Five days before he was due at an NFL training camp, Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin flew to Haiti—but it wasn't for a little relaxation or a much-needed break. No, Tomlin traveled to Haiti to see the reality of human trafficking and learn about the children taken into slavery.
Latter-day Saint and former CIA agent Timothy Ballard was his guide. Ballard is the founder of Operation Underground Railroad (O.U.R.), an organization with a mission to eradicate human trafficking of children.
While in Haiti, Tomlin met Guesno Mardy and learned about his story.
On December 6, 2009, Guesno was serving as a counselor in the Haiti Port-au-Prince Mission presidency when his 3-year-old son, Gardy, was kidnapped from a Latter-day Saint meetinghouse. Nine years later, O.U.R. continues the search for Gardy.
Soon after Gardy was abducted, the kidnappers demanded a ransom of $150,000. Guesno knew it was an impossible sum, but he managed to scrape together $4,000. Unfortunately, negotiations with the kidnappers disintegrated when a 7.0 magnitude earthquake rocked the Caribbean country six weeks later. In the chaos that followed, Gardy disappeared without a trace.
“We determined he was kidnapped and trafficked—most likely slave labor,” says Timothy Ballard, founder of Operation Underground Railroad.
After careful research and tracking, Operation Underground Railroad discovered a location where children were being sold for $15,000 apiece, no questions asked. So in Februrary 2014, the team, alongside Haitian special forces, made their move.
“We liberated 28 kids and put three people in jail, but Gardy wasn’t there,” says Ballard.
After the operation, Ballard had the heartbreaking task of informing Guesno that his son was not among the rescued children. With tears in his eyes, he recalls, “Guesno told me, ‘If I have to lose my son so these 28 kids can be rescued, then I’m willing to do that.’”
Gardy Mardy, photos courtesy of Guesno Mardy
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When Tomlin met with Guesno, he told him, "Thank you. Thank you for inspiring us all." In a video on ESPN, Tomlin added, "I am just in awe of him, the spirit that he has, the strength that he has. If my son was missing I don't know how I could have the strength to be out here actively, not only searching for his child but helping others."
Learn more about O.U.R. and Timothy Ballard's journey in Slave Stealers.
In the 1800s American South, Harriet Jacobs is enslaved and tormented by a cruel master. He relentlessly attempts to force her into a sexual union, and, when rebuffed, he separates her from her children and spends a lifetime trying to coerce her and then recapture her when she escapes to freedom. Jacobs outwits her tormentor and eventually reunites with her children, works in the cause of abolition and reform, and helps newly freed slaves with education and aftercare.
In 2012, Timothy Ballard encounters a grieving father in Haiti whose 3-year-old son has been kidnapped and sold into slavery, along with thousands of children who were orphaned after an earthquake devastated the country. Inspired by Harriet Jacobs, Tim pledges to track down the missing child and leaves his job at the Department of Homeland Security to establish Operation Underground Railroad. This foundation infiltrates black markets in human trafficking, liberates victims, and provides a comprehensive aftercare process involving justice and rehabilitation for survivors.
Slave Stealers alternates these two riveting stories, weaving them together to expose the persistent evil of trafficking and sexual exploitation that has existed for centuries—and inspiring us to find a way to end it. Filled with heartbreaks and triumphs, miracles and disappointments, hair-raising escapes and daring rescues, this gripping book provides insight into this terrible evil and the good that can be done when caring people step up and stand in the light.