When ZOE co-founder Carol Hart was a child, she learned about the shameful history of the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade and the pain and suffering it caused to generations of innocent people. Although she knew there was no way she could ever change the past, she wholeheartedly cried out to God stating, “I would do anything to have been able to help just one of them be free!”
As a teen, the moment Carol learned about the Holocaust in Nazi Germany, her stomach turned once again with unacceptable disgust. She thought, “Did the rest of the world know this was happening?” Again, she said to God, “I wish I were alive then. I wish I could have done something–anything to help.”
As an adult, Carol along with her husband, Michael, were enjoying the success of being in business and ministry. One Sunday, they heard a missionary woman share about the trafficking of children in Thailand and the reality of modern day slavery.
The couple set out to discover the truth about human trafficking.
What they learned was a huge and ever-growing, worldwide industry that uses innocent children as labour slaves, beggar slaves, and sex slaves. This changed their life.
“This is my generation. This is my fight!”
Carol Hart reflects on ZOE’s humble beginnings:
"At the end of 2002 Michael and I first heard of child trafficking. We quickly understood without question we would do whatever we could to help stop the trafficking of children, to never stop our effort until every child is rescued. Slavery in our generation is appalling and we believe what happens in our generation is part of our responsibility. This became one of our life goals and clearly to this day part of what we were born to do…to live for and die for if needed.
We remember crawling up into God’s heart in prayer to ask how we could help, we knew He was a God of justice – we sensed His broken heart for the innocent and hurting. We heard God say to us, I hear their cries and I need your life, don’t worry about how to get financial support I will bring people who have my heart to help you.
We also first and foremost have always had a passion and love for Jesus and the desire to share the gospel until every person has heard…and so it began…we launched into what we believed would be impossible without God’s help.
In 2002, we established our 501(c)3 non-profit organization and called it “ZOE” – which means “Life” in the Greek language.
2003 had us busy learning all we could about human trafficking. At the time there was very little information on what would soon be revealed as a global crisis and the human rights issue of the 21st century. We set up a home office in Santa Clarita, hired our first employee and established the ZOE in Thailand.
ZOE Thailand started with a precious group of 47 children when an unrelated non-profit closed their doors. We kept the doors open and with the help of some of the local national staff from this home and with a handful of wonderful volunteer missionaries, God started our home. All of our first local national staff is still with us today!
After learning more about human trafficking, we immediately narrowed our target group with a much more specific criteria of children we would serve.
The first child ZOE rescued was a little orphaned girl who had no one to care for her except a blind grandfather who was very frail and extended family members who said they could not care for the child. She was only 8 years old. We also rescued a few younger children that year.
Michael and I started started fundraising for our non-profit. It was a slow start. I resigned from my full time job and Michael finished his full time final year at our church. Our custom home was sold for a greater purpose that year to help finance ZOE.
Beginning January 1, 2003 we needed thousands of dollars a month to keep the home in operation! When we look back and remember, it was always such a surprise where the money came from. We cried so much in the early years because it was literally miracle after miracle, month to month as we watched the financial provision come in and we were able to continue doing what God had asked us to do.
“We have never looked back or been sorry for making a decision to give our life service to God as we serve the children and the crisis that matters to His heart… and ours” –Michael and Carol Hart
Betsy Meenk reflects, "When I first met Carol Hart over 30 years ago, we were both young and ready to tackle the world; Carol more so than me. She had a burning passion in her heart to make a difference in the lives of people being treated unjustly. That passion has not diminished in any way over the years; in fact it has intensified! For as long as I have known her, she has had an intense disdain for injustice–the injustices in our world today as well as the injustices in our history. Carol often spoke of her frustration of not being around in the 18th and 19th century when slavery was prevalent in the U.S. Had she been, she certainly would have fought to end the slave trade. Had she been around in the 1930s and 1940s, she would have spent her energy working to end such atrocities as the holocaust."
Michael Hart shared, "People often ask Carol and myself how we deal with the overwhelming problem of human trafficking. They ask, 'How can you handle it seeing it day after day for years on end?' It is true that if we focused on the massiveness of the problem and had no viable solution, then it would send us spiraling into depression. But as a ministry that has combatted human trafficking for many years we have a different perspective and it really helps.
We have had the privilege of witnessing many children rescued and restored from slavery. Though we have made a commitment to God to go find and free them, it really helps to be able to celebrate all the transformed lives of the children. The need is great and many more children need help, but we do our best to help the ones we can.
Knowing that we can be part of changing one life at a time gives us sanity and peace in the midst of this tragedy. The work is difficult but it has been worth it."
When one of our ZOE children was getting ready to attend university. He was in the process of packing up his things and going to his new dorm room. However, before leaving, he wanted to say goodbye to all the staff, children and missionaries.
As he said his goodbyes, he started to tell Carol what ZOE meant to him. He said, “ZOE has given me a lot of opportunities…. a good education, a place to stay, good food, safe environment.” This was all very important to him, but in his wildest dreams, he never thought that ZOE could ever give him something that he thought was impossible to have. He said,
“ZOE gave me a mum and dad.”
He began to weep uncontrollably as he said this in front of his ZOE mother and began to hug her. He never thought as an orphan, he could have a mum and dad. Today, he still calls these ZOE parents his parents. He regularly keeps in contact with them and even takes the time out to come visit and help his ZOE family.
This is one of the key reasons why we have experienced so much success at ZOE, because we have staff who not only consider their duties as a job, but as a lifelong calling. These children are not merely foster children passing through, but they consider them as their own.
At the beginning of 2020, ZOE USA held a 24 hour stationary bike ride during the covid-19 pandemic. #STOP247 – Because Child Traffickers Don’t Do Social Distancing was broadcast live on ZOE International’s Youtube channel. It was like a cross between Big Brother and the Tour de France! Seven riders all stationed in their homes, battling to ride for 24.7 hours to raise awareness about child trafficking.
Nothing could've been better to bring the riders home after such a grueling challenge than the words of Carol Hart.
This is part of what Carol shared and beautifully sums up what all those who had been viewing were feeling.
She said, “You have been so amazing to watch. At about 4:30 a.m in the morning I was in tears on the floor as I was praying for you and for the kids that we’re waiting to rescue, and that are waiting for rescue.
Listen, what you just accomplished physically, we promise to focus our resolve the same way at ZOE. We believe the impossible, with God’s leadership, will end child trafficking.
You reminded us by example to never be afraid to try. Try for what’s worth fighting for – for the weak, for the vulnerable, to do the right thing, even if you’re not sure you can do it.
The most amazing relief we have as a group is that we don’t have to just talk about helping to end child trafficking, or just wish we could do something, or just hope that child trafficking will end. No, every day we get to actually do something!
We promise we will not let the bad guys win. Thank you for giving us a fresh fire. We’re working on our 18th year of fighting for children, and rescuing them out of danger and trafficking, and I have never needed encouragement to stay passionate, I’ve never needed it, but watching you – it was a whole other level of fire I have in my heart.
What it was… as I stared at you for 24.7 hours, it was a physical representation of what we have felt all these years and what we will continue to do all these years and when it’s hard, when you feel like you can’t make it, when you’re scared of failing a child, all the reasons you didn’t quit, and even those who had to get off because you would fall off if you didn’t get off for 5 minutes, or whatever it was, you got back on and you finished – you went to the finish line with your team.
So I just want to encourage you and tell you that for people that have never felt like we’ve never needed fresh passion or somebody to keep us encouraged because we do that in the heart of God every day, we crawl up in God’s heart and He gives us fresh passion but you took us to a whole other level of fire and a whole other commitment level to fight for children who you may never meet and so we just want to thank you so much for everything you’ve done.”
Michael and Carol Hart are two of the most inspirational people around! They founded ZOE International in response to their commitment to bring the Good News, train followers of Jesus Christ, end child trafficking & restore survivors and at-risk orphans.
*You can learn more about ZOE's work in these five countries: USA, Australia, Thailand, Japan and Mexico by following their social media pages.