I was privileged to go to a sneak preview of the film, Machine Gun Preacher, which opens here in Seattle tomorrow.
I knew some of the story–a violent drug dealer finds Jesus and becomes a champion for children in Sudan, building orphanages and killing people along the way.
But I was unprepared for the power of this story. It’s pretty gut-wrenching stuff, with many moments of tears over the horror the people–especially the children–of Sudan and northern Uganda have experienced over the past 30 years. I was amazed at how little I actually knew of what was happening there, and a little saddened that the plight and terror these people have faced barely make the news here in the United States.
But the story is not just the story of the horrors in Africa. It’s also the story of Sam Childers, a violent, drug-dealing criminal who finds Jesus after years of prayer by his mother, wife, and daughter. The encounter with Christ changes his life, and he goes from violent loser to successful businessman–who still struggles against the violence and profanity of his previous life.
Challenged by the words of a missionary to Sudan, he decides to travel there and see what he can do. This is the bulk of the film as Sam struggles to fulfill a newly-found purpose against the hopelessness and violence of a war-ravaged country. It’s shocking, horrific stuff. And I’ll be honest, the theater we were in last night was full of people crying, reacting emotionally to the images on screen.
Sam’s struggles with his faith, with putting his belief into action, while also choosing to arm himself and fight back against the terrorists who prey on the helpless. This is controversial, I suppose, but as Sam Childers said last night (yes, I was honored to meet him after the screening), “When the only choice is to watch people die or pick up a gun, what would you do?”
Gerard Butler gives a great performance in a film that is full of stellar performances. Michelle Monaghan is a strong presence as his wife, and Souleymane Sy Savane is a standout as the Ugandan Dane, who fights alongside Sam and ultimately becomes his friend.
But the most powerful thing about the film is the story of the Sudanese children, whose lives and families have been torn apart by the civil war there. Sam’s story is a bridge device to help those of us in the West see first-hand the violence and terror that these people live with every day. It is less a film and more a call to action, to do something, to get involved and help save as many people as possible.
Having met and listened to Sam Childers talk to a theatre full of people here in Seattle, unashamedly standing boldly for his faith, proclaiming Christ to the crowd who came to see a Gerard Butler action film, I’m sure of two things: Jesus saved this man from a hellish life. And Jesus also helped him see a world beyond his own that we should be seeing, too.
As a Christian and a pastor–and someone who is passionate about film’s ability to connect people to God–I hear complaints frequently about how nobody makes movies that show Christians or Jesus in a good light. I also see how Christians rally around a mediocre film like Fireproof because it is made by Christians and tells people about Jesus.
Machine Gun Preacher is not a family-friendly, “Christian” film. You will not feel good about the main character much of the time, and the things you see in the film may very well mess you up. It is violent, full of bad language, and has quite a few shocking moments. It fully deserves its “R” rating.
But it is also a true story about the power of Christ’s redemptive love and grace. You will see how God can awaken in even the most messed up and vile person a greater, eternal purpose. You will see how Sam Childers lives out what James 2:17 says, “So you see, faith by itself isn’t enough. Unless it produces good deeds, it is dead and useless.”
It doesn’t gloss over the fact that Sam’s marriage suffered because of his passion for these children. It doesn’t hide the fact that even Christians who love Jesus can swear and use bad language and fight to stay true to the Light that is within them.
That, to me, is a lot more powerful than a film that presents that once Jesus gets in your life, everything is perfect. That your marriage will be saved, that you’ll never use bad language, or ever struggle again. A film made mostly by non-Chrisitians is probably one of the best “Christian” films I have ever seen in my life.
Because it shows clearly what God’s love can do. And what it should do, when we let it get hold of our lives. It wakes you up to the reality of that saving grace, to the power of standing against evil, to not hiding our eyes to the horrors that children are facing–being killed for, even as I write (and you read) these words.
And you may feel moved enough, messed up enough, to actually do something with your faith, too.