Sometimes a vision of God’s plan for ministry changes radically after learning about a need.
In 2010, Suzanne Owens, now CEO of the nonprofit Sozo Children based in Birmingham, was working as a youth minister in Shelby County. Two college graduates in her church wanted to spend a year overseas before getting jobs. Owens had an idea about where they could go.
“We had a Ugandan living in our home with us. Their child was born with some medical complications, so we helped get her on a medical visa here to Birmingham,” Owens related. “He said, ‘Why don’t you get them to come over and help me build a website,’ because he housed people when they came on missions.”
An arrangement was made for them to spend nine months in Uganda. While there they visited a children’s home with some management concerns. The children weren’t eating for up to five days at a time, and they were so dirty rats chewed on their feet, Owens said.
After finding out about the terrible conditions, a government official said the place would be shut down. They called Owens, who had started sending money for food.
“That night, as a mom knowing I had a baby upstairs in bed, I couldn’t understand why a 3-year-old had to live in those conditions,” Owens recalled. “The Lord really impressed on us that we needed to do something to help. So a couple of weeks later we were able to hire three Ugandans and opened a home with 17 kids.”
Sozo Children now owns land with eight homes and nearly 130 residents.
‘To save and rescue’
Sozo in Greek means “to save and rescue,” with the connotation of not only physical rescue, but spiritual as well. However, Sozo Children not only are rescued and ministered to, they have an exciting ministry themselves.
Every other year the Sozo Children’s Choir comes to the U.S. for a “reverse missions trip” to share about the Sozo Children mission.
In addition it provides the opportunity for the children to experience family, another culture and to minister to others.
“They come over and perform in churches and schools and different venues for about five and a half months,” Owens said. “They are able to share the love of Christ through their song and dance.”
Those attending a Sozo Children’s Choir performance come away feeling the joy the group radiates, which Owens described as “the pure joy of who God is to them when they perform. That to me is the biggest thing — their hearts for the Lord and the smiles on their faces. You can just feel it.”
Terry Schrimscher, global engagement coordinator for Sozo Children, agreed.
‘Singing their hearts out’
“During the performances you’ll see crowds stand up or cheer. Whatever they do, it takes your breath away. You’ll see them responding to these kids who are just there singing their hearts out for God.”
However, the children don’t simply perform, they also minister to those in attendance, with the children touching and praying for them.
“One of the first times our choir performed at the Foundry here in Birmingham, they had a prayer time afterwards,” Owens recalled. “It was just an extreme Spirit-filled moment to have all of us broken, seeking the Lord in prayer — the kids being able to pray over the participants and the participants praying over our kids.”
These actions mean even more in light of the children’s past. All have abandonment issues, and most suffered abuse or were trafficked.
They live in host homes during the tour. They experience family, often for the first time, and connect with other Christians.
“When they go back home they say their biggest lesson learned was how to live as a family,” Owens related. “You think they are coming over here to sing and dance, but really what they’re learning is God’s plan for their lives. They can learn to love like a family and take care of each other.”
They also get to experience different foods and weather, though they’ll cook Ugandan foods for their hosts when given the opportunity.
So far some 176 children have gone through the program, producing teachers, social workers and other skilled workers. Some are in graduate school studying medicine and law; others are in university and vocational schools. The organization supports them through college if they choose to go.
Relying on God
“When we started this ministry, there was not a lot of money. We didn’t understand how it was going to work. We totally relied on the Spirit,” Owens remembered. “I think, for me, seeing that God is in the miracle business and God is in the saving business — to see Him come out on top time after time — God always prevails and always shows out that He’s taking care of these kids no matter what.
“We think we’re all different, but we’re really not. This shows a way that we do have a common bond. That love is so strong.”
Sozo Children’s Choir will perform in the Southeast through October.
Visit sozochildren.org for booking information or to learn more about the organization.