With every push of their bike pedals, Jason and Karissa Wheaton are going that extra mile to help end slavery.
The Comox Valley couple are participating in the International Justice Mission 2015 Freedom Tour, which starts July 27 in Seattle, Wash. and ends July 31 in Portland, Ore.
They are the only two Canadians in a group of 13 cyclists that will ride approximately 725 kilometres (about 142 kilometres a day). Each participant is required to pay $3,250 to ride on the tour, which hopes to raise more than $25,000.
The Wheatons have been following the ride’s recommended training schedule, and by week seven of their 10-week regime were up to 106 kilometres a day.
“We’re not the biggest bikers,” said Jason.
“The biggest I’ve done was 50 (kilometres) last year for YANA, and that was a lot!” said Karissa.
Despite the hot weather, the couple has been enjoying their training rides around the Valley, particularly when they travel around the Little River ferry terminal with its scenic views of farms and the ocean along the route.
Jason, 31, and Karissa, 28, are both Comox Valley born and raised, and while this will be their first IJM Freedom Tour, they have been supporting the organization through donations for several years.
The bike ride is their way of giving even more.
“We wanted to help out but didn’t think we could mentally take what they go through,” said Jason. “The things they do…helping people in horrible situations (is) beyond what I want to imagine. So this is our way of being able to help. This is something we can do.”
“This is something we hope we can do,” added Karissa with a laugh.
The Wheatons heard about IJM through church and were immediately impressed by the organization’s work.
“We love that they work with slavery and sex trafficking,” said Karissa. “How they go about prosecuting the perpetrators…then helping the (victims) to carry on with their lives.”
In order to raise the $7,500 they need to participate in the ride, the Wheatons have held two garage sales and say both did extremely well.
“We raised more than we expected,” said Jason.
“The people in the Valley are really great,” Karissa added.
The Wheatons are now concentrating on their final three-days-a-week training rides, and while they don’t have any more fundraisers planned they would certainly appreciate any contributions that come their way.
Donations can be made online at ventureexpeditions.org/page/donate-now. Select Jason and Karissa Wheaton as the participants.
Karissa is also accepting cheques where she works at Kean Auto (180 North Island Highway, Courtenay). They note that because this is an American organization, donations are not tax deductible and cheques must be made out to Jason or Karissa Wheaton with the memo Freedom Tour.
The IJM works in a number of areas. An example of where funds from the Freedom Tour will be put to work: $30 provides an aftercare package for a survivor of sex trafficking; $40 provides urgent aftercare needs for surviving widows and orphans; and $111 provides freedom training for a family rescued from slavery.
Karissa says they are both excited and looking forward to the upcoming ride.
Jason can be reached at 260-218-2564. More information is on Facebook at Jason and Karissa’s freedom tour and on Instagram at #jkfreedomtour. Track their progress during the bike tour at ventureexpeditions.org
Ending slavery is one of several IJM world-wide projects. IJM was founded in 1997 and launched International Justice Mission Canada in 2002. Since 2006, IJM says it has freed more than 19,000 people around the world from slavery. The group notes slavery is very much a modern day problem, with an estimated 27 million slaves in the world today – more than any other time in history.
Up to 80 per cent of human trafficking victims are women and girls, and up to 50 per cent are minors.
“Human trafficking is tied with the illegal arms industry as the second largest criminal industry in the world today and is currently the fastest growing,” IJM notes.
On a broader scale, IJM is a global organization protecting the poor from violence throughout the developing world. They work in nearly 20 communities throughout Africa, Latin America, South and Southeast Asia to “rescue thousands, protect millions, and prove that justice for the poor is possible.”
IJM’s global team includes lawyers, investigators, social workers, community activists and other professionals, and they say that to date they’ve rescued more than 23,000 people from violence and oppression.
“Today, our work is helping to protect 21 million people globally from violence,” the group states.
The IJM fights slavery, sex trafficking, sexual violence, police brutality, property grabbing and citizens’ rights abuse by rescuing victims and getting them out of the place where they’re in danger. They help bring criminals to justice, hold slave owners, traffickers, rapists and criminals accountable in court, then restore the survivors by giving them the support and tools they need to heal and thrive.
Riders in the IJM 2015 Freedom Tour will be stopping along the route to connect with churches and communities and educate them about the realities of modern day slavery and sharing tangible steps that individuals can take to help eradicate the scourge.
It’s a big job. And while the Wheatons may not be the biggest bicyclists, they are certainly showing they have extremely big hearts as they do their part to help the IJM end slavery.