Wednesday 29th June was a very good day. There were a number of enjoyable elements: a time of excitement and building friendships in my Police Chaplaincy; some encouraging meetings; and then, the evening came…
I fought through the Cambridge traffic and got to St A’s at about 6pm. The African Children’s Choir had arrived a few hours earlier and been welcomed and fed by a team of church volunteers. While the children themselves rested and rehearsed, the ‘techies’ set up an impressive number of speakers, microphones, cameras, etc. in the sanctuary of the church. I entered a building that was ready to deliver a big show to a big audience.
7.30pm came very quickly and I stepped onto the stage to welcome the choir. The tour organiser, Heidi, had given me a detailed sheet telling me when to stand up and what kind of thing to say at two or three intervals in the programme. I gave what I hoped was a warm welcome to everyone and returned to my seat. I don’t think anyone who attended will forget what happened next.
The choir seemed to explode onto the stage in a loud and melodious mixture of sounds. There was frantic drumming, singing and crying out. The children somersaulted into formation and the volume increased. The sound crew seemed to have mastered the subtle art of making music impressive, but not deafening or uncomfortable. The songs felt as if they hit you in the heart!
The majority of the worship music was African. It all seemed to follow a similar pattern: one of the children took a microphone and acted as a kind of cantor, singing and leading the praises as the other children provided vocal accompaniment and danced. The dancing appeared to be both joyful and physically demanding. It was enhanced by the traditional costumes rustling and swirling in time to the beat. You could glance upwards at any point in a song and see the words that were being sung projected onto the big screens – thankfully, there was an English translation beneath. I found the screens very helpful: in an unobtrusive way, they allowed everyone to enter into the worship a little more deeply.
The programme was interspersed with two or three more traditional ‘Western’ hymns and with some spoken pieces. Of the spoken pieces, the most memorable was undoubtedly when the children took it in turns to tell the audience what they wanted to do when they grew up. The little boy who candidly announced that he wanted to be bank manager got a loving chuckle from everyone. In addition to the above, we were treated to a display of traditional drumming.
The audience was wonderfully entertained by all that went on. At the end of the entertainment, we were reminded that a much higher purpose was also being served. The children were coming to the end of their ten month tour; a tour which took them from their homes and propelled them around the globe; a tour which focused on the Christian Faith and on proclaiming the Good News of Jesus through song; a tour which broadened their horizons and changed their lives; a tour which was coming to an end and returning the children to their homes and ‘ordinary’ lives.
It is the belief of the organisers that the positive spiritual effects of the tour will continue to shape and bless the lives of the children as they grow to maturity and become the next generation of doctors, teachers, members of local government, politicians, bank managers. After 32 years of African Children’s Choirs, the organisers had testimonies of changed lives. Indeed, some of the organisers had been a part of the choir many years previously.
It was the privilege of St Andrew’s Street Baptist Church to be a small part of this year’s adventure. We join with host churches around the world in wishing the 2015-16 choir every blessing now and in their future lives.