“If you got good people having weapons, then it’s a good thing. If you have bad people having weapons, then it’s a bad thing. In countries that have outlawed guns around the world, it’s a proven fact that only outlaws have them.”
Years before the most viral video of all time, KONY 2012, slammed Joseph Kony into the global consciousness, Sam Childers was cruising around with soldiers from the Sudanese People’s Liberation Army hunting him down and protecting those he sought to capture.
As Childers puts it, “I was helping Sudanese rebels before helping rebels was cool.”
Thirty years ago, he was known by those closest to him as a rough, tough, lost-cause. He was a drug addict and a violent man who had served time behind bars.
Today, the Pennsylvania native, is an ordained minister who goes by the name of “The Machine Gun Preacher.”Armed with his AK-47 and a calling from God, he works to protect, at all costs, the vulnerable women and children of Sudan, Uganda, and Ethiopia. What started as a mission to fend off the LRA has grown beyond the borders of Sudan. Some have referred to him as “a bizarre mash-up of Rambo and missionary.”
How did Childers’ go from American reject to an African freedom fighter?
It all started one Sunday night when his wife Lynn, a former stripper, pulled Childers to a church service. He had a Christian background but his faith had, long ago, faded from the center of his life. That night a missionary from South Africa was speaking. During the service he called Sam out and told him that God wanted to “consume” him. He was right. Sam recommitted his life to God and agreed to visit Africa with the pastor to help build a roof.
In 1998, a changed man, he visited the Sudan. Not content to just build a roof, Childers ventured deep into the war torn nation. He witnessed first hand the devastation of the LRA. Most notably, he came across a young boy who had stepped on a landmine. He would never be the same again.
Seeing this child pushed Childers to devote all his energy to protecting these children. Childers gut-reaction was to use his knowledge of weaponry to fight fire with fire. It also involved selling off his construction business in the States and dedicating all his time and resources towards building his Children’s Village orphanage in Nimule, South Sudan. The orphanage was a place the women and children could come for protection.
Since 1998, he has provided armed security at his orphanage as well as food and medication for 300 children. He has since expanded his operations to include three orphanges in Ethiopia and others in Uganda.
While many see Childers as someone saving these children, he tells everyone who will listen, “I didn’t rescue the children of Africa, they rescued me.”
On average Childers spends 7 months a year in Africa and 5 months travelling elsewhere, with three months reserved for preaching and fundraising.
Childers story is now well documented. First, in his 2009 memoir, “Another Man’s War: The true story of one man’s battle to save children in the Sudan.” Second, in the Hollywood re-telling of that book, 2011’s “Machine Gun Preacher” starring Gerard Butler.
Both have boosted Childers’ public profile. He tours around to churches all over the world telling his story and raising funds for his orphanages.
With this newfound celebrity, however, has come a great deal of scrutiny.
How is violence on top of violence solving anything? Why is he meddling in the affairs of another country? How many people has Childers killed in Africa? What’s really going on at his orphanages?
These tricky questions surround Childers’ story.
With a wild story involving Eastern and Central Africa, there is much I WANNA KNOW about Sam Childers.
I reached Childers via phone from his office in Washington, D.C.
From KONY 2012, to gun laws in America, to the AK-47, to the criticisms surrounding his work, to his friendship with Uganda’s president, we cover it all.
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(LISTEN/DOWNLOAD INTERVIEW ABOVE, OR READ THE ILLUSTRATED INTERVIEW BELOW)
How has the current tour been going?
You know it’s been doing well. To be honest with you, I’m never really concerned with money. Because of my faith I do the best I can. So it’s up to God to make things work. I never really look at the money part. What I look at is the lives that are changed. So far on this tour we had nearly a thousand peoples lives changed. I’m talking about people that never went to church, people that never had any faith. So, in order to have a thousand lives in this day and time change in three weeks, buddy, that’s good.
You’ve been talking to crowds for many years now, and it continues to resonate. What do you think it is about your story that continues to, as you say, change lives?
I’d have to say the thing that’s changing everybody’s ear right now is how bad Sam Childers was thirty years ago. I carry a message of hope that no matter who you are or what you’ve done you can change, but it’s all up to you. You know, some people want to let on that Jesus or God is this genie in a bottle that you rub and it pops out and fixes problems. You’ve got to remember, that’s not how he works. If you’re living a life that is not a life good life, you have to make up your mind that you’re done living that life.
You’re traveling around the states telling your story, but it seems like it must be a tense time to be talking about guns.
Yes and no. I’m 100 per cent for guns laws. And what I mean 100 per cent is that we should have the right to bare arms. In some states you can have a protection permit but you don’t have to qualify on a shooting range, and I’m totally against that. I believe that any American that is going to have a protection permit to carry a gun throughout a city, throughout a shopping mall, that they should have to qualify under the same restrictions as a police officer. Some people are against me saying that but that’s how I believe. I believe in the rights to bare arms, and that every home should have a firearm.
So you’re telling me that even with the moniker”The Machine Gun Preacher,” you haven’t been attracting any heat?
No. To tell you the truth I just left a church outside of Columbus, Wednesday night. There were 1,300 people and I would have to say at least 95 per cent of the people were firearm people. Most of America are for the right to bare arms you know. But I will say that when I speak out about how I think about firearms there are a lot of people that don’t believe that way. It is our constitutional right.
I have many gun courses under my belt. I’ve had many gun trainings. I’m a professional with a firearm. I can shoot with either hand and I’m getting ready to take another course. I believe that training is something you never have enough with when it comes to firearms.
Do you have a gun on you right now?
Absolutely. I have a security company in the U.S. I do security work and I carry one legally. If I go into a state where I’m not licensed, I don’t carry a firearm on me.
The AK-47 is your weapon of choice. I’ve also heard it referred to as the real weapon of mass destruction. How do you reconcile loving a gun but also knowing it’s responsible for killing the most people in history?
I would say just about anything could be the same way. Look at how many people are killed in automobiles. You’ve got to also remember how much peace did the AK-47 bring to other countries. You know, there has never been peace anywhere in the entire world without a war. There’s always been war. So, I’d have to say that I don’t really have a problem with that. I would say myself that the AK-47 is probably the most dependable firearm that is out there. I know it’s the weapons of choice through many militaries as well as terrorists. A weapon is not bad it can only get bad with the hands that actually grab a hold of the weapons. If you’ve got good people having weapons then it’s a good thing. If you’ve got bad people having weapons then it’s a bad thing. Countries around the world that have outlawed guns, it’s a proven fact that only outlaws end up having them.
Let’s talk about the man who has been the target of your AK for a long time: Joseph Kony. A lot has changed in the last few years. The LRA has diminished and Kony was brought to the attention of many people through KONY 2012. What was it like for you watching that campaign explode and then fizzle?
I do a lot of work in Uganda and I have businesses there. KONY 2012 hurt the economy of Uganda. I’m not going to knock on the boys who did because I don’t like people knocking on me, but let’s be for real they were six to seven years too late on their story. The story should have been brought out a little different so that it wouldn’t put the country under a threat. It is a known fact that the tourism in Uganda dropped out of sight. There were millions of U.S. dollars lost in the country of Uganda because of KONY 2012. If people don’t want to take that from me just do a little research on the internet or speak to the government of Uganda. It should have been done differently.
What people have to realize is that Joseph Kony never was a threat to Uganda. Joseph Kony never was a threat to Sudan. He was a pest to those countries. Even now, he’s not in those countries, he’s actually in the Congo. But, the big thing is that he needs to be brought to justice. I believe that they need to keep hunting for him and they are. There’s still a big problem in Sudan and for the surrounding countries and it’s the President of Northern Sudan, Bashir.
The wave of criticism that hit the KONY 2012 creators was huge. What did you make of Jason Russell’s public breakdown?
You know I felt bad for the guy. I didn’t see it and to be honest I don’t really want to comment on it too much. I can tell you one thing, it’s pretty sad that America can’t be more forgiving. I knew the guy and he really in his mind thought he was doing something good. But, he was mislead somewhere along the way. What they did was really good, no one can take that from them. They went viral. What they should have done was involve the country of Uganda.
I listened to an interview with Jason Russell where he said the forces of the LRA have declined dramatically since the campaign. So, how big of a threat do you think they still are?
OK, to start with, I don’t think that video helped to shrink the LRA. The UPDF, the government of Uganda, are the ones who are fighting and hunting down and pursuing the LRA. That video had nothing to do with the LRA getting smaller. It’s the work of the country of Uganda. If he took credit, he’s wrong to do that. I’m telling you what I know, and the government is pursuing him. I would say that if there’s one child’s life threatened, or one village, there’s still a serious problem. These warlords, or what ever you want to call them, need to face justice.
Are the days of being a travelling, fighting solider, over for you?
No, man. I’m fifty years old now, but no. I believe that if there’s a cause to stand up, I’m still going to stand up. I believe my struggle will go on until the day that I die. I’m always going to have a concern for children.
But, is the Sam Childers driving a Land Cruiser hunting the LRA a thing of the past?
You know, no. I can say this much, if he would come back into the areas I’m working I would absolutely pick up an arm and start working again. Keep in mind that I’m not going to do anything against any government, or anything I wouldn’t be authorized to do. Let’s put it like that.
When your biopic came out it heightened your public profile. With that exposure came a great deal of criticism and scrutiny. I just wanted to go over a few of the biggest ones. First, what do you think when the press frames you as a terrible international development idea? And, as a man with a white saviour complex who is fighting violence with violence?
I don’t have a problem with that at all. I’ll tell you why. I’m a man of freedom and I’m a man who thinks every man or woman should have the freedom to say their own beliefs. If I were to criticize against that than I’m criticizing against how I believe. So, everybody has their own right to believe the way they want to.
What a lot of people don’t realize is that back when Kony was attacking a lot of people, my food truck was running food and medicine for the Red Cross. So, there was a lot of people that came after the movie and criticized, but what about the ones who used me and hired me during the effect of the civil war?
Another thing that keeps circling your story, and I’m aware you don’t like to talk about it, is the number of people you’ve killed. A Vanity Fair profile quoted you saying, “More than 10.” Do you still deny that?
The man that wrote that article, Ian Urbina, did a very good job but he took quotes from other people in the bush, OK. So, I have never to this day and never will talk about taking a life or harming a person because it does not glorify Jesus Christ. If I’m going to boast about anything, it’s going to be about what he’s done for me. Violence does not glorify Christ, so I’m not even going to comment on it. The Vanity Fair article was not an article done just by me. The man who did the photography for the article is in my office right now. He’ll tell you that half of that more than half of that article was hearsay from other people.
But if you have a belief that there’s a time to kill, how is it not, in your opinion, something worth valuing?
I’m not going to comment on it anymore. I don’t believe anything that glorifies violence is something to boast about.
OK. In 2011, Christianity Today did a large investigation into the state of your orphanage. They implied that things were not going so well and locals were not happy. How do you respond to those criticisms?
Something just developed from the Christianity Today that you don’t even know about because the email just came. The guy that did the article is no longer with them. He was sent away and not on a happy note either. The other thing is that he corrected himself. He did almost four pages of trashing me and then on two lines he wrote, “We sent in a CT reporter and could not find any evidence of any of this.” So, I mean, I have never talked about the whole article and I’m not going to do. I’m going to ask Christianity Today, why was it written? If you send a reporter in that investigated everything, why didn’t they report what the reporter reported?
My people in Hollywood told me, “Sam, bad press is good press.” And, if anyone reads the article they correct themsleves. But I was upset because the journalist that was sent in to investigate it came directly to us and we didn’t even know him. He was upset because they didn’t write what he had found. Do you know that to this day, we are the highest recommended NGO in South Sudan? And, we have letters to prove it.
There is also a lot of confusion about your relationship with the SPLA. There are letters online from SPLA officials claiming that they have nothing to do with you, and others that say the opposite. What exactly is your relationship?
You’ve got to remember that the SPLA has how many hundreds of thousands of soldiers. I don’t know them all, but I can tell you that some of the biggest men there know me well. So, there again there’s always going to be some Lieutenant Generals that don’t me but there are a lot of them that do know me.
I carry a membership card in my wallet, it says SPLM/SPLA membership card. I believe if you look on the internet you’ll find a copy.
Another thing that is problematic is the people you endorse and vice versa. For example, on the back of your book the President of Uganda, Yoweri Museveni, writes his support. Some people might cast him as a war criminal.
There again we’re going back to other people’s opinion and I can tell you this much, I wish we had a President with morals and values like President Museveni. You can quote that I said that. He loves the people. I know Museveni personally. I’ve met with him a few times. I’ve got pictures with him. The man is a good man. There again, we always go back to other people’s opinions and just like right now, some people are for Obama some are for and others are not. No matter who the President is you’re always going to have someone knocking them. The values I have seen over fifteen years, President Museveni is a good man.
When the history is written on Museveni there is obviously going to be a lot of shady things in there.
The Bible says that no man is without sin. If we say we are then we call God a liar.
In “Another Man’s War” there are some incredible tales of when you believe God protected you from danger. Why do you think God protected you, when others may have been shot in the head the first time?
You know it’s kind of hard to. I believe I already lived my time. If anyone would ask me, I believe I’m living on borrowed time. I have never questioned death. I have never been afraid of death. To be honest, I probably have more fear of living than dying. I don’t think of things like that.
Your father, Paul, was a boxer. Tell me a little bit about your dad’s boxing life.
My dad was a champ boxer. Back in those days the boxers didn’t make a lot of money, usually it was the guys who set them up. My dad was also a Marine. The one thing my dad always taught us, and I preach about it quite often, is we need to learn to stand up for people when the odds are against them. I speak a lot of this in high schools. You have so much bullying going on, kids need to learn to stand up. It’s not about fighting with your fists. It’s about standing up for what’s right and saying, “Look I can’t allow this to go on.” My dad always taught us that no matter what the odds are, if you know something is wrong, you need to stand up for what’s right.
Did you ever get in a fist fight with your dad? If so, how did that turn out?
(laughs) No. There were a few times I said some words I shouldn’t have, and he straightened me out real quick.
You have a lot of supporters, but many who cannot get behind your message and story. What’s your final word for them?
You know there have been people writing bad blogs on me, and I’ll tell you what I told them: If you’re not able to come to Africa with me, check out when I’m around the United States and come visit me at my church, or my bike shop. Hang out with me and see what kind of person I am. Then write your stories or blogs.
Finally, if you came face-to-face with Bashir, what would you say to him?
(laughs) I don’t think I’d be doing a lot of talking. Bashir needs to pay for his war crimes.
FOR MORE INFORMATION ON SAM CHILDERS:
1) Go here: www.machinegunpreacher.org
2) Follow on Twitter: @machgunpreacher
As it was a South African who led Sam to the path of righteousness, how about sending him here. God knows we could do with a few like him!
i have been so impressed by sam andhis work that i actually feel i,m involved,coz i sure as hell intend to keep my eye on whats going on andput my hand in my pocket,u rock sam xxxxx june
June,you is an arch deceiver,no where does Our Lord Jesus Christ condone behaviour like this whacko and liar.Jesus told us to love our enemies,God is our deliverer,Romans8;31-32.You are decieved
Sam que Deus te abençoe!
For all the theorising and all the criticisms, all I ever come back to is…….’If it were my child…….’ so I am thankful for men like Sam who will do the dirty work on my behalf and allow me the freedom to pray in peace. Men like Sam allow us to turn our faces away and keep a clean conscience. A mother.
SORRY Julie BUT NOWHERE DOES Jesus CONDONE ARMED RESISTANCE, GOD IS OUR DELIVERER,Romans8;31-32,and Jesus tells us to love our enemies,People like this false preacher trick people who don’t know Gods word so easily with their lies.People,innocent yet deceived.just like you
Go re-read the Bible please. How did Goliath fall exactly? What happened on Mt. Sinai when Moses came down to find idol worshipping? just to name a couple….
your a ass becs i wiud do the seam theing sam rocks
Jesus tells his desipels to go buy a sword
Elizabeth King , Get a Life ! You are a Hypocrite !
Jesus Bloody Christ , if there ever was a Jesus Christ , Is Dead !
Has been Dead for over 2000 Years ! So how the Hell can a Dead Corpse Condone anything ! You need to see a Shrink to get Your Muddled Brain Back into order ! Also , God ! Or whatever You believe in , is a Myth !
God is within People Who Care , who Help Others , who ,If need be have to
Kill the Devil within the Bad People who Maim and Kill just for the Fun and Heck of it ! If You Believe and Want to believe in Something , Believe in Yourself and Your Family and Your Friends and Let the Good Guys do the Dirty Work as a lot say and let those Type of Heroes Protect who Needs Protecting and Kill those who need Killing because of who those Animals are and what they do !
Hypocrites like You would more or Less , turn the Other Cheek and therefore get Killed for it ! Wake Up to Your Stupid Self Elizabeth King !
Dios te bendiga por tu dedication a Los Mas desposeidos sigue asi sin oir criticas porque esas personas no Los van ayudar solo sirven para criticar y para censurar lo que las personas hacen bien porque elllos no hacen nada ! Siempre q salves a un niño cantaran Los Angeles del cielo (si es que el cielo existe ) el fin justifica Los medios . Dios te Bendiga
Hi sam,didnt you know Jesus Christ does not condone using guns against even your enemies.,Jesus said love your enemies.do good to them that hate you bless them,.If God had spoken to you then He is a miracle working God and would have miraculously delivered the children and Glorify His name ,Sam you are a religious nut, but getting away with it as the bibles have been removed from churches and false bibles prevail. So people do not know the word today. He said we are not to resist evil people. No true Christian needs to be armed as God promises to protect them .IF GOD BE FOR YOU WHO CAN BE AGAINST YOU.Romans8;31-32.I hOPE PEOPLE GET THIS
So Liz! When can we expect you to arrive in Uganda! We want to hear you in practice! Preaching is easy from a safe place….
Liz, what you say is true however Jesus also spoke about not judging others as you are now judging Sam, would you be the first to cast the stone?
This man is so deceived if he believes his own lies,I truly doubt he has even been to places he says he has been and he knows you wont come with him and hang out with him,Jesus tells us to give no appearance of evil and to love your enemies and God is our delivere.Romans8;31-32
Elizabeth King: Your intentions may be good but you walk on shaky ground. We are not to judge others lest we be judged ourselves. “I truly doubt he has even been to places he says he has been and he knows you wont come with him and hang out with him”. You might ask yourself on what authority you ask this question.
Whether or not we agree with his methods or his ministry, he is a Christian brother. If you have issue with him then you should first go to him. Have you done that?
There is a lot of slander going around about this man from Christians and I really think that, as Christians, by doing this in public forums we are not glorifying God. It makes us all look bad and that is not how Jesus instructed us to behave.
We are to love one another and be an example to the world. God will deal with Sam Childers as He sees fit. It is not up to me to judge him or you or anyone else for that matter. Especially, we should not be slandering a fellow Christian especially if we have not had first hand dealings with that person because it is then just rumour.
Our job as followers of Christ is to spread the Gospel of Christ and to love one another.
It is our in fighting and judging anyone who sins (need I say it?) that turns unbelievers away. It is this by this love that I implore all fellow Christ followers to think on this and pray for guidance from the Holy Spirit before we write our opinions, in public forums or speak in public in a way that would contradict the true message that Christ came to give us.
Sam you are not into the new covenant.Jesus bought in a new covenant.[testament]love your enemies .bless and do good.read Mathew5;44-45 and understand the old covenant law is changed,read hebrews7;12 nand hebrews8;6-8.and Galatians3;23-26 and 2Coprinthians3;6-11.and love is now the governing law.I speak as a new testament believer .The old testament was a testament of sin and death,we are free from that law now,Romans8;2…….
Alot of people seem to get hung up on religious debate or simply the fact that Sam Childers has used violence to protect and rescue children in Africa, but I never hear anyone point a blameful hand at an American War Veteran. No one will denounce a soldier for killing his enemies, sometimes for no other reason thank having been ordered to by those in command. When our military kills people in the name of what we believe to be right, we support them and call them heroes. When Sam Childers kills for the safety of African children, who, unlike us, never so much as had the right to vote for representation in deciding which causes were worth fighting for, we call him a murderer and a lunatic, and label him as a sinner. His actions may contradict his beliefs. I can’t argue against that point. But I will say that this man HAS changed lives through his work in Africa, regardless of the light you shed on it, he created a home for these helpless children, and though food, medicine, and hygiene may be problematic, this is going to be the case in any such effort. Our own military struggles with ration shortages on deployment, and the most well-known charities on our own land struggle to feed those that they support. Circumstance will always weigh heavy, but we have to appreciate that this man did SOMETHING. Regardless, there are hundreds of children who are better off now, and alive now, who may not have been had Sam not stepped up to the task, doing what he believed to be right by the means he felt were necessary for the task.
‘I’ve just watched “Machine Gun Preacher”, then read comments below.
sometimes im ashamed to tell people i am a christian because of all the people associated with christianity. but Sam’s story and ministry has really touched my heart and lets me know that there are some christians that are willing to die for their beliefs. “no greater love is there, then a man that lays down he’s life for another”.. thats from the bible. hes a message to some of the “Christians” that are against this man… Rather then critisize him, why not pray for him? i truely believe hes a man after God’s own heart and he is trying in he’s own way to protect those who can’t protect themselves. He may not be perfect or be your typical pastor, but i say to you that to even that ONE child that he saved from violence,he has made a difference in that child’s life.. i salute you Sam. will keep you in our prayers.
I believe in God and all but I’m not the church type,who cares cause I still live my life right and this man is a hero to those who he saves. If you have any thing to say about this man and what he does then you go to Africa and you stand there while people shoot at your head and God or not you are either going to run or shoot back to protect yourself. This is exactly what this man did so are you going to talk bad about him or recognize that you would have done the same or you would be one dead believer!