I walk up the steps of a little French café on Melrose Avenue. Sam stands and greets me.
We start talking about the Sudan and the atrocities being committed there by the LRA—the Lord’s Resistance Army—and their leader Joseph Kony. Sam describes in detail the brutal killing of entire villages and the cruel induction of the orphaned children into the LRA. Frequently, the children are forced to kill their own parents. This is the distorted rite of passage used by the LRA to make sure that the child is so mentally crippled that they will never be able to reenter society. Their only acceptance will be with their captors. Sam tells me that he chose to pick up a gun and fight against a monster like Kony because nobody else was doing it. He has been criticized by some for using violence to curtail violence. I ask him about this and he looks me dead in the eye and says, “I ask the people who criticize my methods, what would you do if your child were kidnapped? If you could bring your son or daughter back, would you care how they were brought home?”
I walk away from the meeting inspired and confused. The story of Sam Childers is not a black and white tale of good and evil because Sam hasn’t exactly been an angel his whole life. However, it’s the very fact that he’s been to the dark side and back that makes him a unique type of warrior—one who knows how to ferret out those who inhabit the dark places, because he’s lived there himself.
It occurred to me that this wasn’t going to be a one-dimensional story about a white man saving the children of Africa. On the contrary, it was the children and the soul of Africa that eventually saved him. The more I thought about it, I realized that the ambiguity of the situation was the exact thing that made it so compelling. I liked the idea of exploring a character who is far from perfect—someone who is an unlikely and, at times, an unlikable hero. I wanted to tell the story.