The first thing that strikes you about Sam Childers is his mustache. A walrus-esque thingamajig that crawls about his lips. A part of his face that he should, perhaps let go but won’t because it has become a trademark look for him. Together with a balding head and an American country-singer accent, he cuts the ultimate bad boy look; the proverbial ‘no nonsense’ kind of guy. He looks like a character from a Bikers Movie, one who rides a gigantic BMW bike with wide handles and a hot lass clad skimpily at the backseat. The kind that wouldn’t think twice to shoot you in the head if you, even inadvertently, checked out that hot lass. He looks like he has never known or lived by rules.
Sam Childers is the eponymous protagonist of the blockbuster movie, the Machine Gun Preacher starring Gerald Butler. The nick name is a honor he has carved off of his famed work in south Sudan. Stories abound, even in the remotest of villages in northern Uganda and South Sudan, about the Machine Gun Preacher’s works of philanthropy. When tracking him down for an interview before Christmas, my pursuit led me to Adjumani where he was making a donation to the Nyumanzi Settlement camp.
I got to hear of the first story from a young Sudanese girl, a little over 10 years. I met her at the Sam Childer’s Orphanage in Gulu, where I spent the night before the interview. She was engrossed in a narration to new occupants of the new orphanage, or so they looked, about the legend of the Machine Gun Preacher.
When I met him the next day, the first thing I noticed were his tattoos. At 56, he wore his tattoos proudly. The words, Machine Gun Preacher are emblazoned in blue ink across both of his arms. Because he is a busy man, we had to do the interview as he drove to Adjumani. A few minutes into the journey and we had struck rapport. He started spewing many of the philanthropic ideologies he believed in as soon as we sat in his double cabin.
We drove behind two Lorries; one carried 6 tons of rice that he had gotten from his farm in Nwoya. While the other carried 3 cows, all for donation to the Nyumanzi refugee camp. I notice that he has a pistol, and so does his counterpart and business partner, Justine. So my first line of questioning was how he got acquainted to the whole idea of carrying around a gun (because well, the people who do so in Uganda are gun slingers who shoot at people at the slightest excuse.) To which he replied that back in the states, especially in the city of Pennsylvania where he was bred, it was culture that fathers take their children for hunting.
“My father taught me how to shoot a gun when I was as young as 5,” relayed Childers.
Before he came to Uganda, he lived in Pennsylvania, USA. And years before he left for a missionary project in Southern Sudan, he was simply known as reverend Sam. But he had a darker life before ministry.
“I was a drug addict, a dangerous biker who got involved in so many illegal things. My turning point came when I almost died during a bar brawl. I decided to give my life to serving the lord after that,” recounts Childers.
When we reach Adjumani at noon, the sun is scorching hot. The Nyumanzi Settlement looks abandoned. There is almost no activity in the area. Yet visible when we are negotiating parking, are peeping eyes from the mud and wattle shacks in the settlement. People later come out but they share in a frail approach to movement and activity.
The secretary for people with special needs, Gabriel Lual Magot says most of the refugees are elderly.
“35% of the people here are elderly people and children, all incapacitated on the front of cultivation. They are hungry because the 6 kilograms of sorghum per head we receive from UN is not enough for the 30 days. Yet, even if we were to attempt cultivation, the plots we own are too small. The soil texture is good, but the climate is unpredictable. Rainfall is a myth here,” explains Magot, highlighting the nature of welfare on the Nyumanzi Settlement camp.
When the community gathers to receive the donation, Sam Childers can’t contain his excitement. He abandons the car and gets lost in the crowd of refugees. The moment he steps out of the car, the young people are hugging him, while the elderly women flash their toothless smiles.
Gabriel Lual Magot intimates to me that without this donation, the community wasn’t going to celebrate Christmas. “We were just going to pray and go back to our homes because celebrating, to us, is a farfetched luxury.”
When addressing the community, after the 6 tons of rice and 3 cows were offloaded, Sam Childers urged everyone to join the struggle.
“There are so many people who buy each other gifts in the festive season, but what is the use of buying someone an object they can afford. How about such resources be channeled to people who actually luck. Such resources, however small, may change and save lives. My donation today is not an act of showbiz, and shouldn’t be interpreted as thus. Because it was a vision I got from God and I am simply fulfilling God’s work. I could have sold that produce from my farm and got thousands of dollars but my calling was to bring it here. The recipients should thus, not thank me but God who enabled me. This is also a call for other people who have the capacity to donate to join hands in such philanthropy feats and help the campaigns provide for the deprived,” relayed Sam Childers.
That is, however, not the only donation he has done this year. In August, with help from the south Sudan army, he rescued 32 children from the ongoing war and provided shelter and education for them.
“My foundation (Angels of East Africa) provides over 8,000 meals to school children every day through our programs across the country. We also help most of these children, especially the naturally gifted and zealous ones to further their educations when they lack school fees,” relayed Sam.