1 of 12
Trent Toone, Deseret News
Author and founder/CEO of Operation Underground Railroad Timothy Ballard holds a copy of his new book, "Slave Stealers."

SALT LAKE CITY — Timothy Ballard was not about to give up on a prime opportunity to promote his new book.

Speaking to Shadow Mountain publishing director Chris Schoebinger in a seventh floor conference room at Deseret Book's corporate office, Ballard laid out the details.

Last July, the founder and CEO of Operation Underground Railroad, traveled to the Dominican Republic with Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin, former NFL all-pro Chad Lewis and others to visit several of OUR's aftercare centers, sanctuaries where children rescued from sex-trafficking start new lives. The group also flew in by helicopter with OUR staff on an intel mission to find lost children along the Haitian-Dominican border.

An ESPN film crew tagged along to gather footage for a feature on Operation Underground Railroad and its NFL connections. The idea for the ESPN feature was pitched by new abolitionist Steve Young, an NFL analyst on the weekly show "NFL Countdown" and a former Super Bowl MVP.

Provided by Operation Underground Railroad
ESPN films children interacting with members of Operation Underground Railroad at an aftercare center for rescued children in the Dominican Republic.

During the trip, the Steelers' head coach was filmed handing an advance copy of Ballard's new book, "Slave Stealers: True Accounts of Slave Rescues Then and Now" (Shadow Mountain, 256 pages, $26.99), to Guesno Mardy, a Haitian man who started working with the organization after his son Gardy was kidnapped a few years ago. Ballard's desire to help find Mardy's son helped motivate him to launch his rescue foundation.

Strategizing with Schoebinger, Ballard wasn't about to miss out on a chance to show his book to the masses, which includes the story of how OUR started.

"I told the ESPN producers to please include that shot," Ballard told Schoebinger. "Why wouldn't you? Tomlin wrote the foreword. I'm also pitching for him to be on the show."

"Look, these things are always a long shot and you never hold your breath but it's nice to know there's a possibility," Schoebinger said.

"Yes, but I'm not giving up yet," Ballard said.

Unfortunately, Tomlin was unable to break away from his coaching duties and game planning to be on the show. But ESPN teased the video before Monday Night Football's game between Pittsburgh and Tampa Bay on Sept. 24. The full feature will air Sunday, Sept. 30, Ballard said.

Ballard's drive to promote "Slave Stealers: True Accounts of Slave Rescues Then and Now," is just one part of a massive effort to spread the word and generate support for OUR's mission to save six million children around the globe from trafficking.

Trent Toone, Deseret News
Timothy Ballard, an author and the founder/CEO of Operation Underground Railroad, speaks at the Fourth Annual Moral and Ethical Leadership Conference in the Joseph Smith Memorial Building on Friday, Sept. 14.

"We are trying to stop modern slavery through a mass movement. If everyone stood up now and declared war on modern-day slavery, we could actually end it," Ballard said. "Our biggest obstacle is that people don't know it's real. So when we see ESPN bringing the cause to millions, knowing we will then make hundreds of thousands of converts to the cause, we see our strategy is starting to work. It's very encouraging."

To date, the foundation has rescue more than 1,500 victims and assisted in the arrest of nearly 750 traffickers around the world, according to ourrescue.org.

When Ballard founded OUR at the end of 2013, he envisioned himself only doing undercover work. But with a few years of steady growth and success, his closest confidants, including his wife, helped Ballard realize his need to be out sharing the foundation's story. It was the right move, and Ballard has settled into a more executive role and learned to delegate in recent years, Ballard said.

"I had a really hard time accepting that idea and giving that part up," he said. "This is the part that's so delicate. I had a hard time trusting others. I had a formula when I go undercover that has a lot to do with prayer and research, and I have a lot of undercover experience. ... But minds smarter than mine who were right in the end told me we can't grow if half the time we don't know where you are. You have to tell this story."

So Ballard, a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, is doing just that.

Provided by Operation Underground Railroad
OUR founder and CEO Timothy Ballard, left, Guesno Mardy and Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin visit operations in Haiti.

In addition to publishing books like "Slave Stealers" and entertaining all kinds of requests for media interviews, Ballard does a lot of public speaking, including Latter-day Saint firesides. Last week he spoke at the 4th annual Moral and Ethical Leadership Conference.

Operation Underground Railroad is also sharing its story though film. It was recently featured in a documentary called "Operation Toussaint," and a full-length feature, "The Sound of Freedom," starring actors Jim Caviezel and Mira Sorvino, is expected to be released in the summer of 2019.

Making connections with celebrity influencers like Glenn Beck and Tony Robbins, not to mention Tomlin and many others, has bolstered support for the cause.

"I marvel all the time," Ballard said. "The truth is all these partners, I never knocked at their doors. I was knocking at the wrong doors and getting them slammed in my face. That's how the Lord works. I think as long as you're showing the effort, he'll bring the people that he wants to you. They all called me out of the blue."

With the big name support, Ballard, who loves to binge-watch the TV series "Underground" and work out to Ken Burns' "Civil War" series, said he turned to history and the original underground railroad for lessons on how to rescue children from slavery. The rescue principles he learned from heroes like Harriet Tubman, Harriet Jacobs, Jonathan Walker and others, one of which is using the media to educate the public (see "Uncle Tom's Cabin" by Harriet Beecher Stowe), are shared in the book.

Provided by Operation Underground Railroad
Actor Jim Caviezel, left, stands with Operation Underground Railroad founder/CEO Timothy Ballard and actor Mira Sorvino, right, in Colombia on the set of a feature film about the founding of Operation Underground Railroad.

"Slave Stealers" weaves together true historic accounts of slave escapes with OUR's modern-day rescue operations.

One of the modern accounts, near and dear to Ballard's heart, tells how he rescued two Haitian children, a girl named Mia and her little brother Marky. What the book doesn't tell you is that the two children were later adopted by the Ballards and sealed into their family in the Salt Lake Temple last July.

In preparation for the special day, the Ballard family watched the church's "Be One" event celebrating the 40th anniversary of the 1978 revelation on the priesthood. Mia was also baptized by her new father on the same day the family went to the temple.

It was an emotional day, Ballard said.

4 comments on this story

"To go into the temple after that and participate in the sealing was by far the crowning event of this entire narrative," Ballard said. "It was the most unbelievable experience maybe I've ever had, to have them sealed to us, knowing the trajectory of their lives was anything but ending up in the temple being sealed to a family."

If you go ...

What: Tim Ballard book signing

When: Saturday, Oct. 6, noon -1:30 p.m.

Where: Deseret Book (Flagship store), 45 W. South Temple, Salt Lake City

Web: deseretbook.com and facebook.com/pg/DeseretBookFlagship/events/