ROCK SPRINGS — The African Children’s Choir will be making an appearance in Rock Springs next week on March 13 at 7:00 p.m. at the Rock Springs Evangelical Free Church. A free concert featuring 17 children from the country of Uganda will delight the audience with African hymns.
Behind the music and singing is a story of hope which sets the foundation for the world’s oldest traveling children’s choir.
The Singing Boy
Ray Barnett, the founder of the choir, was working with a persecuted church in the 1970’s. Barnett’s work eventually led him to Uganda during the country’s bloody civil war in the 80’s.
On one of his trips in 1984, he gave a ride to a little boy who had lost both of his parents in the civil war. During the ride, the little boy sang praise songs. In Barnett’s mind, that little boy helped portray the potential of Africa. The small voice inspired an idea to bring a choir to the Western world to help raise money for an orphanage.
Fast forward to 2019, The African Children’s Choir now has several different programs to help support thousands of children obtain an education. Over 52,000 children have been educated through the efforts of the choir and over 100,000 people have directly been helped throughout the years.
A Hope for a Vision
Many years have passed since the first choir member was selected. During a concert in the 90’s, current Choir Manager, Tina Sipp, first encountered the precious children and their potential.
Moved by the performacne, Sipp acted upon her passion for the children and the choir. Sixteen years have now passed since she joined the choir’s efforts.
“We’re trying to provide an opportunity for children to break the cycle of poverty,” Sipp said. “Also, to be effective change makers.”
The selection of children for the choir is a thorough process. Due to the large amount of needful situations, the program carefully selects children of families in dire circumstances.
The children come into the program without any knowledge of the English language. Six months of training prepare the kids for the nine month long tour that they take on afterwards. The generosity of families and churches in countless communities sustain the choir’s lodging and food needs. After the 15 month experience, the children go back home with what Sipp hopes is a renewed vision for their lives.
“The most important thing they go back with is a vision,” Sipp said. “I think that is what every child goes back home with. Before they come, their life experience is about a two-to-five mile radius. It’s hard to catch a vision for your life when that’s all you have seen. This just helps them see that they have an option with what they want to do in their lives.”
The program aims not to take children out of Africa, but to help enable them to become the change makers needed in order to face the challenges in Africa.
“We kind of get this image of Africa being beyond hope or just a pathetic place, yet this culture has wealth that the West may never see again. I think it’s important for us to gain a new perspective on wealth and poverty,” Sipp said.
While the children will obtain an education, the audience will also gain an important message.
“That’s what people get out of this concert,” Sipp said. “They see these children who have so little materially give so much. They are full of wealth in a different way. I think there is a longing in the Western heart for what these children have.”
Concert goers will receive a free ticket to watch, but donations will be welcomed warmly and with purpose. Sipp hopes that the concert goes beyond the music for those in attendance. She also desires that the audience of Sweetwater County will not feel sorry for the children, but see their true potential just as she did during her first concert.
“Make an investment in a life. We can make a difference. We don’t have to change every child in Africa. We don’t need to change the world, we need to change a person,” Sipp said.
By avoiding the lens of sympathy, one can stand behind the children on the stage which will ultimately change the course of many lives in Africa.