- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 31, 2007

The Rev. Sam Childers says he might need an attorney.

The Pennsylvania missionary operates the orphanage for victims of the war in Sudan’s Darfur region and elsewhere in Africa, and he is in a fight with federal aviation officials over a $28,000 fine for some supplies he tried to send to his shelter.

For more than a decade, he has transported needed supplies to operate the orphanage’s power generator in a clearly marked household plastic container. That is until April, when 3 quarts of motor oil, two bottles of diesel treatment and a can of spray lubricant in the crate were confiscated by airline screeners.

Mr. Childers, president of World Missions Shekinah Fellowship, apologized in a subsequent letter to U.S. government officials, saying he was not aware the supplies were classified as “hazardous materials” and illegal to ship by commercial plane.

The minister thought the matter was resolved, but six months later, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) notified Mr. Childers that he will be fined $28,000 for the transgression.

“We don’t have that kind of money to start with. I just don’t know what to do,” said Mr. Childers, who operates the shelter in Nimule, Sudan, for 200 children whose parents have been killed in the civil war-torn country.

Mr. Childers’ orphanage, the largest in Sudan, was featured on NBC’s “Dateline” program two years ago for its efforts to rescue Ugandan children kidnapped by an ultraviolent guerrilla group. An ex-biker who became a born-again Christian in 1992 and started his Pennsylvania ministry in 1999, Mr. Childers built the orphanage in 2001. Since first coming to Africa in 1996, he said, he has rescued 800 children.

Jim Peters, FAA spokesman for the Eastern region, said Mr. Childers has the option to obtain an attorney and arrange for an informal conference with an FAA attorney to further discuss the matter.

“I know that one of our attorneys has had a conversation with the fellowship president. I don’t think it was very long and there was no request for a formal hearing on it,” Mr. Peters said.

Mr. Childers said the conversation was brief because “she talked awful to me.”

“I tried to explain to her what I do. She said, ‘We don’t care, we know what you do, this is your fine and you will pay it,’ ” Mr. Childers said.

“It scared me. I’ve been in war zones working for the last 10 years, but this lady had me scared,” Mr. Childers said.

“I have a little boy from Sudan sitting beside me right now, on our way to a Pittsburgh hospital to have surgery because he was shot in the face. My bill on him will be $50,000, and on top of that I have to pay $28,000 because of 3 quarts of oil,” Mr. Childers said.

Mr. Peters said he was not a party to the conversation, but that FAA attorneys are “very professional.” The fine, he said, is determined by a table of levels of infraction and imposed by agency attorneys.

“The reason these materials have to be properly labeled and shipped according to regulations is to ensure that nothing can happen aboard an aircraft,” Mr. Peters said. “That is a generalization, not to infer something would [have] happened here, but improperly packaged and labeled, [these items] are not suitable for transportation as we require.”

Mr. Peters said the hazardous materials regulation was changed after the downing of ValuJet Flight 592 in May 1996 over the Florida Everglades. Expired chemical oxygen generators in the plane’s cargo hold caused a fire that led to the plane crash.

“Everyone is subject to the same standards. We are not zeroing in on one person or organization. This would apply to anyone, including you or myself,” Mr. Peters said.

Mr. Childers, who travels to Africa today and will not return until Thanksgiving, said he already used other means to ship the supplies he needs to run his orphanage.

“I’m not taking any oil this time, I can tell you that,” said Mr. Childers, who insists his packages have always been labeled properly.

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