Julie McDonald Commentary: “God’s Children Are Not For Sale”


Those are poignant words from the movie “Sound of Freedom,” based on the true story of Homeland Security Agent Tim Ballard, who arrested pedophiles purchasing children for sex and then dedicated his life to saving young victims from the sex slave trade in the Colombian jungle.

Tension. Sadness. Anger. Disgust. Heartache.

Emotions rolled through me as I followed the poignant story of a young boy and his sister in Honduras who are lured to a photo shoot, stolen away from their father and sold as sex slaves. I cheered for the main character fighting to free youngsters trapped by ruthless traffickers in this cycle of constant abuse as he offered hope to the most vulnerable victims.

A writer friend had recommended the movie, so I watched it Sunday afternoon with my sister at Midway Cinema in Chehalis in a fairly full theater — the fullest I’ve seen since the end of the COVID-19 pandemic. The film stars actor James Patrick Caviezel, who portrayed Jesus Christ in “The Passion of the Christ" and John Reese in the CBS series “Person of Interest.”

As I left the theater, I ran into several people I knew who had just seen Sound of Freedom.

“The story of a sister and brother brings to light the ongoing and growing number of children stolen and then sold for the human trafficking profit,” said Sharlene Aras, of Chehalis. “In the effort to stop the perpetrators, Sound of Freedom just breaks into the tip of the iceberg of the horrific and evil abuse that is happening to children all across the world.”

“This movie has such a powerful story to tell,” said Tammy Dorothy, a pediatric nurse from Winlock. “I was mesmerized from the very beginning. The darkness of child sex trafficking that is part of our world is devastating. I saw just a glimpse into this broken world ... and I did not walk away from there today as the same person.”

The gripping, tension-filled movie gives viewers a glimpse into the dark underworld of enslaved children abused for the sexual gratification of pedophiles. In a message at the end of the movie, actor Caviezel said Harriet Beecher Stowe’s book Uncle Tom’s Cabin inspired many to fight against slavery.

“I think we can make Sound of Freedom the Uncle Tom’s Cabin of 21st century slavery,” he said. “This film was actually made five years ago. It wasn’t released until now, with every roadblock you can imagine being tossed in the way.”

Sound of Freedom, directed by Alejandro Monteverde and initially produced by 20th Century Studios, was put on hold after Disney acquired 20th Century in 2019. Then, Angel Studios, based in Utah, adopted the partially crowdfunded film and released it.

When it debuted in theaters on Independence Day, the low-budget film competed head-to-head with the latest Indiana Jones movie released by Disney/Lucasfilm, raising $11.5 million at the box office and $2.7 million in pay-it-forward tickets sold. Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny brought in $11.7 million at the box office on July 4.

In his message, Caviezel encouraged people to tell the stories of children like Miguel and Rocio and the thousands of others entrapped and helpless to escape the slavery they endure every day.

“We believe this movie has the power to be a huge step forward toward ending child trafficking, but it will only have that effect if millions of people see it,” Caviezel said. He noted people can even obtain free tickets to see the movie through a pay-it-forward program by scanning a QR code or visiting the Angel Studios website at https://angel.com/freedom.  Midway Cinema offers $5 Movie Tuesdays, so enjoy the film.

As I researched this column, I stumbled upon articles that described Caviezel — and perhaps to a lesser extent Ballard — as outspoken adherents of QAnon, a far-right, pro-Trump conspiracy theory movement. Their support of the extremist organization made me question the film’s authenticity, especially since some QAnon adherents were involved in the violent Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol.

But then I remembered former 3rd District Rep. Linda Smith’s crusade to save people from sex trafficking through Shared Hope International (https://sharedhope.org/). According to Shared Hope’s website, she formed the nonprofit after visiting the brothel district in Mumbai, India, where she “witnessed the brutal exploitation and sexual slavery of women and children.” I’ve read two books she wrote, From Congress to the Brothel and Renting Lacey: A Story of America’s Prostituted Children, a heartbreaking call to action she coauthored with novelist Cindy Coloma.

The problem is real. Almost 1.7 million children in the world today are used as sex slaves, according to the International Justice Mission, a global organization created to protect people in poverty from violence. The organization says human trafficking generates $150 billion a year, with sexual exploitation accounting for two-thirds of that. 

According to www.deliverfund.org, which uses technology to combat human trafficking, between 15,000 and 50,000 women and children in the United States are forced into sexual slavery each year. It cited a Department of Health and Human Services study that calculated the number of people in the sex slave trade at 240,000 to 325,000 and a University of Pennsylvania report that estimated the number between 100,000 and 300,000. 

Before leaving Colombia, Ballard and his anti-sex trafficking nonprofit Operation Underground Railroad, through sting operations, saved 123 people from the sex slave trade, including 55 children in one mission depicted in the movie. Ballard later testified in Congress before the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee about the 2014 Colombian bust.

As an aside, years ago I worked with Neal Harmon, who cofounded Angel Studios with his brother, Jeff, in 2021. Neal operated a personal history company, Family Learn, which published a book I compiled in memory of Wyatt Wilson, a Toledo teenager who valiantly fought a rare form of cancer but ultimately died from the disease in February 2005 at the age of 15. Neal also cosponsored the 12th annual international Association of Personal Historians conference, which I organized in Portland in 2006. Through crowdfunding and investors, Angel Studios has produced The Chosen, a series about the life of Jesus, and His Only Son, the biblical story of Abraham and Isaac. Neal and his brother also created the Dry Bar Comedy Club in Provo, Utah, in 2016.

As I mentioned in an email to him, Neal has changed more lives through Angel Studios than he ever would have as a personal historian.

I don’t know anyone who could watch Sound of Freedom and leave without it touching their hearts.


Julie McDonald, a personal historian from Toledo, may be reached at memoirs@chaptersoflife.com.