Category "ZOE Updates"

ZOE Los Angeles First Quarter Update

March 21, 2022

ZOE Advocacy Program

Thanks to you, our donors and partners, the children that ZOE serves in our Advocacy Program, and our ZOE Home for Youth experienced a wonderful Christmas, being reminded that they are loved and valued. More than 50 children in our Advocacy Program received items from their wishlists, gift cards, Christmas stockings full of gifts, and more, all donated! The holidays can often be a painful time for our children as they long to be with family they can’t be with or long to have a family of their own, often leading them to hurt themselves or engage in harmful activities. The youth were reminded by you how loved and precious they are. One child received a keyboard she requested to practice piano. Another child received a nail kit set to practice nail design, part of her future vocational goals. These are healthy activities to bring joy and positive coping skills. 

ZOE Home for Youth

At ZOE’s Home for Youth, the girls were all giddy for Christmas. “They asked if they could open their Christmas gifts at midnight instead of waiting until Christmas morning,” said Vickie McCoy, ZOE’s Residential Manager. As they opened the gifts they received, they screamed with excitement. The youth shared, “I have never received this many gifts before!” Material gifts cannot fill the pain and holes left by the trauma and abuse they have experienced, but celebrations with staff and each other, meaningful conversations, and messages of hope created a sense of family and belonging that they have not experienced in a long time or ever before.

Thank you to all our donors, churches, and partners who made this Christmas so special! 

Operation Reclaim and Rebuild

Operation Reclaim and RebuildAs part of the LA Regional Human Trafficking Task Force, ZOE partners with law enforcement, social workers, and other government and community agencies to help recover children from human trafficking and provide ongoing support to the children and families.

In February, ZOE took part in a week-long state-wide effort to combat human trafficking called Operation Reclaim and Rebuild. Sixty-five adult and 7 minor victims were recovered, 182 males were arrested for soliciting prostitution, and 30 suspected traffickers and exploiters were arrested.

We applaud the LA Regional Human Trafficking Task Force for doing a great job arresting traffickers and recovering victims of human trafficking during this week-long operation. “We need our police force to help us end child trafficking,” said Dave.

Please join with us and pray the survivors get the support they need and those who exploited others get the justice and resources they need to stop hurting others.

ZOE International: A Mission to Share the Gospel and Help End Child Trafficking

December 22, 2021

This year, ZOE International celebrates 20 years of reaching those who have not yet heard about Jesus and rescuing children from the horrors of human trafficking. ZOE is named after the Greek word for LIFE in the Bible. Jesus said, ‘I came that they may have LIFE (ZOE) and have it abundantly.’ ZOE Founders Michael and Carol Hart unapologetically lead with their faith in God as the only Source who can truly change lives for the better.

“It is shocking in our modern world that 3.3 billion people have never heard about Jesus or what He came to earth to do for them,” said Michael Hart, ZOE Founder, and CEO. “Even though we have radios, television, and the internet, many don’t know that God created them and loves them. We as Christians must do something about that.”

When Michael and Carol Hart founded ZOE International in 2002, they were excited to start in a foreign country where the population was less than 1% Christian, and the gospel was needed. “We think it is unfair that some have heard about Jesus multiple times and others have never heard about Him,” said Michael. “We aim for the rest of our lives to make that right by leading every day in the Great Commission. Until every person is reached with the gospel, we aren’t done. Until every child is rescued, we aren’t done. We accomplish this by training and empowering leaders in their nation. They know the language and the culture and are much better than us at reaching their people.”

ZOE has also never been ‘headline-driven; they began their work 20 years ago when human trafficking was not yet on the global stage, and very little could be found on the subject. ZOE Founder and President Carol Hart added, “Many people feel overwhelmed by the enormity and darkness of child trafficking. It is difficult to believe that the buying, selling, and trading of children exists, but it does. We have the power to do something about it! God’s love for people motivates our global first responders, advocates, restoration and prevention teams, our generous donors, and all who work with us each day to keep fighting for freedom and every child touched by this evil.

In the beginning, the reasons not to do this work were overwhelming, but our hearts were in total agreement when God clearly spoke to us, ‘I hear their cries, and I need your life….’ So we set up ZOE International, our 501(c)(3) in Santa Clarita, California, sold what we had, and moved to Thailand, where we didn’t know one person. It was scary because we were unqualified. We had no experience doing this type of work. Our personal money would someday run dry, and we only had a handful of donors. We needed to provide for 47 children at risk for trafficking from day one. In part, we also knew that the buyers and sellers of children were fueled by criminals and sometimes very powerful people. We had no protection, nothing that could help us in their country. But we had God, and we were sure He was leading us, and we were following the vision He put in our hearts. 

GOD taught us how to navigate successfully in a foreign land all these years. It was He who removed the ‘impossible’ that always seemed to be in our way. We know God speaks to people to send the finances needed. We never had to stop moving forward and taking ground. It was He who provided our daily protection. We had front row seats to watch the gentle way God would open the hearts to generations of lost souls and heal the broken hearts of children from trauma.

For ZOE to succeed in this work, it takes that ‘1 in a million’ employee/volunteer who can truly love the people we serve. We have the privilege to serve alongside the most devoted-selfless-brilliant individuals.

Because of our desperate need for God’s involvement every day, we are firsthand witnesses and Master Historians of His faithfulness. There would be no success, no ZOE if God were not real,” said Carol.

From the beginning, God’s favor has been on ZOE with numerous miraculous stories of rescue and restoration, unsolicited generosity, important partnerships with local and federal governments, and law enforcement. People of all ages are coming to Christ in seemingly some of the most challenging and far-flung places.

“It takes an army of dedicated people to sacrifice and give to support our work,” said Michael. “Our donors are just as important as our front-line workers. That front-line worker will never scoop a child up in their arms without the donor behind them or share the gospel in hostile areas without our donors right beside them. We are in the places we are in and doing the work we are doing thanks to our beloved donors.”

Although human trafficking is thought to be more active in other countries, ZOE knows the desperate need to work right here at home in America due to the fast-growing domestic child trafficking crisis. “Children and families here and worldwide are manipulated, lied to, coerced, and forced into seemingly hopeless situations by traffickers. Their main targets have been the poor, unprotected, uncared for orphans/foster children. Today, children from ‘wealthy – normal’ families are equally at risk. Traffickers don’t discriminate. Their prey is as young as infants. They are greedy opportunists. If we don’t push back, the trafficker’s reach will continue to grow. 

We were influenced and raised to fight for fairness and freedom in our beloved America. But it is because we are believers in Jesus Christ that gives us the courage and the drive to do the right thing. Human Trafficking is the 21st Century’s Human Rights issue globally. After 20 years of looking for long-term solutions to end child trafficking, we have a path to freedom, but we need the local Church,” said Carol. “We believe that the Body of Christ carries the answer inside of each of us for every crisis on earth.”

As ZOE celebrates its 20th anniversary, ZOE International is looking ahead to reach the masses and share the gospel through media and technology. “Yes, the solution is audaciously huge,” said Michael. “Some people comment that it is ridiculous to say that the gospel is the answer to stopping human trafficking. From our experience, we know when it is narrowed down to the hurting person in front of us – they need to know Jesus.”

ZOE operates in the United States, Thailand, Australia, Japan, and Mexico and employs over 190 people globally. 

ZOE Thailand Re-Focuses its Awareness Efforts in Light of Third Lockdown

September 17, 2021

In early July, Thailand placed 10 million people in the capital under new coronavirus restrictions. “With COVID, the whole country shut down,” said Les Ginoza, ZOE Thailand Director. “We had to change the way we have done our awareness programs quickly.”

The ZOE Thailand team focused on creating media and educating underage kids to prevent them from being exploited.

“We developed a lot of videos because we could no longer go village to village or go into schools,” said Les. “When we did that, our reach increased. We were able to touch a lot more people with our awareness program. Although Covid is a terrible issue, God always shows us the silver lining.”

The pandemic and loss of tourism income has thrown millions in Thailand into poverty. “We quickly changed our focus to help provide basic food necessities to the neediest of families,” said Les. “In partnership with Children’s Hunger Fund we donated food packs to families while also sharing the gospel and God’s love for them. Families have been overwhelmed with gratitude.”

Child Rescue Team

Recently, ZOE Thailand welcomed 16 members of the Foreign Anti-Narcotic and Crime Community of Thailand (FANC) who represent law enforcement from ten different countries.

“This was the very first time we had an international community of law enforcement come together to discuss human trafficking,” said Les. “The group began to work on a plan to better track down perpetrators who have left Thailand and have gone back to their native countries. This is a big issue that we are trying to resolve, and it takes coordination from the entire international community.”

Thailand ZOE Team

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/.

 

 

 

 

A New Aquarium: Delivering Health and Wellbeing Benefits

October 1, 2020

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

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

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

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

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

– Written by Lori-Ann Tsang

LINK to study

Frog Blog: A Ribbeting Story of Self-Sustainability

September 29, 2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

– Written by Ron Boyer

 

Still Fighting

April 3, 2020

Despite the fact that many of our team are working remotely, we are still able to advocate for children, raise public awareness, and support trafficking survivors in both Thailand and America. 

We remain committed to our goals of reach and rescue. We do not see the current limitations, problems, or obstacles as constraints, but rather as pathways – to form new ways of doing things. Maybe even better ways.

According to psychologists, when you have less to work with, 
you actually begin to see the world differently.

At ZOE we choose to see the current constraints as advantages in disguise. We are asking ourselves, how can we use constraints to be creative and innovative in each of our jobs? How can these obstacles inspire better thinking? 

Through this indefinite time, we will find ways to use our resources differently because we have to. This situation is causing us to creatively plan, dream, and orchestrate ideas that would otherwise have remained untapped.

We remain steadfast in our determination to ensure that child trafficking is ended, justice brought, and lives rebuilt. While we are shifting the way we work and live worldwide, child trafficking has not gone away. In the face of the Covid19 virus, we will continue to fight! 

Even in the Midst of Transition

September 11, 2017

Even in the Midst of Transition By Karen Miyamoto If you have been following ZOE long enough, you know by now that there are things always happening at the ZOE USA office.  From going to conferences to meeting with church pastors to big projects like opening up ZOE Children’s Homes Los Angeles, the USA staff […]

Leaving A Legacy

January 4, 2016

Our Fight to End Child Trafficking What You Can Do to Help Last year was busy at ZOE! Throughout 2015, we were able to share with thousands of people about the work we are doing to fight child trafficking worldwide. In the fall, we hosted two major events, the ZOE Fundraising Gala and the 4th Annual Rescue […]

Boys’ Home Dedication

September 26, 2013

Boys’ Home Dedication For roughly the past two years, ZOE has been in the process of planning and building its newest addition.  This new space will be used as a teen boys’ dormitory, and the timing couldn’t have been more perfect.  With the launch of the ZOE Education Program, an education wing is needed in […]