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Machine Gun Preacher - Review

Wow. The most harrowing film I have seen in a long time. It is the gritty true story of Sam Childers, tough bad-boy biker from a trailer park in Pennsylvania. Released from prison, he arrives home to find his wife's 'found Jesus'. What follows is the gripping account of his own conversion, the establishment of a church for trailer park and biker types, and his transformation into a man with an intense passion for the victims, especially children, of the appalling civil war in southern Sudan. So involved and driven is he by his mission, that he gives up all at home, becoming increasingly absorbed by his cause. By the end, he is waging a mini war against the oppressing 'LRA', freeing as many captive children as he can manage.

The final credits show pictures and video of the real Sam Childers, the last of which is him asking the pertinent question:
'If your family member or child was abducted, and I could get them back for you, would it matter how I did it?'
This is the message of the film. In the face of such evil, does not the end justify the means? Can you really sit back and criticise the actions of a man who cares as much as this?

The graphic scenes of the film leave no room for armchair critics (because they are the scenes of real life - and death - in Sudan). There is so much to think through - and neither the images nor issues raised will leave my mind quickly. And yet I think the following are lessons for us to learn straight away:
  • We ought to be ashamed about our complacency whilst evil rampages in the world. In one scene, Childers is ranting at his church back home, saying Jesus does not want sheep, but wolves - with teeth! Leaving aside the questionable handling of scripture there, the sentiment is challenging: are we comfortably roaming around, or are we driven and fighting?
  • Then, the next big lesson becomes identifying the enemy. Atrocities in Africa are sickening. But they are just a symptom of the fallenness of the human race. It is important to oppose the symptoms, but it's the root causes that must occupy our greatest efforts. How telling that through 30+ years of horrendous civil war, the church in Sudan wasn't asking for guns, freedom or even food so much as bibles, training for pastors in preaching the Word, and prayer. The work of our mission partners in Nairobi is even more significant than relief work for the traumatised children. (I say that soberly.)
  • It is vital to support our brothers and sisters in their terrific needs around the world. Yet God has placed us in families and communities where we are. He has commanded us to care for these. Though it is right for some to be sent to where certain needs are greater, we must fight with passion where we are now. You don't need to go to toughest Africa to be a 'wolf'.
  • The need for the right people to lead. Childers shames us by his drive. But so many of the frustrations of his story are because he was not grounded in his faith nor stable as a character. People need grounding to do the real work well.
  • Accountability. Self-appointed pastors and missionaries are dangerous. Plenty of people in the film pointed out enormous dangers of Childers' approach. They were not all armchair critics. Frustrating as it may be for the more visionary among us, when we move forward, we move together. (Though, let's be sure to move forward.)