20 July 2013 – Africa’s White Preacher

Machine Gun Preacher

A recent, lazy Saturday night watching movies introduced me to Joseph Kony, Sam Childers and the horrors of civil war in Africa (not a movie I would normally choose!).  I had of course heard of Kony from the Stop Kony video in 2012, which told of grisly killings, child abductions and rapes allegedly committed by Kony’s Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) in central Africa.  The LRA is classified a terrorist organization by the African Union and the United States and Machine Gun Preacher is a movie that follows the American Sam Childers who travels to Central Africa and experiences the atrocities of the LRA first hand.

The movie starts with a young Childers getting out of jail in America.  He was all over the hard core, bad boy image having a love for motorbikes and the typical lifestyle of an outlaw biker which led to years of drug addiction, drug dealing, alcoholism and violence.

After a pretty nasty incident and with the help of a wife who had converted from stripping to Christianity, Childers himself finds God and becomes fully ingrained in a new life.  While attending church he meets an African based preacher and decides himself to go to Africa.   In that first trip and the many that followed, he witnesses LRA attacks on villages and rescues some of the boy soldiers who are abducted from those village raids.

With a building sense of compassion toward the orphans of the village raids and increasing anger toward the LRA and Kony, Childers decides to build a children’s orphanage village (The Children’s Village) in Southern Sudan, right within LRA territory.   What a great bloke!

However, the thing that most struck me the most about this story, beside the grim reality of the harshness of life in Central Africa, was the personal approach that the movie took when portraying Childer’s crusade.  Whether it was a hollywood angle or a real portrayal of the personal conflict that Childers felt, this white preacher in Africa was certainly a rough diamond.  At one particular point in the movie, when faced with a hellova lot of brick walls and plenty of set backs you witness the obsessive side to Childers.  His attempts at raising money and awareness for the orphanage back home in the US are thwarted and you see the cracks form from the pressure of being a “saviour” as he becomes destructive in his desire to do good.  His aggression comes to the surface as he alienates his family, makes bad decisions that haunt him and begins to question his faith.

A story like this reminds you that life is not black and white and that although there are people out there with truly amazing human spirits, they are only human and there is always a personal side to any crusade that is undertaken in the name of goodness.  There is always something within us that we have to satisfy for ourselves; for whatever good we do there is always a self fulfilling motivation that we need to keep in check.

For Sam this motivation was a new found sense of purpose.  For all the good in Africa that Sam was achieving he was a success, he was a saviour and this helped him to release himself from his own bad deeds of the past.  However unchecked this motivation as well as the compassion he felt for the children of Africa fuelled his rage and in consequent attempts to stop the atrocities he actively hunts and kills members of the LRA army, but in this action he kills the very boy soldiers he is trying to rescue.

And so the pressure builds.  At height of this pressure and his rage, Childers is sent a message from God in the form of a little boy who he had help save from the LRA.  The boy sits with Sam and tells him of how the soldiers had made him kill his mother in order to spare himself and his brother (you can certainly understand Childer’s anger).  But even though the little boy had to do what the soldiers told him, he told Sam that he refused to be filled with hate, as to him this would mean that the enemy had won.

So because of this magic moment Childers came to a realisation.  He had already done so much good.   He had by this time saved many lives and given hope to so many more, therefore he had already succeeded and repaid his debts from the past.  He had nothing more to prove and could continue his work with the sole motivation of providing safety to ‘his children’, free from his past and from the need to fill a gap, a motivation that was not serving him.

Sam Childers has continued to protect and provide hope to the children of Central Africa so that today the Children’s Village houses and educates over 300 orphans,with over a thousand children rescued since its conception.  The staff at the Children’s Village are primarily Sudanese orphans and widows themselves.  And Sam Childers with the help of his wife provides armed, secure orphanages in Sudan, Ethiopia and Uganda.

Just a word of warning though, if you decide to watch the Machine Gun Preacher make sure you have a box of tissues, a very, very, strong stomach and not a picture of Joseph Kony in sight.