Editor’s note: The Boyer family from Hawaii, including Ron (former head of the Department of Commerce and Consumer Affairs), his wife Cissy, and his children, Drake and Elli, are part of a mission in Thailand to save children from sex trafficking. After Hawaii Reporter checked in, the family provided an update on their work.
Thank you for checking up on the Boyer Ohana. Well, it’s been 16 months now and we are doing great! What a whirlwind it has been! In some respects, it seems like we have been “Khon Thai” (people of Thailand) forever. We quickly adapted to our new surroundings: learning to drive on the left side of the road, dealing with unfamiliar money, experiencing spicy and exotic flavors, studying a mysterious language, Drake and Elli attending “real” school for the first time (after years of homeschooling), a hotter and wetter climate, learning to wai (pressing your palms together and offering a slight bow), and – like Hawaii – enjoying a beautiful culture with unique traditions.
Though we left behind many friends and our family, we now have a new ohana, all 180 of them! Helping to run summer camp for the ZOE kids allowed us to experience a rich time with some of the same children we fell in love with 5 years ago when we first visited the ZOE Children’s Homes. Since our arrival, we have established an English language program for the ZOE Ministry School that became so popular that the ZOE staff asked for their own classes. Ron has taught in Bible School and Business Class, and lends his writing skills to ZOE policy, marketing, and grant writing. Cissy loves teaching sales and marketing in Business Class, providing parenting support to our house parents, and baking cookies with ZOE’s teens! Drake’s and Elli’s experiences – playing on their volleyball teams and ministering at ZOE and at the Agape Home for children with HIV – has enriched their lives immeasurably.
ZOE is Greek for “life.” ZOE Children’s Homes is an international not-for-profit organization committed to rescuing and caring for children who have been sold into slavery, are at risk of being sold, are orphans or victims of other heinous crimes and abuse. We exist to combat the human trafficking of children globally, especially in the sex trade, and to provide safe and loving homes to these children so that they can have life again.
In ZOE homes, the children are afforded a high quality education and provided with excellent health care and good nutrition. Above all, they are loved unconditionally by our highly trained staff and volunteers. We also provide scholarships and housing for our children who pursue higher education. At ZOE we are not just caring for children today; we are raising tomorrow’s leaders.
Ron’s primary job at ZOE is to develop, revise and formalize policy for the ZOE Children’s Homes ensuring conformance with ZOE’s 3-pronged strategy of Prevention, Intervention, and Aftercare. He assists the Child Rescue Team working with government agencies, and with research/strategy on new human trafficking legislation. Ron also helps with ZOE Communications, writing articles for newsletters, blogs and websites, and helping to produce videos. He is also director of partner development and primary grant-writer for ZOE.
Cissy helps train the Thai staff in parenting and teaching life skills to the ZOE children. She uses her marketing degree and experience running her family’s restaurant and catering business to help develop ZOE business ventures and teaches business in ZOE Ministry School.
In addition, Ron and Cissy head up ZOE’s Language School and teach the Ministry School students English four days a week. They also help host short-term mission teams, and are developing a missionary manual for long-term missionaries. Of course both continue to spend as much time as possible on their favorite “job”: working (playing!) with the ZOE kids at a variety of events and activities.
I’m Dreaming of a …
The holidays were bittersweet: the excitement of our first Thai Christmas tinged with a longing to be near old family and friends. For a majority of Thais, Christmas is just another day with work or school to go to. But for ZOE Children’s Home’s 63 excited kids, it IS a big deal!
This year, ZOE was blessed by a generous donation that helped us to teach the children that giving is better than receiving. On Christmas Eve, our ZOE families invaded their neighborhood delivering 1,000 goodie bags. This was their way to share God’s love. Each ZOE family member was also given 200 baht ($6) to participate in a gift exchange. In addition, Christmas and New Year’s Day were celebrated with an enormous feast of Thai delicacies including taptim (tilapia), larb isaan (minced pork) and plenty of rice!
Each child was also blessed with a new jacket, pair of shoes, underwear, pillow, blanket, and a small amount of personal spending money to spend any way they desired. There was no shortage of Christmas cheer in the air this year!
At the Boyer hale, we set out poinsettias, adorned the plumeria tree with Christmas lights and baked cookies for friends. Cissy even taught the ZOE family to bake Christmas cookies including snowballs and gingerbread men. All in all, we welcomed a less stressful holiday with more time to relax and reflect on the real reason for the season: to celebrate the birth of our Savior!
“Is there a God?!”
Considering that the U.S. State Department estimates that 2 million children are enslaved in the global commercial sex trade, it would be all too easy to throw up our hands and say “What can I do?” But if we instead reach out with our hands to one child at a time, we will make a difference! Here are just two lives we’ve had the privilege of touching through ZOE.
Gaow, age 12, was trapped in a brothel where he was forced to have sex with men multiple times a day. One night, during a break, Gaow stood outside looking up at the stars. He cried “Is there a God?! Is this my life? Do you see what is happening to me?!” The very next day, ZOE’s Child Rescue Team, along with police, raided the brothel and brought Gaow to ZOE.
Only a toddler, Nicha was used as a “prop” by a professional begging ring. Each night, an adult beggar found a place to sit, cradling Nicha in her arms. Hearts were filled with pity as strangers looked upon the poor mother and her sickly child. But, Nicha wasn’t actually sick; rather she was being regularly dosed with a narcotic sedative to make her drowsy and compliant.
Today, her preschool teacher reports that Nicha is attentive and engaged. It is hard to believe this is the same little girl who came to ZOE as a listless and lethargic toddler!
A Place Called “ZOE”
Not long ago ZOE rescued a little girl and this is her story. She told us that there were whispers on the street amongst the children – trafficked children. They were saying that there’s a place called ZOE and if you can get there, you’ll be safe. She heard that ZOE was looking for kids just like herself.
Well, she told us she thought it was just a fairytale, something other kids dreamed up in their imagination. She didn’t believe it was a real place. But still it comforted her. It made her feel better. It gave her a glimmer of hope. She would dream about this place.
Then one night her traffickers told her that there were people in a certain section of town and it was our ZOE Rescue Team. And the traffickers told her, “Don’t go ANYWHERE near that place! If you do, you’ll be hurt or killed.” They threatened her life. But that night, she made a decision that she was going to run for it, even though the stakes were high. Before she left, though, she told another little girl that if it was true, if this place was real, she would come back for her.
So that night, she took off and she ended up in the arms of one of our child rescue team members. Safe at last!
During her first week at ZOE Children’s Home, this young child walked around wondering, “So this is the place that was created just for kids like me? I can’t believe it’s real. I can’t believe it’s real.” She hadn’t told us her story yet. We didn’t know about the whispers. We didn’t know that she had heard and dreamed about a place called ZOE.
And she kept her promise to her friend. It took us months to rescue the other little girl because the traffickers kept moving her. But we found her and we rescued her, too. Today, both youngsters are safe and flourishing at ZOE.
The hill tribe life in Thailand is tough under the best of circumstances. Isolated by washed out, treacherous mountain roads, hours from electricity or paved streets, the people of the hills live a hardscrabble life. Food comes by the sweat of hard labor, while creature comforts are rare indeed.
For a little boy with no mom or dad, a hot bowl of rice or a dry place to sleep during the cold mountain rains was a luxury only dreamed of. Orphaned at 6, Yindee spent a year living in the mountain jungle, silently slipping in and out of villages under the cover of night to forage for scraps.
Nobody in the village wanted another mouth to feed but someone got word to ZOE about the “jungle boy.”
Suffice it to say that the process of bringing Yindee to ZOE was not easy. His clothes were so filthy and flea-infested, we literally had to burn them. His matted hair was shaved completely off to rid him of lice. He had to be washed no less than three times before he was clean. When he arrived at ZOE, Yindee didn’t speak; he growled. When everyone else sat down to eat, he would grab his food off the plate and run away to hide while he ate. It took days before he was convinced that no one would take his food from him.
It truly is amazing how quickly transformation came. Yindee soon was running around laughing and playing with the kids. He finally consented to sleeping in his bed rather than under it. One day, not long after arriving, Yindee walked up to ZOE’s founder Carol Hart. Bowing low in a deep wai, he said “Thank you for saving me.” Hugging him tight, Carol said “Yindee, you should thank God, not me.” He looked in her eyes and said “I already have. And now I’m thanking you!”
The little jungle boy who didn’t read, write, or smile had truly come home.
Partnering for Progress
It was wise King Solomon who was inspired to write “Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their work” and “A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.” (Ecclesiastes 4:9, 12)
One of the things we like most about ZOE is that we are always teaming up with other people and organizations to partner with in the fight against human trafficking. We know that no single organization is enough. We also realize that the roots of human trafficking are widespread and deep. One root is hunger. When a family doesn’t have enough food to feed its children, and there is nowhere else to turn, there are always the traffickers.
ZOE provides short-term relief services through the distribution of food, clothing, and medicine to the needy. For several years now, ZOE has partnered with the Children’s Hunger Fund (CHF) to administer its Mercy Network in northern Thailand. CHF donates the food and supplies while ZOE assembles the relief packs and delivers them to poor, rural hill tribe villages where they are distributed via an unaffiliated group of churches and pastors. The church members carry the packages door-to-door to ALL the villagers whether or not they attend church.
Recently, CHF founder Dave Phillips and his wife, Lynn led a team to Thailand and we had the privilege of working with them in preparing for a specialfood distribution outreach to some of our Mercy Network sites.
Since Dave and Lynn started the Children’s Hunger Fund in the garage of their modest home in southern California in 1991, CHF has distributed almost a billion dollars in food, supplies, and other resources to help over ten million children in 35 U.S. states and 72 nations around the globe. Find out more at www.chfus.org.
It’s a real blessing to meet folks like Dave and Lynn Phillips. It is an even greater blessing to be able to partner with them and our Thai brothers and sisters to feed hungry children and their families!
The Boyer Ohana believes God still has mighty plans for us in Thailand. We’ve only just got our feet wet and are now ready to dive in deep! How long we stay is dependent on the Lord. After 16 months as missionaries serving God in Thailand, we reflect on His lovingkindness and provision.
One of the hardest things for us was making the transition from always having a “real job” and working hard to make a living, never dependent on anyone else, to working hard to make a life for others but doing so as non-paid volunteers. As ZOE missionaries, we must raise our own support to serve in the mission field. We’re responsible for everything: food, rent, phones, gas, medical and car insurance, taxes, electricity, water, etc. If we want to visit home we must come up with the money to travel (16 months away from home is a long time and we’d really like to visit Hawaii nei sometime this year if possible!).
During our time in Thailand, we have been dependent on others to support us through their generosity. Some months we have enough for everything, while other months we don’t. Thankfully, we have a core group of friends and family who keep us going. They are our partners here doing their part to end the evil scourge of human trafficking by fighting for those who cannot fight for themselves. So while our biggest unknown is our finances, the Lord is good and we don’t worry because He works through His people to provide!
The Boyers (Ron, Cissy, Drake & Elli)