GO Arts: Watoto Children’s Choir sings on in Lakewood, Kent and Renton amid controversy over the Ugandan church it represents

Tacoma News TribuneMarch 25, 2014 

Watoto Children's Choir.


The Watoto Children’s Choir, on a six-month U.S. tour raising funds and awareness for a charity helping orphaned children in Uganda, will offer three free concerts this weekend in Lakewood, with more coming up in Kent and Renton next week. The choir is based out of Watoto Villages, a ministry of the Kampala-based Watoto Pentecostal church to provide needy children – many war or AIDS orphans – with adult care, schooling and medical services. Yet the church’s anti-gay stance is getting the choir some negative local reaction.

The press release explains the Watoto Villages as “a holistic child-care solution initiated to serve the dire needs of Africa and her people. (Orphaned children) receive the care and nurture they need to grow up as productive citizens of their own country.”

In the villages, church women train to be “mothers” before looking after a family of eight children. Church men visit the villages occasionally to provide male role modeling, the website states.

The choir, which has toured with different children yearly since 1994 to countries including Australia, Brazil, China, Europe, Hong Kong, Japan, Germany, France and the U.S, sings an energetic fusion of contemporary gospel and traditional African music and dance.

“Through the choir’s Concert of Hope, we share a message of transformation by telling the story of Africa’s rescued orphans and women. We hope to reach out to audiences with the message of Christ’s healing power,” said Watoto founder Gary Skinner in the release.

The English-speaking church, which has over 20,000 members, is also a highly conservative one, preaching against homosexuality and, according to human rights activist and lawyer Melanie Nathan, supporting Uganda’s recent anti-homosexuality bill, which punishes some homosexual acts with a life-sentence in prison. The church made KING5 headlines last week when locals protested against what they claim is the exploitation of orphans to financially support the church’s anti-gay political stance. The most recent financial statement the church makes public online is from 2012, when it took in $7 million in foreign donations, though without specifying how much of that was from choir fundraising.

All performances are free. 7 p.m. March 28 at Little Church on the Prairie, 6310 Motor Ave. SW, Lakewood. 6 p.m. March 29 and 9 a.m. and 10:50 a.m. Mar. 30 at Lake City Community Church, 8810 Lawndale Ave. SW, Lakewood. TBD April 5 at First Christian Church, 11717 SE 240th St., Kent. 5 p.m. April 6 at NW Life Church, 13120 SE 192nd St., Renton. More information: watoto.com.

Rosemary Ponnekanti: 253-597-8568 rosemary.ponnekanti@thenewstribune.com

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