Sam Childers: a Picture of Hopelessness
Sam Childers was born in the town of Grand Forks in North Dakota USA. He has two older brothers, Paul and George, as well as a sister, Donna. Sadly, Donna passed away before she was one year old as a result of heart problems. Sam was brought up in a devout born–again Christian family and his father provided financially with his occupation as an iron worker at the construction industry and was a former Marine.
In 1974, the family moved to Grand Rapids in Minnesota when Sam was 12 years old, however, from the age of 11, Sam had started to experiment with smoking marijuana and alcohol. By the time he was 13, he was doing hard drugs, such as cocaine. At 15, he was self-injecting heroin. This made Sam the black sheep in the family, having a lifestyle of drugs and alcohol abuse mixed with motorcycle gangs as an outlawed biker and becoming a drug dealer.
Throughout this time in his life, Sam continued to slide deeper and deeper into a life of violence and crime, eventually becoming a shotgunner—an armed guard for drug dealers. He openly admits now that at that time, he didn’t value his own life. Sam's life revolved around brawling, selling hard drugs, and adultery, however, during a drug deal, he also met a woman named Lynn, a stripper, who would later become his wife.
Sam Becomes a Man of God
It was during 1985 after a bar fight in Florida that he got involved in a shootout where he nearly lost his life. That near death experience led him to reevaluate his life. That night, he went home to his wife, Lynn, recounting, “We gotta get out of here, because either I’m gonna end up being killed and I’m gonna die for no reason. I want to die for something that’s good not for something that’s stupid.”
With this realization came Sam’s decision to leave his hardened lifestyle as he knew it, move interstate where he would be closer to his parents in Pennsylvania, and farthest (over 1000 miles) from the gangs which he used to be part of.
After relocating to Pennsylvania, Lynn immediately spent more time becoming closer to Sam’s mom and going to church with her. Sam got a job working in construction, all along still being dependent on his drug habit and fighting his demons.
Lynn gave herself to Christ. She and Sam’s mom prayed for him to be strengthened. Lynn kept asking Sam to go to church with her.
At first, Sam was get angry with God, blaming him for stealing his woman. Later on, Sam would say he always knew that Christ was the way, however, he was not ready to make that long term commitment and it wasn't until two years later that he would say, “God here I am.” Then again, God has a way of using the powers of a woman to hear his message.
The Africa Prophecy
In June 1992, Sam attended a service where a preacher guy from South Africa was giving a sermon and offering participants an altar call. In the sermon, the preacher was prophesying about Sam and saying, “the power of the Lord was all over him.” He asked Sam, “What’s your problem?” But Sam didn’t get up. Sam was so furious he wanted to beat the preacher. However, in a sudden turn of fate, within the next 48 hours, he had accepted Jesus and gave his life to Christ. The preacher prophesied that Sam would be going to Africa and be involved in the war there. Sam refused to listen and the preacher replied, “We’ll see.”
Sam Becomes a Pastor at Shekinah Fellowship Church
Sam began to turn his life around with the help of God, his wife, and family members. He recovered from addiction and started his own construction business. Over the next few years, Sam’s construction business continued to grow and he and his wife Lynn were blessed with the birth of their daughter, Samantha. Sam would also go on to build his own church with his own funds and become a Reverend of The Shekinah Fellowship Church while still continuing to manage his business.
Sam Turns into a Machine Gun Preacher
In 1998, Sam took the opportunity to go on a mission to Uganda as a volunteer for a construction project. The mission was only for a few weeks but the experience was to change his life forever after he witnessed firsthand the impact the LRA (Lord’s Resistance Army) was having on the people there.
He witnessed a child get killed by a landmine with half his body blown off. Sam, in personal conversation with God at that time said, “God I will do whatever I can to help these kids.”
Three months later, Sam returned to Uganda to help remove landmines and joined a Christian military group called the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA). He later went on to run a health clinic and help children who were separated from their families during the war reunite with their families.
At the same time this was occurring, Sam’s business floundered and he ended up selling his construction business and used this money to help build an orphanage, spanning forty undeveloped acres in LRA conflict zone of the southern Sudan.
At first, the orphanage was made of mosquito tents and then they soon began building mud brick huts and hired armed soldiers to protect the orphanage against the rebel uprising of the LRA. Sam and the soldiers’ first rescue mission saved over 20 children.
In 2002, the LRA moved back into Uganda and unleashed a genocidal massacre that would lead to the deaths of hundreds of thousands of women, men, children, and their displacement.
As the war in Sudan escalated, the rescues increased with more dormitories, lavatories, and small hospitals and, in 2006, a playground was built for the children. By 2008, the Angels of East Africa has rescued more than eight hundred children and now has over 200 orphans residing at the orphanage, which serves over 2,400 meals a day.
Known as the bearded white man to the African kids, Sam says he knows that the kids know that he and his men will give their lives to save the children. Saying the biggest thing is to show them love, and give them the opportunity to be children again more than just saving their lives, then, according to him, they need help to rehabilitate their life and be taught a certain trade.
To this day, Sam spends most of his life either in Northern Uganda or Southern Sudan. Even though the war officially ended in 2006, there continues to be small skirmishes and children’s lives are at risk and Sam is devout in his resolution to stay there until all conflict is resolved and the children he has rescued are safe.
Sam Writes “Shekinah Fellowship Church” which Led to “The Machine Gun Preacher” Movie
In 2009, he authored a book called “Shekinah Fellowship Church,” which outlines his life experiences, coming to faith, and finding his calling when heading to Sudan on a mission.
Sam’s novel was later turned into a major motion picture entitled “The Machine Gun Preacher” released in 2011. The movie, while staying true to most of Sam’s life and story of faith and overcoming adversities, does deviate from true life events and timelines such as Sam’s faith crisis that he says didn’t happen and the character of Donny who dies in the movie from a heroin overdose that’s inaccurate. Actually, it was Sam’s son who died from an overdose and Donny was a fictional character who helped his family while Sam was on his mission in Sudan.
Sam said that after seeing the movie, he wished it had shown more of his work in the US at his Shekinah Fellowship Church, however, he understood the point of the movie was about what he was doing in Africa and where he had come from thirty years earlier.
Today, Sam spends his time between East Africa and the USA. While he is in the US he is constantly at churches and schools, talking about overcoming drug addictions and his ministry in Sudan, Uganda, Somalia, and Ethiopia as well as helping to end sex trafficking in the USA. His wife Lynn runs their church and his daughter Samantha and her husband manage the nonprofit Angels of East Africa Organization along with Sam’s bike shop. This allows Sam more time to preach and share his message of Christ and his crusade.
Sam Childers Hunts Down Joseph Kony
Sam defends her father’s name as some seek to defame him and his actions, saying that fighting fire with fire must not be condoned. He was also judged when an employee at the orphanage stole money and told lies to the media. Sam still publicly speaks of Joseph Kony—LRA leader—and his need to be brought to justice after being convicted of over 33 charges of war crimes. Kony still remains at large and was reportedly laughing away the convictions.
Interestingly, since the movie was released his ministry’s income has dropped 35%. This should be offset by the royalties from the movie but Sam is still yet to be paid. Asked about this, he simply says, “We’ve got unbelievable things we will do for every child.”
Sam Childers' Vanity Fair Interview
Ian Urbina, a reporter for the New York Times, wrote an article published in Vanity Fair about his "adventure" with the Machine Gun Preacher as he goes with him in his quest to capture LRA leader Joseph Kony. You may read about the complete article here.
The final words Sam has about his movie are: “This movie is not about Sam Childers. It’s about you. What are you going to do?”
- 1992: Converted to Christianity
- 1996: Started Shekinah Fellowship, based in Central Pennsylvania
- 1998: Went to Sudan, Founded Angels of East Africa
- 2001: Orphanage land purchased and building begins.
- 2009: Published Book, Another Man’s War
- 2011: Machine Gun Preacher Toronto Film Festival
- 2012: Machine Gun Preacher wins Golden Globe Award (Best Original Song)