Name: Suzanne Nelson
Role: International Director
Based in: Washington
Suzanne first met the African Children’s Choir founder Ray Barnett back in 1974. At the time Suzanne was working on the staff of a Church in Seattle, striving to help the troubled people in its surrounding community of housing projects. Ray was working as a human rights activist, supporting and campaigning for the release of Christians who had been imprisoned for their beliefs, through his organization Friends in the West.
The pastor of Suzanne’s Church had been to see Ray speaking and invited him to speak at their Church in Seattle, of which he did, and Ray and Suzanne have been working together ever since.
Talking about that time Suzanne said “I wanted to support Ray in what God wanted him to do, which started with helping him out one day a week, and it went from there.”
Years later, in 1984, after a humanitarian trip Ray took to Uganda, everything changed, as the idea of the African Children’s Choir was born. Ray had seen the children’s plight and knew the best way to gain help was to show the western world the beauty, dignity and unlimited ability of the African children through their joyous singing, and so the choir program began.
But Suzanne’s faith and kindness to others was evident much earlier in her life, influenced greatly by her mother.
I grew up in a single parent family, my mother worked as a waitress, and although we didn’t have much, she always reached out to help others. I played the piano and my mom was a singer and we were very involved in our Church. As part of the outreach of the Church we participated in Kids Clubs, the downtown Mission, Teen Challenge, a Serviceman’s Center and Christian Coffeehouse.” It was these experiences that drew Suzanne back after Bible College when she was asked to be part of pioneering a church in Seattle that led to her meeting Ray.
Suzanne credits her mom greatly for her helping heart. “The greatest gift my mom gave me was showing me that by giving your life away, you truly find your life. The joy of life for me is seeing people strengthen because you care.”
Now, as International Director of the African Children’s Choir, Suzanne is responsible for overseeing activities within the ACC and its parent organization, Music for Life. Suzanne plays the key role of team leader among the international executive team that manages the day to day operations of Music for Life and the African Children’s Choir worldwide.
Suzanne has worked with Ray from the very start of the African Children’s Choir journey, and has played a vital role in the founding and expansion of this inspiring charity.
Here, we asked Suzanne a few questions to find out more about her role…
What has been your most outstanding memory?
It has to be the first concert in British Columbia, Canada, and the joy of seeing the “idea” of the African Children’s Choir come to fruition. These beautiful children stole people’s hearts right from the very start. It had been a hard road to get them there, but in that moment electricity filled the air, and I knew then that this was a special God given idea; this wasn’t just going to help the children of Africa, but touch all who heard them in profound ways, and make all appreciate what they have.
What has been your proudest moment?
Seeing the young children come through the Choir program and grow into remarkable young adults, choosing partners, having children of their own and loving God. These amazing children could use the skills the Choir afforded them for themselves, but they don’t, they give back to their communities, some have become doctors, others engineers, it makes me very proud to see.
What three words best describe your job?
Challenging, joyous and fulfilling.
What would you say to anyone reading this who is thinking of becoming a host family or volunteer for the ACC?
People who support the Choir really do tell us that it is a life changing experience; others have said that the days being on tour with the Choir have been the best of their lives. It’s life transforming.
Who is your inspiration?
Jesus is my inspiration. “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.” Matthew 19:14
Looking to the future of the ACC, what are you most excited about?
Seeing more ACC young people become ChangeMakers in their communities. I look forward to seeing the organization grow further through them as they reach out to make a difference wherever God leads them. I went to visit a previous Choir child called Mark Wight Masai, who after going through the Choir program went on to become one of the youngest prime news TV anchors in Kenya on NTV. When he introduced me to his colleagues he said “These are the people who raised me.” That really touched me, and I am excited to see many more children loved and supported like Mark.