"Things might not always be easy, but they are always worth it."
We are Jen and Rick Baltzersen.
We have an unbreakable love for one another, a deep love for missions and a spirited love for Cambodia.
Our journey started when we met on an international missions trip in 2008. We knew it was no mistake that God brought us together on the international missions field, as missions and international travel was something in our heartbeat.
In August 2011, we got married and vowed to pray how international missions could become a large part of our lives.
Fast forward to July 2014, when Jen decided to take a two-week vision trip to Southeast Asia. This trip was specifically designed to bring awareness to the hidden horrors of human trafficking happening in our world.
Jen had been doing research on human trafficking, since 2006, however it wasn't until this trip, and a small child that she encountered being trafficked on a city street, that God spoke to her as to who He was calling her to serve.
During this same trip, Jen traveled to Cambodia. The moment she landed in Cambodia, her heart knew God was calling her to serve this breathtaking country.
After a year of Jen talking to Rick about her experience in Southeast Asia, in July 2015, Rick decided to take that same vision trip that Jen took. And, like only God can, He too spoke to Rick...on that very same street that He spoke to Jen, only a different way. Rick too heard God call him to serve those being trafficked.
And, if that wasn't enough, Rick too, knew instantly that God was calling us to serve in Cambodia.
But when and how!?
After much prayer and preparation, on January 4, 2017, we excitedly moved to Kampong Cham, Cambodia. We both signed two-year volunteer contracts with an anti-trafficking, rescue and aftercare organization. We walked blindly into a country we knew very little about, to volunteer for a cause we knew we refused to stand sidelined and let continue. We knew God was calling us to serve and He was going to walk hand-in-hand with us as we did.
During our two years in Cambodia, we learned a lot about the culture, the customs, the people, the work we were called to do, the simple things in life and, of course, about ourselves.
We had ups and downs. Many good times and some not too good times. Challenges and victories. Laughter and tears.
"Things weren't always easy, but they were always worth it."
We returned home to the US early January 2019. We had a lot to process and a lot to miss. We knew our time in Cambodia wasn't over. Our work and our calling would never be over.
Over the next several months, we would dream, we would have visions of things to come and we would have conversation after conversation about the work we did. We talked about the various ways we could develop a proactive approach on trafficking in Cambodia. We were so used to the reactive "rescue and restore" approach that is widely used across the country, yet on so many occasions we watched this approach fail because it did not change the overall circumstances (poverty, vulnerability, limited employment choices) that lead to trafficking. We found our hearts getting excited about the idea of the proactive approach.
We knew that prevention, education and partnerships were key to success. This is when the Women Are Gold community center idea was formed.