OTSEGO, Minn. - An African children's choir is spreading a message of thanks and joy in Minnesota on Christmas Eve.
The Asante Children's Choir is on a two-month tour of the state, with 18 children spreading a message of thanks to American sponsors.
Many of the kids are orphans from Rwanda. Their schooling and basic needs have been made possible by donations. The choir takes its name, "Asante," from the Swahili word for "thank you."
Pastor Greg Pagh, of Christ Church in Otsego, brought the choir to Minnesota for Christmas. His church and others from the Otsego and Elk River area have supported Rwandan children for years. The Asante choir had special performance at Christ Church's three Christmas Eve services.
For the kids, it's about more than just saying thanks. They're experiencing another culture, with help of host families.
"My favorite part has been going to the mall, the rides, and lots of people there," said John Eric Bizimana, 14, who's on his third visit to the U.S. with choir.
For their host families, the blessing is mutual.
"They include us in their prayer time, and to hear their gratitude and their love, and respect for God is sometimes almost overwhelming," said Natalie Osberg, who served as a host family with her husband, Jerry.
It's just a two-month visit for these children, but the connections they've made may be the greatest gift this holiday.
"Just love and a bond that will last forever," said host parent Teri Kohler. "We plan on communicating with the kids for a very long time."
"It's something very wonderful to me," Bizimana said. "Meeting new people who love me, they know nothing about me, but they take care of me, it's something great."
Asante Ministries co-founder William Ngabo said circumstances in Rwanda have improved greatly since the height of war in the mid-90s, but there are still around 2,000 children in the country who receive help.
The Asante Children's Choir has performances scheduled across Minnesota through Jan. 13.
You can find more information on their website, at www.asantechoir.org.
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