MACHINE gun preacher Sam Childers will be locked and loaded for the first time in Wairarapa on Thursday.
He was invited to bring his story to the region by Pastor Rik Edmonds, of Soulway Church in Masterton, and will be speaking at the Makoura College Hall on Thursday from 7pm.
Reverend Childers, a former Outlaw motorcycle club member, hired gun and heroin addict, had in 1992 converted to Christianity at a revival meeting at an Assembly of God church in Pennsylvania.
He and wife Lynn, a former stripper and fellow convert, have been for the past 15 years building a home and future for war orphans in Sudan. Mr Childers had arrived in the village of Yei, Southern Sudan, in the midst of the second Sudanese war in 1998, and was urged by his stateside pastor to join a mission group and help repair huts damaged in the conflict.
He stumbled across the body of a child torn apart by a landmine, fell to his knees and "pledged to God to do whatever it took" to help the children fighting for survival in the war-torn nation.
He returned to Sudan several months later to run a mobile clinic and, remaining true to his pledge, travelled from the western town of Yei to the eastern villages of Boma, he said. He was passing the village of Nimule on the Ugandan border, when "God sent me a message".
"I want you to build an orphanage for the children, God said. And I want you to build it here."
The Sudanese had believed Childers was mad. At the time, the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA), a brutal rebel militia that had kidnapped 30,000 children and murdered hundreds of thousands of villagers, was laying waste to the area. But Childers was adamant: God had told him to build the orphanage in Nimule and that's where he was going to build it, he said.
He returned to the US and sold his construction business, sending the money to Africa. Slowly the orphanage began to take shape. Childers said he cleared bush during the day and built the huts that would house the children. During the evening, he slept under a mosquito net slung from a tree.
Meanwhile, in Pennsylvania, his wife and Paige, the couple's daughter, fought a battle of their own. The family car was repossessed and a foreclosure notice was issued on the house. Childers had only enough money to pay the outstanding mortgage or finish the orphanage. He couldn't afford both so he sent the money to Africa.
With the orphanage finished, Childers led armed missions to rescue children from the LRA and before too long tales of his exploits spread and grateful villagers dubbed him The Machine Gun Preacher. Childers went on to found the Angels of East Africa Children's Village Orphanage, which has since fed and housed more than 1000 children lost to their parents and today is home to more than 200 orphans.
A bestselling book that traces the startling mission to East Africa, titled Another Man's War, was published in 2009 and later became a Hollywood film starring Gerard Butler called Machine Gun Preacher. The sequel, titled Living on the Edge, has been released and continues the first-hand account of the Childers' struggles to keep his promise.