A Rebel With a Cause - 4/22/10
by Karen V. Contino
The Rev. Sam Childers truly is the Machine Gun Preacher.
And although his title sounds like a tremendous contradiction, what he does could not make more sense or take more courage.
While navigating through northern Uganda and southern Sudan in Africa, Sam totes a gun as he leads his small private army on rescue missions in search of orphans and child soldiers. These are the youngest victims of the war-torn region, and he will do whatever it takes to save them.
“Many people have asked me how I can be a pastor and still carry a gun,” he said. “My response to them is, ‘If you have a child, wouldn’t you do anything you can to save and protect them?’ I have rescued over 1,000 children out of the war in Sudan.”
Sam was featured on Dateline NBC for his work; wrote a book, titled Another Man’s War: The True Story of One Man’s Battle to Save the Children in the Sudan; has another book on the way; and is the subject of an upcoming documentary and a major motion picture, Machine Gun Preacher, starring Gerard Butler.
“It all started with me helping Dateline out,” Sam said. “Anyone going to Sudan would find out about me because I have been doing security work for a long time. While I was working with them, they decided to turn the story around to focus on me and my work. It was a pretty big break — a chance in a lifetime. It was a blessing from God.”
Growing up the youngest of three sons in a middle-class family that moved around between Minnesota and Pennsylvania, Sam garnered a reputation as a tough guy. He hung around with the “bad” crowd and became heavily involved with drugs and violence. Before long, he had become a drug-dealing high school dropout who rode with motorcycle gangs.
“I always looked older than I was, so from a young age I was able to hang out with the bad crowd,” he said. “I wanted to fit in, and I started using drugs. There was a time in my life when I would put a needle in my arm every day.”
Sam later moved to Central Florida and worked in construction. He has lived in Winter Garden, Lockhart and Apopka; and he still has family in Winter Garden.
“The drugs kept getting worse and worse, and I knew I was eventually going to get killed,” he said. “I was going to die without a cause. I’ve never had a problem with dying, but I did not want to die without a cause. I just wanted more out of my life.”
With the help of his wife of 27 years, Lynn, and with his daughter, Paige, 21, as his inspiration, Sam “gave his heart to the Lord” in 1992, and soon after became a preacher. Today, he is drug-free, and he and his wife co-pastor Shekinah Fellowship Church in Pennsylvania, where he lives one-half of the year. He also has another daughter, Faith, 8.
In 1998, Sam made his first trip to Africa as a volunteer roofing contractor. While there, he witnessed the pain, suffering and death of local children at the hands of the Lord’s Resistance Army, a rebel militant group accused of abducting children and driving more than 1.7 million people from their homes. According to BBC, tens of thousands of people have died in the conflict.
Thousands of children have become orphans as a result of brutal LRA attacks on remote villages. According to Sam, most of the children cannot rescue themselves and will die of starvation or bodily wounds inflicted by LRA soldiers. He was especially moved after seeing the remains of a child killed by a land mine.
“I realized that all those things I had done in my past I could use to help people in Africa,” he said. “I realized my purpose was to save children.”
According to Sam, more than 30,000 children have been abducted and forced to serve as soldiers or sex slaves until they escape or are rescued.
“A lot of what I do is very similar to the movies Blood Diamond and Tears of the Sun,” he said. “Those are the kind of people I’ve been fighting for the past 13 years.”
To help protect and rehabilitate the children he rescues, Sam purchased 40 acres of land directly in the war zone to create his orphanage, the Children’s Village, which houses and educates more than 250 orphans. It has been a home to more than 1,000 children since its inception. The orphanage has primary and elementary schools; a clinic; a vocational-technical school that includes auto mechanics, sewing and woodworking; and the only library in the war zone.
“God showed me a number of years ago that if I was not going to focus on education, I was not going to fully rehabilitate the children,” he said. “When I rescue a child, I want to rehabilitate that child and educate that child and teach them a trade in life.”
Sam’s hope is for his efforts to continue long after he is gone. Profits from all of his appearances and projects, including a clothing line and reality show, are filtered into a trust account to keep Children’s Village in operation.
Above all, Sam believes in second chances.
“If I can change and make a difference, anybody can,” he said. “Once you make the change in life you can do anything. It does not matter how old you are. If you are willing to change and do something good, you can. Life is about what you can do for someone else, not what you can get out of it.”