A ministry’s gunplay and steely resolve
Sam Childers has a big ego, and not just because he thinks he’s better looking than Gerard Butler, the actor who plays him in “Machine Gun Preacher,’’ which opens Friday.
“I didn’t know who Gerard Butler was. When I heard him talk, I was really concerned; he has a strong Scottish accent. For him to portray me in that movie, he had to get it, here in his heart. When I seen that fire in his eyes, I knew he got it,’’ says Childers, a self-described “hillbilly from Pennsylvania.’’
Childers’s ego comes with a portfolio. His life - violent drug dealer finds religion, starts his own church, builds an orphanage in civil war-ravaged Southern Sudan and becomes equal parts Mother Teresa and Rambo - seems tailor-made for Hollywood. “Machine Gun Preacher,’’ says Childers in a recent Boston interview, depicts his transformation accurately. Childers sold the rights to his story, then kept his fingers crossed that director Marc Forster and screenwriter Jason Keller, who lived with and followed Childers for a year, would get it right.
With muscled, tattooed biceps showing from his sleeveless denim
“I would never stand behind a pulpit and say what I did was right. But I know over one thousand children that would,’’ he says. “I’m not here to please everyone. One day we’re all gonna have to explain a few things to the Man. Unfortunately, I’m gonna have him tied up for a while, ’cause I got a lot of things to explain. But I rescue children.’’
Childers is candid that he is embracing the platform the film gives him to talk to the media about the atrocities that continue even after people in the region voted overwhelmingly for independence from the north in a July referendum. He wants people to visit his website, read his 2009 memoir, “Another Man’s War,’’ and do their part to help the cause. He also wants to call attention to the work his ministry does at home. Next, Childers hopes to sell an unscripted TV series that will follow the “second chances’’ his ministry gives to “prostitutes, the homeless, crack addicts.’’
“I believe in second chances,’’ he says, recounting how a contractor named Clyde Carter gave him a job as a roofer and then made him a partner in his construction business. That led to Childers building the orphanage, and shaped his credo that if “you give [a person] a purpose, you could change his life.’’
“I’m not violent,’’ he says about the controversy that dogs his work. “I do what I have to do for the situation. Every life is precious.’’ He explains how, through private donations, he put a young prostitute through college - she’s now a medical assistant, he says proudly - and how he supports a young pregnant woman he met in Africa to keep her from getting an abortion.
“What does it cost to save a life? Five thousand? Six thousand? It’s not about saving children with violence; it’s about saving children with any resource you have,’’ he says. “The average Christian would never have done that. But the average Christian don’t save children. I do.’’
Loren King can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.