To some he is known as the mzunga (white guy) preacher. To others he is a bad boy gone right. And still to others he is known as the machine gun-toting pastor. But to the little children of Southern Sudan who are at risk of death or slavery at the hands of the vicious rebel group Lord's Resistance Army, he is simply a savior.
Sam Childers is a man who didn't even finish high school, started using drugs at age 11, and got into more fights than he can remember. But this troubled man, whom many had written off as a lost cause, was captured by the Lord and used to demonstrate His love in the midst of extreme brutality and hopelessness.
"I think the biggest thing people need to know is it doesn't matter how far you went over the line. It doesn't matter what you used to do. It doesn't matter who you used to be. The only thing that matters is what you can do to change what is going to happen in the morning," said Childers during an interview with The Christian Post.
He added, "I mean if I can change, anybody can change."
His story sounds more like a myth than reality when you first hear it: a white guy from the United States carrying an AK-47 in the back country of Sudan fighting crazy rebels with his small band of Sudanese soldiers. Sometimes the odds of him coming out alive is slim to none, such as the time when it was five against 200.
But the unconventional pastor will explain time and again that God's protection is the reason why he is still alive. He will also state that he is fighting God's battle.
"Even in my wildest years, I had a passion for fighting another man's war that continues to this day," Childers writes in his new book Another Man's War: The True Story of One Man's Battle to Save Children in the Sudan. "I loved fighting then. And I still love fighting now. The difference is today I'm fighting for the children and families God sent me to protect."
Sacrificing the comforts of life in the United States, the machine gun-toting preacher has spent most of the past ten years in southern Sudan and northern Uganda building the Angels of East Africa Children's village and filling the orphanage with children he rescued from the deadly attacks of the LRA.
Childers recalls in his book grisly scenes of LRA raids. In one village, he recalls smelling the "sharp stench of burning flesh" and hearing cries of those injured.
One young woman was drenched in her own blood from a breast that had been half cut off with a machete by the LRA soldier. In other attacks, LRA soldiers burned people alive and forced acts of cannibalism. They even forced children to butcher their mothers or else be killed.
Children who are captured alive are forced to join the LRA as child soldiers, sex slaves, or supply carriers.
No one knows what the LRA is fighting for as they mindlessly terrorize villagers in southern Sudan and northern Uganda.
"I don't condone violence at all," Childers responded when asked about his use of heavy firearms. "I don't believe in violence but at the same time I don't believe that children should be raped, murdered, or cut up."
"I look of it as a self-defense and I look at it as I'm helping God's children," he said. "I'm not a person out to murder. It's not that I like hurting anybody. But at the same time these people need to be stopped."
Since 1998, Childers has worked with the Southern Sudanese government and local Sudanese to save the children from LRA rebels. His ministry, Angels of East Africa, distributes 2,400 meals a day through its feeding programs in Sudan and Uganda. The children's village has dormitories, a primary school, nursery school, a clinic, a playground for the children, and a church.
Overall, his African operation has rescued more than 900 refugees of all ages, with over half of them being children who had been captured by the LRA.
"I absolutely believe that a normal preacher with a college education could never do what I do," Childers says in his book. "Not because he doesn't have the desire, but because he's not equipped with the experience God has given me."
"Had I died during those years, I would surely have gone to hell," the former drug-addict and dealer admits. "But once I surrendered to Him, a new plan came into play, and a new ministry was born."
Childers grew up in a Christian family but was caught up in drugs, sex, and violence during his teens and part of his adult life. But the constant prayer of his wife, Lynn, who came to accept Jesus Christ as her savior first in 1987, helped lead him to recommit his life to Christ during a revival meeting in 1992. He made his first visit to Sudan in 1998 as a volunteer for a construction project managed by a Christian ministry. But the injustice and desperate need he saw during that trip captured Childers' heart and led him to decide to devote his entire life to helping the people of southern Sudan.
His wife and daughter, Paige, have supported Childers in his ministry. For many years the family was separated as his wife and daughter stayed in Pennsylvania while Childers ran his ministry in Sudan. The separation placed great strain on his marriage and relationship with his daughter. But Childers said his now grown-up daughter understands the sacrifices and the good that has resulted from their sufferings and has joined the ministry.
"Yes, I was tough and mean in a way that caused a lot of harm, but that toughness and meanness prepared me to survive in a hostile environment where very few preachers could go and come out alive," Childers writes in the last chapter of the book. "God was toughening me up and training me to be his man in Southern Sudan and Uganda.
"I can't reclaim the years I lost," he reflects, "but God can."
On the Web: www.machinegunpreacher.org