Saturday, November 22, 2014

Machine Gun Preacher is a leather-clad enigma

Sam Childers is a tough guy for me to figure out. It doesn't seem like I'm alone in that assessment.

He is the author of a couple books, subject of an award-winning biopic in which Gerard Butler played him, is a missionary to children in Africa and is known as the Machine Gun Preacher.

I went to a book-signing of his last week in Rapid City. Frankly, I'd never heard of the guy, but in reading the "tonight's happenings" in the paper I decided to Google his name and he looked like an interesting man I'd like to meet. I didn't know it until I arrived, but the event was hosted by a local Baptist church, and I think they were expecting a lot more people, since it was held at the Ramkota, but only about 30-35 people showed up. They were set up for a couple hundred.

He's an interesting fella, to say the least. A former druggie, dealer, alcoholic and motorcycle gang member, he found Christ and is doing Christ's work as he sees fit, and probably not as more conventional Christians might be comfortable with. Childers admits as much in his second book Living on the Edge, saying he carries the Bible in one hand and an AK47 in the other.

Oddly enough, there are similarities between Childers and Bobby Trane, the main character in my most recent novel which is in its editing stage at the moment. Though in Bobby Trane's case, it's more that he's just an unconventional man of the cloth, without most of the foibles Childers has overcome.

I just finished reading Childers' second book (which he signed for me). I found myself alternately thinking "this guy is a head case" and then "but he's doing some really good things." Even listening to his presentation the other night I felt like the guy was really full of himself. At times I thought he was just using this missionary thing to pad his own wallet. He's still rough around the edges, as one would imagine a person needs to be when operating in the Ugandan and Sudanese areas he does.

But as I've taken some time to digest his book and the presentation, I've concluded that he needs to be the way he is in order to do the things he does. I don't think you could take a seminary-educated, middle-class raised, polite, soft-spoken minister and plop him into the middle of Africa and expect him to survive two weeks much less go on to open six children's villages and provide safe refuge and education for older teens like Childers has. He seems to be a man who has gone through the things he's gone through for a reason, and he's making the most of it. He's helping people, and doesn't seem to really care what others think of his methods, though he spends a lot of time talking and writing about what they say.

He acknowledges his faults, seems to recognize that many don't agree with his methods. But, all in all, he's doing more good in this world than most of the people I'll see in church tomorrow, me included. God's speed, Mr. Childers.

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