Watoto choir warms hearts of church

The Watoto Children’s Choir performs at Mount Pleasant United Methodist Church.

LEE FERINDEN/Special to the Guardian
Published: Wednesday, February 27, 2013 at 2:04 p.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, February 27, 2013 at 2:04 p.m.

Members of the Watoto Children's Choir from Uganda in East Africa shared their love for Jesus and testimonies about how they have joy in their lives despite experiencing horrific tragedies early in their lives.



Pastor: Rev. Dr. Geraldine McClellan.
Location: 630 NW 2nd St.
Services: Sunday morning worship begins at 9 a.m., with Sunday school immediately afterward. Noonday Bible study is noon Tuesday and Bible study is 6 p.m. Tuesday.
Phone: 352-372-4872.

The choir, comprised of 22 children ages 6 to 15 and several adult leaders, performed for 90 minutes last Thursday in front of an overflow crowd of an estimated 500 people in the sanctuary at Mount Pleasant United Methodist Church.

They sang, danced and testified about how the Watoto Child Care Ministries, founded in 1994 by Gary and Marilyn Skinner, a married Canadian couple, helped save them from a life of despair.

One choir member, named Joey, welcomed the crowd to the free concert. After giving a brief history of Watoto Ministries, he talked about how the ministry has changed the lives of many Ugandan children by introducing them to Jesus.

"Millions of children in Africa have been abandoned or have lost one or both parents," said Joey, before inviting the crowd to allow themselves to take a mental journey to "beautiful Africa."

The choir is concluding a seven-month tour of the U.S., including 18 other cities in Florida, and will be heading to Brazil in March. The group travels by tour bus with the name of the choir on the side in white letters on a green background, the word "love" painted in gray on a white background and colorful pictures of some of the children.

The performance began with two boys, dressed like hunters roaming the African wilderness in leopard skins, beads and head feathers, tumbling onto the stage. More children joined them as the music played, singing, dancing and drumming in brightly colored traditional African attire. Several children spoke during the concert, each telling stories about how the ministry has saved them from wretchedness.

One girl said she used to be sad all of the time, wondering "every morning if I would get enough food to fill my empty stomach." She also said she dreamed of having a nice bed to sleep in and having someone in her life to love her.

"Watoto has giving us a lot of love," she said. "Now I know my dreams can come true. The best thing about Watoto is that they have taught us about the love of Jesus."

The love for Jesus was a constant theme throughout the performance, and as the choir sang, "I Am Not Forgotten," a choir member urged parishioners to join in by singing "Afaayo," which means "Jesus cares" in Swahili, a language popular in East Africa. Watoto is Swahili for "children."

Another choir member, a 9-year-old boy named Phillip, told the crowd he has no memory of his mother.

"I don't know if she is alive or dead," he said, as several other choir members told their life stories, which all ended with them being thankful for the ministry teaching them about the love of Jesus.

The choir members also continually emphasized how they believe the promises made by the Lord in the Bible that he has "plans for each and every one of us" and "will never leave or forsake us."

The Rev. Dr. Geraldine McClellan, pastor of Mount Pleasant, said the smiles on their faces and the joy in the hearts of the children should be an inspiration for anybody.

"We weep over the smallest things and they laugh because they know Jesus," said McClellan, before asking those in attendance to stand and stretch forward their hands as she prayed for the choir at the end of the concert.

To make a donation to the choir and the ministry, visit www.watoto.com. For more information about sponsorship programs and other projects, email fundraising@watoto.com.

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