Today’s meditation is from the beginning of my 2013 Palm Sunday sermon.
A while back I saw a movie with the interesting title Machine Gun Preacher. The movie is based on the true story of Sam Childers who grew up in Grand Rapids, Minnesota, and there, got into all kinds of trouble with drugs and alcohol and fighting, including sometimes fighting with guns. He ended up spending several years in prison. After he got out, he started getting into more trouble, but then he gave his life to Christ at a revival meeting. He became active in his church, after a while he did some preaching, and then he started his own church. Some time later, Childers did some Christian mission work in Africa. While there, he got caught up in the civil war in Sudan, and saw children experiencing unspeakable cruelty (don’t watch this movie with your kids, it’s rated ‘R’ for a reason). Childers decided to do what he could to rescue these kids and build for them an orphanage. There were thousands of these children whose parents were killed in the fighting. To rescue and protect these children, Childers had to start wearing a gun, and then he had to use it sometimes, and before long he was carrying a machine gun, and then, he was using that more and more. The movie raises all kinds of ethical questions that I am not going to get into here, but even the most non-violent person has to appreciate the work Childers was, and still is, doing for those damaged and suffering kids. And he is doing that for those kids as his way of serving God in that situation in a powerful way– with a machine gun.
Another interesting and powerful person was Mother Theresa, though one would have a hard time imaging Mother Theresa using a machine gun on anyone. Of course, she served in a very different setting, but she wielded a different kind of authority and power. Her strength was in her humility and weakness and quiet service, and this frail little nun could often get the best of local authorities, mayors, governors, even world leaders, when she was determined to have her way to get something done. They could not say ‘no’ to this peaceful, loving, holy woman.
In Sam Childers and Mother Theresa we see two very different ways of using power to serve God by serving God’s suffering people. During this Holy Week we will see God himself using two very different kinds of power…
The story of the ‘machine gun preacher’ prompted some interesting discussions after worship about the tough decisions some of God’s servants must make in this wicked world. Not everyone agreed that a machine gun should be used in doing God’s work, preferring instead Mother Theresa’s style. The movie does raise numerous ethical questions, but I was not willing to be critical of Childers’ decision under those terrible circumstances. I was, therefore, pleased to see the following news item this past week:
The controversial “Machine Gun Preacher” has joined the ranks of Malala Yousafzai and the Dalai Lama in receiving a top award from an Indian charity that eulogizes Mother Teresa.
On Sunday, Sam Childers became the first American to receive the Mother Teresa Memorial International Award for Social Justice. The Mumbai-based Harmony Foundation, the “only institution bearing the endorsement of the Missionaries of Charity founded by Mother Teresa,” bestowed the humanitarian award on Childers for rescuing abducted children from the Lord’s Resistance Army, according to a press release.
Childers, who invokes an Old Testament-style God, claims Mother Teresa as his role model. “Her life story has moved me immensely,” he said. “I will consider my life a success if I can do even a fraction of the good work she has done for humanity.”
–(posted October 28, 2013 on Christianity Today on-line)
D. L. Moody was once criticized for his methods of reaching people with the gospel. His reply was “I agree with you, I don’t like the way I do it either. Tell me how do you do it?” The woman who had criticized replied “I don’t do it.’” To which Moody responded, “I like my way of doing it better than your way of not doing it.”
Moody’s response could have many applications, but it makes me not want to be critical of Sam Childers. Childers’ organization was accused at one point of neglecting the children in his orphanage, charges which he denied. I do not know the full story that, but the movie did show how difficult it was for him to raise money for his work, and to make matters worse, it was reported later that a staff member had been embezzling from the already limited funds. So perhaps at times supplies do run low in such a desperate situation.
But I wondered about those who were accusing him of neglect. I wondered what they were doing for the children of Sudan. Sam Childers has no more or less obligation to those children than I have. The critics could as well accuse me of neglecting them.
James 1:27 — Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.
Deuteronomy 27:19 — ‘God’s curse on anyone who deprives foreigners, orphans, and widows of their rights.’ “And all the people will answer, ‘Amen!’
Job 29:12 — When the poor cried out, I helped them; I gave help to orphans who had nowhere to turn.
Psalm 82:3 — Defend the rights of the poor and the orphans; be fair to the needy and the helpless.
African prayer for refugees:
O Brother Jesus, who as a child was carried into exile,
Remember all those who are deprived of their home or country,
Who groan under the burden of anguish and sorrow,
Enduring the burning heat of the sun,
The freezing cold of the sea, or the humid heat of the forest,
Searching for a place of refuge.
Cause these storms to cease, O Christ.
Move the hearts of those in power
That they may respect the men and women
Whom you have created in your own image;
That the grief of refugees may be turned into joy.