It’s not the end.

India is an incredible country. In the last few weeks we have tasted so much delicious food, consumed copious amounts of chai, met amazing people who we honestly would not have survived without, and have seen natural beauty that has left us both in awe.

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Just two of the amazing friends we made in India. Thanks for everything Vikas and Donnie.

India is a wild country. In the last few weeks we have jumped onto (and off of) moving trains (they were going pretty slow), been stranded in a city that was almost entirely shutdown as the state entered a time of mourning for a lost leader, driven an SUV on city streets during rush hour, wandered through mangroves that tigers are known to inhabit, and slept on a boat in the Bay of Bengal, all while India was in the middle of a financial crisis with rupees nearly impossible to come by.

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It’s not the safest way to travel, but it was a free ride home.

In the midst of this once in a lifetime adventure we have been challenged, heartbroken, inspired, and filled with a deep sense of hope and gratitude. We want to share some of these stories with you.

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Serenity Beach at Pondicherry.

In Kolkata we were still travelling with Lance and Sara, who are two of my close friends from Calgary. Two years previous, Sara had spent time in Kolkata and one of her connections there offered to give us a place to stay. Despite their own financially uncertain situation they asked for no money in return for the accommodation or food. They loved us like family and took incredible care of us. But, more than their their unparalleled generosity and hospitality, it was their desire to actively support those in need in their own country that inspired us most.

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A view of the Ganges in Kolkata.

They currently provide education and care for ten young girls, who come from unstable homes where abuse or neglect have been involved. This hits close to the heart for us because it is children in these circumstances who are most vulnerable to exploitation and trafficking. We had the unbelievable privilege of spending a few hours with these young women. They told us of the dreams they had for their lives and we were so inspired by each one of them. It wasn’t until after they left that we learned of the situations of violence and utter depravity that many of them had come from. This broke our hearts, but seeing how far they had come gave us so much hope for their futures, and a deep gratitude for the incredible family who has taken them in as their own.

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Our friend Josh took us out for some street food for our last night in Kolkata.

In Bangalore we stayed with a friend who is doing work with an organization called International Justice Mission (IJM). We got to hear about the work they are doing to combat sex-trafficking and bonded labour in India and around the world. These people are working alongside law enforcement and government officials to bring about lasting change in these areas of blatant and brutal injustice. We learned of the deep-rooted nature of the problem, but were inspired by the action being taken to see these institutions of injustice brought to an end.

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Eating street food at the only open shop in the whole city after the state shut down due to the death of a government official.

We also got connected with the most wonderful powerhouse of a woman who works with children’s homes around the city. She invited us to help take the kids Christmas shopping and come with them on an overnight stay at a camp. The boys all chose to get suits as their Christmas present, which shocked both Brad and I, but seeing them fully suited up and grinning ear to ear was such an incredible experience to be a part of. We were so honoured to be able to help them try on their suits and teach them some gentlemens etiquette, especially considering the lack of male influence in their lives.

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Pure joy.

When we arrived at the camp the first thing we did was push the beds together because this would be the first time any of the children had slept on proper beds in their lives. We were worried that they might fall off during the night. Then, by the light of a bonfire, we danced. We are talking wild, nothing held back, South Indian dancing. The kids had already had an exhausting day, but the moment the music started they jumped and screamed and left nothing on the dance floor. I consider myself a man with pretty good dance endurance, but these kids put me to shame.

Over the two days we spent with these children we saw love and care that is rare even between siblings. We saw joy in spite of difficult life circumstances and we saw kids overcome fears with the encouragement and support of their friends. Most of all we saw the hope and joy that results when one willing person is able to put others before herself. The fact that these children are in a safe home and receiving education means that they are safe from exploitation and have the opportunity to grow into empowered and dignified contributors to society. This is first hand prevention work and is so encouraging to see.

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Didn’t have the rupees to get any closer than this.

Since then we have had a busy few days. We welcomed our good friend Sam to India and toured the city by auto before saying goodbye to him and our new Indian friends from the church we attended during out time there. Then, after a 30 hour train ride and a day touring he historic city of Agra, we arrived in Delhi.

We are now less than 24 hours away from boarding our flight back home to Canada. It is a surreal feeling. As we reflect back on this trip we are so grateful for the experiences we have had and all that we have learned about the world and ourselves, but we are so excited to come home. When we arrive home, we are not finished fighting for justice and freedom. We will continue to support the work of Lighthouse Voyage and will always challenge ourselves and others about the way we choose to view those around us and issues that affect us all.

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We cannot thank you all enough for the constant support along the way and for getting behind this cause that we are so passionate about. We are thankful for everyone of you and hope to see each of you soon! Keep fighting for others and never stop believing in hope.

With much love and great anticipation,

Joel & Brad

 

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Reasons to Hope

 

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When it comes to the topics that we have sought to address on this journey, such as human trafficking, the negative effects of pornography, and situations of sexual exploitation, it can be easy to become overwhelmed to the point of hopelessness and apathy. These truly are dark issues that we are faced with, but when you allow yourself to dig a little deeper and see the ever-present hope that exists for each and every life, complacency and inaction are no longer valid responses.

Maybe you really don’t believe that there is hope for the issue of human trafficking. Millions of people are trapped in modern day slavery. Human trafficking has existed in one form or another throughout history and honestly does not show any major signs of slowing down. But does that infer an absence of hope? Even if we come to the end of our days and the sex trade is still nowhere closer to disappearing, I will still hold to the belief that hope exists then, just as it does now.

Let me tell you why I have this hope.

I watched and listened to a young girl, who spent time living with dogs after being abandoned by her parents, tell me, with the biggest wide-eyed grin you can imagine, that she wants to be a police officer when she grows up.

I have met a couple that has sacrificed their money, their time, and their personal agendas, to provide food, housing, education, and unconditional love, to ten girls who are from situations of poverty or abuse. They are planning on taking in another 5. That is 15 girls who have the chance to grow up to be strong, empowered women, safe from situations of sexual exploitation. 15 girls taken in by one family.

I have heard true stories of physical, emotional, and spiritual healing, that blow my preconceived notions of what is possible right out of the water.

I have experienced the unconditional love of countless people who have helped us on this journey. People who are willing to lay their lives aside for a time to care for two haggard, needy strangers.

I have seen men who were addicted to pornography, and who had broken relationships as a result of this, change completely and stand up against the cultural tendency to objectify one and another and truly seek deep and meaningful relationships while vocally and actively opposing pornography.

I have met many individuals and have come across countless organizations that are willing to enter the darkest places and seek to bring hope and freedom to the individuals for whom darkness is all they have ever known. This is occurring on individual, community, and legislative levels.

As long as people like this exist and continue to operate where the need is (which is everywhere), I will continue to believe in hope. As long as there is breath in the lungs of precious, beautiful people who are held in captivity, I will continue to hope for freedom and believe that healing and fullness of life can be recognized in each and every life. But I can’t just hope in this. In my own way, I must learn to stand up and fight for the dignity of each life. If we all do this in our own ways then I believe that we will see change occur that we never thought possible.

We have so many reasons to hope. Now let’s use that hope to bring us to action and watch hope multiply.

With much love and great anticipation,

Joel

The Long Way Home

It was a surreal feeling to be boarding our flight out of China. We had spent nearly as much time in this one country as we had in the ten European countries we cycled through. I was excited that my grandpa, dad, and brother were meeting us in Nepal that same night. The four of us had planned a seven-day excursion through the Himalayans. Joel was awaiting his friends Lance and Sara to arrive shortly after my family. They had a couple of connections in Kathmandu and were looking forward to serving the people locally for the week. After spending four and a half months on the road alone, this little break from our bikes and the arrival of familiar faces was exciting for both Joel and I.

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View from our apartment roof in Kathmandu

We spent the first day in Kathmandu exploring the city and enjoying the familiar feeling of being surrounded by gorgeous mountains. My family and I left the next day to Pokhara to begin our Himalayan adventure while Joel stayed at the apartment to wait for Lance and Sara. This would be the longest duration of time Joel and I have been apart since June! It was a little weird not waking up next to him in a tent every morning.

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Twins

Trekking through some of the world’s largest mountains in the company of three generations of family was incredible. My grandpa was recently diagnosed with Parkinson’s, but such small things have never stopped a determined and stubborn man. Quite an accomplishment for a sixty-eight-year-old! How often do you hear of a grandfather, a son-in-law and grandsons trekking through some of the world most renowned mountains together? Something none of us are soon to forget.

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3200m Poonhill sunrise

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3 generations climbing the Himalayas

While my family and I climbed mountains, Joel, Lance and Sara lined up some time with a local friend and spent a few days hanging out and playing football with some of the kids in the low-income areas of Kathmandu. They got the chance to see what life in like for children whose parents struggle to make ends meet financially. They had opportunities to pray with people and hear stories about the amazing people living and working in these poor areas.

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Half-time at the footy match

Our last few days in Kathmandu together was second chance to explore, try some local cuisine and have some fun. The good-bye was super hard. Two weeks goes by in a flash. Nevertheless, Joel and I still had the last bit of biking before entering India. We took an overnight bus to the town of Dhara, approximately 120kms from the Indian border. It was the bumpiest, most unstable and dirty transport we’ve taken in five months. As expected, I did not sleep at all and came down with some sort of illness – but we made it. We were dropped off at 5:30am in the city centre of Dhara where we had to reassemble our bikes in the middle of morning rush hour. From there we headed to a cheap hotel where I was able to sleep off this crazy sickness.

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Bike assembly with a crowd at 530am

We woke up early on November 15th with the intention of crossing into India. After five months of cycling, you would sooner assume we would be ecstatic to finally ride into India. That was not necessarily the case. We felt more relieved rather than accomplished as we approached our end point. That honest state of emotion was a testament to our months of endurance. Even though our trip was full of joy and adventure, it felt like we had been in survival mode since we landed in Amsterdam. Crossing into India was a symbol of our return to sanity. It is a tough emotional switch to explain in one paragraph. Obviously we were excited, but mostly just happy to put our bikes away.

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Cycling through Nepal

Once we reached India, we had some confusion trying to figure out our exit and arrival stamps between countries. Thanks to that delay, we coincidentally crossed paths with Lance and Sara and were able to hitch a ride to our homestay at a local church in Siliguri pastored by Ben Issacs and his family. We had already biked 120kms that day, and Metanoia Community Church was another 40kms from the border, so both Joel and I appreciated the ride very much!

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First photo in India

That night, we sat around the dinner table at the Issacs’ house and Ben explained to us two of more crucial needs of some of the members of his community. Firstly, an elderly woman living alone in a bamboo shack. Secondly, a single mother of four who was being taken advantage of by her landlord. Both were in need of immediate help. We decided to build a small building on the church’s property so the six of them could live safe and free from anyone looking to take advantage of them and the children. We had a number of you from back home get behind this financially and we want to thank you from the bottom of our hearts! Lighthouse Voyage was also generous in backing a portion of this project. These six amazing women and children now feel safe and cared for amongst a loving community. Feel free to check out the video to see more!

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The new residents!

We ended our time in Siliguri by taking a day trip up near the China/India border. We drove six hours into the winding hills of the Himalayans. On the edge of the borders, Joel, Lance, Sara and I had the opportunity to ride Yak’s around a holy lake, 3200m above sea level. A once in a lifetime experience for all of us. It is amazing to see how people live and farm way up in the mountains. The people in India are extremely friendly and hospitable and the food is so delicious. The four of us raced back down the mountain after lunch, ate a quick dinner and headed to catch our overnight train to Kolkata.

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The crew

One of the biggest hurdles of being in India at this time is the cash crisis. For those of you who haven’t heard much about this, please check it out on whichever new outlet you primarily use. It’s not the ideal time to be a tourist in India. Even getting supplies to build the small house was an interesting process. This country is in chaos right now in terms of money. We have been forced to prioritize purchases that take credit card. In a cash economy like India, that is much harder than you’d think. The small bit of cash we do have is saved for emergencies only. We ask that you keep the people out here in your prayers. It is a trying time for most of the lower class as the situation continues.

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When all you have is a credit card, you go to Mcdonalds for lunch

As we enter into this final month of our trip, it’s hard not to reflect on how the previous five have unfolded. The things we’ve seen, the people we’ve met and the places we’ve been. The world seems so much smaller. Spending our days with people rather than only each other is such a relief. Not that we are sick of one another, but being with other people is so much better. We are back to being moderately part of a larger community. On the road, you feel alone majority of the time. Being surrounded by people feels different than it did five months ago.

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Joel hanging with some kids at a school

We are both looking forward to being back home with all of you people. You’ve read these blogs, you kept up on Facebook and seen our stories on Instagram. Being home and sharing with everyone in person is going to be so much better – I promise. There is so much that we were unable to share via social media that we are excited to share when we see you all again! 18 days, friends!

Miss you all – Brad and Joel

Be sure to check out the videos from this portion of the trip as well!

One Month in China

Our time in Beijing turned out to be a bit of a waiting game. We arrived in the city right at the start of a national holiday, which meant that many businesses were closed or had limited hours. This made purchasing a new phone (to replace the one we lost in Kyrgyzstan), getting a SIM card, and getting a new rim for Joel’s rear wheel, all more complicated and time consuming than expected. However this also meant that we got to spend plenty of time hanging out with Jon and experiencing the culture and food (so much food) of Beijing. We also got to visit The Great Wall and Tianemen Square, neither of which we had anticipated seeing when this trip began. However, by the time we finally got our SIM card, which was the last of the items we needed to continue our journey, we were ready to ride. Staying in one place too long doesn’t sit well with us anymore.

Our first night camping in China just so happened to be the first night of rain we had experienced since before crossing the Caspian Sea, so we neglected to find a sheltered place to set up our tent. We woke up to wet bikes, bags, and a grey smog-filled sky. Most of the riding in the first few days was smoggy and we mostly rode through populated areas, taking roads dominated by semi-trucks and electric bikes. The combination of smog and diesel left us covered in a thin layer of black grime and we remained that way for days at a time.

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Waking up in a muddy field after a rainy night is not that fun.

A few days out of Beijing we entered our first mountain pass in China, a 2,000 metre climb over 120 kilometres. As we started the climb we weaved between a line-up of semi’s that were at a standstill due to road construction that would haunt us for much of the pass. As I followed Brad through a scandalous gap between two trucks I heard a ripping sound from the rear of my bike. I turned to see my waterproof covering for the sleeping bags fluttering behind me. Somehow only the waterproof layer and the garbage bag beneath it were ripped and the sleeping bag stuff sacks and bags themselves were untouched.

After spending a frustrating half day on a rocky, muddy road, which wound its way through the mountain pass below the smooth and aggravatingly straight Superhighway, we decided to spend a night in a cheap hotel in the next town so that we could wake up clean and in real beds on my birthday. This turned out to be a great decision because it poured that night and much of the next day. For my birthday we had bought a small cake and a few other treats that we had been avoiding as a means of saving money on for the long haul ahead. I also treated myself to two new pairs of socks, as I had been rotating between the same three pairs since the journey began in June.

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Apparently we were pretty entertaining to the locals.

At this point we were still at quite a high elevation and it rained often, so morning riding required jackets and even gloves. We got in a habit of taking breaks in gas stations because nearly all of them sold instant noodles and had hot water on site so we could relax and eat a warm meal without having to search to find enough dry wood to cook for ourselves. Gas station attendants were almost always excited to see us and were incredibly accommodating. Besides instant noodles, our diet consisted of pretty much just Oreos, Snickers, and the odd fruit juice. It was a rough time for us.

One night, as we were approaching sunset in a populated area, with very little hope of finding a place to sleep anytime soon, we stumbled across an abandoned gas station. After exploring the grounds, we found a broken section of a wall that gave us access to a courtyard behind the facility. We had a sheltered, quiet place to sleep, and it even had a basketball court and a real, non-functional toilet, which is still an upgrade from what we usually get.

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Camping in the courtyard of an abandoned gas station.

After a few more days and a night spent sleeping on a cliff overlooking an expanse of marshland, we completed our first 1000 kilometres in China and arrived in Xi’an, ready for a much needed three day break. With the dropping temperature we decided to invest in hoodies and spent our days scouring the markets for the best deals, and enjoying real food in large portions. Chinese hamburgers and a beef noodle dish proved to be favourites for both of us.

When we left Xi’an we were anticipating a nearly 900 kilometre stretch to Chengdu, with a couple rest days to slow us down (by this point we were easily clearing 120 clicks a day, even with some late starts and extended breaks). We approached our first mountain pass out of Xi’an with optimism. The weather was good, the roads were smooth, and the mountains looked stunning. We were making great time on the initial ascent with luscious green forest to our left and a steep drop into a mountain lake to our right. We were feeling good. Unfortunately that didn’t last long. Red and blue flashing lights and a swarm of police officers ahead of us signalled the end of our journey through that particular pass. Through a conversation made possible with a translation app, we learned that we had entered military territory and would have to return the way we came immediately. We were shown an alternate route on our navigation app and headed back down the mountain.

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Finding out that we can’t go any further through a translation app conversation.

The next morning we made our way to a small town that marked the beginning of the next pass. As we entered the town we were again pulled aside by police. This route also turned out to be military land. I was very frustrated and snapped at an officer who had started taking pictures of us and even Brad and I had an argument over whether or not we should even let the officers see our passports. The pent of disappointment and irritation of the last few days was getting to us. Eventually we followed the cops to the station where they offered us a place to sit and water to drink while they looked over our documents. When we left the station we were on good terms with all of them and, although they wouldn’t let us through the pass, they allowed us access to a restricted road so that we could get to the next one as quickly as possible.

We had lunch in a small restaurant, which became a usual practice for us as the meals were incredibly cheap and more filling and tasty than anything we could get at gas stations, and then carried on to the third pass. As we approached a police check point a few kilometres into the pass our hopes sank, but the officer on duty smiled and waved and let us through without any trouble. However, until we reached the peak of the pass, I got really nervous every time a cop car drove by.

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Looking back at the city we left just an hour before.

It was tough, but beautiful riding for a few days and really started to change our image of China. We were a two day ride from our final rest stop before Chengdu when our route took us off the highway and onto a small, paved mountain road that weaved between picturesque rural villages. I was amazed by the strength and joy of the people we came across on this stretch. Elderly men and women hauled carts and bamboo backpacks up the roads that we were struggling to bike up in our easiest gears. Young children laughed and waved as we went past and the general feeling was one of contentment and unity amongst the members of the small mountain communities. It was beautiful to see.

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We saw many locals hauling heavy carts and sacks up hills we struggled to tide down.

Over the course of just a few hundred metres, the road degenerated into a muddy, bumpy path that had us and our bikes covered in mud within minutes. The next day was no better as we experienced the worst downpour of the entire trip, while dealing with bike issues all morning.

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In Guangyaun we took two nights to rest and were treated to a ton much local food by the generous young man who ran the hostel we stayed at. It was rainy and dark the whole time were there and the forecast looked brutal for our final few days to Chengdu. However, when we woke up on our last morning in the hostel the sun was out and the good weather persisted all the way to our final stop in China. We had a fair amount of climbing to do, but it all took place in a national park, which had stunning views and smooth roads nearly the entire way. It was a strange feeling setting up camp just outside of the city, knowing that it was our last night in the tent for a couple of weeks.

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In the morning we rode to outer hostel, which was run by an amazing couple who made us feel so at home. We really loved Chengdu and are thankful for the rest and refocusing we were able to do there.

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The wonderful family that made our time in Chengdu so relaxed and enjoyable.

For our final night before our flight to Nepal, we booked a hotel near the airport so we could take a shuttle bus there at six the next morning, but when we tried to load our bikes onto the bus the driver waved us angrily away and we were left to find our own way to the terminal. Upon arrival at the airport, we were informed that there were no bike boxes available, despite the fact that we had been assured over the phone that there would be. We ended up paying $60 a piece to have our bikes wrapped in small cardboard boxes by two enthusiastic airport employees (they were actually great). Brad’s bike was overweight, but not enough for them to charge extra, but when we put mine on the scale it was 5 kilograms heavy. I pretty much begged the airline representative to waive the $80 fee, but we was unable to. He did, however, get me scissors so that I could cut into the packaging and pull out unneeded weight. Midway through this hack job, a young lady interrupted us and told us that if we checked in at her desk there would no extra charge for additional weight. We were blown away. We got the boxes checked, grabbed our tickets and headed for security, who held us up even longer, and made it to our gate five minutes before departure.

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Ready for Nepal with our makeshift bike boxes.

We are now descending into Kathmandu, grateful for everything we experienced in China, and very excited to be moving on to what is next. I leave amazed by the kindness and the patience of the Chinese people and feel challenged to display love the way they so selflessly showed it to us. I also want to say thank you to everyone back home who showed us love and support in this crazy month!

With much love and great anticipation,

Joel

China Vlog

We made it to Chengdu, our final stop before our flight to Nepal for the final leg of the journey. China was a wild one and we hope you enjoy checking out some of the highlights! (There are two version because some people had issues viewing the first. The top one is the full video).

Be sure to check out thelighthousevoyage.com to see where all funds from our journey are going!

Porn, Sex-Trafficking, and a Life Transformed: Why I Ride.


My name is Joel Friesen and I am currently on a bicycle trip from Belgium to India as a platform to raise awareness and money for victims of sex-trafficking in India and Nepal.* I want to share with you a few of the reasons that I am on this trip and, in order to do so, I must share some of my personal beliefs.
I believe in the equality of all humans. I believe that each person has an inherent value that deserves to be protected and sustained. Every day this value is disregarded as millions of people are treated as commodities and are exploited for the gain of others.

I know that I have been a part of the problem. Through my choice to engage with pornography and my past habit of viewing others as objects instead of precious, invaluable beings, I have contributed to an industry that inflicts unprecedented levels of physical, mental, and emotional damage on it’s victims.

I believe that I am forgiven, and that for all the damage I have done and the pain I have caused, I do not have to live in shame because of my past. For many years I was engaged in the habitual viewing of pornography and this had a brutally negative impact on the way that I viewed and treated those around me. Shame kept the habit hidden and this led to me being a man who spoke about desiring freedom for others, but who lived a life of captivity, which in turn supported the actual physical captivity of real people around the world** and was detrimental to many relationships. When I learned that my ‘private’ actions were not as contained as I had led myself to believe, I knew I needed to make a change. Part of me truly believed that I needed to go through a period of paying my dues and living some sort of a half life until the ‘effects’ of my past choices had worn off. However, this was not the case. 

I learned quickly that it was not my mistakes that defined me, but a grace that was so much greater than all of them. Although the process of working through past issues was a long one, and is still ongoing in a number of ways, it hasn’t held me back from getting active to seek change in the world around me. My life has passion and purpose like I have never known and I am free to live these out boldly and without shame or fear. It is out of this knowledge of the freedom that I have been offered through grace, that I want to spend my life relentlessly pursuing freedom for others. 

I believe that one of the worst injustices in the world today is that millions of people are held against their will as sexual slaves, deprived of any say as to what is done to them and with very little chance of experiencing freedom. I believe that each of these people are worth fighting for.

I believe that, despite all the darkness and despair that surrounds human trafficking, there is hope. Actually, I know there is. I have seen it with my own eyes and heard stories of transformed lives that transcend understanding. I believe in a hope that is greater than most of us are willing to consider because the obstacle before us seems too large to overcome.

I know that in order to be a part of this change we need to pursue a radical shift in our own lives, in regards to the way we view ourselves, those around us, and our purpose in this life. This is something that I am still very much working through in my own life.

We must be willing to sacrifice; to die to our needs for the well-being of others, and yet somehow find the balance to do this in a sustainable manner. I believe that this can be achieved through collaborative and creative efforts, as passionate people are willing to hope in something greater than the current state of things and support each other in the process.

And I believe that men must step up and stand alongside women in their fight for equality; not at the cost of their masculinity, but instead as a means of truly attaining it. We have become idle in our pursuit of true manhood and it is about time we turn this around if we want to be world changers instead of letting ourselves be changed by the world. 

And lastly, I believe that love always finds a way, and therefore, we must always find a way to love.

It is for all of these reasons that I ride, and I hope that, if you haven’t already, someday and in some way you will join in this fight to recognize and protect the value and beauty of each life. 

Let’s pursue freedom together friends.

With much love and great anticipation,

Joel

*All funds raised on this trip go to Lighthouse Voyage, which is an organization seeking to bring hope and freedom to broken lives in India and Nepal. To learn more visit: http://www.thelighthousvoyage.com.

**Check out this campaign from another incredible organization that highlights the link between pornography and he sex trade: http://www.rescuefreedom.org/get-involved/refusetoclick/

Kyrgyzstan to Beijing

When Joel and I started planning this trip, Kyrgyzstan was one of those countries we planned on passing through quickly. We were a bit ahead of schedule considering our train ride through central Kazakhstan, so we figured why not try and enjoy our time here. This turned out to be one of the best decisions we made.

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Through some connections Joel had through TWU, we made contact with a Canadian family living in the capital city, Bishkek. He was a teacher at the local Western school and his wife was working with a local organization called Hands of Love. This non-profit provides shelter, food and other sorts of help to women and their children fleeing from abusive marriages and battered homes. We met with the husband our second night in Bishkek and they agreed to let Joel and I go and spend some time at the women’s facility. As we spent some time with the staff, we learned the shocking truth of what causes many of these women to seek the help of shelters such as this. Kyrgyzstan has a tradition widely known as bride-knapping. A man may chose any woman to be his wife, and with the help of his friends, they proceed to kidnap her. With the aid of his family and the submission of hers, she is subsequently forced to marry him and is subjected to a life of servitude under his control as a wife. Hands of Love works first hand with many women who come from this exact situation. This organization is working diligently to see women set free from their past and experience love and freedom, while learning practical work and parenting skills (if you want to hear more about these organizations and how you can get involved, please contact us directly).

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Another aspect of Hands of Love is focused around the growing number of street youth in the capital. Many kids are abandoned or run away from home at a young age and are forced to provided for themselves on the streets. Hands of Love works with these kids year round by providing cloths, showers, food and a stable community for them. We got to hangout with a bunch of them and share a bit about our lives while we ate some good food and drank tea. It was amazing to see the resiliency in these boys after hearing what some of them have gone through. They have dreams and aspirations just like we both did at their age, except we get to go home to a nice bed and our families every night; they don’t. It was tough having to leave. You just want to stay and do what you can to help these boys. It was an incredibly heavy afternoon for both of us.

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Toughest crew around

After three inspiring days in the capital, it was time we headed south towards China. We were recommended by a friend to take the adventurous route via the Kegety Pass on route to Kochkor. The pass is a Soviet built road used by herders to cut through the mountain range rather than going around. At a staggering 3800m above sea level, you climb through an entire mountain range, zig-zagging hairpin turns on a gravely path till you reach the peak. The air is thin and the wind is cold, but it was easily one of the most beautiful, surreal places either of us had been. We spent a cold night near the top before we descended into the pristine valley towards Kochkor. From there we rode alongside a beautiful babbling brook, passing through numerous small mountain towns until we reached our destination.

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Ball so hard

We decided that after the gruelling task of trekking through the Kegety Pass, we owed ourselves a rest day. We decided to visit Issyk Kul, the biggest lake in the country. We took a 40 minute taxi ride and a 2 hour marshrutka bus to a place called fairytale canyon. We had an awesome time exploring for the afternoon and then hitchhiked back to our hostel in the evening. When we got back, we realized we had left our only phone in the car. That was our only way to navigate our route. A good day gone sideways. Luckily, the next bit of our journey was a single road to the border, so we felt confident we could wait till China to get another phone. The next morning, we packed up and headed out.

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Fairytale Canyon

Our next stop was Tash Rabat. An old Armenian church that was converted into a caravanserai used to house travellers along the Silk Road. Near there was a yurt camp we were excited to stay at. It was a 300km ride through the gorgeous mountains of Kyrgyzstan, so we were both looking forward to it. After ascending a massive hill just outside of Kochkor, we finally got the big downhill we’d been waiting for. Out of sheer excitement, we began singing loudly and moving close to one another to hold hands. Suddenly, Joel dipped into the ditch beside the road and blows his back tube. The tire was thankfully ok, but the rim was bent quite badly. With the help of a marshrutka driver, he took us to his town 70kms away. Unfortunately, no one was able to help, so Joel had to press on in hopes of finding help in China because the chances of finding a bike shop in south Kyrgyzstan is zero.

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Had a few helpers trying to straighten the rim

After a frustrating few days, we made it to Tash Rabat. We were welcomed by an awesome family who works at a yurt camp 6kms from the caravanserai. The time we spent there was so much fun. We got to visit the caravanserai, eat some great food, hike, relax, try a Russian sauna and sleep in a yurt. We knew that crossing into China was going to be a little tougher than most borders, so we made sure to truly enjoy our stay at Tash Rabat. After saying our goodbyes to the amazing family, we headed back on the highway towards the first of three Kyrgyz checkpoints.

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Tash Rabat Caravansarai in Southern Kyrgyzstan

The first checkpoint was relatively easy, they basically want to make sure you have your visa into China before entering the control zone. After passing, the weather began to turn and the headwind became very strong. We were working hard, but barely moving. Once you enter the control zone, you are expected to make it across in a day. We realized that at our current speed, we had no chance of making it through the remaining 70kms. So we flagged a guy down and he helped us pack our bikes into his SUV and we headed towards the Torugart Pass border. We made it to the final Kyrgyz checkpoint just as they were about to close down for the day, so they asked that we camp here and wait till the morning to cross. So we did.

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Cool dude helped us get to the last checkpoint

We were the first ones through the border in the morning and we headed up towards the first Chinese border at Tourgart Pass, approximately 4000m above sea level. We were both excited because we had heard horror stories of people trying to get through these checkpoints and many being turned around. It seemed for a moment that we had some of positive momentum heading into this border and we were both stoked to get into China, get Joel’s wrecked rim fixed and get a new phone. Little did we know what we were about to get ourselves into.

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The forbidden gate into China

We rolled up to the gated border and signalled for the guard to come check our visas and let us through. He looked at us and asked, “Where is your car?” Confused, we asked what he meant? Apparently, in order to cross this particular border, as a foreigner, you need a certified tour vehicle to pick you up and drive you to the nearest city, Kashgar. We were entering a restricted area. We had no idea. There was a Ukrainian couple who had been trying to hitch a ride with a bus to Kashgar, but were also stopped and were now in the same predicament as us. So now, the four of us are stuck between Kyrgyzstan and China, confused, pissed off, cold and with no where to go and very little help from either side.

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Canada and Ukraine unite to survive the cold

Finally, a young man from a tour company in Kyrgyzstan approached us and said he might be able to call a company in Kashgar for us and have them send a vehicle up. After the cost of getting our permits, gas, insurance and other petty things, we had to settle at $350USD ($480CDN). We were told they would get there as soon as possible, so that could be anywhere from 3 hours or possibly the following day. We were left in the dark. As this was all getting sorted, it began blizzarding. We had no shelter on our side of the gate, and the Chinese were unwilling to let us in there side. Thankfully a nice trucker allowed us to stay warm in his cab as we waited for this van.

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Chinese shelter from the storm.

The storm passed and the Chinese guards finally felt some sort of pity for us, so they let us into there shelter until our ride arrived. Once the van finally came, we had to race to get our stuff loaded so we could make it to customs before it closed for the night. We frantically threw our stuff in and hopped on. A kilometre down the road was the first checkpoint on the Chinese side. We got out and allowed them to search our bags and ask us a few questions. Within 30 minutes we were through and headed south 100kms to the official customs checkpoint. Things were looking up for us.

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No mans land, China.

Half a kilometre later, the van comes to a stop. The tour company representative looks back at the four of us and tells us they’re experiencing some engine difficulties. Great. Here we are, stuck at approximately 3700m, in a restricted zone in China, as the sun is going down, in a broken down van. We began to prepare ourselves, thinking we might spend the night up here. After working on the engine for an hour and a half, the driver finally calls a mechanic to help. At 1130pm the mechanic rolls up to work on the van. Within 20 minutes he had it running and again we begin our descent towards customs. After pulling a few strings, the tour company guide convinced the customs office to open specifically for us at 130am, something I assume never happens. But we were so thankful not to spend another night outside a border in the cold.

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We expected customs to be super rigid and thorough with there searches, but I guess when you cross at 130am, they are just as tired and careless as anyone. So we got through relatively quickly. Now was the task of finding a bank to pay the tour guide. After my card declined, Joel was able to take out a decent sized portion, but still not enough. With the help of our Ukrainian friends, we scrounged up the owed $350USD by paying him in Chinese RMB, USD and our leftover Kyrgyz SOM. After agreeing to take his payment in 3 different currencies, he finally dropped us off at our hostel at 430am. There, we slept in the alley till 8am, which is when the hostel opens.

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These little critters were straight from the heart.

Needless to say, we did nothing but rest for that entire day. Our hostel was nice, we cleaned our cloths, showered and relaxed. Now that we finally made it into China, we had to start planning our route. We had met a cool guy in Georgia who worked in Beijing and had invited us to stay with him if we ever made it out that way. We need to get to Chengdu to catch our flight to Kathmandu by November 1, and Beijing was roughly 2000kms north of there, which works out perfectly for us. So we decided to train from Kashgar to Beijing and meet up with Jon.

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We’ve spent a few days now in Beijing and are looking to get out of here tomorrow! Joel got his bike fixed, we got a cheap phone with a SIM card and we’re ready to bike the next 2000kms in 30 days! These last few weeks have really taught us a lot. We’ve endured some emotionally heavy days, some physically gruelling climbs, felt lost and unsure about things, and have had our patience tested numerous times. Despite our inconsistent behaviour and wavering obedience, we have continually seen Gods hand at work over and over again. Not only in protecting and guiding us, but also working through the amazing people we’ve had the privilege of meeting; reminding us that we are not alone. We feel the prayers over here, trust me. Thanks again for all the support!

Love you all,

Brad and Joel

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The Great Wall!