Posts in category 'Featured'

“Can you take me with you?”

A young boy sat on the dirt floor of a crowded sweatshop. Eyes wide, he pleaded.

“The shop owner’s gone. Can you take me with you now?”

I looked at the floor and paused.

“I’m sorry,”  I said. Our small nonprofit’s funding for the year was long gone. “We can’t. At least not yet.”

In my 10 years working to rescue and redeem young people from slavery, I’ve never felt such emotions. Desperation and sadness overwhelmed me, as they do hundreds of thousands of young men and women in the city of Addis Ababa who are enslaved and deprived of successful, long-lasting futures.

Yet, the boy’s wide, expectant eyes also filled me with hope.

“We’ll find the funding,” I told him. “We’ll come back for you. We promise.”

Out of this promise Friends of Beza was born.

If you’ve been around Beza a while, you know we give 90 percent of our proceeds to rescuing and rehabilitating youth from forced prostitution and sweatshop labor. How could we possibly do more?

With Friends of Beza, we give you the agency.

You choose how you’d like to fight slavery. Whether it’s rescuing a young woman from forced prostitution through Beza Rescuers, or helping us safeguard children from falling into slavery through Beza Protectors, each sponsor program plays a transformative role in a child’s life.

We never want to enter a sweatshop or brothel without the funds and capacity to say yes to every child who is ready and willing to leave. Will you join us?

Click here to learn more about our new child sponsorship program.

We’re going to Ethiopia. Follow along

Fifteen. That’s the number of girls you’ve helped Beza Threads save this year from modern-day slavery. And in two weeks, we get to meet them.

Beza Threads’ story starts and ends in Ethiopia, in the city of Addis Ababa. It’s here every thread of every scarf is woven. And it’s where 100 percent of every sale is directed. To free, educate and empower young people.

On June 1, eight of us will fly to Ethiopia to meet our friends face-to-face. We’ll hear their stories. We’ll see their world. We’ll learn how we can better partner with them going forward.

The trip will take us inside the workshops where every Beza Threads product begins. Where young men freed from sweatshops work to weave handcrafted scarves—for their own profit, now, as business owners.

We’ll meet some of the more than 50 girls we’ve rescued from forced prostitution. We’ll visit the schools where they study culinary arts and hairdressing. We’ll talk to them about where they’ll go next—the businesses they’ll start, the dreams they have for the future.

Join us. Follow along with our Beza Threads team on Facebook and Twitter and at #BezaAbroad.

A Different Way to Give…

The Holidays are upon us. We’ll sit down to a plentiful Thanksgiving dinner with our family and friends. We’ll shop for big sales at our favorite retail establishment or online. We’ll bake too many cookies for one household to possibly eat. We’ll forget to be thankful, we’ll buy things we don’t need, and we’ll throw out our excess without a thought.

My challenge to you, this holiday season, is to not do anything that doesn’t make you think: how has this helped someone? How has it made someone’s day? How can I alter my intrinsic actions to better a part of someone’s life?

Beza Threads helps to make those differences in someone’s life, and there’s more to it than just buying a scarf. The organization has no doubt made a name for itself in the Des Moines community, and it’s time to reach further.

Like you, I have a closet full of scarves. I’ve gifted them to as many family and friends as I can think of, and I’ve asked them to do the same. Under no circumstances do I need another scarf, but that’s not necessarily the point. It’s the easiest thing to do: choose a scarf, give your money, walk away. It helps, and Beza Threads is thankful, but what if you want to do more?

My husband recently enlightened me to a new way to give to a non-profit organization. (In the process, he also successfully justified his online shopping habit. Nice work, husband.) Amazon has launched a version of their e-commerce site called Amazon Smile, which gives 1% of every purchase you make to a charity of your choice. It might not seem like a lot, that 1%, but it’s a start, and it could consciously change your purchasing habits. If you have the option to spend your dollars through a website that gives back to your favorite charity, why wouldn’t you?

Amazon even redirects you if you go to their normal web address after you’ve selected a charity to contribute to through Could they make this any easier? Sometimes it only takes small adjustments to our everyday lives to create change.

Another avenue to pursue is giving through your employer. Many companies will match a gift to a charity at a predetermined percentage. I would venture to say that this benefit goes unused more than it should. When you have a minute, take a look at your benefits package, or talk to your HR representative and see what your options are for philanthropy through your employer. Whether you give to Beza Threads, or another worthy non-profit organization, you know that your dollars will make a difference.

As we go into the jumble of the holiday season, take a minute to reflect on your spending habits, and the small alterations you can make that will make a big difference.

Visiting the Freedom School

A particular four-story, concrete building is set apart in one of the most dangerous and poor neighborhoods in Addis Ababa – Ethiopia’s capital city with nearly 3.5 million people. The tallest structure in the neighborhood is a school, built and run by Hope for Children Ethiopia. Every day it serves 1,400 students between the ages of 5 and 16. Without it, most of these children would never receive a formal education; and for half of them, it’s their first step out of slavery.

More so than any other place in Ethiopia, our time spent at the HCE Freedom School reminds us that hope, restoration and change is real and tangible. Roughly 700 of the students at the this school are current or recently-rescued victims of forced servitude, living in 12×12 foot sweatshops. The small mud huts are their prison, where they eat, sleep and work for abusive shop owners.

Our brief visits to a few of these shops were enough to make us queasy, and many of the thousands of slave children in Ethiopia know no other life. But the Freedom School is changing that with radical action.


We’re headed to Ethiopia again!

I’ve turned on my “out of office” at work and I’m preparing to check out of the real world as I know it.

About once a year, I have the amazing opportunity to pack my bags and head off to Ethiopia. Each time I have different expectations, excitements, and questions. Each time I come back excited to conquer the world in efforts to bring freedom to the enslaved and grow Beza Threads.

Our team is making final preparations before leaving on our trip Sunday evening. We’ll travel for 30 hours, arriving 2 days later, and have to adjust to telling time differently. (Seriously: Ethiopians tell the time of day differently, and according to their national calendar it’s currently the year 2006, so it’ll take us Americans awhile to adjust.)

Team Members

Josiah (me) – Accountant by day and Beza Threads founder, director and intern by night. This is my fourth trip to Ethiopia.
Autumn – AmeriCorps member, graphic designer and professional volunteer.  Co-founder and Beza Threads board member.  This will be Autumn’s fourth trip to Ethiopia.
Brent – Husband, dad to six, pastor, techie (especially Apple gear) and passionate follower of Jesus Christ wherever that may take him. This is his first trip to Ethiopia.
Scott – Home builder to pay the bills and servant to please the soul. This is his first trip to Ethiopia.

(Of special note – Brent and Scott are members of Ashworth Road Baptist Church in West Des Moines. The Ashworth congregation has been a huge supporter since the start of Beza Threads. We are so excited to have them join us and help us tackle this adventure.)

So I wanted to share with you our plans for the trip. If you follow us on Twitter or “like” us on Facebook, you’ll see our updates throughout the trip. We’re planning to post a few times a day, so you’re going to see a lot of activity from us!

Take a tour: Our first 1-2 days will be dedicated to visiting each of the programs of our partner organization, Hope for Children in Ethiopia. This includes the programs that we support directly as well as many others. For example, they have a team of cooks that make meals for everyone in their programs.  They  have 1,200 people to feed 5 days a week! They operate a school for in the poorest area of the city.  They run another school for kids younger than 15 that have been rescued from slavery. The tour is one of my favorite parts of the trip as we see how Hope for Children in Ethiopia is changing the city to bring hope and justice.

Face the issue: Beza Threads is centered around fighting injustice. Being halfway around the world, we sometimes get disconnected from the issue. While in Ethiopia, we make it a priority to visit the prostitution district, sneak into a sweat shop, and see the people we are trying to free.  These moments bring frustration, anger, and heartbreak. This renews our passion breaking the bonds of slavery and drives us to keep doing what we do for another year.

Collect stories: A big part of our trip is listening to and recording the stories of freedom from the rescued boys and girls, including the girls rescued from forced prostitution and the boys rescued from sweatshops.  We get to hear where they came from, the tragic ways they were enslaved, the chance encounter that led to their freedom, and their hopes and dreams for the future. We also talk with the Program Directors to hear about the process of rescuing and rehabilitating, and the stories of victory in their fight against slavery.

Product work: A critical part of the trip is putting in our annual order for scarves and planning for the fall/winter season. I’m especially excited this year because instead of an accountant (me) designing the scarves, we’ve formed a Product Team with members experienced in fashion, photography, and design. They’ve developed some pretty awesome scarves for this year, including our first line of scarves for guys. Not only does the product team design the scarves, but we work on the shipping process, handling of defects, and minor manufacturing process changes. While guy scarves might sound exciting, we are also kicking of our first few leather products!  I won’t spoil the surprise, but this is going to be the start of something awesome.

The boring stuff: As with any organization, there are budgets, finances, and other less-exciting items that are important to keep business moving. It’s important to work through these items face to face with our partner organization. Working through a language barrier is hard enough in person, let alone trying to do it all via email!

Best of all: While the stuff above sounds great, truly the best part of the whole trip—hands down—is just getting to hang out with the teens in the programs we support. We share food, play silly games, and try our best to speak the few Amharic words we know. By the end of the trip friendships and closer bonds have been made. In the same manner you’d go out of your way to help a close friend in need, during the next year we know the people we’re supporting. We remember their laughs, smiles and stories as we sell their scarves. Our hard work seems like such a small thing once we meet those we are helping.

We’ve got a lot of work to do, and I’m excited to share our adventure with you over the next 12 days! Again, watch for our updates on Facebook and Twitter.

Egzi’abher yibarkih! (God bless)

The Value of Life

It’s strange how small facts can change your life forever. If you hear that Americans spend $61 billion annually on pets, it may change how often you groom your dog. Or if you read a news report saying dark chocolate can be good for your heart, you might feel better about eating an entire bag of dark chocolate M&Ms.

The one small fact that changed my life forever was something I heard while taking a tour of Merkato, the world’s largest open-air market that also contains Addis Ababa’s prostitution district. After visiting the district, a friend held a quarter up and said, “This is wealth in this district. Most of those girls are sold for no more than this quarter.”

I remember how that statement shook me to the core. Multiple times every night for a quarter each time. How could it be that these girls were having their childhoods sold for almost nothing? That fact became an unyielding obstacle to my future. I would do anything to rescue my sister from the same situation. Why would I not do the same for these girls? Did their life hold any less value than my own or the lives of those I love? Their price tag seemed to indicate that their innocence wasn’t worth much more than a gumball.

I knew that doing nothing would not be an option. From that single fact about a quarter, my passion for rescuing slaves was born. Since that moment five years ago, we have been fighting for freedom through Beza Threads. I’ve become an “expert” in the topic of slavery, spreading the word about the appalling reality of modern-day slavery. I remember reading that the value of a slave has dropped from $40,000 to $90 since the height of the African slave trade in the 1800s. It is truly hard to believe that the average price to buy a life—not to rent, but to own—is only $90, and subconsciously I thought this was an exaggeration to drive action. But this last spring I was faced with the realization that this fact held true.

In April, I spent a few weeks in Ethiopia collaborating with our partner organization to work on our plans for this fall. I met Bjorn, a Swedish businessman in his 70s. He had been very successful in life and had been traveling the last 20 years around the world sharing the gospel and fighting extreme issues of poverty. Our organization rescues individuals from slavery through an underground system; however, Bjorn was there to literally buy freedom outright. Solving world issues is a complex process, but changing a single life is often simple.

Bjorn had brought $3,600 with him to Ethiopia and he set out to haggle with slave owners to buy freedom for as many slaves as possible. I’m not sure how much of it was his business sense and experience with negotiation and how much was just an appalling undervaluing of lives, but with that money he purchased freedom for 24 boys and girls. Let that sink in: he paid $150 per person. The value of one of these children to their slave owners was less than my utility bill. It was less than a phone. It was less—so much less—that what they are worth. How encouraging to know that a life can be changed so easily, and yet how much more disappointing that so many remain in slavery when it takes so little to get them out.

This simple fact once again changed my life and has shed further light on how tragic the issue of human slavery really is. This fall, every time I share about slavery, I will share my first-hand experience of witnessing slaves being bought and freed for as little as $150.

Note: I realize there is some controversy over paying slave owners to release their slaves which they had no right to own in the first place. However, I can tell you that for these children their freedom was not at all diminished by the means in which it came. For these children, their gift of freedom was worth so much more than $150. Any argument will pale in comparison to the fact that the parents were able to hold their children again.

Ignorance. Idealism. Initiative.

Although I would like to consider myself an intelligent, informed individual, I have realized lately that many days go by where I don’t give a [serious] thought to things that don’t affect me. Me. Personally.

This is not to say that it is even possible for a human being to be completely selfless, but a lot of us have a long journey to embark upon.

As a part of the Beza Threads team, I’ve started a journey that I recently [just now, actually] coined the ‘Tri-I.’ It starts in Ignorance, winds its way through Idealism, and lingers a while around the Cape of Initiative. Bear with me.

ig·no·rant [ig-ner-uhnt]

Ignorance wears many hats. It doesn’t—or rather shouldn’t—always come with a negative connotation or be confused with the adjective ‘stupid.’ In definition, ignorant means ‘lacking knowledge or training; lacking knowledge or information as to a particular subject or fact.’

Prior to my involvement with Beza Threads, I had little to no interaction with sex slavery. I didn’t know how many women and children were involved against their will, or under the guise of making a better life for their families. I didn’t know that it existed to the level that it does in the United States. In our state.

This brings me to the Di-I:

i·de·al·ism  [ahy-dee-uh-liz-uhm]

I’ve been charged with this one my entire life. People describe it as ‘pie in the sky,’ ‘head in the clouds,’ or any other appendage and/or dessert in the atmosphere. Your choice. In actuality, it is defined as ‘the cherishing or pursuit of high or noble principles, purposes, goals, etc.’ I deem it as head in the sky with firm footing on the ground.

I would venture to guess that if you’re reading this blog, you have, at one point in your life uttered the statement ‘I want to make a difference.’ This doesn’t have to mean an all-encompassing global impact, but leaving your mark on your actually, very small, corner of the world.

The fact that a small group of inspired individuals—idealists I might add—are touching lives in Ethiopia, is incredible.

Last, but not least, the Tri of the I’s:

in·i·ti·a·tive [ih-nish-ee-uh-tiv, ih-nish-uh-]

Let’s cut to the chase. Initiative is ‘an introductory act or step; leading action; readiness and ability in initiating action.’

Initiative is the identification of ignorance and the embracing of idealism. It is seeing women and children in the streets of Ethiopia, who most just walk by, and having a heart for them. It is bringing that very real struggle back to Des Moines, Iowa and trying to get others involved in the fight.

Check us out. Buy a Scarf. Spread the Word. Discover your own Tri-I.