Covenant Connections

An African choir, a South Carolina camp: Unexpected community during COVID-19

Nov 9, 2020

Imani Milele Choir

Written by: Leslie Scanlon- October 19, 2020

Original Source: The Presbyterian Outlook

They were supposed to stay for two nights.

Now, because of COVID-19, it’s been more than 200.

Last spring, on March 17, the Imani Milele Choir, a children’s choir from Uganda, arrived to spend two nights night at Fellowship Camp and Conference Center, a Presbyterian-related camp in Waterloo, South Carolina. Each year since 2013, the Imani Milele Choir has come to the United States for a fundraising tour — crisscrossing the country by bus to sing at churches and schools, raising money money for eight education centers it operates for children in Uganda, and finding sponsors for children who attend those schools.

As the choir group settled in at the camp – a group of 21 children ages 10 to 15, plus 16 adults – so, gradually, did the reality that the COVID-19 pandemic was starting to shut down travel.

“It caught everyone off guard,” said Sam Straxy, the choir’s tour director. At first, he thought the choir might have to cancel performances for a week or two, so he asked if they could stay a bit longer at the camp. When they began to understand things would be shut down much longer, “we definitely wanted to go back to Uganda,” Straxy said. But on March 22, Uganda’s president, Yoweri Museveni, closed Entebbe International Airport to all non-emergency passenger flights — so the choir was stuck.

That’s when Kevin Cartee, executive director of Camping Ministries of the Carolinas, offered to let the choir stay on at Camp Fellowship for as long as needed — the start of what he describes as “an amazing opportunity to provide some Christian hospitality. It’s also been amazing the impact the choir has had on us,” and the local community. “They have remained extremely positive and optimistic” during a stressful time, he said. “It’s incredible how the choir has ministered back to us.”