Each child in the Watoto Children’s Choir has a unique story and shines as a beacon of hope for Africa’s most vulnerable women and children.
Over years, the young stars have allowed God to use their experiences to heal and offer encouragement to Christians of all ages from all walks of life.
The choir has made its mark across the globe, singing and representing Uganda on international stages with gospel and traditional music, even sharing the stage with international artistes.
Pastors, Gary and Marilyn Skinner founded Watoto Child Care Ministries, a branch of the Watoto Church, in 1994 to provide holistic child care to the growing number of orphans that resulted from war or the HIV/AIDS epidemic.
As a result, the first Watoto choir was birthed and introduced to the country. They have toured the globe and the experience has helped to develop confidence and boldness, as well as broadening their worldview.
The choir’s origin
On the Watoto website Pastor Gary Skinner recounts how the choir started. “In 1988, in a town called Rakai, I was confronted by a naked reality that I could not ignore. Eight years earlier my family and I had moved to Uganda – a country famous for violence and poverty.
“In Kampala, Uganda’s battered capital, we planted a church that we believed God would use to restore hope to the city and the nation. Uganda’s people had endured so much. Corrupt and oppressive rulers had waged ruthless wars against the people and when they were done with their slaughter, nearly one million were left dead.
“I was taken to visit a 79 year old widow. She had mothered seven children. As we walked through the banana groves behind her small hut, she began to point out the graves of her husband and six of her children. AIDS had killed them all. He last surviving child – a daughter – was dying of the same disease.
“I was reminded of the verse in James 1:27 that says, ‘Religion that God the Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after the orphan and the widow in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.’ My visit with this woman in a simple Ugandan village stirred me to the core of my being and became one of the defining moments of my life. Watoto Child Care Ministries was birthed out of our local church, Watoto Church, in 1994 as a result.”
Garry says each child in the Watoto Children’s Choir has suffered the loss of one or both parents and now lives in a Watoto village.
The villages consist of homes for the children, a school, a medical clinic, community center, a church and agricultural project.
Watoto Church also has a unique village, which is a retirement centre for the mothers who have moved on from Watoto, according to the Ministry.
“The villages are modelled after a typical African village, but at Watoto, Jesus is the centre of everything we do. We do not force him down the throats of the children. We have many children who still have their Muslim names: we welcome them, we love them, and we pray for them. At the right time, they give their lives to Jesus. He does the work in their lives that nobody else can do. He gives them hope, and meaning, and dignity, and worth,”
Chosen based on auditions
The children in the choir are chosen based on auditions conducted in the villages.
Accompanied by a team of adults, the choir presents Watoto’s vision and mission by sharing personal stories, music and dance. While on the road, the children act as advocates for the millions of other African children who have experienced the same heartbreaking pain and suffering as them.
The Ministry says sometimes the children get homesick, but love meeting new people and sharing their stories.
“And we give them lots of time to play. There’s a time scheduled to play every day – soccer and other things.”
The Bigger Vision
Watoto Child Care Ministries hopes to see nearly a million children rescued all across Africa, “and the way that’s going to happen is through partnership between 10 thousand churches around the world with 10 thousand churches in Africa.”
“We’ve been doing conferences whereby pastors, churches come and learn the model of Watoto, and see how they can help solve the HIV crisis – not looking at it as a big problem but as a big opportunity to reach out to the nation with God’s healing hands,” the Ministry says.
Choir: A unique ‘reaching out’ tool
Their performances are a blend of native African rhythms, contemporary gospel music and creative dance. They have released several albums including including ‘Dancing In The House Of The Lord’ (2002), ‘Live In LA’ (2003), ‘Ana Meremata’ (2009) and ‘Beautiful Africa: A New Generation’ (2011).
Their latest album “Signs and Wonders” features live music played throughout the concerts on most of the tours.
They have performed with many artists like Chris Tomlin, Brad and Rebekah, Israel Houghton and many more. In May 2012, the Watoto Children’s Choir performed for Queen Elizabeth II at her Diamond Jubilee Celebration at Windsor Castle.
‘Signs and Wonders’ : Up-coming Concert
The Watoto Children’s Choir is expected to perform at a concert which acts as a fundraising event for Watoto. The first ever live event happening this Wednesday, 4th July at Kampala Serena Hotel is expected to draw multitudes.