I don’t remember ever feeling such anticipation and excitement as I felt waiting at the airport for the Bulembu choir and chaperones to come through the doors from Canada Customs, after flying through London from Johannesburg, South Africa. When I overheard the British accents of a flight crew, I asked them if the choir was coming soon. “Oh, such lovely children!” exclaimed one flight attendant. “I wish we had them on every crossing!”
Finally we could spot a group of people dressed in red – waiting at a baggage carousel. It seemed to take forever – just like Christmas morning takes forever when you’re a kid.
Seeing the familiar faces on Canadian soil was the culmination of months of planning, hours of prayer, and a succession of miracles. Obtaining passports and travel documents for orphaned children who may not have birth certificates, securing Visas during a work action by Canadian consulate workers, and coordinating flights, transportation and baggage for such a large group – at every step there were roadblocks and delays. Finally, with less than a month before departure, the completed passports with Visas were finally in hand. Clearly the possible obstacles were no match for God’s will, and witnessing the safe arrival of all 20 children and 7 adults – including all of the luggage – was like having a front row seat to God’s magnificent work.
Over the two weeks leading up to two major performances with The Tenors, the choir and chaperones were billeted in the Edmonton area. Actually, adopted is a more accurate description; these busy families were fully committed to providing a welcoming home and memorable Canadian experiences. In between school performances and church concerts, the group enjoyed quadding and horseback riding, street hockey and a bonfire cook-out among other activities. Outings included an all-access experience at the TELUS World of Science in Edmonton, including the world-class Body Worlds exhibit, and an NHL game with Edmonton Oilers and Winnipeg Jets.
One day while riding the school bus through Edmonton we started talking about things the kids noticed that were different from in Swaziland. They pointed out that our mailboxes were right on the houses, that our roofs were not tin, and that our vehicles were very big. Chaperone Gennie Falcon suggested that there were many bus stops and we should count them (I jokingly called that idea pretty lame, but the children joined right in – clearly an indication why she does her job and I do mine!).
The main observation was that nobody was walking. At home, people walk everywhere as few have vehicles and public transportation is sporadic.
I continually felt the gentle tug of inner conflict – gratitude that I am blessed to have the life I do and the comforts of living in Canada; right alongside envy that these children have a joy and passion for life that seems heightened, perhaps because they are not distracted by the ‘stuff’ and the background noise of a first-world existence.
Thousands of people were impacted by the joy and hope that the children exude – in effect, the choir was ministering to us as people who are being drawn in by our Lord, invited to closer relationship with Him. Amazingly, this occurred so naturally and without any effort; rather God’s love spilled forth from the children almost as if, as His vessels, they were truly overflowing.
When I was asked to write a blog about the children’s time in Canada, I thought I would share stories of new experiences like escalators, drive-through restaurants and big-screen TV. Yes, all of those things were part of the trip, as were singing ABBA songs in the car with one of the Dads, feeding the family Llama and receiving a standing ovation during a sold-out performance at one of the world’s leading concert houses.
To the host families, who set aside their schedules to accommodate rehearsals, performances and outings, those two weeks were unforgettable and I know they are all missing their Bulembu children and adult guests.
To The Tenors, who waived all fees and who have made a long-term commitment to supporting the Bulembu vision, their performances with the children will remain among their most poignant and significant.
To those who attended the Tenors for Bulembu concert at The Winspear Centre Edmonton, there was a tangible, undeniable presence that evening. For me, it was the loving invitation of our Lord to walk with Him and experience unearthly joy as we see in the eyes of children who have overcome indescribable heartache and loss.
By Sue O’Connor