Couple finds rewards in missionary work

By on January 3, 2018
Lori and Brad Ortenzi visited their former church, Ephrata Church of the Brethren, to talk about their work in Thailand as missionaries with a group that helps childhood victims of human trafficking. Photo by Bonnie Adams

Lori and Brad Ortenzi visited their former church, Ephrata Church of the Brethren, to talk about their work in Thailand as missionaries with a group that helps childhood victims of human trafficking. Photo by Bonnie Adams

The boy who fell victim to human trafficking in Thailand never hesitates to hug the Lancaster County man who helped rescue him from his broken childhood.

Missionaries Brad and Lori Ortenzi left their families and careers here three years ago to join Thailand’s effort to prevent children from falling into the human-trafficking trade and to rescue and help them heal when they do.

“That restoration is life giving,” Brad said. “That’s why we do what we do.”

It’s why the former Ephrata Borough detective left his job, short of collecting a full pension, to become director of Zoe International’s child rescue team. “Does the retirement sting a bit? Sure,” he said.

But he focuses on the rewards of missionary work and joy of the Thai people, many of whom have so little.

Brad said he is fine living outside the American dream and asks himself one question. “What is going to bring a smile on my face my last days on earth?”

He and Lori seem to have found the answer. They see no end to their work with the anti-trafficking cause that has become their calling. Lori formerly managed a Berks County orthodontics office and now oversees Zoe’s short-term mission teams and Thai staff.

She said their dedication to helping young victims heal from forced labor and sexual exploitation encourages her.

“Just seeing all of that has been a huge reward for me. The restorative process is pretty huge,” she said.

The healing is visible on the children’s faces. “You see it on the outside, what’s happening on the inside.” Zoe provides a safe home environment, education and support for the children.

Human trafficking exists in many countries, including the United States. “We feel like this is our problem,” Lori said.

The couple is home visiting family and friends, fundraising and planning a 2018 cross-country bike trip to benefit Zoe. Brad said the organization’s expansion in the United States, Mexico and Thailand takes funding. The Road of Justice Coast 2 Coast Cycling Challenge starts April 21 in Yorktown, Va. Lori is coordinating logistics and support for the 3,700-mile trek that ends June 23 in Santa Monica, Calif.

“I like planning big events,” she said. The goal is to raise $250,000 for Zoe through corporate sponsors, riders along the route and as part of an indoor cycling spin challenge. More information about Zoe and the ride is available at GoZoe.org.

The couple’s dear friends, Rob and Tara Heagy, will ride part way with them. Tara and Lori graduated together from Ephrata High School and remain close friends. Both couples attend Petra Christian Fellowship in New Holland.

“It was hard to see them go,” Tara said. But the mother of two understands their motivation. “They’re saving children’s lives.”

Rob emphasized that he and Tara are among a team of friends who does whatever’s needed such as organizing a yearly fundraising banquet at Shady Maple, a silent auction and meal.

“Part of the friendship is being there when they need us,” Rob said. He plans to bike seven to 14 days during the cycling challenge, traveling about 75 miles daily. He said he cycled about 2,000 miles this past summer and will train on a stationary bike this winter. Tara will bike but also ride in the support vehicle.

Rob said he can’t imagine what their friends see each day as missionaries. “They surrendered everything to go where they were called.”

Lori, 42, previously operated Paw Print Gifts in Lititz and worked at ROG Orthodontics in Berks County with Dr. Natalie Parisi.

“I think the bike trip fundraiser is a really neat way of blending two of their passions, bike riding and Zoe, for the good of others,” Parisi said in a recent e-mail.

The Ortenzis scouted out the route by car since arriving stateside. “We’re tired just driving it,” Lori said, smiling. She and Brad, 49, will continue physical training when they return to Thailand in early December.

“It really comes back to the kids. The kids are what fuel this whole thing,” he said. Brad said the boy at Zoe who hugs him when he sees him is thriving. “We rescue as many boys as we do girls.”

The child was among four boys rescued in one human-trafficking case Brad helped with about two years ago.

“I was part of the team that created the strategy but mostly supervised the rest. I used to go to the rescues. I now have a team that does that. My role now is supervision, strategy and planning.”

Brad stresses that Zoe is part of a collaborative effort with Thai officials. He networks with the Thai Royal police, U.S. Embassy, FBI and Department of Homeland Security.

“We try to stop trafficking before it happens,” he said, noting that human traffickers often use deception to enslave children. The crimes against children involve the United States.

“There are Americans traveling to Thailand to engage in sexual trafficking with children,” he said. “As a former detective, I take that personally. I’m not okay with that.”

His former Ephrata police partner of nine years, Detective Graeme Quinn was his mentor and always had a passion for helping children. They worked together on Lancaster County’s Internet Crimes Against Children Taskforce.

He recalled his reaction when Brad told him he was leaving the force before earning a full retirement. “I assumed he’d do 25 years. I didn’t realize he was going to leave so quickly and pursue this.”

Quinn said Brad was good at his job and was well respected. “He’s missed tremendously here.”

Brad explained one way that his missionary work differs from his former job.

“As a detective, I never got to see the result of our work,” he said. “I saw all the bad and never got to see the restorative process. It’s been life changing.”

Parisi called Lori her “right hand” person in planning marketing events, managing staff and organizing her schedule.

“When I heard she was leaving, I was elated and devastated all at once. I knew she was following a much greater call and I knew that I would miss her dearly.”

Lori said everyone has supported their efforts, including Brad’s family and hers. They are staying with her parents, Art and Carol Groff, in Lititz. The Groffs operate Brady’s Pub in New Holland. Brad and Lori are grateful that they are huge dog lovers and took in the couple’s two Burnese Mountain dogs, Jackson and Murray.

“I sobbed when I had to say goodbye to my dogs,” Brad said. Murray passed away during their visit home last year but Jackson still lives with Lori’s parents.

The Ortenzis said their work in Thailand has at times been tough on their 13-year marriage. “It has brought us closer,” Lori said, sitting beside Brad at their former church, Ephrata Church of the Brethren.

“I think what Lori and Brad are doing in Thailand is nothing short of awesome. For two people to give up their home and their livelihood to serve others is the epitome of selflessness,” Parisi said. “It’s amazing to see two people respond to God’s call as they have.”

Lori is pursuing a master’s degree in counseling and leadership, teaches English to the children at Zoe and has prayer night with them. Both she and Brad are ordained. He had the chance to give the bride away at a Thai wedding.

“We have spiritual children,” Lori said. They have many nieces and nephews, but no children of their own.

“I’m thankful we have the time to help other people’s kids,” Lori said. “We’re very passionate about kids and their freedom.”

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