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BREAKING NEWS

Watoto choir returns

By Staff | May 22, 2016

It’s like a little slice of heaven.

That would be the exuberant African worship of the Watoto Children’s Choir, according to Russ Jacobsen, pastor of Blue Earth’s Hope United Methodist Church.

The church played host to the choir last year, but the acclaimed event dictated a change of venue for May 26, when Watoto will return as part of its international “Oh, What Love”?tour.

“About 300 people showed up,”?Jacobsen said, “and this year, we’re moving it to the [Blue Earth Area] High School because of the positive response.

“Everyone was raving,”?he said. “Everyone was in awe.”

Although he was not the pastor of Hope at the time of last year’s Watoto show, Jacobsen said he didn’t hesitate to reconnect with the worldwide group, which uses songs, dance and testimonies to raise awareness of African orphans and widows.

“We just jumped on it,”?he said. “I heard so many positive things, and I?said ‘we’ve got to do this.'”

Do it, they will.

The choir, which originated in Uganda and has traveled six continents since 1994, will arrive in Blue Earth the afternoon of May 26 following three stops in Sioux Falls, South Dakota.

Jacobsen, who has been on three short-term mission trips to Zambia, said the Watoto choir’s style is unparalleled, mirroring the glory of the group’s core mission.

“One of the most amazing things is African worship,”?he said. “It’s a neat cross-cultural experience.”

During their stay, in addition to home-school lessons and their 7 p.m. show at BEA?High School, the performers will spend time with host families.

Many of the Watoto stars are orphaned because of everything from war to AIDs.

“Each child in the Watoto Children’s Choir has suffered the loss of one or both parents,”?the Watoto website reads. “The experience of travelling in a choir helps the children to develop confidence and boldness, as well as broadening their worldview.”

So every minute the Watoto guests spend in the company of temporary families can be as impacting as the applause they receive for their tour.

“The fact that we can help children is awesome,”?Jacobsen said.

One such host, Blue Earth’s own Bruce Ankeny, had four boys and one adult stay with him last year and welcomes the African visitors with open arms.

“These are the most polite kids you’ll ever encounter,” said Ankeny, whose family plans to host at least three girls this year. “It’s quite a privilege for them to come and do the tour.”

The African choir members’ upbringings often seep into their attitudes, too, according to Ankeny. Outside of their performance, the guests radiate a modesty as bright as the choir’s stage presence.

“They don’t demand very much,” he said, recalling one morning last year when a lavish breakfast at his home had his African guests overcome with humility.

“They’re used to simple,”?Jacobsen added.

Simple as they may be, both in their everyday mindset and their approach to a worldwide tour for which they do not charge a single dollar, the Watoto performers have drawn staunch support, locally and beyond.

Ankeny, who owns Ankeny Furniture at 230 S. Main St., said he will be closing his store the night of this year’s concert so that he can go to the high school.

“I?think people will fill that place up,”?he said.

The draw of the choir is anticipated to stretch well beyond those who merely take interest in Hope UMC’s ministries or, on a similarly large scale, those of Watoto.

“This is for the community,”?Jacobsen said.

The Watoto Children’s Choir’s live tour will take place in the high school’s Performing Arts Center. Admission is free, though an offering will be collected.