By TIFFANY RONEY
After a recent trip to Mexico to combat human trafficking, an advocate-leader is returning to Kansas, the state of his roots.
Mark Brende, global service associate of iEmpathize, plans to engage students of Kansas State University and educate attendees at Emmanuel United Methodist
Saving children in Mexico
Brende took more than 10 University of Colorado at Boulder students to Mexico City's urban slums. In the slums the students led a day camp for 80 children, ages 11-19. On the second day of the camp a girl approached Brende and his team with fear. She discovered her uncle owned a child brothel.
“All the girls are very young with big bruises all over their arms,” she said.
Brende said the team fortunately was able to find out the name of the place and its address. They assembled a force of local volunteers to document the evidence needed to shut it down. Brende said he has not received a report yet as to the results of their efforts on that brothel.
Also during their time in Mexico, Brende spoke about human trafficking on “Formula,” one of Mexico's most popular news television shows. Brende said these opportunities are characteristic of the favor and open doors iEmpathize has received with Mexico's government, non-governmental organizations, celebrities and faith communities.
Their last four days in Mexico the team visited Reintegra, a safe home for older girls. Sophie Hayes, author of the book, “Trafficked,” spoke to the team. The next day, the team took 16 trafficking survivors to Six Flags for a day of fun. The last two days the team cleaned, painted and rehabbed the Reintegra house.
“(The house) literally had three non-functional sinks, no working refrigerator and a rock ceiling caving in one of the bedrooms,” Brende wrote in a newsletter. “We were able to fix all of the above and help provide a better, safe environment for the girls living there.”
The newest Reintegra residents have been dubbed “The Fantastic Four,” as they share a common story of brutal torture by their traffickers. Brende said the girls were all rescued at the same time in an operation that brought them together.
“They've been a unit. Essentially they needed each other to survive,” Brende said. “They're all doing pretty well. Pretty amazing girls.”
The last day of their trip, Brende and his team took all the older girls from the safe home out dancing at a Cuban restaurant.
“It was really just a priceless time, one of the best times I've ever had in my life,” Brende said. “There's a certain kind of dance that you do where you kind of have to get it down and figure it out. One girl had never done that. No man had ever invited her to dance before and I just had to help lead her into this. She was trembling. We had spent a lot of time together. I wasn't a total stranger, but she was still really afraid. In the end, she held my hand and let me lead. A smile came across her face. It was just this moment.”
Roots in Kansas
Brende was born and raised in Topeka. His brother-in-law and twin sister, Cary and Alicia Mock, lived in Abilene for several years. Cary taught music for USD 435, served as minister of worship arts for Emmanuel and wrote songs, performed music and acted in productions at Great Plains Theatre. Alicia also sang and acted in GPT productions. Cary and Alicia have since moved to Prairie Village and now have four children: Annelise, Phoebe, Curran and Delainey.
“Every now and then I miss ooey-gooey Abilene,” Alicia said. “We like Kansas City, too. It’s a trade-off.”
Brende and his wife, Jenni, live in Erie, Colo., with their four children: Samuel, Ben, Abby and Ethan.
In addition to Brende and his team’s out-of-country trips, another of their initiatives is Empathy Week. The traveling exhibit features a film, photography and artifacts to help exhibit visitors “explore, experience and engage.” Exhibit visitors “explore the issue of child trafficking at home and abroad, experience the stories of survivors through film, photography and artifacts and engage in the solutions,” according to the Empathy Week website, www.empathyweek.com.
Brende and some members of his team plan to present an Empathy Week from Sept. 9-12 in the K-State Student Union Ballroom. The following month, Brende is scheduled to speak at 8:45 a.m. and 11 a.m. on Oct. 20 at Emmanuel, 1300 N. Vine St. The public is invited. For more information on all iEmpathize's initiatives, visit www.iempathize.com.