KAMPALA, Uganda (Christian Examiner) – The energetic singers and dancers in the Watoto Children's Choir used to be orphans—but each has found a family in Watoto, a holistic care program for women and children affected by HIV/AIDS and war.
The choir's new production, "Oh What Love," expresses the loving family to be found in Jesus and exalts God's faithfulness to His children.
"God's heart for the marginalized is not just to see individuals rescued, but rather to see them thrive as their lives are transformed," says Gary Skinner, cofounder of Watoto with his wife Marilyn, in a press release.
"The stories of the children are real and represent thousands who are experiencing this transformation," he said.
The choir has performed in the White House, Buckingham Palace, parliamentary houses, and countless churches.
Six-year-old Jackie Nakku's story, shared in the press release, is one of thousands similar displaying the impact of Watoto. "After losing my parents I felt alone, with no one to love me," Jackie said.
"Now I know that God is my father. He loves and cares for me. As I travel on the choir, I am going to show people that God loves them too."
Watoto Child Care Ministries, founded in 1994, was based out of the Skinners' church in Kampala, where Gary and Marilyn encountered firsthand the tragic damage that HIV/AIDS and its stigma could wreak upon families.
To rebuild families, the Skinners decided to build "villages" where groups of eight children are cared for by a mother in a home, attend school, and receive the good news they are children of God.
Each of the three village communities has "a nursery school, a kindergarten, primary school, high school, water project, medical clinic and a multi-purpose hall for use as a church and community center." The Watoto website says that almost 3,000 children are cared for in the villages.
The Watoto Children's Choir tours to share the blessing of family and to advocate for their brothers and sisters, children whose lives have been destroyed by illness or violence.
NEED FOR COMPASSION
"To sing with orphan children who have had the most challenging lives and support the work of Watoto has been one of my greatest joys in recent years," said Chris Tomlin.
According to UN AIDS, 130,000 to 170,000 Ugandan children are estimated to be living with AIDS. Because of the continued deaths from the HIV/AIDS epidemic in Uganda, 480,000 to 1,500,000 children are believed to have been orphaned in 2014.
While many Watoto children were orphaned by the disease, a staggering number of newborn or premature babies are found discarded in the street by their mothers, who might be little older than children themselves.
Children might also come to Watoto because of the violence created by the rebel group Lord's Resistance Army (LRA), which has been active in the area of Uganda since 2006 and is notorious for abducting children as soldiers.
Barbara, today a university student, came to Watoto with her mother after her father was killed by war and his family turned them out of the house. She traveled the world as part of the choir and is grateful for the leadership and ministry training she received at Watoto. "I am so excited about the future," she said in a video on the Watoto website.
Churches and organizations may visit the choir's website to receive information about booking the choir.