‘Sound of Freedom’ Actor Jim Caviezel and Real-Life Character Tim Ballard: ‘God’s Children Are Not for Sale’
New movie releasing July 4 sheds light on terror of human trafficking and real heroes that are bringing light to this darkness.
“God’s children are not for sale.”
So said Jim Caviezel, who portrayed Jesus in The Passion of the Christ, and the man he plays in the movie Sound of Freedom, Tim Ballard, in separate interviews with the Register.
Both men have put their lives on the line for this true story about saving children from human trafficking.
It is a line spoken in the film based on the incredible true story of former Homeland Security Special Agent Tim Ballard, who embarks on a mission to rescue children from human traffickers in Latin America. It begins with him catching pedophiles, but when a young boy he rescues from traffickers asks if he can find his captive sister, Ballard quits his job to embark on a dangerous journey into a Columbia jungle to rescue her.
Caviezel, a Catholic, and Ballard, a Mormon, both point to their love of God and children as the reason they are willing to take on risks and backlash for their parts in this drama.
Ballard and his wife, Katherine, had six children at the time the story takes place. They now have nine — ages 23 to 6, including the adoption four years ago of two children sold to Ballard in a sting operation in Haiti. “I think that story is even more dramatic,” Ballard said. It will be told in Sound of Freedom 2, which is planned to begin filming next year, he said.
His heroic, lifesaving story is intriguing — and sheds needed light on the horrors of trafficking.
“I was a special agent for the U.S. government, working child crimes undercover for 12 years; 10 on the southern border. I was more shocked every year at how deep and big this problem was. After 12 years of limitations with government bureaucracy, there were two cases in 2012 that I was told to leave alone. I couldn’t. I had gone too deep. My wife and I made the decision to quit the government job to save the children.”
Ballard admits to having reservations. “The only way to do this operation was to walk away from job security,” he said. “I hoped my wife would say, ‘What are you doing?’ But she didn’t. She told me, ‘It doesn’t matter if we lose our house or have to live in a tent. The right thing is to rescue these kids. If you are going to tell me that you are not going to do it for financial security, it’s not right.’” What ended the debate, according to him, was her firm resolve. “I will not let you jeopardize my salvation by not doing this,” she told him.
Ballard reached out to someone of means who offered financial support for eight months. It was understood that if they were not successful by then, it was time to end the effort.
His own kids were young, so they only knew that their dad was doing something to help children. The older ones now understand his work focused on saving children from human trafficking, which he continues through Operation Underground Railroad. Some of the older Ballard children now work alongside him.
Estimates vary greatly, but at least 2 million children are trafficked every year in the global commercial sex trade, which is estimated as a $99-billion-a-year industry. Not surprisingly, people involved in human trafficking are brutal. “A pedophile ring that stretches from Europe to South America has been giving me death threats regularly,” Ballard said. “I knew that if we talked about it, we’d be a target. But we have faith in God. We are not going away, and we are seeing the effect. The dark is getting darker, but the light is getting lighter, as people are coming together to congregate around this cause.”
Ballard, however, admits that the stress must be dealt with daily, lest it overcome a person. “There’s a million holes in my brain,” he said. “It’s hard to see that much darkness and not be affected. Healing comes from my faith in God. If I didn’t do that, I would not be alive right now.”
He also relies on a therapist and provides therapy for all his employees. “I want people to engage and be a light in this darkness,” he said. “There are millions of them [victims of human trafficking] out there. They think there’s no help for them. Many are locked up, and who’s looking for them? We need everyone to get loud and start helping. There are ways to find and rescue these kids.”
Mexican film producer Eduardo Verástegui, who also plays a part in the movie, approached Caviezel with the Sound of Freedom script. “They were having a hard time getting actors to engage in this,” Caviezel explained. “It’s a lot easier to make a movie like Schindler’s List [1993 film about saving Jews from the Holocaust] 50 years after the events, but to actually make it during the time that it is happening, that’s when a lot of people get scared and don’t want to be a part of it.”
Caviezel pointed to the growing travesty of human trafficking. “The United States is the biggest buyer of trafficking pedophilia in the world, and Mexico being the biggest producer of it, with over 300,000 children being taken into the United States under the age of 18,” he said. “It looks like a good fight to pick” to highlight in film.
He described the experience of portraying Ballard as “a meaningful journey,” like The Passion of the Christ. “This is the best film I’ve done since that movie,” he said.
“People have to realize that it could have been a much different journey for me,” Caviezel added. “I was around 14 and called out to God: ‘Can you please help me? Help me find my purpose.’ And he did. I didn’t believe in myself. I didn’t believe that I could be this actor. As long as he believes in me, well, I believe in myself.”
Caviezel said that he is influenced by the Gospels, including the story of St. John the Baptist. “Maybe some Christians think that’s just a different time period,” he said, “but I love God enough that I would give my head for him, like Tim Ballard is willing to do. He goes down to Columbia risking his life.”
Caviezel spent time with Ballard in the “war room” to learn the operation. He planned to join Ballard on a mission but was told to step aside when it became too risky. “My wife was scared for me,” Caviezel said. He reassured her by explaining that there were 30 Navy Seals protecting them during filming. But one day, there were only two Seals on the set. According to Caviezel, “The other 28 saved 200 children that day.”
Backlash has been experienced, amid their efforts to shine light.
“Massive backlash,” Caviezel reported. “But listen, I don’t belong to the church of happy Jesus. I understand that there are risks that we all come against, but I don’t fear the devil. I fear God. It comes from love. My time on this earth is limited, and I want to get the most out of it that I can. I took huge risks when I adopted my three children. Two of them had brain tumors, and one of them had sarcoma. God gave me some really strong challenges, but my pearl that I have in my heart is the kingdom of heaven that I’m searching for deeply.”
“We need to express our faith publicly, boldly,” Caviezel said. “It’s an unpopular Gospel. Christian bigotry is the most accepted form of bigotry right now in the world. So, who is going to step forward? My Lord loved me when he came to me and asked me to be an actor. He loved me so much that I felt like I was his only child. And if I lose my life fighting for something for the only God I know, the Father, the Son, the Holy Spirit, I will gladly give my life.”
‘This light is going to get bigger and bigger,” Caviezel continued. “These agents who know all about what is going on, the guys who talked to me and opened up the books, showed me stuff that I was not supposed to see, they are going to watch this movie, and it is going to fill their hearts with such love that they are not going to be afraid anymore. This is how the devil bites his tail, when people start discovering that when Jesus says, ‘Be not afraid,’ he means for us to take it literally, and I am going to take him at his word.”
Caviezel has a message for predators and others, too: “God’s children are no longer for sale, and we are not afraid,” he said. “Can we love God’s children enough that we don’t fear evil any longer? Christians, we cannot fear the cross. We have to protect our children. Let’s start today.”
“We are hoping for 2 million people to go and see the movie when it comes out on July 4 and think about what liberty and freedom mean,” Caviezel said, adding that importance of that figure: “the 2 million to represent those children.”
Angel Studios releases Sound of Freedom in theaters nationwide on the Fourth of July.
They use equity crowdfunding to finance productions and are encouraging supporters to pay it forward for a free ticket for those who might not be able to afford one.
Go here to find a theater near you or consider bringing the Sound of Freedom to your area. Rated PG-13 for subject matter, given thematic content involving sex trafficking, violence, language, sexual references, some drug references and smoking throughout; watch the trailer.