Saturday, July 17, 2010 2:01
(Source: Daily Record; Glasgow (UK))By Alan Carson
TOUGH guy Sam Childers turned from a fearsome drug dealer into a pistolpacking pastor ... and now he's gone Hollywood.
The 48-year-old abandoned his outlaw biker ways to follow a spiritual path, saving innocent children in war-torn Sudan. His fascinating story is coming to the big screen with Scots movie hunk Gerard Butler playing the lead.
Machine Gun Preacher is an adaptation of Childers' life story as told in his 2009 book, Another Man's War: The True Story Of One Man's Battle To Save Children In The Sudan.
Filming has started in Detroit and will move to South Africa.
Directed by Marc Forster - of Monster's Ball and Quantum Of Solace - it will be in cinemas in autumn next year. It tells of the Rev Sam's 12-year ght to rescue children from horri c violence in one of the world's most lawless areas.
Brutal warlord Joseph Kony and his rebels, the Lord's Resistance Army, terrorise thousands of innocent people in war-torn Sudan. They attack unsuspecting villages, burn all the houses, then torture, maim and kill the people.
About 50,000 children have been forced to join Kony's rebel army or sold to slave traders. The child soldiers are often forced to kill their parents or be killed themselves.
In 1992, Sam had ditched the motorcycle gang lifestyle of drinking, drugs and violence after finding God and was working on a volunteer construction project in Africa. Then the born-again Christian saw the body of a child blown up by a land mine.
"It really messed me up," said Sam. "It changed my life."
Six years later, he was risking death in gunfights in the African bush while trying to rescue kidnapped youngsters. Sam, complete with giant muttonchop sideburns, fights on the front line of the war zone, at times sleeping in the bush with an AK- 47 on one side and a Bible on the other. He is determined to save as many kids as he can and put an end to Kony's reign of terror.
So far, Sam has rescued more than 1000. They get shelter, food, clothing, schooling and medical attention from the Angels of East Africa, an organisation he founded in 1998.
Around 700 of these war babies have been reunited with their families. Scores more live in the three orphanages Sam has built. Sam said: "When the kids, some as young as seven, are kidnapped, they get divided up. Girls become sex slaves, some boys become fighters and the weak ones are killed in front of the others to create fear. When we get them, they are very traumatised. One boy in our care had been forced to kill more than 30 people by the time he was 11. It takes a lot of work to get these kids, who have been surrounded by death, into the mind-set that violence is not the solution for everything. Recovery is slow and trying, but eventually they start to behave like children again. They just need love."
Some children have had arms hacked off with machetes, others their ears sliced off or tongues removed. But for many, Sam is their saviour. He said: "When I founded the Angels, I knew we wanted to open an orphanage for the children who didn't have parents because of the fighting in Sudan and Uganda. But I started simple, sleeping on a grass mat and a sheetof mosquito netting, with a machine gun by one side and a Bible by the other. I never dreamed that God would take me to that point. Since then, I've been ambushed many times. They've tried to assassinate me. This is a war zone. There is a chance of being killed."
Sam continued: "I'm not afraid of dying. It's one of those things in life you only do once. There was a time in my life when I was involved in drugs and other things that could get me killed. But that would have been dying without a cause or a purpose in my life. Now, if God decided to take me, I could say that my life had a purpose."
Sam divides his time between his home in the US and battling baddies in Africa. He went on: "I live in the Allegheny mountains of Pennsylvania near Central City, where I spend about six months each year. The other six months is in Africa. At Central City, I founded the Shekinah Fellowship. It is a biker church. About everybody has an addiction of some kind. The name Shekinah comes from the Old Testament. One of the newspapers had a story and picture that showed me in the pulpit with a pistol in one hand. If you saw some of the people in my congregation, you'd carry a gun, too.
We also have a camp-ground at the church, where troubled youths from the city can come to the country and get away from the pressures of their life."
Sam freely admits he took the wrong path while growing up and soon found himself on the wrong side of the law. He began taking drugs aged just 11 and quickly sank deeper and deeper into illegal substances and violence.
He recalled: "My dad was half-Cherokee and worked in the high- rise steel construction industry, so we moved around and I got into construction. Then I got into selling drugs and fights, and was arrested several times. To be honest, 30 years ago, I was probably the worst person you've ever known. I wasn't tough but I was mean. Then I met my wife, Lynn, and she became a born-again Christian and prayed for me. I knew that if I didn't change, I probably would be killed. Eventually, I learned that God is a big God, and he took my life and turned it around."
Sam revealed that he broke down while working on his book and visiting the graves of friends.
He said: "I never realised until that moment how many people I had hurt. I turned them on to drugs. I have scars in my life I can never get rid of. I can't make up for all the people I've hurt. The only thing I can do is go around and tell people how wrong I was. It's about stopping you from experiencing what I've experienced. Some say my book is about redemption. I think it shows that anyone can stop the destructive things they are doing if they just find the will. I'm not perfect. I'm one of the most messed-up pastors. I've got issues in my life. But I love Jesus Christ."
LABOUR OF LOVE FOR GERARD
300 STAR Gerard Butler is taking a huge pay cut in Machine Gun Preacher ... because he loves the script.
The Paisley-born actor will pick up pounds 100,000, a fraction of what he can earn for a film.
The 41-year-old, who recently visited the Rev Childers at his church in Pennsylvania, said: "I'm producing this one as well. I'm sure I'm getting 10 cents for doing it. But if it's an interesting project, I take it. This is not a big, flashy project."
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