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ZOE Invited by Father-Con As Panelist for Film Screening about Child Trafficking

June 6, 2024

Father-Con is a nonprofit that works to prevent human trafficking and empower men in the fight against trafficking, specifically fathers to strengthen their roles in girls’ lives. The organization also hosts film screenings to educate the public about trafficking. ZOE was invited as a panelist after the screening of MAYA, a new film that tackles the difficult topics of child sex trafficking, online predators, and domestic abuse. The movie follows 15-year-old Maya who seeks to escape her alcoholic mother’s abusive boyfriend, only to fall into a manipulative sex trafficking scheme after meeting a man online.

The film provides an eye-opening look at how techniques used by social media predators can exploit vulnerable teens. 

According to the U.S. National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, there was a nearly 99% increase in online enticement reports in just the first 9 months of 2020 compared to 2019.

MAYA educates viewers on the realities that trafficking happens domestically across all 50 states, not just overseas. Thirty percent of global trafficking victims are children. This film depicts how teens from homes with domestic violence are particularly vulnerable to recruitment by traffickers.

Beyond child sex trafficking, MAYA also portrays the cycles of substance abuse, domestic violence, and how trauma can get passed from one generation to the next. In the film, Maya’s mother, Camilla, struggles with alcoholism and an abusive partner, before finding her own path to recovery.

The film drives home that community awareness is needed to identify at-risk youth and provide support systems to prevent them from falling victim to abusers and traffickers. 

 

Sandy speaking to a group on a panel at Father Con.

 

During the panel after the screening, Sandy Esparza, ZOE’s Human Trafficking Prevention Program Manager and Lived Experience Expert provided the audience insights on the realities of human trafficking and what the youth are experiencing today. 

ZOE’s Media Director, Christian Toma, added, “It was so helpful to hear from Sandy and other experts share their stories of what they’re seeing in the field and how the movie touches on many of their points. It was also so encouraging to see new people learn about ZOE and get excited for the work to be done!” 

The filmmakers hope Maya’s Story will serve as an educational warning while also providing a hopeful message about resilience and recovery. By shining a light on these tough realities, the goal is to inspire more people to take action to protect vulnerable youth in their own communities.

Maya movie film poster.

MAYA is available to stream on the following platforms:

Want to learn more about how to care for survivors of human trafficking? Register today and join our human trafficking 102 virtual training: Engagement Strategies for Supporting Trafficking Survivors

Held on June 12, 2024 (7:00-8:30 PM PST), this human trafficking training will equip you with vital knowledge and skills to care for someone who has experienced trauma from human trafficking. The training includes engagement strategies to care for trafficked survivors. Sign up today!

How to Create a Facebook Fundraiser for ZOE!

June 5, 2024

At ZOE, we find inspiration in our dedicated and passionate supporters! Thank you to the growing number of individuals fundraising for us on Facebook.

Today, join us in rallying your community and networks to raise awareness about child trafficking and safeguard our children from harm. Here’s how you can get involved:

Step 1: Open Facebook & Go to ZOE’s page 

 

Step 2: Click “Raise Money” 

Create a shareable fundraiser that you can customize with a title, a goal amount, and an end date.

 

Step 3: Personalize Your Fundraiser!

Your friends and family are interested in you and what you’re passionate about. Personalize your message by explaining why you’re fundraising for ZOE.

Share why ZOE’s mission in reaching people with the gospel and rescuing children from child trafficking is meaningful to you. Write about how donating to your fundraiser will help end child trafficking. Don’t forget to include your goal amount!

 

Step 4: Customize Your Photo

Choose a photo that you connect with. (Facebook will load images from ZOE’s Facebook page automatically). After you’ve selected a photo, click done.

 

Step 5: Go Live 

Publish your fundraiser and share it on your Facebook timeline. And don’t forget to make the first donation so people will know you are committed to this issue.

 

Step 6: Keep the Momentum Going and Share! 

Give your fundraising efforts an initial boost by reaching out directly to your closest friends and family. Send a personal message asking for their support on Facebook. Sending a text, or phone call, can go a long way in kick starting your fundraising efforts.

Share and promote your fundraiser link frequently on your social media profiles. As the fundraiser’s end date approaches, send reminders and updates about your progress.

Also be sure to share your fundraiser link and call-to-action messages frequently on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and any other platforms where your friends and followers can easily click through to donate.

Click here to download social media graphics to use for your facebook fundraiser!

 

Shoes of Hope: ZOE Mexico’s “Sígueme” (Follow Me) Campaign Leads Children to Christ

May 31, 2024

Recently, the ZOE Mexico team celebrated Children’s Day in an incredibly meaningful way. Back in 1954, the Mexican government decided to set aside April 30th as “Día del Niño” or Children’s Day. The idea was to honor kids and promote their wellbeing across the country.

Thanks to the generous support of one of our partners, ZOE Mexico was able to purchase and distribute new shoes to hundreds of children in need.

More than just providing footwear, this “Sígueme” (Follow Me) shoe campaign carried a powerful spiritual message inspired by Jesus’s words to His disciples. As the children received their new shoes, local church leaders encouraged them to “follow” in Christ’s footsteps. The shoes represent the journey of following Jesus and being reminded that He hears and cares for even the littlest ones.

What made this outreach so impactful was that it combined our missions of evangelism and child trafficking prevention. The participating churches didn’t just hand out shoes – they committed to continued mentorship and ministry to these children after the event. By building relationships and providing Christ-centered guidance, we hope to keep these young lives on a path towards knowing Jesus’s endless love while protecting them from exploitation.

Want to learn more about ZOE’s work in Mexico? Click here! 

ZOE Staff Encourage and Empower Youth Through Prevention Curriculum: Becoming Me

May 13, 2024

At ZOE, we understand that many of the teens we serve have experienced significant trauma and lack supportive relationships in their lives. That’s why we’ve implemented a peer support group led by ZOE’s Human Trafficking Prevention Program Manager and Lived Experience Expert, Sandy Esparza, to help foster their self-discovery and prevent further cycles of trauma.

This group runs weekly for an hour. In addition to facilitating these groups, Sandy educates the community about human trafficking through workshops and provides victim advocacy support during law enforcement operations throughout the year.

The peer support group provides the girls with insights into their personalities, love languages, friendships, and relationships. It helps them identify red flags and analyze the dynamics within their social circles. Not surprisingly, some of the participants realized they have no one they can truly rely on.

But these groups go beyond just relationships. The sessions cover self-care, with Sandy pampering the girls with small gifts like face masks, lip gloss, and affirmation cards they can display in their rooms. The girls cherish these self-care activities and the opportunity to explore their interests through discussions about favorite foods, colors, and hobbies, something they never had a chance to think about or experience.

While some topics, like family abuse and past trauma, can be difficult to discuss at times, Sandy creates a safe space where the girls feel seen, heard, and understood. They learn healthy coping mechanisms and ways to shift from destructive patterns. She collaborates with ZOE’s Mental Health team so they can follow up on any needs in therapy.

Most importantly, these sessions foster empathy, compassion, and human connection – something many of these youth have been deprived of for far too long. As Sandy shares her own stories of survival and healing, the girls realize they are not alone in their struggles.

ZOE is committed to being that reliable and safe presence to our ZOE youth. Through these groups, we empower them to discover their authentic selves, build self-esteem, and pave the way for brighter futures filled with healthy relationships and unshakable resilience.

Learn more about ZOE’s Home for Youth here.



Reflecting on ZOE’s Advocacy Program Success

May 13, 2024

ZOE LA’s Final Graduation Ceremony and the Program’s Transformative Impact on Survivors

Five years ago, ZOE secured a contract with the Department of Children and Family Services in Los Angeles County to provide advocacy services for children who have fallen victim to sex trafficking or are highly at risk of exploitation.

When a ZOE advocate connects with a youth, their primary focus is establishing a sense of emotional and physical safety with them. Often, these youth find themselves ensnared in the grip of traffickers, where they face coercion, manipulation, and threats. 

ZOE’s Advocates learn about the youth’s immediate circumstances, their physical, emotional, and social needs, and help the youth in navigating through dangerous situations.

Through weekly in-person meetings, meals, healthy activities, or simply being present in the youths’ lives, ZOE Advocates become a mentor and safe person whom the youth can reach out to in times of need. Advocates spend most of their time on the field driving as far north as Lancaster, as far south as Long Beach, and as far east as Pomona.

ZOE provides formal support to the youth for up to a year and a half. For youth who complete the program, ZOE hosts a graduation celebration to honor their achievements and strengths.

One youth shared, “I want to say thank you to my Advocates because if I didn’t have ZOE, I don’t think I would be here today. I think I would be in a very dangerous situation.”

As ZOE’s contract with the Department of Children and Family Services in Los Angeles County came to an end, we held our final graduation ceremony for a couple of the youth and had a follow-up celebration inviting all the youth that we stayed in contact with and worked with in the past. We held an open mic for the youth to share about their experiences. 

Ester Yu, ZOE’s Assistant Western Regional Director, shared, “One of our girls went up and was preaching to the whole group. What she shared felt like it really exemplified the heart and the work of all the years of this program – sharing and showing the love of Jesus.”

This story, and many more heartwarming experiences that our ZOE Advocates have had with the youth, (ZOE served over 100 youth every year), is a testament to the power of God’s love and compassion working through the hearts and minds of the youth we serve. We could not do this life transformative work without supporters like you! Thank you for faithful prayers and support for these survivors.

If you’d like to continue supporting ZOE’s prevention and restoration efforts in LA, learn more here!



ZOE Japan Team Member Writes About a Way to Prevent Exploitation of Children

April 22, 2024

THE NEED FOR SEX EDUCATION By Yuri Osborne

Sextortion is a combination of the words sex & extortion.

A perpetrator would befriend a person online and convince them to send nude images or videos, and then start to threaten and force them into paying money or complying with more extreme sexual demands such as sending more sexual images or even forcing them into prostitution.

In general, most people would immediately call the police or ask for help if they are blackmailed, but when someone says, “If you don’t want your naked pictures shared with others, you have to pay up!” then there is a sense of shame mixed in. When a victim realizes that their sexual photos or videos may be released to the public, they feel a strong sense of guilt, causing them to fear reporting the incident to the police and becoming more and more isolated.

Without exception, all children that contacted our ZOE Japan hotline between July and September, refused to tell their parents or the police about their exploitation. Often, one of the reasons cited is: “I don’t want my parents to know that I am having sexual relations with others.”

How sad to think that children are victims of sexual exploitation, but feel unable to ask their parents for help or consult with police or lawyers. One of the reasons behind this is the lack of sex education in Japan.

According to one survey, about 80% of Japanese households raising children say that they do not provide sex education at home, or that they feel the need for it but do not provide it. Culturally, talking about anything sexual is taboo and is left to schools. However, policies such as “hadome” rules are enforced in schools, which means that teachers are not allowed to teach students about sexual activity itself. Things like conception and pregnancy are taught, but the process (physical sexual acts) is not explained, causing children to become curious and seek information through other sources or try to experience it themselves.

Age appropriate sex education is essential in helping children to realize what is happening to them and can even prevent them from becoming a victim of sexual exploitation. By openly discussing such issues in a safe environment at home, it can lay a strong foundation that enables children to reach out to their parents or a trusted adult when they are in a situation of being victimized.

One survivor who came to ZOE Japan for advice was routinely verbally abused and threatened by a man she met on social media, and was at the mercy of her abuser. However, she was ashamed of the fact that she had a boyfriend and sexual relations with him, and she did not want to tell her parents or teachers because she felt like she was doing something wrong.

If this child’s parents had established a relationship in which they could talk openly about romantic relationships and sex, she might have opened up to her parents, or even agreed to talk to the police (who require that parents are informed first) so that she could receive loving support, and exploitation of other children could be prevented.

Even for small children, simple instructions like: “Run and tell mommy or daddy when someone tries to touch or take pictures of the inside of your underwear, because it’s an important body part. Remember that it is not your fault” can prevent a lot of damage.



 

A Journey of Faith: Carlos’ Encounter with the Gospel at a ZOE Mexico Event Before His Passing

April 22, 2024

Recently, our ZOE Mexico team encountered a heartwarming story that unfolded at the Feliz Cumpleaños Jesús (Happy Birthday Jesus) festival in Cholula Puebla, Mexico. Carlos, around 60-years-old, attended the event and heard the profound message of salvation, which deeply resonated with him.

Two weeks later, one of the festival organizers received a call of gratitude, audio recordings, and a photograph of Carlos in the hospital from his son. 

Carlos’s son, shared the news that his father had passed away. He had checked his cell phone and found videos of the Happy Birthday Jesus Festival and an audio message for one of his close relatives that said:

“Look, I am listening to some prayers at a festival that I was invited to yesterday. I was angry, but it is the Lord Jesus Christ who is calling me, and now I know that the Lord Jesus Christ is the King of Kings.”

Carlos had found solace and embraced Jesus Christ as his Savior before his death. His family expressed immense gratitude, knowing that Carlos had heard the Word of God days before he died, and recognized Jesus Christ as his Lord and Savior.

A ZOE Mexico staff member shared, “This message encouraged us to continue reaching people for Jesus, because that man heard and received the love of Jesus at the Christmas festival.”

This powerful testimony inspired the team to continue their mission of spreading the love of Jesus. One exclaimed, “Let’s empty hell of the souls that still need to hear from Christ until the end of the world.”

Carlos’s encounter at the festival serves as a reminder of the transformative power of your prayers, and the importance of sharing the gospel worldwide! 

Learn more about ZOE’s mission to reach every person with the gospel by sharing the good news and training followers of Jesus Christ!

Empowering Communities: Your Support Helps ZOE Combat Human Trafficking Locally

February 29, 2024

On February 14th, ZOE joined forces with the SCV (Santa Clarita, California) Human Trafficking Task Force to visit more than twenty local hotels and motels. Together, they shared vital information on raising awareness and protecting victims of human trafficking in the community.

The task force focused on supporting hotel managers and staff to comply with existing laws on human trafficking of both adults and children. California Assembly Bill 2034, mandates restaurants, hotels, massage parlors and nail salons to inform employees and patrons about potential indicators of trafficking by hanging an informational poster in their lobbies or restrooms. Businesses are also required to undergo training to identify the warning signs. 

Before the team set out, SCV Human Trafficking Task Force Lead, Pastor Dan Broyles of Valencia Hills Community Church emphasized a crucial point. “The perception that Santa Clarita Valley is a safe, low-crime area often leads to the misconception that crimes like human trafficking don’t occur there,” shared Dan. “But that reality is quite the opposite. I receive reports of trafficking cases involving local victims on a monthly basis from my contacts within the county’s Department of Child and Family Services.” All the more reason to continue raising awareness and taking proactive measures to address human trafficking within the community.

ZOE Director of Development, Lonna Gibson added, “It was encouraging to see that many of the hotels we visited already knew about the law and had a poster hung in their lobby. The managers were very gracious and thankful to have the resources available to their employees and customers.”

 

ZOE provides free resources like posters, window clings and human trafficking training to churches and businesses. If you are in need of any resources for your business, please contact ZOE’s Assistant Western USA Regional Director, Ester Yu.

Other Resources:

  • Free Online Training: On March 14, 2024, you’re invited to a FREE online training called Protecting Kids Online, from 7:00 to 8:30 pm, PST, hosted by ZOE. In this FREE training, human trafficking experts from ZOE will share how you can protect kids from cyberbullying, sextortion, and exploitation. You will be equipped with practical resources that you can put in place today.
  • SCV Human Trafficking Task Force: Want to learn more about the Santa Clarita Valley Human Trafficking Task Force? Visit their Facebook page!

Witnessing Jesus in the Midst of Human Trafficking Investigations: A Testimony from Brad Ortenzi

February 28, 2024

During a recent church service at Petra in PA, ZOE’s USA Eastern Regional Director, Brad Ortenzi, had the privilege of sharing some insights gleaned from his experiences with ZOE International and on the heart of God: A Warrior Rescuer, Tender Father.

“I’m often asked what I’ve learned about Jesus through my involvement in child trafficking investigations. My answer remains consistent: Jesus has revealed to me a duality of His nature, manifesting as a fierce Warrior to rescue and a tender Daddy to restore. This revelation has been evident to me from the very beginning of my journey in this work. I’ve witnessed the transformative power of Jesus as He intervenes in the lives of trafficking victims, both rescuing them from their plight and tenderly restoring their spirits.

In CS Lewis’s book, The Chronicles of Narnia, there’s a memorable scene where Lucy observes Aslan walking away from a celebration. Feeling sad, she asks if he will come back. Mr. Tumnus assures her, stating that while Aslan is not a tame lion, he is good. This duality of Jesus—a gentle, loving nature combined with fierce strength—is beautifully exemplified in the work of ZOE International, an organization dedicated to rescuing children from trafficking and sharing the gospel.” 

One of the most emotionally moving moments of the service was when Brad reflected on real-life trafficking investigations that he was part of. He recounted an undercover operation in Thailand, where they awaited the delivery of two young boys to a client at a hotel. The team could feel the tension as they prayed for a successful outcome. Witnessing firsthand the rescue of these boys and their restoration at ZOE’s Children Home was a testament to Jesus’ unwavering commitment to rescue and restore the oppressed.

Other stories Brad shared from Thailand further highlighted Jesus’ tender care for the rescued children. Through corporate prayer sessions at ZOE Thailand, the ZOE team witnessed the transformative power of His love as children found healing and acceptance in God’s loving embrace. Each of their journeys from shame and brokenness to wholeness and joy serve as a powerful reminder of Jesus’ tender compassion and desire to restore hearts that are brokenhearted.

Near the end, Brad encouraged listeners that as followers of Christ, we are called to be His hands and feet in combating human trafficking. While every person has their role to play, the church has a unique responsibility to lead the charge. 

“The journey of combating human trafficking has taught me invaluable lessons about the character of Jesus. His duality as a fierce Warrior and a tender Daddy is evident in every rescue and restoration. As we continue to fight against this injustice, let us draw strength from the knowledge that Jesus is with us, leading the way with His unwavering love and compassion.”

Do you want to learn more about ZOE’s work on the East Coast? Click here! Or interested in having a ZOE leader come speak at your church or event? Fill out our Request a Speaker form and we’ll be in touch!

Transforming Lives: A Night of Worship and Hope with Jordan Feliz at In His Presence Church

February 26, 2024

Recently, In His Presence Church in Woodland Hills, CA held a worship night concert featuring American Christian musician, Jordan Feliz and ZOE’s work worldwide was highlighted as a ministry partner. This event was more than just a night of music—it was a soul-stirring experience filled with Spirit-led worship and a powerful message of hope!

Prior to the worship time, ZOE International’s Founder and Chief Executive Officer, Michael Hart, took to the stage to share how the invitation from God to rescue children began right in In His Presence Church. He recounted how God had called him and his wife, Carol, over 22 years ago to start ZOE International when a local missionary came to the church and shared about child sexual exploitation in Thailand. 

“We heard from a missionary that was visiting, that you could buy a little boy or a little girl off of a menu for the night,” shared Michael. “That just broke our hearts. We had heard about all kinds of exploitation of children, but that word human trafficking was new on the scene. We really crawled into God’s heart and prayed and asked him, ‘What can we do?.’ We heard God say, ‘I hear their cries and I need your life.’”

 

 

 

As Michael shared stories of redemption and restoration, tears filled the eyes of many in the audience. It was a stark reminder of the harsh realities faced by millions of children around the world and the urgent need to rescue them. But amidst the darkness, there was also hope—the hope that comes from knowing that God is at work, transforming lives and bringing light to the darkest places.

Michael also highlighted ZOE’s new initiative, the $10 to End campaign, and encouraged attendees to sign up to give just $10 a month to this important work. 

Before and after the concert, ZOE had a booth set-up where concert-goers could learn more about and support ZOE’s mission. It was heartwarming to see the generosity of those in attendance as they gave to support ZOE’s efforts in combating child trafficking and spreading the love of Christ.

On Saturday evening, several girls from our ZOE Home for Youth were able to attend.

“Thank you so much for being a part of this weekend,” said Dennis Dodd, In His Presence Church Praise and Worship Leader. “It was truly an honor to have ZOE there and to share both nights. We love ZOE and all of you and appreciate you so much.”

A special thanks to In His Presence Church for hosting us and for everyone who supported ZOE! To learn more about our new initiative, $10 to End, click HERE!

ZOE Japan Team Addresses Insights and Collaborates at Conference on Human Trafficking in Japan

January 29, 2024

Recently, The National Police Agency of Japan hosted its 19th Contact Point Liaison Conference on Trafficking in Persons.

During this bilingual event, valuable information and trends were shared by experts from the Community Safety Bureau of the National Police Agency, Tokyo Metropolitan Police, Immigration Services Agency and International Organization for Migration (IOM).

This year, ZOE Japan was blessed to be invited as a guest speaker for the event! Hiromi Hataji, ZOE Japan’s Regional Director, delivered a passionate presentation on the topic of “Protecting children against sexual exploitation.”

Her presentation included some of the alarming trends in online sextortion, tactics of perpetrators, and factors that make children more vulnerable to be targeted by traffickers. 

We are so grateful for God’s favor in giving us this valuable opportunity to be a voice for the voiceless, and to continue our collaboration with the National Police Agency in the fight against child trafficking.  



ZOE Thailand Supports Students Fleeing Burmese Conflict

January 8, 2024

Recently, the ZOE Thailand Team helped educate students at Mae Sot District, Tak Province, which is about 7 hours drive from ZOE Thailand. Most of the students are from the Karen tribe who fled the war in Burma and have come there to study. Since these students don’t have a Thai ID card, it makes life difficult as they miss out on many opportunities and basic needs (including food that is limited to 2 meals per day).

Some of the Thai students told our team that, since studying for more than two years, they haven’t had a chance to see their family. Even though they desire to, they’re not able to go back since they must finish their studies. 

Some of the students shared that even after graduating, they still don’t know what to do or where to go next. One ZOE team member reflected, “When we heard that, we felt sadness for them. And when we look back and think about ourselves it makes us see that we have a million more reasons to thank God for His blessings and grace in our lives.”