By Woody Woodrick
Anyone expecting to sit quietly during the Friday night worship at Annual Conference had better get ready. It won’t likely be quiet.
However, it likely will be inspiring.
The Hope for Africa Children’s Choir is scheduled to be part of the June 12 service at the Jackson Convention Complex as part of their United States tour. The choir sang at the 2008 General Conference in Forth Worth, Texas, and Mississippians who heard them were impressed.
“They had enthusiasm and energy. They were just so lively, it was contagious,” said the Rev. Sheila Cumbest of Ocean Springs. “You could see the love in their hearts, and it was portrayed in their actions. They were glad to be anywhere singing, and you could tell it.”
The Rev. Joe May of Jackson agreed. “It’s contagious; what they bring to worship and praise is contagious,” he said.
Founded in 1984, the choir consists of children from across Africa, most of them from situations of dire poverty. They live at a United Methodist school in Uganda.
Many of the children are making their first trip abroad. They arrived in the U.S. on May 20 and are scheduled to stay through late November. After singing at Annual Conference, the choir will return to Mississippi July 13-31.
“At the Council of Bishops, there was a conversation about bringing the choir over and Bishop Hope Morgan Ward was asked if the Mississippi Conference would be the host for this tour,” said the Rev. Fitzgerald Lovett, who has helped coordinate the trip for the conference.
Getting the choir to the United States took some doing. The travel party of 23 children and eight adults had to clear a myriad of red tape securing passports and visas. “We knew it would get done, it was just a matter of which process we used,” Lovett said.
Response from Mississippi and across the nation has been positive, Lovett said. “We’ve had calls from as far away as Kansas from people who heard them at General Conference. One woman who called had been at General Conference, and her church is basically sponsoring their visit to that conference. Another lady’s daughter has visited the school and has volunteered to travel with them to help them out.”
Lovett said numerous people have volunteered to assist the group as it travels to Iowa, Georgia, South Carolina, Tennessee, Kentucky, Indiana, Pennsylvania, New York, Virginia and Ohio.
May said the choir carries a powerful witness.
“Their way of ministering to those who are here is with a sense of appreciation for God,” May said. “They draw you into the excitement of their ministry. It is very lively, a living presence. You see their witness and know they come from very poverty stricken areas, but in the midst of that they can give thanks to God.”
May said their stories bring to mind Philippians 4:13, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”
Mary Ford of Quitman was also deeply moved by the children.
“They were just delightful, and so excited to be doing what they were doing. It was just a refreshing view of what could happen to children if they’re given half a chance,” she said. “(The choir program) took them and gave them what they needed, and the joy that came out of them was unbelievable.”
Cumbest said the children bring a different perspective from other international choirs.
“They bring a renewed sense of hope. They are a new face of Africa that we don’t get to see. It’s a young face. We’ve had choirs (from Africa) before, but they were college students or adults. (The children) bring that renewed sense and you can see it on their faces — that’s hope for Africa. I think we need to see that for the world.”