Two churches in western Manitoba teamed up to bring a powerful and hope-filled evening to the region.

Together the Shoal Lake Baptist and the Strathclair Baptist Churches hosted the Watoto Children's Choir at the Strathclair Bend Theatre last week, bringing smiles to their audience with the high energy and incredible talent in these young people mostly from Uganda, Africa.

The community of Shoal Lake/Strathclair was just one of their concerts stops as they tour across Canada.

Shoal Lake Pastor Joel Usick said the children and their chaperones and fellow performers, as well as schoolteachers, were taking 6 months to cross Canada by bus to continue the spreading of the gospel and His wonder-working power of life-giving transformation.

In the 1980s, Uganda was a broken country in the midst of a civil war.  In 1984 Gary and Marilyn Skinner planted Watoto Church in Kampala, Uganda, and in 1988 Gary Skinner heard God whisper about the orphan crisis as a result of AIDS. Watoto was launched to bring healing to its people, and help rebuild the nation, by meeting the greatest needs.

In 1994, the first orphan child was rescued, and the Watoto Children's Choir began with their first tour to spread the love of Jesus and to raise awareness of the thousands of vulnerable women and children affected by civil war, the AIDS epidemic, and the child soldier crisis.

Seeing the children perform with such joy in spite of the horrible conditions they came from, Pastor Joel says the children touched everyone's heart.

"They're very much connected to the original vision that the founder of Watoto had," he explains. "When they start their tours, they are certainly designed to reach people with the message of Jesus all across the world. So, behind their music, behind their tours, they want to see people come to know the love of Jesus through their ministry."

Pastor Joel says the Covid pandemic had a significant effect on their ministry and so the touring helps to raise awareness of the over 3,000 vulnerable women and children in their care.  "They haven't changed their operations, but they are in a very different financial spot currently, and so part of their tour is about raising awareness about the ministry that they do."  

These children are most often abandoned by their parents, or their parents have passed away.  Watoto is seen as a family by its supporters and members, not an orphanage. 

"They are not seen as an orphanage, they are a home," says Pastor Joel, "and they are so driven to provide a home for these abandoned children, not just an institution that meets their needs, but a home where they belong and are taught the love of God by a mother and staff."

"Yes, it was really beautiful that way for these kids."

"They've just got good music," add Pastor Joel. "Go onto their YouTube videos and enjoy their wonderful music!!"

Watoto choirs also are presently touring across the United States and the U.K.