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Choir director Tonny Mbowa shapes young lives

Tonny Mbowa is the director of the United Methodist-supported Hope for Africa Children's Choir in Uganda. UMNS photos by Kathy L. Gilbert.

By Kathy L. Gilbert*
April 2, 2008 | NASUTI, Uganda (UMNS)

Tonny Mbowa was 9 and the oldest of five children when Idi Amin's army came to his village on a mission to kill pastors.

Mbowa's father, a pastor in the Full Gospel Church, couldn't escape the "Butcher of Uganda," who ruled the East African country for much of the 1970s. The unarmed pastor was shot and killed in front of his family.

"I remember looking at him with all these wounds … but one thing that encourages me: before he was shot, he begged to say the Lord's Prayer," Mbowa said.

Mbowa remembers everyone in the village heard his father's last words. "I felt really good that he would pray at the last minute instead of panicking because they were determined either way to kill him."

A short time later, Mbowa's mother died of cancer, leaving him the head of the household of three sisters and a baby brother. "Mama died when the last one was still breast-feeding," he said.

"It was so hard for me and so difficult to be the oldest one, but I couldn't do anything to help my sisters and brothers. I matured so fast. From that point, I knew I had to take on responsibility," he said.

Answered prayers

Mbowa’s parents taught him to pray, and when he was young, he prayed for help. Christian organizers of the African Children's Choir selected him to be part of the choir that traveled throughout the United States, Canada and Europe.

Mbowa and choir conductor Lydia Namageme watch the children rehearse at the school in Nasuti, Uganda.

The African Children's Choir, founded by Ray Barnett in 1984, is still saving and training children today. The choir has gained international recognition and performed in some of the world's most prestigious halls.

"From there––seeing the western world and seeing so many people who were loving and caring––I gained hope. I knew God had a lot in store for me."

Now in his early 30s, Mbowa praises God for saving him from that life, and he does all he can to give other children a chance for a better future. Today he is the choir director for the Hope for Africa Children's Choir established by the Uganda United Methodist Church.

Mbowa is using his experience to mold and shape 23 children from situations just as bad as or worse than his own childhood.

The Hope for Africa Children's Choir will perform at the 2008 General Conference, the denomination's top lawmaking body, and then go for a three-month singing tour in the United States.

Compassionate hearts

"God has helped me," Mbowa said. "Everywhere I have been, I have been surrounded by children, one of the things I adore. I love working with kids."

"God has helped me. Everywhere I have been, I have been surrounded by children, one of the things I adore. I love working with kids," Mbowa says.

He shares his story with children in tough situations to illustrate how God's love can change lives.

"When you help such a child, they grow up with a loving heart instead of hating, instead of bitterness," he said. "Because somebody showed them compassion, they will also try to show to another a compassionate heart.

"I believe what we are doing might be small at the moment, but I believe once we keep on doing what we are doing, these children will become a great help to the entire continent of Africa."

Mbowa composes, sings, dances and plays the piano and drums. With so many stories to tell of what God has done for him, he said, it is "easy to come up with a wonderful song."

"I thank God for that. It has been a wonderful gift in my life."

*Gilbert is a United Methodist News Service news writer based in Nashville, Tenn.

News media contact: Kathy L. Gilbert, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5470 or newsdesk@umcom.org.

Video Clips

Tonny Mbowa: "Seeing so many people who were caring ... I gained hope."

Choir performing "More Than Enough for Me"

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