Missionary work found Sam Childers in South Sudan fifteen years ago. With his wife, he set up Angels of East Africa, an orphanage in Nimule in Southern Sudan.
He fought Joseph Kony’s Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) with the Sudanese People’s Liberation Army (SPLA), surviving numerous ambushes and rescuing children from the LRA’s clutches.
His story became a book, and then a film with Childers being played by Hollywood actor, Gerard Butler, titledThe Machine Gun Preacher. I tracked him down at his restaurant, Ersam in Muyenga, for an interview.
I knew that he was a Ugandan cum American when he showed up an hour late for it.
“African time!” he laughed as he shook my hand. He was with a contingent of about ten Americans who sat a few metres away to give us some privacy.
“They’re missionaries from the states”, he explained. “Here to help me with some of the projects I run here in Uganda”.
Childers runs a feeding program for schools in Uganda, in addition to another orphanage in Ethiopia.
But he was not always a charity dispensing philanthropist. Once upon a time, he was a big bad wolf. He believes that his zeal to help people can be attributed to his past.
“I hurt a lot of people”, he said. “And I’m not talking about the fights or anything like that that I got into as a gang biker. I’m talking about drugs. When you deal, you hurt people and you destroy lives”.
Sam Childers is a former drug dealer turned preacher turned fighter turned missionary-looking at him, it was not difficult to believe.
His plaid shirt, jeans and long moustache make an image of him on a bike looking threatening highly plausible. And his history confirmed my image.
“I was a drug addict for two years”, he recalled. “Every day for two years, I was shooting heroin into my arm with a needle”.
He was also a hired gun for drug dealers. Coincidentally, it was at a drug deal that he met his wife Lynn,who was to play a large role into helping him turn his life around. This was because she turned her life around as well. She quit her job as a stripper when she gave her life to the Lord.
“I was really angry when she did that!” Childers laughed. “She made good money as a stripper. She wasn’t one of those strippers who are also prostitutes. She was an exotic stripper. She’d dance and then strip”.
“My wife came to the Lord two days before me”, he continued. “And for those two years, I put her through hell”.
But at the same time, Childers affirms that having grown up in a Christian household, he always respected God. He reminded me that although the language in the movie was very bad, he did not use the Lord’s name in vain.
After those two years, Childers joined her as well. It was Missionary work that took him to South Sudan where the course of his life was to change forever.
“I went into South Sudan on a five week mission trip”, he narrated. “And I saw the body of a small child that stepped on a landmine. It just totally changed my life”.
“You know how some people don’t have money to change anything, but also know that they don’t have the ability to change anything?” he asked. “Well, I knew that I could do something for the children affected by the LRA but all I was missing was money”.
With the aid of his Ministry and donations, he was able to build the Angels of East Africa orphanage in Nimule in South Sudan that today holds about 160 orphans, with more being sent to him by the Government of South Sudan.
“It’s funny how I picked the spot for the orphanage”, he said. “I was driving around in my car when suddenly I felt God telling me to stop the car”.
Apprehensive that his life was in danger, Childers got out of his vehicle with his machine gun and was walking around looking for the source of it when he felt God speaking to him.
“The spot I was standing on is where God told me to build the orphanage”, Childers asserted. “And that was it”.
Childers poured his heart into his work, often neglecting his own family back in the states. His wife, he said, understood that he had a higher calling, but it was an entirely different issue for his daughter Paige who he said ‘literally hated me”. Until one day she sat him down and expressed her own passion for the work he was doing.
“Dad, do you remember when we were going through used clothes because we couldn’t afford new ones? I was right there with you. Do you remember when we had no food to eat? I was eating that same food with you. So I am dedicated to this cause as you are, and willing to make more sacrifices for it,” Paige said.
Today, Paige runs the non-profit organization while his wife runs the Shekinah Fellowship Church that Childers built himself.
The odd name Machine Gun Preacher was given him by the natives in South Sudan, as a consequence of them seeing him sleeping with a machine gun on one side of body and a bible on the other.
“People used to say, ‘that guy’s a soldier’. Others said I was a preacher. In the end, I simply became Machine Gun Preacher”, Childers explained.
This did not go down well in the United States and Childers attracted criticism for being a Christian with a gun, fighting a war that was not his to fight.
“It made me really unhappy, all this negative publicity I was getting”, he recalled. “Then God told me to stop whining and own the name”.
Today Machine Gun Preacher (MGP) is a brand. There is an MGP security company, a cycle shop called MGP Rat Bikes and a clothing line. Allexcept the restaurant here in Uganda that is located opposite the Ethiopian Village. That one’s just plain Ersam.
All in all, I think we can all agree Sam Childers has owned the name Machine Gun Preacher and does it due justice.
By Lindsey Kukunda