Before Sam Childers was a father, founder of one of the largest orphanages in Southern Sudan, and a recipient of the Mother Teresa Memorial International Award for Social Justice, he was a drug-addicted, armed guard for drug dealers.
“I was on a dead end street. I was most likely to never succeed in life,” he told the Rivard Report on Friday afternoon at Haven for Hope. “I’m going to share what happened in my life.”
On Friday, Childers and members of the local Armor of God Motorcycle Ministry rode up on their motorcycles to the Haven for Hope Prospect Courtyard, where a crowd of Haven for Hope employees, program members, and the Warriors for Christ from Grace Bible Church sat waiting. They were gathered to hear his testimony meant to inspire those at Haven for Hope to work toward achieving a healthier, more fulfilling life.
It’s not often that missionaries drive Harley Davidson motorcycles and wear leather vests exposing their heavily-tattooed arms, but there was no questioning Childers’ devout faith when he began to speak.
“I’m wanting to give a message that’s gonna change at least one life,” he said.
As a crowd of more than 100 people gathered around and listened, Childers explained how simply associating with the wrong crowd as a kid shattered the values he attained from his middle-class upbringing, and led him to start using drugs. By 14 years old, he said, he was using cocaine. By 15, he had developed a heroin addiction.
Eventually, Childers starting working for drug dealers, leading a life of violence and crime, and eventually selling and running drugs himself. It wasn’t until he had a near-death experience during a bar fight that the wheels of change were set in motion.
“I went home and said, ‘I’m tired of this life’ and I went and told my wife that we were moving,” he said.
After moving more than 1,000 miles away from his home in Florida and cutting ties with all of his former friends, something he said is completely necessary for someone wanting to move on, he and his wife, Lynn, settled down, eventually having a son. After a few years, Childers found God.
“There are other ways to be successful, but all of my success in my life came through giving my life to Jesus Christ,” he told the audience, who responded with applause.
Childers’ reconnection to his faith led him on a mission trip to Africa in the midst of the second Sudanese war. His dangerous and passionate work helping child soldiers and war victims at clinics and orphanages eventually garnered him the name “Machine Gun Preacher,” since being in a war zone meant he often had a machine gun in one hand and a Bible in the other.
Childers’ experiences eventually inspired him to write several books, which were later turned into a film, “The Machine Gun Preacher,” starring Gerard Butler. He still works in Africa, he said, and is on the verge of opening his 6th orphanage in Southern Sudan, aiding thousands of children in the war-torn area.
It is clear when you speak with Childers, who is both confident and wise, what an effective preacher he has grown to be. But beyond his commitment to his faith, Childers credits hard work and determination for his success.
“For someone to get out of something, they have to want out,” he said. “It’s just like the child soldiers in Africa; 99.5% of child soldiers want out and it’s the same thing with people here. If they don’t want out then they’re probably going to stay right where they’re at.”
Many of those at Haven for Hope have histories of incarceration, drug addiction, and mental illness, and often find themselves on the streets because of it. While the homeless resource center and shelter offers a wealth of free programs and services for the homeless community, it usually takes much more for someone to truly work toward positive change, Childers said.
It was that message that visibly moved a large group of Haven for Hope members, some tearfully raising their hands in prayer with Childers at the end of his speech.
“I believe in all of you,” he said. “All of you can get out of here, but when you get out of here don’t forget where you (were) … we need to remember to go back and help our brothers and sisters the same way that we got help.”
Friday was Christopher Stephens’ first day at Haven for Hope after being released from the hospital where he was being treated for his meth addiction. Hearing Childers’ words was a miracle, he said.
“Something in my heart told me to come here today,” he told the Rivard Report at the conclusion of Childers’ speech. “I feel like (Childers) lifted me up, and I don’t want to mess around with drugs anymore. He makes me want to stay on the straight and narrow.”
While Randy, whose been at Haven for Hope for a month, could relate to some of Childers’ experiences, he knows that achieving such success is difficult.
“It was uplifting hearing (Childers’) story,” he said. “But it’s going to take a lot more for me to get better.”
Though his journey of escaping a crippling drug and alcohol addiction and a life of violence is one of the more rare success stories, Childers is convinced that anyone can overcome adversity if they truly dedicate themselves to making a change.
“The biggest thing is if you want out, even with the help of Jesus Christ, you still gotta work,” he said. “I was as worse as they come but I made up my mind and got out.”
*Top image: “Machine Gun Preacher” Sam Childers asks Haven For Hope residents to raise their hands if they want to be successful. Photo by Kathryn Boyd-Batstone