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November 4th, 2011
05:00 PM ET

Drug-runner turned preacher saves lives and souls in Sudan

By Richard Allen Greene and Nima Elbagir, CNN

London (CNN) – Sam Childers still looks like the drug-running biker he used to be, rolling a toothpick around his mouth under a big gray handlebar mustache while sporting jeans and a leather Harley jacket. But now when he grabs a gun it's to save children caught up in one of Africa's most brutal wars.

While the transition from tough biker to tough freedom fighter might not be that great a stretch, Childers has made another leap that is in some ways much greater. He has become a Christian preacher.

"I am a preacher. I believe in the right to carry a firearm," he says with a laugh.

Childers found God in the 1990s, he says, the beginning of a journey that led him to open an orphanage in Sudan, giving shelter to children victimized by the guerrilla Lord's Resistance Army - the same group President Barack Obama just sent a small contingent of U.S. troops to help fight.

Childers first visited the region in 1998 on a church mission to help repair homes damaged in war.

The experience changed his life.

"When I went to Sudan nearly 15 years ago and I stood over a small body of a child that stepped on a landmine, I knew I could do something," he says. "I just didn't know what it was going to be."

What it turned out to be was to return to Sudan to help with landmine removal, and then the founding of Angels of East Africa, a charity which Childers says has now rescued more than 1,000 children "from starvation, disease and enslavement by the brutal Lord's Resistance Army."

The Lord's Resistance Army, led by Joseph Kony, is known for extraordinary brutality, including mutilating children in front of their families or forcing them to kill siblings or parents.

The International Criminal Court wants to get its hands on Kony, and United States considers the LRA a terrorist organization.

The group strikes terror into people in the region - but not into Childers, he says.

"I don't get terrified. I got my gun," he says, grinning.

In fact, Childers does not describe himself primarily as a preacher.

"I don't claim to be a religious person. I claim to be a freedom fighter," he says. "I have a tractor trailer that I travel with that says 'freedom fighter' on the side."

In fact, the nickname he attracted in Sudan combines both elements of his character: Machine Gun Preacher.

Childers now shares the name with a movie about his life, released this weekend and starring "300's" Gerard Butler as Childers - though with a considerably less impressive mustache.

Childers says his belief in freedom is tied up with his belief in Jesus.

"There's always them Christians or those Muslims or those Buddhists that believes their way is the only way," Childers says.

He is not one of them.

"If you want to serve Allah, fine. If you want to serve Buddha, fine," he says.

"I believe in freedom. Jesus Christ was all about freedom. So what I'm saying is, I fight for that freedom. I am a freedom fighter, but me and my family, we choose to serve Jesus Christ," he declares.

There's no religious test to get into his orphanage or feeding programs, he says.

"We feed about 3,500 meals a day right now. I've never asked a child, 'Are you Christian or are you Muslim?' Never will," he insists.

In fact, he is about to expand his program to take over what he calls "a struggling orphanage in Ethiopia that is Muslim," and he says he will not seek converts.

But, he says, he preaches across the United States - where he still lives - and to those who want to hear it in Africa.

"I am there to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ. Anywhere were I go around the world that's what I do," he says, claiming he has "brought the message of hope" to more than 15,000 people in the last year alone.

He talks about his mission as a way of atoning for his past.

"Maybe I've done the things that I've done, helping people over the years, because I hurt so many people years ago," he says.

"I don't know, but I do know that every day I want to help someone, no matter where I'm at," he adds. "Our mission went from working in Sudan, to three projects in Ethiopia now. We have three projects in Uganda, we have the project in Sudan, (and) we have a camp ground in Pennsylvania working with troubled youth."

He hopes the movie will inspire others to serve, he says.

"It's not about Sam Childers anymore," he says. "It's not about Gerard Butler anymore."

"I believe a lot of people are asking and wanting to know, 'What should I do?' and this is what I tell everyone: Educate yourself about what's going on in Sudan - not just Sudan but around the world," he urges.

"Find somewhere that you're comfortable or a non-profit that you're comfortable with supporting, and get behind them and support them."

"Machine Gun Preacher" does not fall into the long tradition of movies about white men who fix Africa's problems, and Childers says that's as it should be.

"If anything, the children saved me. Yeah, they saved me," he reflects. "You know, I wasn't a good person. Maybe they gave me a purpose to live."

– CNN's Raheela Mahomed contributed to this report

- Newsdesk editor, The CNN Wire

Filed under: Africa • Christianity • Movies

soundoff (676 Responses)
  1. mickey

    GOD: God is the Creator of the universe in all its dimensions and the source of Knowledge in all sentient beings.
    God has sent a New Revelation, a Teaching and a Pathway to rekindle humanity’s relationship with the Creator as we face living in a declining world. The New Message comes with the Will and Power of God to unite the world’s religions, to end our ceaseless conflicts and to call forth the greater gifts that each person has brought into the world. The New Message is the largest Revelation of its kind ever to be given to humanity.
    We stand at the threshold of Great Waves of environmental, economic and political upheaval and change which will alter the face of Earth. Humanity must unite to prevent collapse from within and subjugation from without.
    Each of us has been sent into the world for a greater purpose, waiting to be discovered. This greater purpose resides beyond the realm and the reach of the intellect, in Knowledge that lives deep within us.
    KNOWLEDGE: Knowledge is the core reality within us, a deeper mind beyond the intellect, and is our direct connection to God. Knowledge represents the part of us that has never left God. Instinct and Intuition are at the surface of Inner Knowledge.
    We live in a Greater Community of intelligent life in the universe for which humanity must prepare.
    We live in both a mental and physical environment. The mental environment contains forces that affect our thinking and emotions and that can dominate us until we become strong with Knowledge.

    http://newmessage.org

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    February 24, 2012 at 1:34 pm |
  2. Ruth Joseph

    Hi commentators,

    As I was reading this article, I laughed myself to death. When you don't know anything, you will believe anything. First let me say this man is not a Christian regardless of what he says. The bible says, it is those who believe the word God who will be saved. Now, for Mr. Childers who think that Allah and Buddha are the way is himself definitely on his way to meet them soon (hell). Jesus said " I am the way, the truth and the life and no one comes through the Father but by me." For the rest of you who do not believe in the gospel , I can simply pray for you and pray that one day you come to know the awesome and marvelous love of God.

    Goodnight.

    November 16, 2011 at 8:31 pm |
    • Drew2

      Ruth, you "laughed yourself to death" while deciding that this man is going to hell? All the while considering yourself a Christian while HE saves lives, and souls, in Africa. Ruth I am glad that God will be the judge of all things and not you.

      November 20, 2011 at 3:12 pm |
  3. PonderItYourselFirst

    REALLY???!!! Wanna bet?

    November 8, 2011 at 10:12 am |
  4. doctore0

    Religion = The most dangerous drug in the world; Nothing kills and destroys like religion

    November 7, 2011 at 8:59 am |
    • Bob Jones

      Yes, I agree. But like with everything, there is a good side and a bad side.
      This man has chosen to use it for a good purpose. The only problem I have is him spreading his belief to others. I think that your beliefs are personal, private. They are something very personal.
      He's nothing more than an armed missionary. But that being said, even armed missionaries can do good, like this man.

      November 7, 2011 at 11:38 am |
    • Rick

      Anyway, no drug, not even alcohol, causes the fundamental ills of society. If we're looking for the source of our troubles, we shouldn't test people for drugs, we should test them for stupidity, ignorance, greed and love of power.
      P. J. O'Rourke

      November 7, 2011 at 4:21 pm |
    • Chris

      Not in this case it seems

      November 9, 2011 at 2:18 am |
  5. unowhoitsme

    He walks his talk, putting his faith into action. Admirable.

    November 7, 2011 at 3:29 am |
    • tallulah13

      whatever happened to "turn the other cheek.' I could have sworn that was one of Jesus' quotes.

      November 7, 2011 at 3:32 am |
  6. A samaritan

    Good samaritans for Christ, showing love and compassion. The world needs more and more and more of this DNA.
    Thanks Childers.

    November 6, 2011 at 2:04 pm |
    • Bob

      despite it being far from what the bible actually teaches.

      Now hurry up with your Sunday goat sacrifice. God is getting impatient for burning flesh.

      November 6, 2011 at 5:10 pm |
    • Enema Bandit

      This is my rifle. There are many like it but this one is mine.

      November 6, 2011 at 7:51 pm |
    • Doris

      There are millions of them quietly helping others.

      November 7, 2011 at 1:40 am |
    • Rick

      This is my rifle, this is my gun
      This is for killin', this is for fun

      November 7, 2011 at 4:22 pm |
  7. Don Kiedic

    That's a Horseshoe mustache, not a Handlebar.

    November 6, 2011 at 1:16 pm |
    • Enema Bandit

      I know right? Stupid CNN. Haven't done their fact checking.

      November 6, 2011 at 7:52 pm |
  8. James

    I Think They Could Do Better As A Free Thinker Than Withe A Religious Crusader.The Frre thinker With teach Them Real world things like math and science.Not Something azz backwards as Conflicting Religions.With what the free thinker gives them they will realize they can join up With a Religious Group Move Up The Ranks And And Become Head. Making Millions And Starting harem Of Women.

    November 6, 2011 at 1:10 pm |
    • Enema Bandit

      I think there are plenty of people there helping without Mr. Drug Lord in love with his machine gun there selling tickets for his movie.

      November 6, 2011 at 7:55 pm |
    • Boris

      The free thinker is too selfish to do anything other than complain and rip on other peoples' beliefs. By the way...Less camel caps = less people think you're a moron.

      November 6, 2011 at 10:32 pm |
  9. citizen x

    XxMacleodxX: my point exactly...... how do u come out africa as a black african? with african features and make black people? doesnt make sense? geneology test have proven blacks are original people?

    November 6, 2011 at 10:52 am |
    • Enema Bandit

      Modern man (physically) came out of Africa 150 to 200 thousand years ago. Not sure what your take is about but I am just pointing out the truth.

      November 6, 2011 at 7:58 pm |
  10. Just Some Guy

    It is sad that these discussions always breakdown into an argument over who's religon is more correct, or how religious people are fools. Is a good work not a good work regardless of religious viewpoint? Why not recognize this man's efforts as a good work, and stop detracting from them, and the works of good people all over the world, because of their religion? If a Muslim, or a Hindu were participating in an action that positively influences the lives of the oppressed, as I am sure some do, I would not say that the work was any less good because they held differing religious views. Respect the man for his work.

    November 6, 2011 at 10:29 am |
    • Drew

      Awesome post. We definitely need more recognition of good works regardless of which religion (or not) it comes from. What is good is good, no matter the source.

      Seems to me there's this idea in some kinds of Christianity where the only good comes from Christ, thus making it safe to oppose or condemn good things if they come from non-Christian sources. I tend to invert that belief. That is, if there is a higher power, then that which is good is tapped into, or at least aligned with that power, whether it's explicitly done in the name of that power or not.

      Seems to make sense to me, since the reverse is clearly true: all kinds of horrible things have been done in the name of Christ, or God, or other religions. So the religious label you slap on the action or intention has much less meaning or impact on reality than the actual harm or goodness in the intention and the action.

      November 6, 2011 at 4:00 pm |
    • Enema Bandit

      Religious people are fools. Hey, go buy a ticket to this bad movie. Make sure you pay full price!

      November 6, 2011 at 8:00 pm |
    • Eric B. Hutchison

      You made a good, and relevant point Just Some Guy. Regardless of what Sam Childers believes in, he is willing not only to help people in Sudan, but share his faith as well. For the record, I am also a Christian. He is making a difference. Whatever, or whoever a person believes in, kindness and charity are two good character traits. So let the Sam Childers of the world do what they choose to do, and recognize them for what they are doing, to help others. One person can make a difference.

      November 6, 2011 at 8:57 pm |
    • Herby Sagues

      Some times, a good work is a good work regardless of the religious viewpoint. I think this guy's is. But many times it is not.
      Christian preachers came to America to do "God's work". In many cases they ended up destroying whole civilizations in the name of God. Some (many) were more concerned about saving "sould" (that is, converting people) than in helping people.
      Even today, you see many missionaries (though by no means all) that are much more focused on converting people than in helping them to live a better life. Even highly exposed ones like Mother Theresa spent much more in building houses of worship and teachning the bible than in healing the ill, which is what they are known for (there's no space here for all the references, but there's plenty of evidence of all that I'm saying from reputable sources).
      So I don't see a reason to turn this particular article into a religious debate (other than noting that it is more often crooked people that turn into religion than good people living good lives that do) but there often is a very valid reason to do so as many waste their lifes "helping" in the wrong way.

      November 7, 2011 at 2:35 am |
  11. citizen x

    the mormons are mormons..... not christians.... they believe black people were created in a dark skin form to represent the dark side of creation. they believe there was a pre earth war in heaven. the whites fought on gods side... thus their white skin others fought on the devils side... & the blacks played the fence. if u think about it? it's quite oxymoronic, considering the more melanin u have in your skin ..the more u absorb the light of our world..(the sun). and whites have a recessive melanin gene. (thus white skin). the mormons also get names from death certificates & suppoosedly pray for their souls and make them members of the church. thus their socalled growing numbers. i personally dont do religion. god made man, man made religion. 1 last thing about all religions that makes no sense. most religions... say that the 1stman was made in the image of god. science proves that the 1st people & the garden of eden were found in africa. yet none of the religous figures in history are represented as such.... matter of fact .. their land has been pillaged... people enslaved.... and they have been sent on a diaspora. it would be the futuristic equivalent of people prayin to a black george washington!

    November 6, 2011 at 10:29 am |
    • XxMacleodxX

      no they don't...like every Christian in the world they believe blacks were created by Cain when he left the garden and mated with ham (means black or dark in the original Hebrew language) not saying it is true but your facts on religion are screwed.....the original Hebrew do not believe they were the first created either

      November 6, 2011 at 10:43 am |
    • citizen x

      my point exactly how do u come out africa as a black african? with african features and make black people? doesnt make sense? geneology test have proven blacks are original people?

      November 6, 2011 at 10:57 am |
    • Enema Bandit

      OMG dorks....black skin is a mutation, just like every other color of skin. You are so stupid.

      November 6, 2011 at 8:03 pm |
    • Herby Sagues

      When people got out of africa they were not "black" or "white". They were semi-apelike people, with relatively dark skin under their mostly thick body hair. As they lost their hair after moving to different locations around the world (and also those that stood in Africa) their skin colors diversified as different mutations came up. If it hadn't been for the continuous cross-breeding over the millenia, they could have diversified into different species (and probably did, but the splinter species went extinct, or more likely were driven to extinction). But due to the gene exchange, we remained as a single species, with significant genetic variation that leads to different skin colors, hair colors, eye colors and more.

      November 7, 2011 at 2:29 am |
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.