All Saints’ Churchwarden Kevin Wood writes about Watoto.
“Watoto Childcare Ministries has just celebrated their 35th Birthday, but my association with them only goes back to 2003.
The Watoto Childrens’ Choir from Uganda was visiting our church at the time, and my wife Sue and I went along to see them. And what a colourful, joyful experience that was! Through the music and dance, the film clips and testimony from the kids, I learnt of the fantastic work that Watoto was doing as the number of orphaned children and abandoned babies in and around the Ugandan Capital City of Kampala grew. Gary Skinner, the Canadian Pastor of the Kampala Pentecostal Church (now “Watoto Church”) in Uganda, became aware of this increase, and responded to God’s call to do something about it.
In the late 1980’s and early 90’s, Uganda had among the largest orphan population for any country as the HIV/ AIDS epidemic swept through sub-Saharan Africa.
Gary was reminded of James 1: 27, which says: “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress.”
In 1994, he and his wife Marilyn established Watoto Child Care Ministries (Watoto means “the children” in Swahili). It started with one simple house in Kansanga; a suburb south of Kampala. Here, eight orphans and a widow were given the chance to become a new family.
Watoto Child Care Ministries currently cares for more than 3,000 children within three Watoto villages. Each child living in these villages is raised in a family setting rather than an institution. The Skinners’ and Watoto’s vision is that the children be rescued and raised to become future leaders of Uganda and Africa.
The Watoto Children’s Choir tours the world annually to advocate millions of African children currently orphaned by AIDS, poverty and war. The choir’s Concerts of Hope are held in churches, community halls and schools around the world.
The Watoto Children’s Choir has performed before royalty and world leaders. They’ve sung at Buckingham Palace, at the White House and at many national parliaments across the globe. Wherever they go, audiences are inspired as the children sing, dance and celebrate their stories of hope. And now, for the very first time, they visit Isleworth!
So, in 2003 I was at a Watoto concert held at my church at the time, St. Saviours Church in Sunbury. When a mission to Uganda to work with Watoto to build a house that would become a home to eight children and a House Mother was suggested, I signed up to go.
In total, I’ve been on three mission trips to Uganda with teams from St. Saviours, in 2005, 2007 and 2009 (see the video I shot on my first visit).
On my 3rd visit, the house we built was in the Northern Ugandan town of Gulu.
Previously, Northern Uganda hadn’t been safe for us to visit due to Civil War between Ugandan Government forces and war criminal Joseph Kony’s so-called “Lord’s Resistance Army”. The LRA’s tactics involved raiding villages at night, stealing the children torturing them and forcing them to become Child Soldiers and sex slaves. By the late 2000’s, Kony had been forced out of Uganda, making it safer for us to visit. Watoto moved in to Gulu too, establishing a Children’s Village and now their work expanded to include the rehabilitation and reconciliation of former Child Soldiers.
Since coming to All Saints’ I’ve been looking for a way to bring the Watoto Choir here. I’d already shared with Ali my video that I shot on my first Uganda visit, and then at the beginning of the year, I noticed that the Choir was coming to the UK again and they had some available dates whilst they are in the London area.
We are hosting one concert on Saturday 18th May at 6.30pm, and we are looking to fill the church. It is a ticketed event, but tickets are free. If you haven’t got yours yet, there is an EventBrite sign up page.
My prayer is that seeing the Watoto Children will prove to be a challenging and life changing experience for you, just as it was for me back in 2003.