Home News Finding light in the darkest of places: Operation Underground Railroad

Finding light in the darkest of places: Operation Underground Railroad

Tim Ballard, author and founder of Operation Underground Railroad, and Matt Osborne, director of international operations, came to Rexburg on March 26 and 27 for a two-day event to raise awareness of sex trafficking and exploitation. These two events happened in the Rexburg Tabernacle and Paramount 5 theater.

Although this was not an official Operation Underground Railroad (O.U.R.) event, hundreds gathered to hear the inspired words of Ballard and Osborne.

They taught the community that Rexburg is not exempt from the evils of the world and that modern-day slavery is closer than we think.

Modern-day slavery, or human trafficking, is an industry that produces $150 billion dollars annually through buying and selling women and children.

According to Blue Campaign, “Human trafficking involves the use of force, fraud, or coercion to obtain some type of labor or commercial sex act. Every year, millions of men, women, and children are trafficked worldwide — including right here in the United States.”

Ballard started his career as a special agent for the government in 2002. He worked for Homeland Security and expected to work with narcotics and arms smuggling. Instead, at the end of 2003, he was assigned to work in child crimes.

He decided to create a non-profit and find the child who went missing.

Ballard needed to create a team, so he called upon Osborne, who was Ballard’s classmate at the Monterey Institute of International Studies 22 years before. In 2014, Osborne was called to be the Director of International Operations in O.U.R.

Heidi Fransen, a concerned member of the Rexburg community, said, “I think educating yourself is probably one of the most important things you can do.”

Fransen has been a supporter of O.U.R for six years and has seen how individuals get trapped in this dark world. Fransen said that there are two main causes for someone to participate in sex trafficking. One is that those individuals have grown up in that dark world and do not know how to escape it, and the other stems from pornography addictions.

“A lot of times students are viewing pornography or are involved to some extent. Having the knowledge and understanding of what’s behind the senses, of what they’re looking at, often helps people get away from it,” Fransen said.

Some individuals may believe that joining the fight against modern-day slavery may bring darkness into their lives, but in reality, it can have the opposite effect.

Both Ballard and Osborne have been on the front lines of rescue missions and have seen things that no individual should ever see. They have uncovered awful photos and videos of children that have taken them to their knees. So, how do they keep the light in their lives?

“I’ve seen many people lose their faith over this because they can not reconcile a very difficult question which is if there is a God, and that God is loving, why on earth would He allow children to be raped? I’m never going to understate or undercut those people because it is a very difficult question,” Ballard said.

Ballard has faith in the Atonement of Jesus Christ and understands that without the Atonement of Christ, he would not be able to witness the things he has witnessed or accomplish the things he has accomplished.

“Maybe ironically, my experience has been the opposite,” Ballard said. “I’ve grown closer to God. Now that doesn’t mean that I understand everything, but if I didn’t believe in the grace of Jesus, I would not be able to do this job. Something I know for certain is that in the end, every one of these kids will be restored.”

Osborne has been a part of 21 rescue operations and has seen things that could have destroyed him. One way Osborne has kept his faith strong throughout the years has been by being an optimist.

“Even when we’ve had a successful operation and we have rescued 50 kids, you get on the plane to fly home and you realize there are still so many more,” Osborne said. “I don’t want to think of that. I want to think of who we got. Let’s rescue one and then five and then five thousand.”

When focusing on what needs to be done in the world, it seems like a daunting task, but the principle of saving one soul is taught beautifully by Christ in the New Testament.

In the New Testament, Luke chapter 15 verses four and five say, “What man of you, having an hundred sheep, if he lose one of them, doth not leave the ninety and nine in the wilderness, and go after that which is lost, until he find it? And when he hath found it, he layeth it on his shoulders, rejoicing.”

The task may seem impossible, but keeping an eternal perspective has helped Osborne accomplish his mission in life which is to stand up for the ones who can not stand up for themselves.

“In life, there are a thousand things you can complain about or a thousand things you can give thanks for, so what are you going to choose?” Osborne said. “I have faith that God will make it all right in the end, but He wants us to do everything we can to fight.”

Ballard and Osborne have been able to take the darkness that surrounds them and turn it into motivation to keep pressing on in the fight for righteousness. They have felt God’s presence within their lives and their careers, but they understand that they do not work alone in this battle.

“If there’s any place He sends angels, it will be to those places where children are being affected in the worst ways,” Ballard said. “What I came to understand was that the light I was feeling in those circumstances was actually emulating from angelic presences near to those children, whether figurative or literal, the light is all around them.”

The fight between good and evil is becoming more apparent every day and Ballard encourages the community and BYU-I students to get involved and join the fight.

“It is invading the United States, so if (the students) don’t pay attention and don’t stand up and act in some way, it will become a nightmare that will touch everybody,” Ballard said.

Can one individual really make a difference in the world? Is it even worth trying? Those are questions that many individuals have asked themselves, but all efforts to find the one lost soul out of the 99 is worth it.

“You’re not doing it to get a thank you from anybody, you’re doing it because it is the right thing to do,” Ballard said. “You’re doing it because God’s children are not for sale. I want to be able to say that I did the best I could to help (God’s) children get out of hell!”

Click here for more information on how to join the fight.

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