African Children’s Choir performs at Lake Highlands church in Dallas Texas

Sunday’s morning service at Lake Highlands Presbyterian Church was a bit livelier than usual.

African drums shared the space with the pipe organ. And 20 young Ugandans, dressed in bright orange and burgundy outfits, danced and sang exuberantly for the congregation.

The 10 girls and 10 boys — all between ages 8 and 11 — who make up the African Children’s Choir waved their hands above their heads and shouted in unison, “We are happy to be here!”

Many come from Ugandan slums, where they faced poverty and disease, but here their smiles and joyful performance pulled heartstrings, helping to ensure a better future for other children like themselves. They just began the eighth month of their 15-month tour, singing songs in a variety of African languages and English, mostly in churches.

Lake Highlands Presbyterian has hosted the choir several times. When the choir visited four years ago, Pastor Anne Cameron hosted three boys in her home. “It’s a remarkable glimpse into a different part of the world. I almost felt like I had been on a mission trip to Africa,” she said.

“We’re so insulated and isolated that any opportunities to connect — even for just a few hours — can be really transforming.”

Ray Barnett, an Irish minister, founded the organization in 1984 after traveling to Uganda. On the road Barnett’s party picked up a young orphan who inspired him with songs, leading him to find a way to showcase the promise of African children. More than 1,000 children have been part of the choir program to date, helping to raise funds to educate more than 52,000.

The children arrived in Chicago in June. Since then, it’s been a whirlwind tour of 19 states plus Ontario. They’ve visited Mount Rushmore, Niagara Falls and the top of the Gateway Arch in St. Louis. And they’ve met a lot of loving people along the way.

The choir and their eight chaperones arrived in Dallas on Saturday night and stayed with eight local host families — all members of the church.

Three chaperones are former choir members. The rest are from the U.S. and Canada. One chaperone, Tori Bissell, was selling choir T-shirts, CDs and DVDs outside the sanctuary.

Bissell, 23, also teaches the children English, math, science and social studies while they tour. “And from a teacher’s perspective,” she said, “I can tell that they’re learning a lot.”

“The kids love what they’re doing. It’s really exciting for them.”

Many didn’t know how to write their own names at the tour’s start, said Kayla Kumbier, the choir’s road manager. Today they’re optimistic and ambitious.

Angel Asiimwe Hadasah, 8, is already planning ways she can give back as a grown-up. She said she wants to be president. “If some people are in trouble,” she said, “I will help them. I will tell them to come stay with me.”

In the past seven months, the kids have changed physically as well, Kumbier said. “They’re fed well here. They really love American food.”

As they raise their voices, the main goal is to be ambassadors for the children back home.

And part of that means inspiring people with pocketbooks.

The chaperones took to the stage to ask church members to donate — to help sponsor a child in the choir as well as others in Africa.

When they complete their tour, the children will return to the African Children’s Choir Primary School, a boarding school on the shores of Lake Victoria. The organization continues to sponsor them through university.

After eating lunch at the church, and singing a few more songs for volunteers and host families, the singers again boarded their tour bus. Next stop, another Sunday gig — this one at God’s Exciting Cathedral of Praise in DeSoto.


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