The Choir pauses with local people for a photo before departing.
by Suzanne Vernon
For the Pathfinder
November 13, 1997
People in this small community opened their hearts and welcomed 18 African children into their homes for three days last week. That they were blessed by the experience is an understatement, measured only by the lingering hugs and tearful goodbyes between adults and children, as the African Childrens Choir left the community the morning after their performance here.
"I think the time was too short," Pam Rose said, echoing the feelings of the people gathered to say goodbye.
"I can't imagine life without one of these children in the house," Pastor Gary Wayne added. "They just melted your heart."
Donna Love of Seeley Lake, felt the same way. "You fall in love with these little guys right from the start," she said.
The children are all from a war-torn area of East Africa where more than ten years of civil war has left thousands of children orphaned and homeless. The miracle, for many in Seeley Lake, was to see that these children, when given hope, can exhibit pure joy even in the face of tragedy.
The mission of the African Children's Choir is to the share the gospel of Jesus Christ, and at the same time raise awareness of the plight of children in Uganda, Kenya, Rwanda and the Southern Sudan. By raising awareness, they raise moneymoney that is used to provide meals, housing and education to poverty stricken young people. The children who visited Seeley Lake last week are members of choir #15. Each child has a unique story of trials and triumph, and each of them plan to return to Africa to finish their education and encourage their families and tribes.
Seeley Lake residents gave the choir a big welcome on the night of November 4. More than 700 people attended the free concert put on by the internationally known group. Through song and dance the children warmed the hearts of the audience. Before the first song was over, people were fully focused on the children, their gospel songs, African rhythms and drums.
The children, ages 6 through 12, never missed a beat as they moved on and off their risers, swaying and singing, inviting the audience to share in their joy as they prayed to God and worshiped Jesus Christ through their music. The audience responded enthusiastically, especially to the solo performances. Many in attendance were moved to tears by the dramatic presentations. A video presentation during the concert described the beginning of the choir, and graphically portrayed the need for hope among children in Africa.
The visit to Seeley Lake was a treat for the choir, which usually performs in large, urban-area churches. The small-town experienceespecially the community performance in the high school gymwas appreciated.
Host families noted that the children were very relaxed here. They freely sang and danced everywhere they went, tickled the ivories on family pianos, and feasted on home-cooked meals.
"It was duly noted that we don't have a MacDonalds in our town," Ann Phipps, Seeley Lake host parent, chuckled.
Another host parent, thinking she would let the children watch "Little House on the Prairie" as sort of an American history lesson, had an eye-opening experience herself as she realized that the kids were relating to the lifestyles portrayed on the screen.
She learned that, at home in Africa, the children cook over open fires, and at night use kerosene lanterns for light. Basic items like shoes and store-bought clothes are luxuries.
The African Children's Choir, sponsored by Friends in the West, is a good investment, according to Shari Morin, 1993 graduate of Seeley Swan High School who is currently traveling with the choir. "It's investing in a child's future, and a country's future, really," she said. Children in the choir receive longterm sponsorship from the time they are young, until they finish college. When the kids go home, "it's back to normal, poverty," Morin explained. However, the choir experience helps the children to have hope. "It puts in their mind a vision for something more," she said.
Seeley Lake residents can have hope, too. Already, several community leaders are working to schedule another performance of the choir here next year. People can also write to the children and their chaperones. Contact Friends in the West, P.O. Box 250, Arlington, Washington, 96223, phone (360) 435-8983.