Quite the ‘spokes’persons

By on August 1, 2018

Couple’s coast-to-coast bike ride raised nearly $300K to help end child labor and sex trafficking

It’s been a long and winding road, but it’s been worth every one of the 3,751 miles they crossed, say Brad and Lori Ortenzi of Lititz, as they commemorated the end of their “Road of Justice” bike ride at the Ephrata Church of the Brethren Sunday night, July 8, at a celebration held in their honor.

The husband and wife team, Christian missionaries currently based in Thailand, recently completed a cross country bicycle ride to raise funds for ZOE International, a Christian non-profit organization that strives to put an end to labor and sex trafficking of children.

Starting in Yorktown, Va., and ending the ride in Santa Monica, Calif., the couple and several other riders who joined in at different points of the trip, raised more than $283,000 for ZOE, with more donations still coming in.

Riding between 63 and 64 miles per day, the journey began the end of April and finished June 23.

The coast-to-coast cycling challenge earned the name “Road of Justice.”

“They always had it in their heart to do this and we still support them as a church,” said Carol Bowman, director of connections at the church. “They still come by when they’re living in Lititz and we wanted to have a place where they could come and celebrate. It’s a cause we support and they had an extreme following here.”

Lori, originally from Lititz, and Brad, from Hamburg, began their missionary vocation in 2014, moving to Thailand to become a part of ZOE International.

Working on the front lines, the Ortenzis saw the need for funds.

“As always, there’s a need for finances for non-profit agencies,” Brad said. “The more money we have, the more children we can help.”

That thought led to the “Road of Justice.”

Their financial goal was initially $250,000, Lori said, but as money started coming in, they raised the bar.

“When we decided on the bike ride, we really didn’t think about all the logistics,” Lori said. “We went to ZOE’s founders and they said to go with it.”

The couple took about a year to plan the US-crossing tour, she said.

They started out alone and were joined by a total of 46 riders at different points along the way.

When the journey got tough, the enthusiasm and dedication of those riders was a welcome support to the couple, Brad said.

“The people who rode with us became advocates for ZOE,” Brad said.

Their long journey — which began at the end of April and finished June 23 — compelled Brad and Lori Ortenzi to label the coast-to-coast cycling challenge “Road of Justice.”

They also had sponsors along the way, so they knew where they would be getting their next meal and where they would bed down for the night.

While they were both very thankful for their sponsors’ generosity, getting to a particular area through all kind of weather and whatever else was happening was sometimes difficult, Brad said.

“Regardless of what was going on, we had to meet those marks,” he said.

“We’re glad it’s over,” Lori said of their nationwide ride.

Both described the most difficult part of the trip.

“For me, it was the grind of not only the ride but being ‘on’ 24/7,” Brad said.

For Lori, it was the steep mountains of Virginia that literally became a mountain in their path.

“We encountered extreme hot winds out west; it felt like a blow dryer in your face,” Lori said.

Riding a bike through driving rain was another hurdle.

In Utah and Arizona, both states were experiencing a heat wave of 20 degrees hotter than their normal of 100 degrees, as the couple rode through those states.

“We had tons of encouragement, from churches, from donors, and from people we didn’t know; sending us encouragement and donations,” Brad said.

“That helped to keep us motivated,” Lori said.

Christian missionaries Brad and Lori Ortenzi commemorated their “Road of Justice” bike ride — extending almost 4,000 miles — at the Ephrata Church of the Brethren July 8. (Photos were submitted)

At the time of their transition to missionary work, Brad was serving as a Ephrata Police detective and Lori was employed as an office manager in Reading.

Brad also worked with a federal task force, ICAC (Internet Crimes Against Children), while Lori traveled to Guatemala to work with children.

“There was a correlation between ICAC and what Zoe International was doing,” Brad said. “ZOE rescues children enslaved in labor and sex trafficking.”

The couple traveled to Thailand to see if working with ZOE would be a good fit for them.

“I was four or five years from retirement and at that point, we checked them out and realized we were called now, not to wait,” Brad said.

“We wanted to see what their needs were and if we could help, and realized we were needed now,” Lori said.

“From the investigative side, there was something I could offer and through her mission trips (to Guatemala) she had a heart for kids and a heart for service, so that really checked everything we were looking for,” Brad said.

The couple poured their talents into helping the staff, he added.

Brad became Director of Child Rescue and heads teams covering investigations, security, and administrative support, while Lori works as a grant manager and with the organization’s founder.

Brad was also the liaison with outside law enforcement, the Royal Thai Police.

Most of the children taken are from Thailand and Burma, the couple said, but similar crimes occur in many parts of the world, including the United States.

ZOE International does prevention work in Japan and recently opened facilities in Los Angeles and in Mexico.

In Thailand, the US government has FBI officers and Homeland Security staff in Bangkok to help decrease these crimes, Brad said.

“For the most part, we’re there to assist the Thai police,” Brad said. “Everything we do is under the supervision and approval of the Thai government.”

ZOE International has about 80 staff and several full-time teachers, who can help the rescued children with vocational training or transitional training, they said.

Their financial goal was initially $250,000, but as money started coming in, Brad and Lori Ortenzi raised the bar of the “Road of Justice” bike ride, fundraiser for ZOE International, a Christian non-profit organization that strives to put an end to child labor and sex trafficking of children.

Those without homes may stay on the ZOE campus as a safe place for learning.

“Many of them don’t have anyone looking out for them and that’s how (they are taken),” Lori said.

The ZOE philosophy is that, if a child has a home, that is the best place to go, but that’s not always possible, she added.

Children rescued range in age from six to 19, although some have been rescued who as young as 18 months old, Brad said.

Another bike ride might be a possibility for next year, Lori said.

For more information, go to ZOE.org.

Marylouise Sholly is a correspondent for the Ephrata Review.

 

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