Ahead of the concert day, Israel Houghton arrived in Uganda at Entebbe airport on the night of 3rdJune, then had a press conference the following morning at Kampala Serena Hotel. The occasion was a big party organised by Watoto Church (formerly Kampala Pentecostal Church). The arrival of this Grammy award winning Christian Music artist, singer/songwriter and critically acclaimed worship leader had caused a stir in the Christian community. The big party, which was organised to celebrate the life of Pastor Gary and his 40 year marriage to the lady every Watoto Church member calls “Mama” was surely worth the party.
Of course, that was not the only reason for declaring an eight-day long party. The Church that has grown to be one of the most influential in Uganda and known world over for their work with children’s homes was celebrating 30 years of existence and 20 years of Watoto Children’s Ministry.So, prior to the main events, the party kicked off on Sunday the 1st of June with celebration services in Watoto Church campuses within Kampala,Gulu and South Sudan. Then on Monday the 2nd, there was a wedding anniversary celebration for Gary and Marilyn Skinner.
Gary & Marilyn Skinner
The 40 year old couple that came to Uganda during the Idi Amin Dada regime and survived in a place that had many fleeing for their lives, has raised an English speaking church that is influencing Uganda by redefining true church ministry. Part of what Watoto Church introduced in Uganda is what is popularly referred to as “Cells,” a weekly gathering of Christians in homes to live life together and share in their common faith. It was therefore only appropriate that on Tuesday 3rd(Martyrs’ Day), the different cell groups joined hands to hold their own parties in a one of their homes.
After an already interesting start of the week there was an on-air party on Power FM, a leading Christian radio station owned by Watoto Church. They had exclusive interviews with Israel Houghton, and then an artistes’ workshop on the same day.
Thursday was expected to be one of the best. It was the Israel Houghton concert day. But, given that the 5th of June was a working day and the venue was out of town, I thought it would greatly hinder the turn up. However, after beating the heavy jam at Busega roundabout and being greeted by cheering ushers, I found the place full to capacity. The atmosphere was full of excitement as The Big Party revellers listened to worship music playing over their voices.
Watoto Children’s Choir On Stage
The first act of the night was an exhilarating performance by the Watoto children’s choir. The song they performed was the title track to their “Beautiful Africa” project. The stage was full to capacity with the Watoto kids doing very well choreographed dance moves on a stage set and lit by the Silk events team. There was an extension to this stage that we later on discovered was done by the Watoto fabrication department.
There was a shot session of Praise and Worship led by the Watoto Church team. Also, James Lalobo gave a history of the nation and the situation which the team leaders of Watoto found on arrival in Uganda. Judge Julie Sebutinde gave a recorded testimony then Denis Kiima together with the Kid Power dance group gave a performance that left the crowd wowed by their gymnastics and crazy dance moves.
The long high energy moment was brought down when the Watoto children’s choir performed, “I’m not alone,” an emotional song that was followed bya graphic re-enactment of the atrocities carried out by the LRA rebels under the leadership of Joseph Kony. The short drama filled with wails, sounds of gunshots and the brutal treatment of abductees, left many relieving a very tragic past. To those rescued by the Watoto Ministry, it was a story of forgiveness and restoration. Soon after, Marilyn Skinner got on to the stage to share a story of one of the living hope ladies who then sung the popular, “I won’t go back” song together with Sam Kimera.
Israel Houghton On Stage
Then!!!! Israel Houghton got onto a keyboard and played He Knows My Name and switched to the popular worship song Here I Am To Worship. Israel who later told a story not so different from that of the Watoto kids, shared of how his mom almost had him aborted. In the time when he was conceived, it was taboo for a black to be in a romantic relationship with a white. His mom who is white, was therefore advised to abort but by God’s grace she decided to keep the baby. One can only imagine what the world would have missed had she gone on with the abortion.
It was obviously not hard for the over 50,000 people who came to connect with their God in worship as Israel and the New Breed Africa team led in worship. After singing, Lord You Are Good, All Around, I call You Jesus, a reggae version of Mighty to save, Hosanna, Moving Forward, and many other songs, he was joined by the Watoto children’s choir to sing the last song I Am Not Forgotten. With that he exited the stage and then the show came to a quick end a few minutes after.
The following day saw the Daughters Of Destiny (DOD) ministry meeting take place at Watoto Church central with Bobbie Houston, and then later on in the evening, there was a partners’ dinner at Speke Resort Munyonyo. The Watoto Big party continued with a tour of some of the self-sustainability projects on the 7th of June.
At a few minutes past 7:00 am, the first bus left for Lubbe which is a 207 acre farm with various plants. The farm which is about 50 minutes’ drive out of town, had a dam that is built to supply irrigation water. The produce is consumed in the Watoto children’s homes and some is sold off for extra income. There was a visit to a poultry farm and a goats’ farm in Suubi Villages too. Roughly, 115 litres of Goats milk is collected and supplied to the infants for consumption daily. By the time, we finished visiting the Fabrication sector at Suubi Village, it was obvious that the church is on a mission to offer holistic ministry at all costs.
There was a short lunch break, and then while inside the church building at the village, Watoto mothers who had served for 10-19 years were honoured with presents given by Marilyn on her knees to show appreciation for their service. The other particularly interesting part of the evening was a game between the Watoto Children and the pastors. Though the Uganda Cranes were not available to play with the Watoto boys as planned, it was perhaps more interesting to watch the church pastors lose to the boys 2-0 after full time. After the Saturday tour, there was just one more day of celebration. This one would lead many back to Kyengera for a great sermon by Brian Houston, delicious lunch, games for adults and kids, and of course the moment when the Watoto Alumni honoured Pastor Gary and Marilyn for being their papa and Mama.
Big Party Highlights
With that, the eight-day long party ended.