So I’m watching a promo for the latest Gerard Butler flick, where he’s playing an ex-biker turned preacher who goes and builds an orphanage in the Sudan which takes in kids who were kidnapped by the LRA and gives them a chance at a proper childhood surrounded by other kids, and with some education too. Real-life story of one Sam Childers aka the Machine Gun Preacher etc etc.
Anyway, Butler’s talking about how the film’s production team built a full replica of the orphanage in the Sudan on farmland outside Johannesburg in South Africa, and how wonderful it was that it wasn’t just a wobbly styrofoam set but they actually built it properly, with real bricks and plumbing and everything, so that it felt exactly right. Butler helped build the set himself, hammers and bricks and all, because he wanted to get into character by doing at least some of what Childers had done.
And then the promo just went on to discuss the movie plot, and the set is never really mentioned again, and all I could think was: so what’s happened to that wonderful solid useful set of buildings now?
Please tell me that it at least got turned into a school for local children rather than just getting bulldozed after the film was over.
When I googled to see if there was anything about the fate of these film-set buildings in South Africa, all I found were various reports that Sam Childers had both vastly exaggerated the extent of his own badassery against the LRA and was also being accused of neglecting the welfare of the children at his orphanage in Sudan.
Witnesses have said that the children at Shekinah Fellowship Children’s Village are malnourished, unhealthy, and unhappy. Several locals—including pastors, government officials, and a high-ranking member of the military—tell Christianity Today that Childers has exaggerated or outright lied about his work in the African nation.
Community leaders want his orphanage in Nimule—near the border with Uganda—to be shut down immediately, and for local ministries to take over. In a September 2 letter to Childers, 14 local leaders—including the man who says he gave 40 acres of land to Childers to build the orphanage—wrote that Chiders has “dishonored our agreement” to take care of orphans, and that they demand “immediate closure of the compound.” Childers told CT he never received that letter.
“As a community, we want Sam to leave and let other people take over,” said Festo Fuli Akim, the man who says he gave Childers the land in 1999. “Let Sam go away so that someone with a good heart, someone who is humane, can come in and take over.”
When a CT reporter visited the orphanage this week, Childers’s staff, including two American men, were still on the premises, saying that the only problems at the facility were minor and had been taken care of. CT observed no significant problems; the children seemed happy and healthy, and living conditions seemed generally good.
The lengthy article and the comments raise the possibility that some local jealousy and tall-poppy lopping is at play, but there really do seem to be some glaring discrepancies in Childers’ tales of his own derring-do. I’m sure that makes for a good movie concept, but self-aggrandisement is never an attractive look.
Now, despite the Butler factor and the fact that orphans in the Sudan deserve every little bit of help that anybody is willing to give them, Machine Gun Preacher was probably never going to be a film that would get me out into a cinema anyway. I’d rather donate directly to Médecins Sans Frontières than give money to a cinema chain to help children needing aid, so these doubts expressed about the man behind the story just make it even less likely.
I just really hope that the film producers planning to turn a profit by telling of the horrors visited on one group of disadvantaged children had the grace to pass on those very robust film set buildings that they were so very proud of to people who could turn them to good use for other disadvantaged children.