|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
"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 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.
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.
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.
Mbowa and choir conductor Lydia Namageme watch the children rehearse at the school in Nasuti, Uganda.
"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
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.
"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
He shares his story with children in tough situations to illustrate how God's love can change lives.
"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.
"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
"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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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