Tim Ballard: How an Operation Underground Railroad Mission Completed My Family

Tim Ballard | Jun 16, 2018

Upwards of 6 million people live in poverty in Haiti, that’s 60 percent of the entire country. With so many people living in vulnerable situations, many children are at high risk for trafficking. And while searching for a child who was forced into that world, I found two children who would one day become a part of mine. 

At the time, I was working as a special agent in the government when I came across a news story about a missing boy named Gardy. Gardy was kidnapped from his church in Haiti when he was just 5 years old. As I read more about the story, I was surprised to find Gardy was born in Utah, not Haiti where he was abducted. Because of his tie to America, I thought maybe I could help find him as a U.S. government agent. So I reached out through a mutual friend and was able to get in touch with Gardy’s dad, Guesno.

But before I could leave for Haiti, I had to overcome several obstacles. After talking with Guesno, I learned that Gardy’s case was out of my jurisdiction and was fully placed in the Haitian police’s hands. Even after learning it would be impossible for me, as a U.S. government agent, to find Gardy, I couldn’t get the case out of my mind. When I spoke with Guesno, I made a promise that I would do whatever I could to find Gardy. This promise, among other events in my life, led me to the decision to create Operation Underground Railroad (O.U.R.). As a private non-governmental organization, I would be able to support governments all over the world in rescuing lost and exploited children and begin my search for Gardy.

January 2014

As I searched for Gardy, evidence led my new O.U.R. team and me to what looked like an orphanage in Haiti. From the outside, it looked like a safe. But within its thick walls and gates, the owners were forcing kids to live in squalor and selling them out the back door to anyone who could produce the cash. Often, the buyers were sex traffickers or labor traffickers. However, the owners didn’t care where the kids went, they just wanted the money. Because of this, we needed to quickly get inside the orphanage to see if Gardy was still there before he was sold.

But in order to get inside, my team and I had to pose as buyers. To do this, we worked with Haitian law enforcement to go undercover to save the children inside this illegal orphanage and put the owners away in jail.

The morning of the operation, I entered the orphanage and was greeted with a smile by a 60-year-old woman named Yvrose. As she led me around the orphanage, a little boy named Colin ran into my arms. I picked up that little boy and my heart melted. There was something about him.

I as discretely snooped around the orphanage with Colin in my arms, I heard small footsteps behind us. I turned around and saw a little girl had been following us. I was worried this little girl would draw attention as I snooped, so I pulled out a chocolate bar and gave it to her in hopes that she would run back to the group. Instead of running away with the chocolate bar, the little girl stood there and broke it in half. Without hesitation, she handed half the chocolate to Colin, who was still in my arms.  

At that moment, something clicked in my mind. These two kids were brother and sister. I went back to Yvrose and asked if my suspicions were true.

“Yes, that is his sister,” Yvrose confirmed.

“Let me see her. What’s her name?” I asked

 “That’s uh. . . Coline,” said Yvrose.

Coline had a gash above her eye and skinny arms and legs. She had dark circles under her eyes and slight discoloration in the whites. Her tummy protruded—a sign of chronic hunger.

 
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“I want her, too,” I replied.

Colin and Coline then jumped in a car to go to the location where the orphanage owners would exchange the money for the children. Colin sat on my lap for what was his first car ride ever—it was his ride to freedom.

 
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The operation went through and the orphanage was successfully shut down. Yvrose was arrested and all 28 children from the orphanage were transferred to reputable orphanages and safe houses. Unfortunately, Gardy was nowhere to be found.

Later that evening, I knelt down to pray. I couldn’t stop thinking about those two children from the orphanage. I had rescued dozens of children before, but for some reason, I couldn’t get this brother and sister out my mind.

When I didn’t receive an immediate answer from the Lord, I decided to call my wife, Katherine, even though it was the middle of the night. I asked Katherine to come down to Haiti and meet these two children. “Tim, you want to adopt those kids don’t you?” she asked.

I paused, “No. . . that’s not what I’m thinking. . . ”

“I don’t need to come," she responded. "Let’s adopt them. Go start the paperwork.” 

From that point on, it took three years for Colin and Coline to come home with us. But every time I would go to Haiti, I made time to visit them. They were in a respectable orphanage where they were able to learn English. They were well taken care of and very happy.

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I noticed that as time went on and the older the kids got, the harder it was to leave them during my visits. Every time I visited, they would call me “Papa Blanc” or “White Dad.” They had pictures of our family on their wall. We sent them Christmas and birthday gifts. Every day our children would pray that Colin and Coline would get home soon. They were part of our family for those three years we just didn’t get to live in the same house.

March 2018

In March of this year, we received word that everything had gone through and the children were ready to be picked up. My wife and I, along with our two oldest sons, immediately flew to Haiti to bring Colin and Coline home.

 
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I will never forget the moment we arrived at the orphanage. The children were waiting with their suitcases by the door for us and when we entered, they both ran toward Katherine and didn’t let go.

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Adoption has been a major blessing for my family. We learned so much over the last several years and our whole family has been part of this process. It’s surreal to finally have our kids come with us. Katherine is now in the process of setting up her own organization called Children Need Families (CNF) to help facilitate adoptions and promote foster care. She says now that we went through the process we want to be able to help other families like ours who are looking to adopt or foster.

 
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Even though my family is now together in one place, to this day, Gardy has not been found. But Operation Underground Railroad will never give up. My team and I continue to work with Guesno to find his son. That is the message of this story—to never give up hope. Operation Underground Railroad will always fight for the one.

 
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