On a balmy February afternoon in the poverty-stricken country of Haiti, Timothy Ballard is thrown to the ground and handcuffed by local law enforcement. Lifting his head from the asphalt, he watches as the woman who just sold him two young children—a brother and sister ages 2 and 3—for $15,000 apiece is hauled away by police.
Little did the woman know that Ballard is a former CIA and Homeland Security agent who was working with the Haitian government in an undercover operation that would liberate 28 children from her “orphanage.” Little did she know that Ballard would go on to rescue more than 200 children from human traffickers in 2014 alone.
Ballard describes himself as a modern-day abolitionist and is doing everything in his power to educate the public about the little-acknowledged plague of human trafficking in society.
“We go about our lives thinking we have eradicated slavery, but it’s bigger than ever,” he says. “There are more slaves today than all the slaves in 300 years of the transatlantic slave trade.” In fact, human rights organizations agree there are at least 21 million victims of human trafficking in the world today, including 2 million children. Rescuing these children has become Ballard’s mission in life—a mission he believes is inspired of the Lord.
As a government agent, Ballard had been trained to fight terrorism, so he was surprised when his boss specifically requested that he help form a child crimes unit.
“I told him no,” he recalls. “It’s the one thing I wouldn’t do. It’s the worst possible thing anyone can see. Who knows how that would affect you?”
But his boss insisted that Ballard’s LDS faith would help strengthen him against the horrific crimes he would be facing.
“He felt my religious background would be a protection for me,”Ballard says.
After fasting and praying with his wife, Katherine, the couple felt strongly that the answer was “yes.” “The very reason I said no at first is the very reason we came to the decision to say yes—because we have children.”
So Ballard began his job as an undercover operative who assumed the role of pedophile or child trafficker. It wasn’t long after his first case, which led to the rescue of a 5-year-old boy, that he again doubted if he could withstand the emotional, psychological, and spiritual toll.
“This little boy was being violated in the worst possible way,” he recalls. “I was the first agent on the scene, and he jumped into my arms and wouldn’t let go. I came home that night and collapsed on the floor and cried like a baby.”
Ballard continues, “I told my wife, ‘I can’t do this.’ These children are being kidnapped and raped. There is nothing worse on earth. There is nothing worse in hell.” But he felt a powerful confirmation that this was what he was supposed to do. “I made a commitment to God and to that little boy that I would do everything I could, even if it killed me.”
So that’s exactly what he did for the next 12 years.