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East African children’s choir to perform on the East Side
Asante Choir brings African orphans to St. Paul to tell their story
Bringing songs of hope, alongside bright clothing, pounding percussion and vibrant dancing, children from East Africa will sing for East Siders on Wednesday, July 30 at First Covenant Church.
The kids, ages 5 to 14 come via Asante Ministries, an 11-year-old Christian organization based in Portland, Ore., which does mission work in Rwanda, Uganda and Burundi. The Oregon organization currently educates, feeds and provides health insurance for more than 2,000 children. Many of the children they provide services for are orphans.
The choir is an outgrowth of Asante’s mission work and the children live at facilities provided by Asante in those countries. There, the kids, who come from families in need, are taken care of. They get their own beds, meals, clothing and schooling, as well as some choir practice.
They’ll perform at the church on Wednesday, July 30.
According to Asante’s website, the choir’s performances are meant to show audiences that “despite the desolate circumstances the children come from, they have beauty, dignity, hope and unlimited potential.”
The kids perform mostly Christian songs of praise in worship, sometimes in English and sometimes in Swahili.
While touring across the country singing songs for Americans, the group of 22 are guided by 10 chaperones, most of whom are also African and have experienced being in traveling youth choirs.
“A lot of our chaperones were part of similar organizations and choirs as children,” said Sara Williams, who coordinates the choir tours for Asante.
“It’s great to have them with the kids,” she said. “They know what it’s like to travel and be in a choir as a kid.”
The tour began July 18 in Eau Claire and will continue through Dec. 28, where the tour will wrap up in Dallas, Texas. The tour relies mostly on free will donations.
In between, the kids will see Minneapolis and St. Paul, Chicago, Milwaukee, Indianapolis, Louisville, Memphis, St. Louis, Kansas City and Oklahoma City.
Williams said that for the most part, the kids “love getting to travel. It’s fun for them; it’s an adventure.”
The Rev. Anne Vining, senior pastor at First Covenant Church, said the church was enthused to host the group, inspired by the mission of Asante.
Asante means “thank you” in Swahili. According to Asante’s website, the choir was initially formed “in order to bring Africa to our sponsors to say ‘Thank you.’”
Vining will also have a couple of kids from the choir stay in her home.
She said her family routinely hosts people from all walks of life.
“Anytime you have the opportunity to share life with people from a variety of backgrounds, it becomes a mutual blessing for them and the host,” she said.
Vining said she hopes other families that will host families will enjoy the experience, and that their kids will learn from the choir kids.
“I’m hoping there are other families that recognize what a great opportunity it is for their child to learn about a different culture from kids their own age,” she said. “I’m hoping that will happen naturally.”
Audra Field, director of administration at the church, is coordinating the hosts for the kids and other logistics.
She said nine families will host the 22 children and 10 chaperones.
“We had a lot of families step in and offer to help,” she said, adding that the process was fairly easy to arrange.
The kids will show up Monday, July 28, and go to their host family’s house for dinner. The kids and chaperones will stay overnight, and be fed breakfast before returning to the church for a day full of schooling. They’ll again return to their host family for Tuesday and Wednesday evenings.
Richard Voth, minister of worship and creative arts at First Covenant church, said he was looking forward to the performance.
He’ll also be hosting two of the choir kids and one chaperone. His own children will give up their rooms and sleep in the basement while the choir kids and chaperone are there.
Voth said he’s looking forward to learning more about the choir -- “Getting to know their own stories, learning about their lives and their culture and customs,” he said.
Voth recalled a decade ago when another African children’s choir came to the church. He said the experience was very positive for the congregation. He said he anticipates a similar experience this time around.
“I think the congregation will be very enlightened,” he added. “It will open up our minds to something that we’re not every day in contact with.”
The kids don’t directly present their backgrounds, many of which involve extreme poverty and other challenges, but they do let their background and history show in part through the songs, Williams said.
The ones who learn the most about the kids are those who choose to host the children in their homes.
“We ask host families not to ask direct questions,” because it can be traumatic, Williams said.
“But if the children share, which oftentimes they do, they’re welcome to have those kinds of conversations.”
Patrick Larkin at 651-748-7816 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @ESRPatrickLark.
IF YOU GO
The Asante Children’s Choir concert, titled “Jericho... Moving Forward” takes place on Wednesday, July 30 at 7 p.m. at First Covenant Church, 1280 Arcade St.