Biker gang warlord reveals how he found God to become guardian angel in Africa
Aug 28 2011 Maggie Barry, Sunday Mail
HE’S gone from patrolling the streets of Pennsylvania as a hired gun and a drug dealer to roaming Sudan with an AK-47 in one hand and a Bible in the other.
Biker Sam Childers moved to Africa after finding God and helped save hundreds of children from certain death during a bloody civil war.
Now his story is brought to life in new film Machine Gun Preacher with Gerard Butler playing the gun-toting evangelist.
Scots hunk Butler spent time with Sam and his family while researching the role and Sam wasn’t disappointed in his big screen alter ego.
He said: “He was at my house in Pennsylvania for a week and I have been to his home in LA.
“I have a very humble lifestyle and although Gerry is one of the top 10 actors in the US, he just made himself at home.He is a nice guy but he is 100 per cent work. The whole time he spent with me he was trying to get my character, working out what made me tick.”
Despite his Christian upbringing, by the age of 11 Sam was already taking drugs.
He left home at 15 and by 18 he was working in the fruit fields of Florida by day and dealing drugs at night to sustain his habit.
He admitted: “I even met my wife Lynn at a drug deal in a club where she worked as a stripper. I was working as a shotgunner – a dealer’s hired gun.
“It was a pretty violent lifestyle and I guess there was always the thought at the back of my mind that some day someone would kill me.
“Then one night I was out drinking and got into a really bad fight. I almost got killed.
“I came home that night and told my wife we were moving to Pennsylvania. I told her I didn’t have a problem with dying but I did have a problem with what I was going to die for.”
But it was not until June 1992, when Sam finally ventured back to the church, that he realised there was another path for him.
He said: “That day changed my life. All my life I had known God was the answer but I kept running from it.”
His second epiphany came on a mission to southern Sudan with the church where he had become a pastor.
He said: “I saw the body of a small child who had stepped on a landmine. That was a turning moment for me.”
Sudan was devastated by civil war and it was the children who were paying the price. Guerrillas were sweeping down from the north, abducting youngsters to use as pack mules or train to fight.
Kids less than 10 years old would watch in horror as their parents were massacred. Into this mayhem stepped Sam, who set up The Children’s Village safe haven at Nimule on the Sudanese border after clearing the bush himself.
Since 2000, he has saved more than 1000 children and 180 are still living in his orphanage.
He said: “The guerrillas were attacking villages and killing children. They walk through the jungle then appear out of the long grass to hold up vehicles.
“At that time, certain roads were passable only in convoy and with protection. People are sometimes concerned that I carry a gun, but if you carry a gun, you carry it for a reason.”
Among the youngsters etched forever in Sam’s memory are James and Walter.James had been turned into a boy soldier and had already killed at least 30 people when Sam found him.
Walter had half his face blown off, and witnessed his elder sister being raped and burned to death. Another sister Angela was left paralysed after being shot through the neck.
Sam’s presence in the area meant that villagers would report attacks to him.
Sometimes he and his men arrived to find scores of children hiding in the bush. At other times the conflict was still in progress but their arrival often saved lives as the attackers fled.
Sam calls the kids his Angels of East Africa and fights to keep them safe as fiercely as any father.
He said: “Whatever I need to do to help these people, I am going to do.
“At one time I was a very violent man. Now I believe that if you are rescuing a child you have to do whatever it takes.
“It would be wrong to say I never got scared but you have to do what’s right. My father always taught me never to pass someone in need.”
Sam may have rescued Sudan’s children but, in a way, they saved him too. Today, the problems are settled and Sam reports that there have been no killings in his area for the last two years.
What that means is he is moving on to other parts of Africa – Somalia and Ethiopia – where his help is still needed.
He funds his work from his MGP (Machine Gun Preacher) shop in
Pennsylvania where he makes and customises motorcycles from scratch – he even made three that were used in the movie.
Previews of Machine Gun Preacher were shown in Sam’s hometown, Central City, last week.
But he has another idea for another movie – his wife’s life story, which he insists is much more interesting than his.
He said: “She used to be a stripper, now she’s back in the church as a minister. Now that’s a story.”