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Tim Ballard

By August 01, 2018
Tim Ballard
Timothy Ballard is the founder and CEO of Operation Underground Railroad (O.U.R.). He also serves as O.U.R.'s jump team commander for rescue operations. Ballard began his career at the Central Intelligence Agency where he worked cases dealing with terrorism and Latin America. He has spent over a decade working as a special agent for the Department of Homeland Security where he was assigned to the Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force and deployed as an undercover operative for the U.S. Child Sex Tourism Jump Team. He has worked every type of case imaginable in the fight to dismantle child trafficking rings. Ballard has worked undercover in the United States and in multiple foreign countries to infiltrate child trafficking organizations. He is an expert at managing internet investigations, particularly those dealing with file-share networks where pedophiles and traffickers go to trade in child pornography. He has trained hundreds of law enforcement officers at home and abroad in best practices to liberate children from sex slavery. After serving an LDS Church mission to Chile, Ballard graduated cum laude with a bachelor’s in Spanish and political science from Brigham Young University. He went on to graduate summa cum laude with a master’s in international politics from the Monterey Institute of International Studies.

Finding Light in the Darkness

I’m often asked the question: “How do you deal with that darkness? How do you keep lights on in the darkness?” And when people ask me that question, I realize it’s very applicable question. The answer will be very applicable to all of us, because we are all dealing with forms of darkness in our lives. You don’t need to be doing anti-trafficking work to be dealing with darkness.

We signed up for this mortality as part of that plan. Part of the divine part of that plan is that we are confronted with darkness. The minions of the adversary are here. That’s scriptural. They are here among us. It’s dark. It’s not if but when that darkness is going to come knocking at your door.

So if I could come up with an answer to the question of how we keep—or how I keep—the lights on, in the darkness where I work, perhaps there is something applicable.

I have met a lot of amazing people who have taught me a lot of amazing things about finding light in the dark, and I want to introduce you to one of these people. It was one of the very first operations we did as our private foundation, as Operation Underground Railroad. In fact, it was the very first operation we did. And we were going to look for a little boy. His name was Gardy Mardy, and his father’s name is Guesno. This is Guesno Mardy. He is a bishop in Port-Au-Prince, Haiti, and the little boy, Gardy—his son—was born in Utah, in St. George. But at the time living in Haiti, this little boy was kidnapped, and he was trafficked. He was kidnapped from the church parking lot. The pictures you are seeing here were taken just a couple of weeks before he was taken.

He was taken from the LDS Church parking lot and thrown into a trafficking situation. There are over a million children forced into slavery—and that’s just sex slavery. If you include the labor slaves, there are up to six million children. So you can imagine—as horrifying as this is—it is even more horrifying to consider what happened to this little boy in this LDS family in Port-Au-Prince, Haiti, is happening all over the place.

When I learned about this case, I was an agent in the government. I read about it in the Deseret News, because this little boy was born in Utah. I tried every way I could to make this case a U.S. case, so that we could go in with the power of the U.S. government and investigate and find this child. But I couldn’t find the nexus back to the United States. I couldn’t do it.

I called the father, Guesno. I flew him up, and I sat down with him. I explained to him who I was and how we wanted to help him. I said, “Guesno, what is being done to find your son?”

And he answered my question with a question of his own, a cruel question. I call it cruel because it was hard for me to answer, and it was unexpected. He said, “To answer your question about what is being done to find my son, I want to ask you, Tim, do you have children?”

I said, “Yes, I do.”

He said, “Could you sleep at night, knowing that one of your children’s beds was empty, and you didn’t know where that child was?” And I couldn’t help it; the tears began forming in my eyes as they formed in his eyes. I said, “No, I couldn’t.”

He said, “Well, to answer your question, I can’t sleep at night. So, I walk the street of Port-Au-Prince, arbitrarily picking some neighborhood, hoping that I will hear my son Gardy cry. That’s my plan.”

And through his tears and my own, I promised him. I said, “Guesno, more can be done. We can do more.” And I promised him that I would never stop until we found his son. Well, the problem, of course, like I had mentioned, I couldn’t break into this investigation and still maintain my employment in the federal government. And this was the single, kind of breaking point for me, where I made the decision with my wife—after much prayer and fasting—to leave the government and to go looking for these kids who are outside the jurisdiction of the United States. And Gardy Mardy was the first one we were going to go to.

So we raised a little money—just enough to do a couple of little operations. I didn’t know, I was trusting the Lord to help us after that. We got enough money to go into Port-Au-Prince, open the case file, and we determined through phone calls and other evidence that this little boy had been trafficked into what looked to me like an orphanage.

As we investigated this place—it was a compound, it was big, big walls, and it said “Orphanage” on the side—but we determined quickly that this was not an orphanage. It was not an orphanage; it was a trafficking center. It was a front. And this is how children get stuck into this. People set up fake orphanages in developing countries, and innocent people bring abandoned children, which are everywhere in a place like Port-Au-Prince, and they deliver those children to what they think is an orphanage. The children are taken and they are sold out the back. In this case, these children were being sold for between $10,000 and $15,000 each. This is modern-day slavery.

The police asked my team to go in undercover and to look for this little boy, and pretend to be purchasers, traffickers. We got into this place, and we had hidden cameras everywhere documenting the evidence, and we couldn’t see Gardy. There were 28 children in rags, beautiful children—and to think they were all for sale, and the criminal organizers of the place were very straightforward. They said, “You must have heard of us. You know what we do. We don’t adopt children; we sell children. Which one do you want?”

The police had asked me—we always work with the police. We’re in 15 countries all around the world, and we always work with the police—they had asked me to go ahead and go through with a purchase so we could get the evidence, all the while hoping we are going to get this little boy, that he is in here.

I can’t see Gardy, but I see this other little boy come walking around the corner—this beautiful little boy, looked to be about three years old. And my heart just melted when I saw him. I knew that he was the one—I didn’t know why, but I knew he was the one I needed to purchase in this sting operation. So I go over and I pick this little boy up. And the footage you are seeing is actual footage from the actual operation from our hidden cameras.

I picked this little boy up, and I start walking around, and I walk into these dark outbuildings, looking for Gardy, looking for other kids, with my camera out. And the deeper I get into the building, the darker it gets, the quieter it gets, and the more easily I can hear what was always there, right behind me. That was the little footsteps of another little child. I swing around, the boy in my arms, and I see this little girl with a terrified look on her face.

I don’t want her to be following me around, so I ask her to leave. All these children—these 28 children—are on the verge of starvation. Doctors later verified this, which makes what happens next all the more significant. I took out a candy bar, and I gave it to the little girl, and I said, “You need to take this outside and go eat it.” She would not budge. She looked me square in the eye, and she took that candy bar, and she did something with it that I’ve never seen a child do, especially a child on the verge of starvation.

She took that candy bar and she broke it in half—like muscle memory, didn’t even think—and placed the other half into the hands of the little boy that was in my arms. And I knew instantly that this act of love was a manifestation of a bond here, that they were brother and sister. And I thought, how terrifying for this little girl that she believes—how many Americans, how many westerners have come to this place, picked up a child, and that child disappeared.

So I knelt down and I held her hands, and I told her as best as I could that we were here to help, and that she would never have to be apart from her brother, ever. We went outside and negotiated the deal. We told the trafficker—who tried to deny, by the way, that they were brother and sister, because they thought they were going to lose the deal—but we insisted that we knew they were, but we needed to buy a girl anyway, so we ended up purchasing both of these kids.

We moved the party with the criminal organizers into a nicer hotel where we would do the money exchange and capture this criminal act, which would allow us, then, the opportunity that the police could go in and take these 28 kids out. And that’s exactly what happened. The operation was very successful. The children were all saved, pulled out, and the traffickers went to jail.

But it was a bittersweet experience, because as the children were being liberated, and I was at the hotel, and I had these two little children with me—their names Mia and Marky—I was calling back to the orphanage, where the police were going to liberate the other 26 kids. And I was calling, “Is Gardy there? Is Gardy there? Did you identify Gardy?”

Bishop Mardy, Gardy’s father, is in a different hotel, waiting in the lobby. We couldn’t have him near us; it was just way too emotional for him. He was just praying all day. His cell phone wasn’t working; we couldn’t call him. And I confirmed within an hour or so that the little boy was not there, that he had already been trafficked. He had already been sold. And I couldn’t call his father.

So there were beautiful things happening over here, and still darkness over here with Bishop Mardy. I had to go to the hotel where he was waiting, and I had to sit down with him, and I remember walking into that hotel, and his eyes met mine, and we both knew—he knew instantly. His son wasn’t holding my hand, like we had envisioned. He wasn’t with me. He could tell by the look on my face.

We sat down, and I couldn’t even look at him. I just hurt so bad. We had so much hope. And he said, “My son was already sold, wasn’t he?” I couldn’t even look him in the eye. I just looked at the floor and acknowledged, nodded. He began to weep. But he only cried for about 15 or 20 seconds. Then he lifts his head back up, and puts that classic Bishop Mardy smile back on his face—which is always on his face, the day I met him this smile was on his face—and he is smiling at me. And I’m looking at him very confused, thinking, look, we need to be really sad for a little bit here. And he is smiling and beaming, and a light.

He said, “Tim, don’t you realize what just happened? Don’t you realize that if my son hadn’t been kidnapped, those 28 children would still be enslaved right now? Your team wouldn’t have come down here.”

I said, “Yeah, I didn’t think of it that way, but I guess you are right.”

And then he said perhaps the most profound thing I’ve ever heard a human being say to me. He said, “If I have to give up my son so that these 28 children can be rescued, that’s a burden I’m willing to bear.” And then to prove he meant that and he believed that, the next day, Bishop Mardy went down to the police station, and he went to the police, and he said, “I will take any of these children—my wife and I [they have five kids of their own]—I will take any of those children that were rescued in the name of my son, and I will raise them. I will be their father.”

And Bishop Mardy went home with 8 of those 28 kids that day, without knowing that Operation Underground Railroad was actually going to support this immense cost, which we are doing. He didn’t even know that. He didn’t even ask for that. He just did the right thing. That’s when I learned something. And then he came back to me right after and said, “When’s our next mission? When’s our next underground operation? Let’s do this again.”

We have done it again, many, many times. Over one hundred children have been rescued on that island since that time, because of that sacrifice, and Guesno Mardy has been a part of many of those—really, all of those—operations. And I realized the lesson. I can’t imagine a darker existence than what this man is going through. I can’t dream up in my mind something darker than knowing that my child has been taken and I don’t know where that child is, that I know he was taken by evil people and traffickers. Imagining what is going on, where that child is, what is happening—as a parent, I can’t imagine that darkness.

So from the trenches of that darkness, from that war raging inside Guesno Mardy’s soul, he learned—he had to learn—how to turn the lights on. How do I get into light from this darkness? And the answer, the number one thing on my life that I’ve learned about how to turn the lights on in the darkness, is service. You serve. Guesno Mardy serves. He serves at all costs. He serves even when it’s irrational to serve, bringing eight children into his home. That seems pretty irrational. But he needs the light, and he knows where to get it.

Shortly thereafter, I was back in my hotel room that night. I was thinking about all this, and so much was weighing on my mind, and I called my wife at 2:00 in the morning. I have a little formula that I use when I’m dealing with attachment issues. We get attached to the kids we help, and I’m really attached to Mia and Marky, these two little kids. And I was laying in bed that night, thinking of Guesno and thinking of Gardy, thinking of the 26 kids, but mostly these two kids that I had bonded with—what’s their fate? Where are they going to be?

And look what Guesno just did. He just took eight kids home. I wanted to detach, because I was having anxiety over the whole thing. So I knelt down to pray, and I prayed that—and I’ve done this prayer before—that I could detach from the kids that we were helping, because if I attach too close to all of them, I could never move on. And usually it works. As I prayed, the more I prayed for that detachment, the more I saw those kids. The opposite was happening. The more I saw them—I saw every scene before my mind before me, every scene with me with them, even scenes that hadn’t happened, I was seeing. And then I freaked out even more, and the prayer wasn’t working.

I have another formula when I don’t get answers to the prayers that I want. I don’t know if this is gospel or not, but when I don’t get answers to the prayers I want, I call my wife to see if she has a better answer. I called her up and I told her what was going on, and she said, “You want to adopt those kids!”

I said, “No, I do not. Are you crazy? We have six kids of our own.” We have a seventh that snuck in somehow after that, but at the time there were still six. And I said, “No, I don’t.” And she was just silent on the other end. And she would tell me later that something happened to her—that she felt she needed to infuse light into the darkness that I was dealing with, that the children I was telling her about were dealing with.

She said, “You know what? You need to go adopt them. You need to go and figure this out.” So we went for it. International adoptions are a long time, but Mia and Marky are actually coming home in about three weeks, after about a three-year adoption process. That picture was me just a couple of weeks ago, with them.

Again, I learned this lesson from my life, that that act of service, even though it wasn’t comfortable, it’s not easy, I couldn’t believe she made that decision. But the light that came into our souls and to our family by emulating the example of Guesno Mardy of service, of trying to serve, and the more I thought about this—and I could go on and on, all the examples—I thought about how really this idea of service turns the light on in the darkness. It really is scriptural. It really is part of the gospel plan that the Lord has designed for us.

I’ll explain that in a second, but before I do that, I want to show you some actual footage from the stories I just told you. This is actually a music video that was done by a music group called Gentri. You’ve heard of Gentri, right? And Madilyn Paige, on The Voice? These are all LDS performers. They’ve got some of this footage put together, this music video I want to show you. All the footage you see on this is from this operation. The little kids you see, those are my kids, Mia and Marky.

And the songs they chose were just so perfect, because the first song in this music video, you will recognize, and it’s someone in the dark crying for help. Maybe it’s your neighbor, maybe it’s a family member. Maybe it’s you, yourself—you are dealing with some kind of darkness. And then what happens—the light that comes in, the service that brings this light. And I think this video does a great job. And then after the video, I’m going to explain, to wrap up, how truly this is part of the gospel plan.

I learned a lot from Guesno Mardy about finding light in the darkness, but then I’ve realized it was always right before me. When Alma, in the book of Mosiah, in chapter 18, took the people to be baptized at the waters of Mormon, he explained to them what that covenant would look like. He said if you are willing to do this, if you are going to make this covenant with God, then you will have to be willing to “mourn with those that mourn; and comfort those that stand in need of comfort” (Mosiah 18:9). That is our covenant, and every Sunday when we renew that covenant, it’s explained again to us. Remembering the Savior is to serve people, and the promise is the Holy Ghost, the ultimate light in the darkness.

It didn’t just work for Bishop Mardy because he learned on his own to do it, but he was applying his covenant, a true principle of the gospel—the same covenant and the same principle that we too can apply and utilize to bring light to our own souls, to bring light to those around us, and carry out our mission and mandate here on the earth.

It is my testimony that this is the truth. I love the song we just sang. It was about the darkness of the world and the light of the gospel that will bring light to every land. Look at those words. That is the gospel light. That is what we are talking about. And our covenants turn that light on, and service activates that covenant. That is my testimony, and I leave it with you in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.


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