Most people would say God and guns don’t go well together. That’s certainly how Sam Childers felt. When a newspaper headline first called him the Machine Gun Preacher, he started to cry.
Sam has never been what you’d expect from a missionary. A former biker, he struggled with addiction for many years. But soon after he converted to Christianity, he found his calling. He was shocked and appalled by the atrocities committed by the Lord’s Resistance Army, and dedicated his life to protecting children from the on-going conflicts in Central Africa.
‘About 18 years ago,’ he told Alex, ‘somebody saw me walking down the road, with an AK over my shoulder, and some children walking around me.’ The missionaries spoke about him when they returned to the US. “This guy is not a man of God!” they said. “He carries a gun! He shoots people!”
‘Somebody put a story out, and they titled it Machine Gun Preacher. And it went on some big newspaper. Somebody sent it to me, to encourage me I guess, and I read it, and I started crying. I said God, no one’s ever going to have me speak again!’
‘Stop your whining!’ God replied. ‘Claim that name! It’s your name, and it would be a great marketing tool.’
Sure enough, that name, and that iconic image, has led to books, documentaries, a biopic and even a clothing line! ‘A lot of people think that’s stupid! But you’ve got to realise, God can take the stupidest thing, and the stupidest person, like me, and He can take them clean to the top, if you’re willing to stand up for Christ.’
That’s exactly what Sam has been doing ever since. If you’ve seen the movie, you’ll know that he founded the Angels of East Africa orphanage with his wife. He now runs five orphanages in Sudan, taking in and protecting some of the most vulnerable children in the world.
God can take the stupidest thing, and the stupidest person, like me, and He can take them clean to the top, if you’re willing to stand up for Christ
Many people would be content with that achievement. But for Sam, it wasn’t enough. Most orphanages in the region force children to leave when they turn 15. ‘More than 70 per cent of those children end up in prostitution,’ he said. ‘So we have to do more.’
Sam is working to improve the outlook for these orphans, by offering them training in skills including farming and hospitality. ‘We’re giving them a future, by giving them a trade. And right now, it’s amazing. With the businesses we have, we’re working over 440 people a day.’
Many of the women who were wives or slaves to rebels are now in their 20s, with no education or support. ‘Their own villages don’t want them back. So a lot of these women will just walk into the bush, set down, and wait to die, because they have no future.
‘We bring them into our farm. We bring them into our restaurant. We bring them into our hotel. We give them a skill and a trade. We don’t want to keep these people working for us. We want to train them for two to three years, and then we want to get them a job outside of us, so that way they can move on, and we can train more people.’
So what does a preacher need with a machine gun? He joked that it encourages people to make bigger offerings. But he still carries a weapon, and it isn’t just for show. He lives and works in a war zone, in one of the most volatile regions in the world. He faces fear and danger every day for a living.
But when you serve God, that fear can be a great strength, because it forces you to call on Him. ‘So I don’t mind getting scared,’ Sam said, ‘and I don’t mind having fear, because those are the moments I feel closest to God. And He always fixes the problem.’
Listen to more of the interview below.