For Ryan Crozier, four passions remain constant: God, his wife, Romania and trafficking prevention. As a natural-born entrepreneur there have been many other passions and interests that have come and gone, but those are the ones that define his life. At age 12, Ryan fell in love with Romania on a short-term mission trip with his Dad that would change their lives forever. At 18 as a college student, the seeds for anti-trafficking work were sown as he listened to a visiting speaker from India recount the plight of children vulnerable to traffickers. His blood boiled as he listened to the woman tell stories of rescuing children from abuse. She compared their work to standing at the edge of a cliff trying to catch kids as they came off and not being able to catch them all. All Ryan could think about was why there wasn’t someone further back stopping children going anywhere near the cliff edge. It is a question that has helped shape the course of his adult life and it is the reason that today he is leading a company, eLiberare Design – a web design and development agency in Bucharest, Romania.
In 1997 when Ryan and his Dad set off on mission trip to Romania, they expected to serve and help, yet it was them who were most changed by the experience. When the Berlin Wall fell in 1989, it was estimated that 50,000 children were in State care in orphanages. Conditions in those orphanages were terrible, and by the time Ryan first visited Romania eight years later, thousands of children had run away and were living rough on the streets. While the kids found some measure of freedom, they also found new kinds of abuse – particularly the abuse of inhalants, many becoming addicted to sniffing glue. Ryan and his Dad volunteered with an organisation that were helping kids get off the street and into homes.
The experience so impacted the Croziers that the whole family went back the next Summer for 10 weeks. That was when Ryan says he was hooked for life. He fell in love with Romania, spending time getting to know the kids they were working with, as well as the Romanians they worked alongside – many of which became enduring friendships. After returning many times during high school, he finally took a solo trip to Romania at 17. He was gung ho, sure that God was calling him to live in Romania and that he was going to move right after finishing school. Wise counsellors advised him to go to college and return later. It was at college in Minnesota, studying for a general pastoring degree, that he met his future wife Andrea.
Andrea couldn’t help but know Ryan’s passion for Romania – he talked about it non-stop during college! She prayed that if he was the one for her, that God would clearly show her. Shortly afterwards she had a dream of herself working in another country with children on the street and knew God was preparing her. However, after graduation and marriage in 2006, it didn’t yet feel time to move overseas, so the couple moved to Indiana and started to build a life together.
Two weeks after they’d moved to Indianapolis Andrea had got a job as children’s coordinator at a domestic violence shelter, which seemed a miraculous provision. Ryan got a job as a youth pastor, and later started three small businesses. Doors to Romania that they explored had remained firmly closed, so they put down roots. By the Summer of 2010 Romania was firmly on the backburner. The businesses were doing well and they had begun to think that maybe Romania was for them later, after they’d had a family and were more established. However, during a difficult time of feeling unsettled, a conversation with a mentor became the turning point. The message, “Perhaps it’s time for Romania” came through to them loud and clear, they knew it was God speaking to them.
They spent the next 20 months preparing to go. Andrea visited Romania for the first time. Ryan bought a copy of Nolo’s ‘How to Form a Nonprofit Corporation’ and embarked on the steep learning curve of starting a 501c3. They raised financial support and researched. As they looked at organisations and prayed about the future, human trafficking prevention was a constant theme.
In Spring 2012 Ryan and Andrea moved to Romania and spent the first year working with Teen Challenge. Their motto was to serve, to learn and to earn the right to have an opinion. During that year they learned a lot about what was already happening in anti-trafficking work and built good connections with existing anti-trafficking organisations. Relationships with key Romanian leaders that Ryan made at age 12 were re-established and gradually the door opened for them to start an NGO in Romania. eLiberare is the non-profit that they eventually launched in April 2013 with the goal of preventing human trafficking.
Soon after its official launch, the journey of eLiberare took an unexpected turn and within 6 months they had launched eLiberare Design – a design agency that takes on commercial clients and uses its design expertise to support the work of trafficking prevention.
They didn’t see it coming, but in some ways it isn’t surprising that the Croziers have started a business in Romania. Although a conventional non-profit was the best way for them to set up in Bucharest, Ryan has a habit of starting businesses – right from age 13 when he hired himself out as a clown for children’s birthday parties! As he began to hire smart, capable Romanians for eLiberare, they found themselves with a stretched budget and a team with some great skills. They started to turn some of their in-house web design experience into a way of covering some of their expenses and the business has grown from there.
It’s certainly a faith venture all the way. Ryan shares that one of the lessons he has learned through starting eLiberare is about trusting God. He realised that growing up in a fortunate position in the USA he’d never before been in the position where if God didn’t come through, he was without a backup plan. Now with 18 families and singles depending on eLiberare for their livelihood, he is learning to trust God at a new level! He has discovered that living by faith applies as much to business as it does for fundraising for mission or NGO work. Ryan and Andrea, now with their 2 year old son, look back and see how God has faithfully led them on their journey. God has equipped and prepared them through their early experiences, through relationships that began decades ago, through the jobs and businesses they had at the start of their marriage, and through the provision of a business-NGO alliance that has put them in a unique position to serve and influence.
by Jo Plummer
Jo Plummer is the Co-Chair of the BAM Global Think Tank and co-editor the Lausanne Occasional Paper on Business as Mission. She has been developing resources for BAM since 2001 and currently serves as Editor of the Business as Mission website.
With thanks to Ryan Crozier.
Photo credit: eLiberare