The Incredible True Story of Rescuing Children From Global Traffickers, With Tim Ballard
In this episode, we visit with Tim Ballard, CEO of the nonprofit organization Operation Underground Railroad, about:
Sound of Freedom: Buy Tickets and Pay It Forward (IN THEATERS JULY 4)
Website: Operation Underground Railroad
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Hey, everybody, it's Karen with the Covenant Eyes podcast. Thanks so much for joining us. We are so glad to have you here for this special edition of our podcast. We are going to be talking with someone who is amazing. And the work that he is doing is so invaluable to the fight for our children, for children all over the globe, frankly. Brandon, I'm so glad you're here with me for this journey, for this conversation. I know you're excited to have this talk.
I am and you know, I come into this conversation with mixed feelings because I have a lot of gratitude for what Tim has done, what everybody who was involved in this movie has done. But the other feeling that I have is just a heartbrokenness for the tragedy that exists when it comes to child trafficking. So I think a lot of what we're going to talk about today, it's a hard topic, but it's also going to be a call to action for our listeners to discern.
Where are they called in this movement to fight child trafficking? And we'll get into that a little more. Absolutely. Well, without further ado, Brandon, do you want to go ahead and introduce our guests today and let's dive into the topic? Yeah, we're honored to have Tim Ballard on who of course is not just played by Jim Caviezel from the movie sound of freedom, which we're going to be talking about. He also has his own organization.
where he is fighting child trafficking. And we'll talk about all of that. First of all though, Tim, it's great to have you on with us today. Thanks for having me, really appreciate it. So this film, it's a really tough one. I had a lot of different emotions when I was watching it. You lived this, Tim. Can you just talk a little bit about what this was like for you going through this and then now actually seeing it played out on the big screen? Well, first of all, I'll say it's a very bizarre thing, watching.
someone play you, someone play your wife, your family. It's strange, but these filmmakers are absolutely phenomenal. Their hearts are in the right place. They took a huge gamble. I mean, to make a movie, you know, they started eight years ago. And eight years ago, nobody, very few people were even talking about something. So they're like, we're making a movie about something super dark that no one even knows about. No one's gonna watch this, but we're gonna do it anyway. It was a leap of faith for them. And by the time the movie was ready to release,
the world was prepared, at least enough people were prepared to take it in. And the story is, I can't watch the movie. I watched early drafts and then I just I opt out. I'll come in. I cry. I sweat. I it's a it's a hard thing. You know, when you're in action and doing something, it's like anything, you know, you have if you play sports or something like you're nervous before you. But when you're in it, you're you're OK. But the before and after.
It was a little bit crazy. I look back and wonder why I did it. And what I'm referring to is, you know, being in the government. And the movie does a very good job depicting what happened. You know, we had, I was working on a case as a government agent, and it was a case that had the potential to rescue dozens of kids. But I overextended. I went beyond what my mandate was. And, you know, in the defense of the government,
the US government, we simply didn't have the jurisdiction to do what I wanted to do. So I had to make a choice. And the choice was either go back to work and those kids don't get rescued, or quit my job. I have six kids myself and how am I going to feed them? And if I quit my job, we have a good chance of maybe doing something about this. So it was crazy. It was crazy. You know, I opted to not do what I did.
That part didn't really get picked up too much in the film. There's a part in the movie that you see my wife played by Maria Servino. And she says, just quit your job and rescue those kids. And I just nod my head, but it was really more intense than that. I was more cowardice than they showed. I said, no, I'm coming home. And she said to me, well, and she pulled this line out, you know, and it was powerful, I'll never forget it. She said, I will not let you jeopardize my salvation by coming home and not doing this.
And I was like, wow, well, here we go. And I convinced my friend, Glenn Beck, to raise, he raised the money for the operation, put a huge amount of faith in us. And as the film shows, it was more successful than any of us could have possibly imagined. There's that rescue scene that you see on the island. 54 kids rescued. Well, the truth is, and there's a documentary coming out called Triple Take, that's gonna...
on the heels of Sound of Freedom. It was actually over 130 that were rescued. Oh my gosh. But the film didn't have time to get into all of that. So it really was an enormous operation and it's a crazy, it really is a crazy story. And I think, you know, it's a white knuckles, edge of your seat, kind of almost a thriller. I think you could call it a thriller. Yeah.
It's incredibly moving. The movie takes you on such an emotional journey. But at the end of it, I'm going to be perfectly honest. I was, I felt so much anger and frustration and I really needed a way to engage and to do something because you walk away from that going, okay, this is awful. What can I do next? So that kind of leads me into the next question I have for you, Tim is, you know, what can the average person do? How can we engage and support?
I mean, this is slavery. This is modern day slavery. And there's more people enslaved today than ever before in the history of the world. That slave labor, it's sex trafficking, it's organ harvesting. We're involved in all of this. We are fighting this.
We have fought in over 30 countries and every state in the United States. But what needs the louder people get, that's when governments change, that's when laws change, that's when more resources are deployed. Right now in the United States, there's about five anti-drug agents to every one child trafficking, anti-child trafficking agent. That's absurd. Why, how, we need to change that, flip that. And the only way to do that in a republic is that people get loud. And I, we learned that, we learned this from history. Like how did...
three and a half years of hellacious slavery, the Transatlantic Slave Trade, go on for that long, but more importantly, why and how did it finally end? It ended because enough people got loud, the media got loud, and by media, it's books and tracks, and the abolitionists, Frederick Douglass, Harriet Tubman, Harriet Beecher Stowe, who wrote this book that was the first thing to shine a light on the Transatlantic Slave Trade in a really loud way. When Abraham Lincoln met her for the first time in the White House, he said to her,
So you're the little lady that wrote the big book that started this war. You recognize that he had shifted the meaning of the war to include and really principally be about liberating the captive. But it took the storytellers to get loud. And so I see Sound of Freedom as hopefully a modern day iteration of Uncle Tom's Cabin. And I see you, the media who are willing. Most don't wanna talk about it. It's ugly, it's scary. Some people are too involved. People in power are involved.
So people who are willing to talk to people like me, you, other people, the media is going to end this. We've rescued at Operation Underground Railroad, we've rescued over 7,000 women and children. Oh my gosh. And that number sounds awesome. And I'm super grateful that we got to be part of that. But that's a drop in the bucket compared to the six million children we believe are currently in some form of slavery. So we can always do that for the one and the two and the hundreds. But if you want to end this, there's only one way. Media.
gets so loud that the foundations of government start to shake and people start changing cultures, policies, and allocating resources in the appropriate way to protect children. And we're certainly willing to talk about it here because we deal in the realm of pornography and we know that there are great ties between pornography and human trafficking. And sadly, yes, there is a lot of child pornography out there. The film even talked about it actually.
that when the film was made, there were 22 million images of child pornography on the internet at that point. I wanna just hit on a point that you were mentioning. Something I want our listeners to know is that Fox Corporation was going to be the first distributor of this film. Then Disney bought Fox and Disney shelved this movie. Guys, this movie has been done for five years and then it took a year for this team to get the rights back.
Tim, what does this mean to you when you think about how we start a movement for change and the fact that it really kind of has to be a grassroots level? It has to be grassroots because the establishment, establishment media, the establishment studios, they don't want this out. They don't want this out for various reasons, but they don't want it out, I know that. And, you know, it was kind of an oxymoron when they came to me eight years ago and said, we want to do this film.
And I said, are you from Hollywood? Because Hollywood is the reason I have to even do what I do. You are creating the sexualized material that leads to sex addiction, which creates the demand that leads to 22 million children being forced into commercial sex trade. So I'm not sure if I wanna work with you. And they assured me that they're not that way. They are, they're in Hollywood, but not, you know, of Hollywood. And I said, okay, well, prove it to me.
by allowing Jim Cavie to play me because I know that he loves Jesus. So that's the only reason I want him to play me. And they said, okay, done. So these guys are a different breed of entertainers, right? They are movement people more than anything else. They want to change the world for good. So it's a fascinating thing to go up against these guys. And you mentioned Disney early, how ironic and what a justice really.
I just talked to Angel Studios today and they told me that they are currently, they have doubled the ticket sales over Indiana Jones. We have beat them by double right now in pre-ticket sales. Our movies come out at the same time. So Disney has double reason not to like us. So let's keep it going though. Let's make sure that I love Indiana Jones, The Last Crusade, One Fair Movie. So no, nothing against Harrison Ford, but let's beat the heck out of these guys on July 4th.
Absolutely. You know, it's interesting, Tim, because our organization, Covenant Eyes, actually our founder is so passionate about this film and so committed to getting the word out. He he rented, he's renting studio space like he's paying for all of the employees, 220 of our employees to go see the film with their spouse or significant others. Thank you. Like we are. Yeah. And but that's the kind of action we need across the board. So, you know, if you're listening today and you're a pastor, maybe or a ministry leader,
This might be a really good opportunity for you to engage the church body in getting to this film because we need to get awareness and like you said, we need to be loud. It's the only way we're going to get change is if our legislative body hears us and knows that we mean business. Absolutely. Thank you guys and thanks to your founder for supporting this film that way. We had talked about the ticket sales. I just want to talk about the link that we'll have in our show notes where you can actually go-
and pay it forward. So you can buy tickets on this site with Angel Studios, and then you can also buy tickets to leave for people who otherwise cannot afford tickets. Like this is how we continue to grow this. This is how we continue to allow the ticket sales to hit the goal that they wanna hit. Tim, talk about that goal actually, because I think it's an important point that they want 2 million people to see that, and that's actually a very significant number.
There are, like I said earlier, the stats from Department of Labor and State shows about six million children who are in one form of slavery. It's labor, sex trafficking, organ harvesting. But this film specifically is about, we work on all three of those, but this one's specifically about child sex trafficking. And it's estimated there are two million, two million of the six million, two million are specifically designated and being forced into the commercial sex trade.
So to represent those two million, we want two million people sitting in theaters on the weekend of July 4th, watching Sound of Freedom. That's incredible. Well, this audience and all the other audiences out there that are talking about this film, they can make that happen. So, you know, to our listeners again, call to action. You've got to go see this film. You've got to stand up. You've got to take a stand against sex trafficking. It is a horrible, atrocious crime and it needs to be put to an end. Tim, getting back to the film,
and what you experienced in real life, you crossed paths with some of the most dangerous and I would say terrible people. I mean, it's got to, there has to be such a brokenness in a person's heart to be involved in child trafficking. How did you keep it together? How did you stay on mission to see it through to the end and rescue the little girl? So I'll tell you, it was years, I had already been 12 years working in these cases. The very first undercover operations,
You know, you can't even come, you got to be friends with these guys. You have to find you actually have to find their humanity so that you can attach to something. So otherwise you're going to you're going to lose it and just rip their, you know, their eyeballs out, right? I remember, you know, one of the main traffickers that you see depicted in the film after he's selling me these kids, he pulled his feet. He was using his phone and show me all these kids like you can choose this one and this one and this one. That's depicted in the film when we're meeting with them.
so forth. Well, what the film didn't pick up was on the side, he pulled up another picture, you know, within the same hour that he was showing me that these kids, he shows me another kid. And I'm like, is this one being sold to? It's like, no, no, no, no, this is my daughter. And isn't she beautiful? And she's in this white dress. And I just thought, what is what is in your head right now? Like you? This is your daughter, you're saying how much you love her and how sweet she is now pure and precious. But you have no problem selling other people's kid.
just for money in your pocket, you have no problem selling them to be raped for your greed. It is they're monsters. I mean, they're they're they're beyond feeling they are less than human. I promise you. I look in their eyes and I can see it. And to have to connect to that. It's a lot of prayer. It's a lot of faith, because sometimes you have to be enrolled for on this case, it was months, months I had to be friends with these people. You know, the film shows it happening really fast.
It was months. We started this case in the beginning, probably March, February, March of 2014. And the day of the hit, the rescue was October 11th of that year. So that's a long time to be in role. And for me, it's just a lot of prayer, a lot of faith. I often think of the scripture because we go in a dark place, especially when I left the cover of the US
I there was no Marine unit coming right as as as it's a line in the movie is true. You're on our own now. I I know what to call and don't report to. And so that that is that is scary. But I had my faith, I had God. And that's the blessing when you are alone is that you find a way to not be alone. And ironically, you're less alone now than ever. If you if you do what Lincoln did and others did when they were in this situation, it's hit your knees. And then I often repeated a scripture.
myself during this operation and every operation, which maybe it's the only time that Jesus gets like mafioso in his words. It's righteous mafioso because it's Jesus, but he says what happens to you if you hurt kids better than a millstone being tied about your neck and you cast to the bottom of the sea. That's better than what will happen to you. So I know where he stands and that there's comfort in that and knowing funny enough, Jim Cavie, so in the movie,
He added that line. If you remember, there's a line. It's a very real scene. It's a very real person when he's sitting in that coffee shop and the guy's about to be arrested. I won't give the whole thing away, but a little spoiler alert. The guy's about to be arrested and he doesn't even realize it. And he thinks Jim's a pedophile and he leans over the desk, right? And he says, he says, better than a millstone, be tight about your neck. And you cast him to the bottom of the sea. Then you hurt these little ones. And the pedophile doesn't know what to do. And this is a
know, it's a real story. And he starts laughing like, well, what does that mean? And then Jim's face gets really serious and he says, you're under arrest, you bleepity bleep. Right? Well, Jim ad-libbed that line. That was not in the script. He just threw it out there better than a millstone. So I love that because he didn't even know that. That's the scripture that's attached to my heart constantly because that's where I get the courage to do anything I do.
It's amazing. I love this because Jim Caviezel has been an actor that I've been watching for several years. Obviously, we know him probably most famously from The Passion of the Christ and Playing Jesus and just the incredible work he did there. You mentioned that you actually wanted Jim for this film, Tim. Why did you want him and what have you seen as a result of him bringing your person to life? Well, two reasons.
One was my favorite movie, the go-to movie that I just go to when I need something is the Counting Monte Cristo. Not sure if you've seen that one. I just love that movie. He is just absolutely just fantastic in that film as Edmondo Ntest. And so that was the first reason. But the second reason was, like I said, I'm scared. We got multiple inquiries, offers after that operation in Columbia. It was national news.
So several big studios hit us up. And I remember walking off a major Hollywood lot and my wife was like, no. I gave, she was in charge to say yes or no because I'm scared of Hollywood. And she's like, nope, nope. We're saying no, no, no, no, no. And then finally it was yes when we found the right people. And I said, look, I can't trust that someone's gonna come in here and mess this up. Like it's gotta be Kaviso. He was my first choice. And because I know where his heart is, I know that.
He loves the Lord and he's a believer and he has that kind of faith that needs to be part of this. And really there's certain scenes in this film that people will watch. He says more with his eyes than he says with his mouth. And Jim's one of the unique actors on the planet, I think, that can do that. Then there's a couple of scenes, I won't say what, I want people to go and find them. You know, he will talk to you with his eyes in ways words never could accomplish.
That's so true. And you've mentioned it a couple times, but I think I want to call some attention to it. Is your wife, your wife throughout this entire journey has been like an unsung hero, supporting you and advising you and talk to me a little bit about, you know, how does she find the strength to do that and to be there with you and to stand through all of this? Because you were gone for long periods of time throughout your operations. That would be hard.
so hard. I can't understand it other than that she truly is a person of faith and she takes her direction from one source because it wouldn't make sense. You know, I was the second week of December 2013 when I, that's when I had to make this decision. And I wanted so badly for her to say, this is crazy. Come home. We have six kids. Cause that, that was the devil on my shoulder saying, of course I can't. And it was just, if I even suggested it, she said, you've told me that if you stay,
will be rescued. Yes, this is not even a debate then. And she said, you know, like she said, I won't let you jeopardize my salvation by not doing this. You know, we have a meeting with our maker and it's got to be a good meeting. This life doesn't matter. This life is just tiny. It's nothing. It's eight seconds. Eternity is eternity. So she always filled my head with that light. You know, one of our very first operations, this one was one of two.
because we were jumping back and forth between Columbia and Haiti. And we actually did the Haiti operation on February, in February of 2014. The Columbia one actually came to fruition in October. So, but we rescued, we actually rescued 28 kids in Haiti. That could be a film in and of itself because of what happened there, but then she did it again. This really tells you who my wife is because she calls me and I'm telling her what, we rescued these kids and there was two kids in particular that were special.
And, you know, we are, they were the ones that we actually used to, in the sting operation, to buy them to get the evidence so that the Haitian police could then go in and rescue. There's a whole documentary about this, by the way, on Amazon. It's called Operation Toussaint. You can watch that story with the real footage. But when I came home and told her about the story, she said, well, where's the mother of those two? I said, well, they're dead, you know, and that's how traffickers got them. And she said, then I'm their mother.
Of course, figuratively speaking, yes. No, bring those kids home to me. What? We just quit our job. We have no money. We're out of money in June. What? But I just, I didn't want to hear the salvation line again. So I'm just, I felt that it was a real, it was a real mandate. And so I went and got those kids and you know, they're our kids now, they've been home for about four years. And so that's, that's who she is far from just, you know, far from not encouraging me. She's insisting I do things and then making things even more difficult for herself by.
bringing it even more into our life, right into our home, by bringing these two precious children in and raising them out of slavery. What an amazing woman. Oh my gosh, amazing. Yeah, no kidding. We have a lot of interactions with church leaders, ministry leaders, Tim, in our work at Covenant Eyes. And don't get me wrong, the church is getting better about addressing things like pornography and human trafficking.
but I think there is still a lot of room for growth. Can you give a message to those listening about why this particularly is an issue, child trafficking is an issue, that the church needs to be on the forefront of and help him bring to an end? Well, I'll say this, it all comes down to children. And again, I'll reference any pastor, any ministry, like God has told you, he has told us where he stands on little children. So.
That needs to be the priority. And ironically, it's not in this world. The children are the last. I mean, we are fighting a culture war now where children are the targets. Children are being sexualized. They're being exposed, groomed. They're being made prey for pedophile predators. I can't believe what I'm watching. I've got to divert time from rescue operations to fight the culture war and the policy war over the godless in this country that are trying to sexualize children. So we can see that children are-
right now on the bottom of the list of priorities, we got to put them on the top. How do you do that? Everything you just said. Make human trafficking an issue. It's in... Look, again, if you need to quote Jesus to get yourself justified in church, quote Jesus. He's told you what to do. So the issue of pornography, I just explained and you know as well as I do, that leads to hurting kids. That leads to create... That creates the monsters that then create the demand for human trafficking. Children being trafficked, children being targeted, children being sexualized by giving them...
pornographic material under the name of sexual education. These are gospel issues. I don't think there's more important gospel issues. They should be top of mind in every ministry and with every pastor. So I hope this film can be used in that way to say, guys, wake up, the gospel is real, let's make it real. God's children are being attacked. And as Jim Caviezel says so powerfully in the film, God's children are not for sale. Amen. Yeah, that's a beautiful line. And I just want to encourage our listeners
go to the site that we have listed in the show notes to buy tickets and pay it forward. Here's a great opportunity to Karen for our ministry leaders. So there are some churches that could afford buying some tickets for some of their congregants. So consider doing that. Buy a whole theater. Like this is how we make change as Tim has been talking about.
Tim, as we come to a close today, I just want to give you the floor to talk a little bit about Operation Underground Railroad, which is an active ministry seeking to help children out of child trafficking. So our foundation is what was born as a result of the story depicted in Sound of Freedom, right? We turned it into a nonprofit. And today we are one of the largest. We have about 140 employees, dozens of contractors.
regions throughout the world where everywhere the sun never sets on our operations. Really, but the story you see depicted as a sign of freedom is not an unusual thing anymore. Like, this is something that's happening all around the world, different operations. That's how we got to rescue over 7,000 women and children thus far. And we do everything to empower law enforcement and aftercare services. We provide tools, technology, training. We will go under cover if necessary. I also run another foundation that was founded...
in 2014 by Glenn Beck and David Barton called the Nazarene Fund. This was an operation set, a ministry established in order to help persecuted Christians in the Middle East when ISIS was coming in and destroying their villages. It also helps any religious minority like the Yazidi people and others. So Glenn asked me to take that over in 2016, and I've been running that as a CEO ever since. And we're fighting human trafficking in these regions to help
Christians and others. Organ harvesting of children is a problem we're fighting there, whether it's again in the Middle East or Africa. So you can go to the nazarenefund.org and also learn about our efforts there. And we encourage people to support one or both or any other anti-trafficking organization or any organization fighting, you know, fighting the effects of pornography or, you know, helping children be a voice for children. There's so many groups. Find one or a couple and support them.
It's been such an honor to visit with you today. Thank you from the bottom of our hearts for all of your work that you do for our children and for being open to bringing your story to the big screen so that many millions across the world can see it. Thank you guys so much for having me on. Absolutely. Thank you for being willing to go into the darkest corners out there in the world and rescue children. I just, it is a noble cause and we are so grateful. So.
Again, to all of our listeners out there, be sure to get tickets. And if you can pay it forward, encourage your pastors and leaders to engage the church body. Let's go out there and let's make a difference. Let's show Hollywood that we want these types of movies brought to the surface so we can enact change in our country. Thank you all for tuning in to this episode of the Covenant Eyes podcast. We are grateful to have you here. God bless, take care.