I’ve just attended a performance of the famous Watoto Children’s Choir. Seeing African people sing and dance makes my body hurt. They bend in places I don’t even have joints.
The word Watoto is Swahili for ‘children’. But Watoto is not only a choir – it’s a movement of faith. Like the children themselves – a gyrating, crazy, wonderfully bright and bold movement of faith that is changing Africa, one child at a time.
Watota began in 1994 when, seeing the heartbreaking needs around them, a church in Kampala, Uganda responded with Jesus’ love by feeding and housing the orphaned and abandoned children who wandered the streets like feral cats.
Today, a collection of Watoto villages are scattered throughout Africa. The villages house orphans and abandoned children in new homes, with mamas and siblings. They grow in the Christian faith and receive education and training to become what Africa – and every country – most needs: compassionate, decisive leaders who will stand firm and pure amidst threatening tides of corruption.
We sat near the front of a packed church with our grandbeans and their parents. Even five-month old Lois, generally cranky in the evening, jerked to attention as the choir exploded onstage.
Those precious African children flew from the wings like butterflies released from a jar. Suddenly the platform filled with a rainbow of light; with colorful costumes, a blur of action and soul-vibrating songs in the rhythms of native Africa. Watching, the baby stood erect on her mother’s knee, her eyes protruding and her body stiff with excitement.
Out of the corner of my eye, I watched our son-in-law, Kendall, recently returned from a well-building dedication in Kenya. Several times during the performance I caught the glow of his tears catching the light. It snags something in the heart, a close brush with that continent and its people.
Three-year old Sherah sat on his knee. Fascinated, though somewhat overwhelmed, she spent part of the concert with both hands covering her ears. Near the end she squeezed past the rest of the family, skitttered down the aisle and out to the foyer of the packed church. I wasn’t too concerned. Her mama had left earlier to take the baby out. I knew they’d find each other.
“Where did you go, Sherah?” I asked after the concert ended. Nana, she said, I was runnin’ to the light. To find mama in the light.
Runnin’ to the light. Her words, I’ve realized since, neatly sum up the mission of Watoto and similar choirs. Children running from the darkness of horror and hunger into the light of Jesus’ love and eternal hope. Following a beacon transmitted by his compassionate followers. People who understand God’s view of what makes a true religion: one that cares for orphans and distressed widows and stands firm and pure amidst surrounding corruption. (James 1:27)
Anyone who practices that kind of religion, or receives its bounty, sings and dances in the light of God’s smile.