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Preacher tells how he fought for Sudan's children

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Sam Childers signs a copy of his autobiography, “Another Man’s War,” for Beverly Harrison, who brought her two children, Helen and Ben, to the book signing held at The Winchester Book Gallery on Saturday. Childers’ book is about his struggle to save children in Sudan and was made into a feature film, “Machine Gun Preacher,” that will be showing at the Alamo Drafthouse Cinema from December 2-8.

By Sally Voth -- svoth@nvdaily.com

WINCHESTER -- One blown-apart child turned a gruff and tough biker and former miscreant into the savior of a thousand more kids.

Sam Childers, a self-proclaimed former "scum bucket," now a preacher and rescue worker, was signing copies of his memoir, "Another Man's War: The True Story of One Man's Battle to Save Children in the Sudan," on Saturday at the Winchester Book Gallery.

That book was made into a recent movie, "Machine Gun Preacher," which will be screened at the Alamo Drafthouse Cinema Dec. 2-8. It stars Scottish heartthrob Gerard Butler as Childers.

Brought up in a "perfect" and "Christian" family, Childers went astray early, and began using drugs at 11, he said Saturday in an interview at the bookstore.

"By age of 13, I'm doing hard drugs," he recalled. "Age of 15 I'm putting a needle in my arm and ended up selling drugs."

Before leaving his teens, Childers was a hard-core drug dealer, and became a "hired gun" for other dealers. That ended after a barroom shoot-out in Orlando, Fla.

"On the way home, I said, 'I'm done with this lifestyle,'" Childers said. "It took two years for me to dedicate myself to Christ."

He and his wife, a former stripper, are pastors of a church in Central City, Penn.

A biker all his life -- Saturday he looked the part, wearing a Harley Davidson leather jacket and boots and ripped jeans, with a beard and thick mustache -- Childers is a chaplain for two motorcycle clubs. Childers, who lost his own son, Wayne, 25, to heroin six years ago, also speaks to college and high school students about the dangers of drugs and alcohol.

His life changed when on a mission trip to Africa 15 years ago, he came across the body of a child who had been killed by a landmine.

"I stood over that body and said, 'God, I will do anything I have to [to] help these people,'" Childers said.

Three months later he was back removing mines before running a mobile clinic.
"One day as I was driving through the bush, God told me to stop, and I stopped," Childers said.

He grabbed his machine gun and got out of the car.

"God said, 'This is where I want the Children's Village,'" Childers said.

He started building the orphanage in 2000 in southern Sudan. According to Childers' website, www.machinegunpreacher.org, more than 200 children live there now, and it has fed and sheltered more than 1,000.

The website says an armed Childers set out to rescue children from the Lord's Resistance Army -- infamous for kidnapping children and forcing them to be soldiers -- leading villagers to call him "The Machine Gun Preacher."

Today, he has projects in Uganda and Ethiopia, as well as Sudan. Besides feeding children, Childers wants to see them schooled.

"I don't have any education, so I know how important education is," the 10th-grade dropout said.

A second book is in the works, but "Machine Gun Preacher" is based on his first one, which came out in spring 2009.

"They focus on a time when I did have to pick up a gun in order to save children," Childers said. "The big thing about the movie is it shows a guy who was a scum bucket of the earth, who was probably the worst, the meanest, the awfulest person you would ever meet, but something happened in his life that he made the change to walk away from that old life and then started saving children in Africa."

Stephens City resident Bill Albers brought his children, Bill, 21, and Victoria, 11, to meet Childers after watching the movie trailer and looking at Childers' website the night before.

"I wanted to come down and see if he was the real deal," he said. "I think he's a pretty engaging personality. He seems like the real deal. Probably going to end up buying the book."

The Albers plan to go to the movie in a couple weeks.
"I can't wait," Victoria said.

Albers' son was inspired by Childers' triumph over substance abuse.

"He still became successful, found God," he said.

His father added, "I think the reason is because of Christ."

Childers is disappointed in what he said was a lack of promotion of the film.

"The movie came out in late September," Childers said. "The people that marketed the movie done a flop on it."

Butler and director Marc Forster are very upset, he said.

"They're getting ready to re-market this movie in a hundred theaters across the U.S.," Childers said.

If it turns out the previous marketing was the cause of the movie not being a hit, it'll be re-released at Easter, he said. The movie received a standing ovation at the Toronto Film Festival in September, according to the Los Angeles Times' website, www.latimesblogs.latimes.com.

Childers, who just returned from Africa the previous weekend, said he will do question-and-answer sessions after each film showing Dec. 2 and 3.

"A lot of people try to say over the years that I've saved African children, but I would say the African children saved me, gave me a purpose with my life," said Childers, who has also begun combating child sex trafficking in this country. "Now, that keeps growing. It's not just about African children. It's about children around the world. There's something we can all do about saving children. If I can change my life and do something good, anybody can."

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