If you have not yet seen Sound of Freedom, I highly recommend that you watch it.
But before you do, gird your loins. This one is not a relaxing ride.
Over the past week, my wife and I have been visiting her family in Alabama. Her parents had recently seen an interview about the movie on Huckabee, and that piqued their interest in seeing it.
Heather and I, having worked with some exploited expat women in the Middle East, knew it would be a good conversation-starter.
A gripping narrative
Let me say that Heather was glad she thought ahead and packed some tissues in her purse before entering the theater. She was crying nearly every time I looked over at her during the showing. Heck, I even cried, which is a rarity during films.
The movie, based on a true story, traces the exploits of Tim Ballard, a U.S. Homeland Security agent, as he tries to reunite a Honduran family torn apart by child trafficking. Ballard’s character is played by Jim Caviezel (you probably remember him from The Passion of the Christ).
I had some understanding of child trafficking going into the movie theater, but I had no idea of how widespread it is or of what a massive industry it is.
The movie drives that point home. The opening credits are stitched together with security and police camera footage of real-life child abductions.
That is not to say this movie is a documentary, though. It is a full-fledged dramatization that can stand up next to any Hollywood thriller. The directing and the effects were top-notch, and my rib cage was pounding during suspenseful moments and the visceral action sequences. It’s a heart-wrenching story filled with enough intrigue, deception, and enough cross-cultural adventure to put you in mind of Taken or the Jack Ryan series.
As soon as one of the opening scenes, showed Tegucigalpa, Honduras across the bottom of the screen, I could not help but think of family members and many friends who have done short-term mission trips to that country. I believe some were even there in that country as I was in the theater.
It takes a team
It hit home for us, particularly Heather, since we have had the chance to coordinate with international ministries and local believers to assist some exploited women over this past year. Although they were not children who were forcefully abducted, there were a number of similar themes we found.
Like the children, the women Heather has worked with come from underprivileged backgrounds. Their poverty makes them more vulnerable to deceptive schemes which target women. In the movie, you also see how systems play into exploitation. It is never a single person that takes the freedom away from a vulnerable person. There are those who recruit, those who handle, those who control from a distance, and people of authority and influence who stand to benefit from allowing and sometimes empowering the criminal activity.
The African women we’ve worked with were attracted to our Middle Eastern city by agents with promises of legitimate jobs. When they arrived, they found the truth to be quite different. One was immediately pressured to go into prostitution. When she courageously refused, she was left destitute and, eventually, homeless in a foreign land. Another served as a maid for three months before finding her “employers” kicked her to the curb with no recourse. She turned to selling herself to avoid starvation. We later found her “employers” had opened a bank account in her name, leased apartments, and written numerous bad checks.
In the same way that it often takes a vast crime network to exploit a person, it takes a team to help bring people out of slavery and into freedom: people who find those who are exploited; people who connect them with others; people who help them with their documents, repatriation, and legal processes; people to house them or arrange for housing; and people who can help offer therapy and counsel these precious individuals who have been through unspeakable trauma. A group of believers helped repatriate the first woman mentioned above. For the second, a multi-organizational team is now working to help her untangle her legal troubles and get back to her home country.
In cross-cultural ministry, a particular danger is portraying the outsider (in many cases, the white person) as the superhero or main change agent. “Savior Syndrome” is an especially tempting pitfall when one of the world’s best-known Jesus actors is playing the main character. That being said, I’m glad the Sound of Freedom made sure to show how important the roles of local partners, in-culture persons of peace, and the cooperation of local authorities are. Ballard didn’t work alone, and the skill he demonstrated in networking with and coordinating with locals multiplied the number of children they were able to rescue many times over.
Ballard founded Operation Underground Railroad (OUR), a US-based anti-sex trafficking nonprofit organization. Heather is reasonably certain that we have run across them. They have a presence in West Africa.
Although Ballard is the “hero” of this film (it has to fit a certain form in order to be an engaging Hollywood story, I suppose), Jim Caviezel gives a stirring and pointed message several minutes into the credits, reframing the narrative that the children are the real heroes. After all, they are there survivors.
It’s my hope that many people watch this movie and receive greater awareness of and vision for the work that needs to be done on behalf of exploded people around the world.
It’s time for God’s people once again to be at the forefront of bringing justice to the oppressed.
Everyone can play a part. I believe that through this movie and through careful prayer, God can show you your part, no matter how big or small.
After all, God’s children are not for sale.