When you think of abolitionists, names like Harriet Tubman, Frederick Douglass, William Wilberforce, Harriet Beecher Stowe, and even Abraham Lincoln come to mind.

Not Timothy Ballard.

Probably because Timothy Ballard was born on this side of the 19th century, long after the Emancipation Proclamation and the Civil War’s end.

But Tim Ballard is an abolitionist, and he’s not looking to rescue slaves from plantation fields. He’s looking to rescue slaves from brothels, from clubs, from pimps and traffickers around the world, from a multi-billion dollar industry.

Human trafficking.

“It’s a $150 billion a year business,” said Ballard in a news interview. “That’s the trade of human beings.”

God Said Go

Tim Ballard spent twelve years as a special agent for the United States government. He worked as an undercover operative for the U.S. Child Sex Tourism Jump Team and was assigned to the Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. He saw the evil dominating the business on a daily basis. And he knew more had to be done than he could do.

“I recognized how enormous the problem was, and so much of it was in places that I had no jurisdiction,” Ballard told ABC4Utah. “The only way to move forward would be to quit my job and start a foundation.”

But it wasn’t easy to take the first step. Ballard had six kids of his own to care for. To leave his stable job and start a private organization for rescuing children from human trafficking was going to take a major leap of faith. But he couldn’t shake it.

“I’m feeling the Lord is telling me to go do this thing,” Ballard told Faith Counts.

So he did.

With a B.A. in Spanish and Political science and an M.A. in International Politics, Ballard set out to broaden his impact and ultimately free the world’s modern-day slaves. In 2013, Operation Underground Railroad was established.

Operation Underground Railroad

But Ballard says the Underground Railroad of the 1800s is more than a cool name and a nice inspiration for his vision. He actually uses it as a playbook. He read up on slavery and studied the Underground Railroad, how the boots-on-the-ground abolitionists got people out of slavery and what they did to care for the survivors afterward.

“So I didn’t just learn from the Underground Railroad about how to be inspired and how to rally people around a great cause,” said Ballard in a video on the OUR website. “We actually learned tactics.”

In Operation Underground Railroad’s first mission, they found and freed 28 children from human traffickers.

Two of those 28 children rescued that day also found a home with the Ballard family. At least eight of the group could not be reunited with their parents because the families couldn’t be located. So Tim Ballard and his wife did what they could do and adopted two girls. The rest went to the father of a child who, sadly, was not found in that mission.

The Operation Underground Railroad team includes former CIA agents and military personnel. The team works with local government workers to free slaves around the world and seek justice for those wronged. Their sting operations employ the ruse of a party, where traffickers believe they will be selling children. But then the local authorities crash the party, arresting the traffickers and freeing the minors—and adults if they choose—to a real and better life.

Operation Underground Railroad partners with shelters, safe houses and orphanages to make sure survivors receive proper aftercare.

According to a June 2018 update video, Tim and his team have freed over 1400 victims and have seen over 500 traffickers arrested across 17 countries—including right here in America —since 2013. Read stories of their successes at ourrescue.org.

The Underground Railroad of the 1800s wasn’t an actual railroad. And neither is Operation Underground Railroad. But abolitionists exist. And Tim Ballard is one of them.

You can be, too. January is human-trafficking awareness month. Join the fight to free slaves around the world. At ourrescue.org, you can attend an event, donate, volunteer, or even become part of the Abolitionists Club. Or find another anti-trafficking organization to support, like A21, the Rebecca Bender Initiative, Shared Hope International, Women At Risk International, AZMen. or Red Light Rebellion.

Find your lane. Join the fight. Free the slaves.