African Children’s Choir graces Cornerstone Church


The African Children’s Choir performed at Cornerstone Assembly of God Church in Weiser Sunday, Oct. 29. The choir consists of children ages seven- to 10-years old who come from vulnerable backgrounds. Many children in their native Uganda are orphaned, as are so many others in various parts of Africa where educational opportunities are few. Photo by Philip A. Janquart
By: 
Philip A. Janquart
Pastor Mark Burgess tries to bring quality musical ministries to his congregation every year.
 On Sunday evening, however, he got much more than he expected. Burgess had the fortunate opportunity to host the African Children’s Choir at Cornerstone Assembly of God Church in Weiser. Through the international nonprofit organization Music for Life, the Uganda-based choir has spanned the breadth of the United States so far in 2023, touring cities large and small from Pennsylvania and New Jersey to Washington and Oregon. The choir was scheduled to be on the road in Idaho last month, for visits to Idaho Falls, Pocatello, Twin Falls, and Meridian, when Burgess received an offer he could not pass up.
 “It was a couple of weeks ago and they called, saying they had an open night and asked if we would be interested in having them and I said, ‘Absolutely!’”
 There was one caveat, however: the 20-member choir and seven adults needed a place to stay for three days and Burgess knew he couldn’t make it happen on such short notice.  
 The word began to spread and before he knew it, the solution presented itself.
 It turned out a church in Meridian was able to house the choir Sunday through Wednesday, but the choir still had Sunday evening open.
 The tour manager contacted Burgess and brought the group to Weiser, prompting action.
 “We made flyers and sent them all over town, and posted it all over Facebook,” he said. “And, we had a pretty decent turnout tonight.”
 The African Children’s Choir consists of African children ranging in age from seven- to 10-years-old, all of them coming from vulnerable backgrounds, having faced hardships and challenges most in the U.S. are not accustomed to.
 The choir was founded in 1984 by Ray Barnett while he was on a humanitarian trip to war-torn Uganda. It was there that he gave an orphaned boy a ride in his car to the safety of another village. Barnett was moved by the boy’s spirit and dignity as he sang songs of praise during the ride.
 “The resiliency of this boy touched Ray’s Heart,” said Choir Manager Tina Sipp. “These children are in a cycle of poverty that is very hard to break out of without education. We raise money to get as many children educated as we can. Any money raised goes to educate hundreds of children each year.”
 Children must complete a needs-based audition to get a spot in the choir. If accepted, they attend a training center that serves as a full-time school.  
 Following the tour, they return to school where they prepare for their grade 7 exam before moving on to secondary education equivalent to U.S. grades 8 through 12. 
 The children on Sunday introduced themselves to the audience, providing their names and what they wanted to do with their lives when they grow up, which ranges from a flight attendant to medical and dental professionals.
 “These concerts provide hope and encouragement, not just to entertain audiences,” Sipp added.
 Pastor Burgess experienced the poverty so prevalent across Africa while serving in the military, something he says he will never forget.
 “I was in the (U.S) Air Force and was in Africa several times in the 1980s,” he explained, adding that his work there required he be dressed in civilian clothing. “In addition to our duties while in the several countries where we served, we were able to travel and see what it was like, and sometimes it was just heartbreaking.”
 He related a story that stood out among all the others he brought back with him, one where he witnessed a boy abused for stealing some bread.
 “They held him down in the street, put a rope around his wrist, pulled his arm out, and drove a truck over it to teach him not to steal,” Burgess said. “We weren’t allowed to intervene otherwise it would have been an international incident. The American military can’t intervene in how they run their country. We went back to the hotel and didn’t go out again until it was time to leave.”
 He compared that experience to what he witnessed at Sunday’s performance at Cornerstone.
 “Seeing stuff like that is mind-boggling, but then you see the vibrancy of these kids because they have found hope. They sang a ‘thank you’ for their dinner today; it was beautiful, such joy.”
 To learn more about the choir or view the remaining tour schedule, visit www.africanchildrenschoir.com.
 

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Signal American

18 E. Idaho St.
Weiser, ID 83672
PH: (208) 549-1717
FAX: (208) 549-1718
 

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