This week, two churches in Kirkland are hosting a choir from Uganda for a concert called Signs & Wonders.
The Watoto Children’s Choir performed at Rose Hill Church on Sunday and is set to perform one more time at 6 p.m. this upcoming Sunday at St. John Vianney Church, at 12600 84th Ave. N.E. in Kirkland.
The two concerts began and will close out the choir’s performances in the Puget Sound area, which are part of the choir’s six-month tour around the United States.
The performances are free and open to the public and according to a WCC press release, feature worship songs that share the stories of the children and the hope they have because of God’s love.
Laura Stanger, pastoral assistant for children’s ministry and family life at St. John Vianney, said the upcoming performance came about when she received an email from WCC asking if the church would host them. She spoke with their new pastor, Vu Tran and the rest of the parish staff.
“We thought it would be a wonderful gift to our community,” Stanger said.
She said their hopes for the performance, which is sponsored by the church’s children’s ministry, Catholic Kids’ Catechism Club, is that “children, their families and our community will learn more about the world, about welcoming strangers, growing in friendship, overcoming adversity and finding reasons to praise God.”
“The Watoto Choir can teach us so much,” Stanger said. “And our hope is that we can teach them that our community is a place of welcome.”
THE FOUR Rs
Since this particular tour began in September, WCC team leader Edwin Naijuka said they have been to Colorado, Montana, Utah, Idaho and Wyoming. In the coming months, through March 2018, he said they will be traveling to Oregon, California, Nevada, New Mexico, Arizona and Texas.
According to the release, the choirs have toured around the world annually since 1994 as advocates for the 18 million African children currently orphaned by AIDS. The choirs’ audiences have included presidents and royalty in the White House, Buckingham Palace, the United Nations and other national parliaments, the release states.
WCC is part of the Watoto Child Care Ministry, which was founded by the Watoto Church as an international holistic care program that was initiated as a response to the overwhelming number of orphaned and vulnerable children and women in Uganda, the release states.
Naijuka, who has been with the ministry for four years, said one of their goals is to restore the children’s sense of hope and belonging. Their mission is to rescue orphaned and vulnerable children and raise them to become leaders to rebuild the nation of Uganda and the African continent, he said. Naijuka added that at the moment, the children under the ministry’s care are all from Uganda.
The ministry’s model for looking after the children involves physical care, medical intervention including HIV/AIDS treatment, education — formal and vocational (which continues while they are on tour) — counseling and emotional well-being as well as moral and spiritual discipleship, according to the release.
There are 17 children between ages 7 and 12 on tour with Naijuka at the moment, along with 10 adults who are also traveling with them. This is Naijuka’s fifth time traveling with the choir. He said with more than 3,000 children under the ministry’s care, they select different youths for each tour because they want all the children to have the experience, adding that seven choir groups go on tour around the world each year.
Naijuka said for a lot of the children, the tour is their first time on a plane as well as their first time out of Uganda. With so many firsts to experience, he said one thing the children get excited about is seeing snow.
“When they see it, they go crazy,” he said.
In addition, Naijuka said they enjoy eating different foods wherever they go — a lot of which they have only seen on TV or in movies.
For 12-year-old Isaiah Kirumira, who is in Naijuka’s current tour choir, the highlights of the trip have included swimming and playing basketball.
“I really enjoyed it,” he said about his experiences so far.
Isaiah said he is looking forward to visiting Disneyland when the tour takes them to California, adding that one of his favorite Disney movies is “Moana.”
Naijuka said Isaiah is not the only one.
“They’re really, really excited about (Disneyland),” he said about all of the other children.
In addition to visiting big tourist destinations wherever they go, Naijuka said they also take the children to local parks to give them time to play. While speaking to the Reporter on Nov. 10, the group was at a park in Oak Harbor, playing soccer.
SHARING THEIR STORIES
While the site seeing and playing may be fun, the children also enjoy the purpose of their tour: singing and performing.
“It has been really fun,” Isaiah said, adding that his favorite song to perform is called “Beat of Your Love.”
In the release, 8-year-old Esther Kahangi, who has traveled with the choir, added, “I love being a part of Signs & Wonders. I know that I am a wonder because I am chosen by God as His child.”
According to the release, Esther was abandoned at a hospital in the Ugandan capital of Kampala. She was rescued by Watoto as a premature baby and spent her first weeks in critical care.
Naijuka said his favorite part of being part of WCC is seeing the transformation the children go through from the beginning of a tour, to the end. He said the growth they experience is what keeps him going and doing this.
Jeremiah Latifu, a 13-year-old who had been on the tour earlier in the year agreed about growing while on tour.
“I was a shy person before (the) tour, but while I was on tour, my confidence grew,” he said. “I enjoyed sharing my story with other people because I believed that it would encourage someone listening.”