Mike Rutter and George Cook are on a mission to help stop poverty and human trafficking.

Through their work with the organization Bright Hope International, they strive to raise awareness to break the chains and set free the victims.

Both peddled their way to Emporia Monday afternoon and left early this morning on the way to their next stop in Paola.

The Break the Chains Cycling Tour is a 40-day event which began on May 24 in Santa Monica, California and ends in Churchton, Maryland on July 2.

Rutter and Cook are averaging 90 miles day on the 3,000 mile tour for a cause they say is very dear to their hearts.

Trapped in a cycle of hopelessness, women and children living in extreme poverty are vulnerable to exploitation through human trafficking.

Cook, of Dundee, Illinois and managing director at Graystone Consulting, has dedicated himself to freeing women and children from the shackles of modern slavery. He detailed his first experience with human trafficking.

“It was 13 years ago in a money manager’s office … a guy who made millions of dollars,” Cook said. “He had a pair of human shackles on his wall, and I’m thinking, ‘Huh? What’s up with that?’ He said, ‘Oh, those are for a slave.’ I’m thinking, ‘Lincoln freed the slaves,’ so I asked him where these slaves were. He said, ‘Well it’s going on all over the world with people being bought and sold and held in captivity.’

“I didn’t know anything about human trafficking, so I wrote to the organization and asked for information. They sent me a picture of a little girl and a journal. I didn’t know why they sent the journal and it took me a while to figure out that this girl was writing about the tricks she was turning for her owner. On one day, this little girl was selling herself multiple times for $2.60. When it hit me, I visualized my little girl being abducted and started wondering what I would do if it happened to my little girl. I know I would go to the ends of the earth, spend every dollar I had ... to find her.”

Rutter, of Chicago, Illinois and chief operating officer of Bright Hope, said he fell in love with the mission of the organization while on a trip to India.

“Twelve years ago I saw extreme poverty firsthand through the despair in a child’s eyes as he begged me for help,” Rutter said. “He begged me for his survival. He was surrounded by other children just like him — a generation plagued by the cycle of poverty, something most of us can’t understand. They are the reason I am doing this ride. We are simply riding a bike, but through that simple act, we have the opportunity to change a life.”

Rutter said just the thought of those trapped in poverty, violence and human trafficking was enough to inspire him on the bicycle tour.

“We ride with pictures of the girls and their story on the back of those pictures on our bikes,” he said. “That helps inspire us throughout the day while we are riding. We’re going through a little bit of pain right now from the ride, but that’s nothing compared to the pain that these victims go through on a daily basis.”

Cook said there is a correlation between poverty and human trafficking.

“It turns out there is a huge link between poverty and violence,” he said. “Where there is poverty, people do not have the money to pay for a detective or a prosecutor. They don’t have much money and can barely survive, so they get taken advantage of. Somebody comes in and says, ‘I’ve got a job for your daughter.’ They take her off to the city, beat her, rape her and throw her into a brothel. And there she is stuck until she dies of AIDS.”

Cook said another organization that he works closely with is the International Justice Mission.

“IJM does a lot of the prosecuting of the brothel owners and training of police,” he said. “There was just a request to train 100,00 police officers in Mumbai. That shows massive human trafficking. Once you bust the brothel owners and get the kids out, they need care. That’s where Bright Hope steps in. This has just been burning on my heart. I talked to Mike (Rutter) a couple years ago and we knew we needed to tell the story. We have such a camaraderie between us and that’s how we came to this mission.”

Rutter said the process of rescuing the victims is a timely one which is also costly.

“The money collected from donations goes towards training the police, judges and others to bring the brothel owners to justice,” he said. “Once the girls are rescued, they need medical care, psychological care and job training. The program we use in India is a two-year long process, once these girls are rescued. We go through the process and reintroduce them back into the communities.”

Cook said poverty and human trafficking are not only prevalent overseas, but can be found here in the United States as well.

“There’s about 300,000 girls estimated in the U.S. involved in trafficking,” he said. “Not all of them are American. Many are brought in from across the border. And what happens there is you can rip a young girl out of her culture and put her into another culture where she doesn’t speak the language and she is threatened with, ‘If you go to the police, we’re going to put you in prison.’ They are intimidated, they are brainwashed and they do whatever their owner asks them to do.”

Cook said the good news is that while on their cycling campaign across the country, he and Rutter have learned of many local, state and federal campaigns, aimed at stopping the violence.

“We are doing an event in St. Louis and one in Indianapolis where we will be partnering with local organizations in those cities,” Rutter said. “George and I will end our ride in DC, where we will be partnering with the International Justice Mission to do more work.”

Matt Brown, owner of High Gear Cyclery, Inc., said he did not know the cycling tour was coming through Emporia until he got a phone call from the support crew and they pulled up in their truck.

“It was a great surprise,” he said. “Someone from the support team called ahead and said they needed a bicycle repair done, so we wanted to get that repair done right away. We know they are riding across the United States and don’t have a lot of time when they do stop, so it was our pleasure to get them back on the road. The support crew explained what they are riding for and it’s really cool to learn more about these organizations and try to help them raise awareness.

“It’s awesome what these guys are doing. To see them try to raise a lot of money for this cause is really cool. To use the power of a bicycle to raise awareness for poverty and human trafficking is wonderful.”

Bright Hope’s mission is to bring Hope to those living on less than $1 a day. Bright Hope envisions a world where under-resourced in-country churches transform their communities and bring hope to the extreme poor. To learn more, visit BrightHope.org.

Follow #BreakTheChains on Bright Hope’s Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. All proceeds from the Break the Chains cycling tour will support Bright Hope’s poverty-fighting initiatives across the globe.

“When laws and property rights are not enforced, then the poor really have no chance to hold on to the gains that they make,” Cook said. “ Part of what we realize is that we can have all the best intentions in the world, but unless we do something to help, this will continue. Those of us with compassionate hearts can help these people with their rights.

“I thought I had seen poverty before but as soon as I realized there is another human being just like me who is being held in slavery and poverty, it tugged at my heart. We want to get the word out and let people know where they can go to learn more and help.”

As of June 15, Bright Hope has raised $47,826 in its quest to end poverty and stop human trafficking.

To learn more about Bright Hope's mission and to donate to help end poverty and human trafficking, please visit: BrightHope.org.

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