“If someone doesn’t want to consider me as a pastor, that’s fine,” says Sam Childers, a tattooed, motorcycle-driving pastor who’s also known as the “Machine Gun Preacher.”

With his fatigues and grizzly-bearded exterior, to some he might be an intimidating presence. But to Hollywood, his life represents a story so unbelievable that it just couldn’t be passed up. And now actor Gerard Butler brings Childers to the big screen in the film of the same name, Machine Gun Preacher, which releases wide in theaters on Friday, September 30.

Childers does indeed carry a machine gun as he does his ministry and rescue work in Africa, fighting to save orphaned children from starvation, disease and enslavement by the brutal rebel militia group, Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA). But he explains this use of fire power by asking a poignant question:

“If you have a child and somebody took your child and I said I could rescue your child, what would you say?”

Once a violent, drug-dealing criminal who had an affinity for women, an angry Childers turned his life over to Christ and started going to church again with his wife Lynn and young daughter Paige. It was there Childers heard about a mission trip to Africa to help repair damaged huts due to conflict from the Second Sudanese War. Armed at the time with only his handyman skills, Childers signed up to go and thought he could do something good by helping out.

But while in Southern Sudan, Childers came across the body of a child torn apart by a landmine. And at that moment he dedicated his life to doing what he could to save the youngest victims of war, no matter the cost.

Childers also did something that everyone said he was crazy to do—build an orphanage in Nimule, right on the Ugandan border in the exact area where the LRA was still kidnapping children and murdering villagers. But Childers says that’s where God told him to build it, and so he did.

Today, The Children’s Village is the largest orphanage in Southern Sudan and has fed and housed over one thousand children. It is just one of the many outreach projects made possible by Angels of East Africa (AOEA), Childers’ nonprofit organization. When he’s not working in Africa, Childers also pastors The Shekinah Fellowship Church in Central City which also reaches out to families and people in need in the local community with food and clothing—and in the winter months, oil and heating materials.

Helping others both tangibly and with a “message of hope” has been Childers’ mission for thirteen years now. But what about the ammunition? Not long after the orphanage in Southern Sudan was finished, Childers began leading armed missions to rescue children from the LRA, and that's when people began to call him “The Machine Gun Preacher.”

Regarding his moniker, Childers kids that a preacher with a machine gun is “good for offerings,” but he is quite serious about the work he believes God first called him to over a decade ago—both in northern Uganda and Southern Sudan—and today in other outreach efforts in Ethiopia and across the United States.