Do yourself a favour and read it all.
A mean looking man with mutton chop whiskers and greasy motorcycle jacket had been harassing other people in a bar all night long. The big bruiser must have weighed 240 pounds and not all of it flab... He was obviously enjoying the discomfort that he was causing other patrons who were afraid of confronting him.
My tolerance level for bullies has never been very high and my fear of confrontation has always been set at zero, so I finally walked over to where the loudmouth was sitting. As he watched in baffled disbelief, I picked up the half empty bottle of Budweiser that was sitting in front of him, swallowed the remaining contents in one long pull, slammed the bottle on the table, then tossed it into the air, grabbed it as it came down, and smashed it across the top of the fool’s head, dropping him to the floor.
The trick of busting a person’s head open with his own bottle was one that I perfected myself. There’s a little technique to it because you have to strike the person in just the right way so the bottle will break, but I had it all figured out. I performed the maneuver on at least 15 occasions and the trick never let me down because the guys would always sit there dumbfounded when I started to finish their beer. Nobody was ever prepared for what came next. I imagine that I am still the only person in the world who knows how to do that trick. I certainly am the only preacher who knows how to do it.
A TV interviewer once asked me who was the meanest person I had ever met. As I thought about it, tears came into my eyes. Because I had to admit that I never met anyone meaner than I had been during the first three decades of my life.
They called me Savage. That became my nickname. From earliest youth I was always ready to spit in anyone’s eye. I am ashamed of that behavior but I have to say in my own defense that most of the people I hit seemed to deserve what they were getting. I always despised bullies. I would sometimes lose a fight, but never in my life did I back down from someone because he was bigger than me. Even though I am not tall, I learned to beat up opponents who outweighed me and towered over me. My reputation came in part from the fact that I didn’t care if I got hurt. I probably have about 300 stitches in my body — places that were slashed, stabbed, or cut open during one of the fights. I usually sewed up my own wounds.
I can’t blame anyone but myself for my behavior in those days. My mother was a praying, church-going woman all of her life. My father was a half Cherokee, ex-Marine, ironworker who would casually work while suspended hundreds and sometimes thousands of feet in the air at the top of some skyscraper or tower. He was a crack pistol shot 44 - the real machine gun preacher - and could use a long-barrel 38 to drive nails at 20 feet without ever missing.
My dad was a hard person, but he was a good man. He taught me that a man’s word was his sacred bond. I was a rebel and grew up with the attitude that I didn’t have to do anything simply because someone said I should, but if I told someone that I would do a thing, then I would move heaven and earth before I would ever leave it undone.
We were country folks. I was raised as a Hillbilly in the forests and mountains of central Pennsylvania. I have pictures of me when I was five years old holding a shotgun that was as long as I was tall. The gun was also about as heavy as me; the discharge would knock me on my butt and might give me a nosebleed. I ignored the discomfort and pain and finally learned to usually hit what I was shooting at. I eventually learned to fire a pistol equally well with either my left or my right hand.
As a young person, I seemed older than my age by drinking booze, rolling my own cigarettes, and smoking pot when I was only 11 years old. At age 13, I was dropping acid and snorting coke, and by 16, I was mainlining heroin. I began dealing in order to support my habit and by the time I was 18, was engaging in some important drug deals. The next year I became a “shot-gunner,” providing armed protection for major dealers while running my own illicit pharmaceutical business on the side.
I fell in love with Harley-Davidson motorcycles the first time I saw one, and for a time rode with the Hell’s Angels and other outlaw motorcycle groups. A politician once made the comment that 99 percent of motorcycle riders were decent well-behaved people, so we began to refer to ourselves as “The One Percenters” because we were indecent and lawless.
I was in the middle of a drug deal one day, waiting for the guys to come in with the product, when a little dancer named Lynn, with the stage name Summer, tried to strike up a conversation with me. I was afraid that the guys I was doing the deal with would show up and get the wrong idea so I shooed her away. Before she left she gave me her number, and I got in touch with her the next day. That was almost three decades ago and we’ve been together ever since.
In 1984, following a shootout that came close to ending my life, I told Lynn that we were leaving the next day or else I was going to wind up dead. I never worried about dying, but while those bullets were whizzing past my head, I came to a moment of clarity in which I realized that if I were killed I would regret the empty shell of a life that I would be leaving behind. The next day we returned to my Central City, Pennsylvania birthplace.
Like me, Lynn had been a prodigal running away from a Christian upbringing. After we moved back to Pennsylvania, she began attending church with my mom. Before long, she had returned in a dramatic way to her childhood faith, and set out on a project to get me back into the fold. For two years, Lynn continued praying and bugging me until, one day, I finally attended a service with her just to shut her up. During that service my heart was profoundly moved by the message that I heard, and I handed my life over to God. I had been going full throttle down a pathway to hell; now I was full speed on the same road, but heading in the other direction towards Heaven.
A miracle occurred because I never experienced the agonies of withdrawal that should have accompanied my radical life-style changes. The demon-gods of Liquor, Cocaine, and Nicotine that hold so many people in their grips turned loose of me, their power broken completely. I haven’t had a drink, smoke, or fix since that day.
Some of my friends from those earlier years of my life say they didn’t believe in God but were forced to change their minds when they saw the change in my life.
God has put in my heart love for the people of Africa. My life changed in 1998 when I was working with a short-term mission project in New Sudan. We came across the body of a young child who had stepped on a land mine. We couldn’t tell if it was a little girl or boy because only the top part of the small torso remained intact. As I stood there over that pitiful object, I lifted a prayer to Heaven. “God,” I prayed, “I’ll do anything I can to help these people.” I had no idea the amazing miracles that would eventually result from that simple prayer.
I spent the next year helping people locate and detonate landmines. In 2000, I created a mobile clinic out of a converted Toyota Land Cruiser. Each time I returned to Africa, I would fill my suitcases, as well as the suitcases of anyone traveling with me, with medical supplies. I had taken some first aid classes in high school, but otherwise became a medical practitioner through on-the-job experience together with the knowledge that had come to me through binding up my own wounds.
Things changed again in 2001. I was driving my Land Cruiser through the bush, carrying a couple soldiers from the Sudanese People Liberation Army (SPLA), which is fighting on the side of the people. Right in the middle of the wilderness, God told me to stop the car. I got down from the vehicle with my AK assault rifle in my hand and prayed for an explanation of what was happening. The Word of God came, directing me to build a children’s village — an orphanage — on the spot where I was standing. The project that began with a mosquito net hanging from a tree has grown to 45 acres and has become the Shekinah Fellowship Children’s Village. Four sites are now providing housing for about 280 young orphans from the war. I am helping the Sudanese people help themselves; the project is staffed and managed by locals without any foreign assistance.
Not all my activities are peaceful. While traveling in Africa, I continue to carry a rapid-fire assault rifle and several sidearms. I’ve been in more firefights than I can remember, plus enduring bombing raids by Russian-built airplanes. I am driven by the same passions that used to make me beat up barroom bullies, except that now the “bullies” are heavily armed rebel military forces. A major part of their strategy involves wholesale murder, rape, pillaging of defenseless civilians, and the execution and enslavement of children. I am no warrior, but a simple country boy who has armed himself and is prepared to resist with force anyone who would try to harm a child or rape a defenseless woman.
East Africa is the scene of persecution and genocide caused by people like the horrible despot named Omar Al Bashir, who is the current president of Northern Sudan. The jungle areas of Sudan and neighboring Uganda have also provided refuge for one of the world’s most terrible human beings. His name is Joseph Kony. He was raised by Christian parents but has perverted religion by creating a militant insurrection called the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA). Since 1986, LRA forces have abducted more than 100,000 boys and girls, often killing all the members of the families left behind. The LRA arms the captured boys and uses them as instruments of death and destruction. Kony turns the young captive girls into sex slaves, offering them as prostitutes for the members of his forces.
Besides killing, ravaging, and enslaving, Kony’s raiders leave behind horrible signs of their depredation in the form of children with severed hands and feet, plus women with severed breasts and lips.
I drive through the jungles with a Bible on my dashboard, a “widow maker” shotgun against my knee, and an assault rifle within easy grasp. I have been ambushed a number of times by members of Kony’s armed forces. I welcome these attacks because they give me the chance to strike back at the attackers. Every chance I get, I go hunting for Joseph Kony himself; I’ll fight him anywhere I can catch him.
Jesus told us that if someone strikes us, we are supposed to present the other cheek for another blow, which would be a righteous response. However, if the blow is aimed at a child or at a defensless woman, then everything changes. In that case, the gloves come off. No man will stand aside while that happens. At least not this man! These violent acts against helpless people fill me with something not too different from hatred. This is what God created anger for; inaction would be evil.
One of my businesses is engaged in providing security for international travelers. In 2004, a team from Dateline NBC contracted with me to do security work for them. They planned a story about Joseph Kony. However, when team members discovered what I was doing, they brought a camera crew and created a documentary that they aired as a one-hour special in 2005. One of the major New York newspapers responded by running an article under the headline, “The Machine Gun Preacher.” That became my tagline and the label for a clothing line, motorcycles, a line of sunglasses, and now a Hollywood movie.
From the time I was a young child, until the day he died, my dad would tell me, “Boy, somebody’s going to kill you some day.” I still hear that from people, but I pay no attention to what they intend as dire predictions. I didn’t fear death when I was living in rebellion against God. Now that God has been leading me by the hand through the amazing adventure that my life has become, how could I possibly fear that one of those bullets whizzing by me will someday strike some essential organ or artery? At that moment, the clasp of God’s hand will simply become more firm as He brings me into His very presence and to that place that even now He is preparing for me.
The Apostle Paul admitted that even he was peering at ultimate realities through a smoky glass. But about death he added, “Then I shall see Him face to face.” If a bullet with my name on it someday puts an end to my life, then the Machine Gun Preacher will finally lay down his weapons and rest. I am looking forward to that.