, whether it be to cook or do other chores.

“I want to go back to school,” they said. Previously they had no desire to study.  A new sense of responsibility and hope for the future is made possible because of God’s work in this youth’s life and the wonderful counselors and staff that walk along our children.

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!   

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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December 5, 2017 - No Comments!

Relentless Leaders

by Marji Iacovetti

ZOE representatives were invited to speak briefly at the last two meetings of the LA County Board of Supervisors as our top county officials considered motions related to human trafficking. We were honored to share insights based on ZOE’s experience. 
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