Occasionally, my wife and I get a moment to sit down together and watch a movie. My tastes in film have narrowed in the recent years. Still, I listen to recommendations for movies, especially when they are coming from an unexpected source. One such film we watched recently was Machine Gun Preacher. I had no interest in watching this based on the title. I thought the film would either mock the Christian faith or portray a Christianity that I want nothing to do with. A pastor friend recommended this film to my wife, and she recommended it to me. Like Adam, I passively agreed to partake. Much to my surprise, I actually enjoyed the film and it’s message.
Machine Gun Preacher is a true story about Pastor Sam Childers and his work in South Sudan. The story begins with Sam’s discharge from prison. The beginning of the film weaved the classic Christian storyline of a sinner’s journey to redemption. For the viewers, redemption comes early in the film. Unexpectedly, the storyline diverges from your traditional redemption tale when the newly saved Childers takes a trip to South Sudan. While in Sudan, Sam experiences a second life-changing event. Sam experiences human depravity first hand – on a level he had not previously known. The war ravaged South Sudan becomes his life mission when he witnesses a child torn apart by a landmine. He decides to take a more active role when several children in his village are kidnapped to be made child soldiers. During this rescue, he earns the moniker “Machine Gun Preacher.” The film had an emotional depth that I did not expect.
After a film, I like to talk about the themes and what the writer and director were trying to convey. This film left me feeling inadequate, much like Hotel Rwanda or Blood Diamond. There is one scene in Hotel Rwanda that haunts me. It is in the film when Paul Rusesabagina, played by Don Cheadle, gives approval for video footage taken by the reporter played by Joaquin Phoenix. Paul is pleased that the world will see the genocide occurring in Rwanda and intervene. Phoenix’s character attempts to disabuse Paul of this notion, telling him the world might see the genocide and “…will say, oh my god, this is horrible and then go on eating their dinners.” Sadly there is some truth in this.
Both individuals teach us something, yet despite the similarities there are key differences. Paul is a noble heart but Rwanda is his country. Sam is an outsider in Sudan. Paul is thrust into a situation beyond his control. Sam chooses to serve a people a half world away. Rwanda’s genocide is faded into history books. Sudan’s bloodshed is in full color in our newspapers. Paul Rusesabagina’s story asks, “What would you do in this situation?” Sam Childers’ story asks, “Am I doing enough to show the compassion of Christ in the world?”
I don’t ask myself this question enough. When my wife said it, my initial thought was, “If I have another thing I need to do I am going to scream.” I paused briefly before providing my wife the answer to a question that was meant to be rhetorical. Poor thing…she has to live with me.
My first answer is we are not doing enough. We need to do more for the world.
My second answer is less dramatic but not less challenging. I find this in Jesus’ parable of the talents. In short, Jesus tells his disciples about a rich man who entrusted three servants with money based on their previous faithfulness. The first received five coins, the second two, and the last only one. The master went on a long journey and returned a great while later. Upon his return, he called his servants to account for their stewardship of his wealth. The first servant had invested his master’s money and doubled it. The master rewarded him with stewardship over ten coins. The second servant had also invested and doubled his master’s coins to four. The master gave him rule over four coins. Are you starting to see a pattern? No? Keep reading.
Finally, the master called on the servant with one talent. This servant had buried his money in the ground. The master upbraided this “wicked” servant for failing to, at the very least, lend the talent for interest. The master took the one talent and gave it to the servant with ten.
Jesus compared this story to the kingdom of God. Jesus says, “He who is faithful with the little, will be made ruler over much,” which brings us back to our question: “Am I doing enough for the kingdom of God?” The answer is found in the corollary question: “Am I making the most of what God has entrusted with me today?” We should do something for the children of Sudan or Syria or wherever the need seems to be. But, we should focus our strength right where God has placed us to get maximum impact with our measure of talent. Over time, if we continue to be faithful, God will expand our influence and capacity to affect the world in a greater way.
In the parable of the talents, we often pay attention only to the servant with five coins or the lazy servant with one. Many of us may be the servant with two coins. Instead of dreaming of being the servant with five coins, we should ask how we can best use what the Master has given us. Ask yourself, “Why did the master entrust the first servant with five coins?” The children of the Sudan needed Sam Childers. Who in your world needs you?
-by Pastor Shawn Martin