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Interview: Sam Childers, the ‘Machine Gun Preacher’

Posted on September 23, 2011 at 8:00 am

Sam Childers is the “Machine Gun Preacher” who inspired a movie by that name, starring Gerard Butler.  His book, Another Man’s War: The True Story of One Man’s Battle to Save Children in the Sudan tells the story of his journey from biker to builder to preacher to protector of African children.

What have you learned about people’s reactions to the movie?

We’ve had over a thousand people email us or Facebook us or call our office because they’ve seen the movie.  The message is coming across what we were hoping would happen.  They’re going to the movie because of Gerard Butler or because it’s the true story of Sam Childers.  But it turns out the movie is about them. That is the ultimate thing I was wanting to see.  It’s making them think, “What am I doing?”  It’s motivating people that might have never done anything in life to save children, not just children in Africa but children around the world.  I think people will be inspired to walk away from habits and addictions and even people that don’t have addictions are going to want to end up doing something good in life.  Thousands of children will be rescued around the world by people who have seen this movie.

How do you keep yourself from being spiritually exhausted by the devastation in this tragic place?

I believe that the average American when we look at what’s going on in Africa will say there is no way we can fix the problem so we do nothing.  We have a serious drug problem in America but I won’t allow people to sell hard drugs in my home town.  I will shut them down.  If we say to ourself “there’s nothing we can do” it keeps growing and growing.  But even if you manage to do something small, you’ve done something.  Even the smallest thing can change someone’s life.  I always encourage people — don’t look how big the problem is.  Look at the little thing you can do on your own.

I started out doing something little.  I went to Africa to spend five weeks putting roofs on a building.  I seen the small child that stepped on a land mine.  Three months later I’m back helping pull the land mines out.  Little things just kept getting bigger and bigger and bigger.  And now look, there’s a movie!

I tell people all the time, don’t give up.  We get almost to our blessing, whether you believe spiritually in God or in a good force and an evil force.  We get almost to our blessing and we quit.  Don’t stop.

Do you have a favorite Bible verse?

James Chapter 4, verse 17.  If you know you should do something and not do it, then you’ve sinned.  I use it a lot.

How do you divide your time?

I spend about seven months of the year overseas and the rest of the time on the road.  God has given us the opportunity to speak to bigger and bigger — I don’t like to say audiences or congregations, but the crowds are getting bigger.  And we’ve had over 15,000 people make life commitments.  I don’t like to consider myself a normal preacher.  When you look at religious people, they’re the ones who hung Christ from the cross.  I look at myself as a man carrying a message of hope.  I don’t care who you are, if you don’t have any addictions you still want to hear your message of hope.  And if you do have addictions, you need to hear that message.

The movie indicates that you had some rough times and got in trouble before finding your way.

That’s Hollywood’s way of amping something up.  I was in jail, not prison.  Did they give me a uniform?  Yeah they did.  My dad was really a hard person and if was ever to rob somebody, oh, man, he couldn’t handle that.  All the times I was in jail it was for fighting.  And robbing drug dealers, I done that.  I thank God that I’m alive to this day.

In the movie, there is some conflict with your family about money.

My family did suffer but they never went without.  The more we get, the more we want, the more we want the more we think we deserve.  If you would come and see the simple home I live in you would see I am not in this thing for money.  I got paid less than $45,000 last year.  I could pay myself more but it would mean less money would go where it is needed.

What made you decide to trust someone to make a movie about you?

After we were on Dateline we got so many hits it crashed our website.  We got over 300 offers for books and movies and documentaries.  I wasn’t even thinking about that.  I was scared.  I didn’t want it and tried to stay away from it.  But a lady convinced me to put my story in a book, and the book has saved thousands of lives, even people who were going to commit suicide.  The movie only shows you a small fraction of who Sam Childers was, how awful a person I was.  No sooner than the book was done but it wasn’t published yet.  It went to a ghost-writer and he said, “I can’t change the way this guy talks.”  So he just put it in chapters.  Then I met Jason Keller and I put him to the test.  I was hard on him.  My life is all about what Christ has done for me, but that’s too much Christ to write for Hollywood.  I told him, “Then I’ll die with the story.”  So he done his best to keep what was in it, in it.

How many kids are you caring for now?

I have 179 children that I take care of full-time, close to 40 in Uganda and the rest in Sudan.  They’re coming close to university age now and the better schools are in Uganda.  My biggest problem now is school fees.  I have the only library in Sudan.  It has videos, DVDs, computers, and we’re just starting to finish a school we built off the compound, to be given to the community.  The children have been amazing.  It’s been a hard road for them as you can see in the movie.  The children even down to this day have a lot of trust with me.  There hasn’t been any killing around the orphanage in two years but when it was bad they would just come and hang me me, as I’d walk around with my gun at my side.   Sudan got their independence but they have no infrastructure.  If anything happens and fighting breaks out again, they will bring the kids to us to care for.  And we now have places for children in Ethiopia, too.

What do they want to do when they grow up?

Doctor, pilot, woodworker.  It’s amazing what you’ll hear them say.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Interview: Jason Keller of ‘Machine Gun Preacher’

Posted on September 22, 2011 at 3:56 pm

Jason Keller wrote the screenplay for “Machine Gun Preacher,” based on the true story of Sam Childers, whose book, Another Man’s War: The True Story of One Man’s Battle to Save Children in the Sudan, tells the story of his journey from biker to preacher to fighting to protect the children of Sudan and Uganda from genocide.

How did you get involved in this project?

Almost four years ago one of the producers called me and said, “I just heard the most amazing story.”  Sam was coming to Los Angeles so we met.  I didn’t know if I wanted to do the movie at first, as electrifying as the story was.  What the story let me to was Central Africa and I wanted to drill down and understand what the LRA is and about the child soldiers, and I couldn’t not write the movie.

That is such a large, overwhelming topic — how do you create a movie script out of that?  How do you decide what to leave out?

I didn’t want to write a political movie.  That wasn’t what touched me as I started to learn about Sam’s life and Central Africa.  I think of myself as fairly well-informed.  I read the newspaper, I’m constantly watching the news, I always challenge myself to learn about things that are not easy to learn about.  And here was a part of the world I thought I knew and as I got deeper into it there was an emotional response to what I was learning.  Innocent civilians being slaughtered and no one was doing anything about it.  I wanted to do a movie that would make people inspired, even angry, but not clutter it with politics.

What I’m proud of is that it isn’t so neat and tidy about Sam or about Central Africa.  There are no easy answers.  Sam’s not a great guy, even now.  It’s not a story of a bad guy turned good guy.  It’s about a human being who decided to make different choices, but he’s still flawed.  He’s still violent.  He’s still intimidating.  He’s still making mistakes.  It’s that messiness I responded to as a fellow human being.

You had quite a challenge with making this a movie that will appeal to a mainstream audience.  You have a religious conversion and you have problems in Africa.  How do you make those accessible to a wide audience?

Both of those issues are scary for Hollywood and to some degree to audiences.  We didn’t avoid those issues but we told a story that didn’t try to tell you what was right or wrong.  I didn’t take this project on to defend the way Sam does things.  Do you agree with him?  Let’s talk about it.  You might disagree with the religious components of this movie but let’s talk about it.  Let’s spark a conversation.  That’s the only way that we’re going to stay vigilant about these issues that are so vital.

Gerard Butler gives an extraordinary performance.

He has the physical presence for the role and like Sam he comes from a tough background, was going down a bad path early in his life.  He’s a perfect fit.

You lived with the family for a while in Pennsylvania.  What was that like?

It was crazy.  Every time he’d come to LA, we would meet.  As I was being pulled deeper and deeper into the story I realized I needed to go where this guy lives, see the church he built with his bare hands, meet his family.  I slept in their very modest house tucked out of nowhere in Pennsylvania.  I even slept in the church once, just to get the feeling of it.

That was the thing that really hooked me when it came time to commit to writing Sam’s life.  There are far too many amazing tales and he could tell you stories that would make your head spin around.  I listened to those, eagerly, for months and months and they were interesting and important.  But it wasn’t until I grasped the price that that man pays and that his wife paid and continues to pay for what he does over there.  Once I got that, it punched through all the other stuff and I was able to see that raw truth, that’s when Sam and the family came into focus for me and I knew this was the story I had to tell.

 

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