After screening the movie, Machine Gun Preacher the night before, I was pretty intimidated to meet Sam Childers and writer Jason Keller in person. Childers (pronounced “Chill-dears), is a former drug-dealing criminal who now risks his life to save and take care of orphan children in Northern Uganda and Southern Sudan, Africa. Keller is listed on the movie’s official website as the “go-to writer of muscular, character-driven projects.” I meet the two in a fancy downtown Seattle hotel – not the kind of place you’d expect to meet the machine gun wielding, Harley Davidson preacher and his macho friend. Instead of intimidation, they both great me with big smiles are hearty handshakes.
Being the last interview of the day of a month-long tour, I ask them if they are getting tired of answering the same questions over and over again. Childers smiles and politely says that all of the interviewers ask the same questions but in different ways so the conversation stays fresh. Then I couldn’t help myself, so I ask, “What is the stupidest question you’ve been asked?” Keller speaks first.
“What’s on your I-Pod?" Childers laughs and then adds one better,
“Who is better looking, Sam Childers or Gerard Butler?” (Butler portrays Childers in the film). Childers shrugs his shoulders and looks horrified that anyone would rank him below Bulter. I like these guys.
Machine Gun Preacher (MGP) is not a “Christian” film per se, but it is filled with spiritual truth and speaks about faith in a very realistic way. The film is filled with stories of personal salvation, prayer, worship, and water baptism. I figure that in order for a film to be so honest about the Christian faith, one must be a believer. “Are you religious yourself?” I ask Keller.
He points to Childers and says, “He says I am, but I don’t.”
“Why do you say that?” I ask.
“I believe in God and Jesus, but I don’t do any of the ritual stuff. I grew up Catholic but I don’t go to church on a regular basis.”
Childers says matter-of-factly, “The bible says that those who believe will be saved.” Whether Keller wants to admit it or not, it is obvious that this journey has made a deep impact on him.
Before typing a word of the script, Keller spent about a year researching, interviewing and even living with Childers and his family. During my interview, Keller is no less passionate than Childers is about the Angels of East Africa and Children’s Village ministries. I ask, “Why do you think that the Marc Forester (Producer and Director of MGP) thought you’d be the best for this writing job?” Childers speaks for Keller and tells me that he is known in the business as a script doctor and would be very good piecing all the parts together.
You may not have heard of Keller before, but this won’t be the last. His next project to come to the screen is the still-untitled Snow White project that is starring Julia Roberts, Sean Bean and Lily Collins. He is also and working on another film, The Tomb, which is set to star Bruce Willis.
MGP shows the good, the bad and the ugly about Childers past life. This includes drug use, swearing, and violence. It would make most people cringe to have their lives so exposed, let alone a minister of the cloth. I ask him if he was happy with the movie’s portrayal of him and if there was anything that he regretted being shown. He tells me that the movie tries to compact about 30 years of his life into 2 hours, so some scenes feel a little false to him. For instance, in the film, his character decides to give up heroin and the next scene we see him in church. Childers tells me that there was about four years between his giving up heroin and when he gave his life to Jesus as his Savior. He doesn’t like the idea that the film could give some the impression that his addiction just went away overnight. Another scene in the movie shows him, in a time of frustration, of going to a bar and drinking a lot. He tells me that that didn’t happen. He has visited bars, but he has been sober for 20 some years, so that scene was a little painful to watch. By and large though, he feels that they crew got the story right.
I mention that at times, the film’s language is quite strong and asks if he regrets that. He tells me that it isn’t anything worse you hear in the real world. His biggest concern isn’t worrying about what others think of him, but that the word can get out letting others know of the atrocities that are still happening in Africa and how they can help.
To learn more about Sam Childers and his ministries, you may enjoy reading the book, “Another Man’s War.” Originally written in 2009, the book has been re-released with photos of the movie. You may also want to visit his website, MachineGunPreacher.org, where you can watch videos, and read stories from the orphan children themselves.