Those in the audience at Holy Cross Lutheran Church got permission Sunday evening to do something that would become tempting once the African Children's Choir began their hourlong performance – wiggle.
“I hope you're ready to dance a little bit, and that's OK if you aren't,” said Don Henry, who welcomed the crowd on behalf of Holy Cross and St. Augustine Lutheran Church, for which he is a vicar.
Moments later, the 16 choir members ran out, brimming with movement, music and enthusiasm that didn't wane through such songs as “Amazing Grace” and “This Little Light of Mine.”
The children, who ranged from 8 to 11 years old, visited Fort Wayne as part of a nine-month North America tour that also includes stops in South Bend, Goshen, Indianapolis, Franklin and Evansville.
“Back home in Africa, the children you are about to meet have been surrounded with extreme poverty and deadly sickness,” tour leader Jade Powers said.
“But despite those harsh circumstances,” she added, “they have refused to lose hope. They truly represent the tremendous potential of Africa. They represent the change that is possible with hope and faith.”
The choir members – who dream of becoming teachers, nurses, doctors, pilots, engineers and other professions – are considered ambassadors for the millions of suffering children in Africa. The money raised on tour supports their education and the ongoing efforts of its fundraising organization, Music for Life.
Since 1984, the choir and Music for Life have educated more than 50,000 children and helped an additional 100,000 children through relief and education projects, according to the choir's website.
Choir conductor Paul Mania and head teacher Justine Namayango – who both toured with the group as children – said the program changed their lives. Mania has a degree in finance, and Namayango has a degree in human rights and ethics.
“We did not have enough for decent clothing, much less for school,” Mania said of his family's finances. “However, joining Music for Life would forever be my greatest miracle.”
Along with making a monetary donation, audience members were encouraged to seek information about volunteer opportunities and how to sponsor a child.
Mania said he benefited from such generosity.
“Somebody just like you heard my cry,” he said, “and I was sponsored. I was fed. I was clothed. And I was educated.”
Attendees, however, were out of luck if they sought to adopt the choir members. One girl made clear none was available for adoption.
There were other ways, however, to bring the children home, she said, prompting her peers to display the merchandise – including CDs, DVDs and shirts – available for purchase.
“Please, do not go home without us,” the girl said, sparking laughter.