I recently spent some time with Ray Barnett, founder of the African Children’s Choir, in Portstewart, Northern Ireland, where he was born. Ray has recently updated and re-published two books that were written more than three decades ago, but are more relevant today than ever.
Ray, (March 2016) enjoying a visit to one of his favourite places – Portstewart Strand, N. Ireland, a stones throw from where he was born.
By normal standards, Ray could have retired and put his feet up around fifteen years ago. Instead, he feels compelled to do what he can to bring prayer and practical support to displaced and suffering Christians around the world. These books, ‘Where The Brave Dare Not Go’ and ‘Uganda Holocaust’, are a means towards that end. They have just been released on Amazon.
Ray Barnett is well known as the founder of the African Children’s Choir, who have been the subject of a recent award winning feature documentary shown in cinemas around the US and they also played a major role in Gary Barlow’s “Sing” which was commissioned for the Queen’s Jubilee celebration. For this, they were filmed in Africa with Gary Barlow as he developed and rehearsed the song with their help. The choir also performed live at the spectacular Buckingham Palace celebration event that was beamed live around the world.
It’s a lesser known fact that The African Children’s Choir was formed as a project of ‘Friends In The West’, the first organisation that Ray founded. The original books focused on the early activities of Friends In The West, when Ray was working to help Christians who had been imprisoned for their faith in the former Soviet Union. Attention was then directed towards Africa when it was learned of the plight of thousands of children who had been orphaned in fighting there. Christians were suffering and were under threat of death by the Idi Amin regime in Uganda, so that’s where Ray headed at great personal risk to his own life. It was also here that Ray experienced what could only be described as miracles and divine interventions. One of the outcomes was The African Children’s Choir, which is still doing a great work, more than thirty years later.
Born in Portstewart and raised by foster parents in Coleraine, Ray left Northern Ireland in his late teens to study at a Bible College in Canada. Although he lived in Vancouver, he has always regarded Northern Ireland as home and has frequently visited over the years. Portstewart Strand holds a special place for him since from here he can literally see his place of birth. This is a location Ray has come to in the past when he has been at one of those crossroads points, where he needed to pray and seek guidance for challenges he was facing and for the next chapter of his life.
Ray is at one of those junctures once again. He feels he’s being called to a new phase which will be less about being the CEO of organisations, and more about sharing his experiences of the past and encouraging and mentoring a younger generation. His greatest desire is to do everything he can to help the current crisis that affects Christians around the world who are suffering – especially those who have had to uproot from their homes and are currently displaced. Ray believes that when things are critical as they are today, God is calling every Christian to be part of His answer. That essentially means prayer and action, and believing for divine intervention and miracles. Ray fervently believes that miracles will happen when we are obedient to the call to “think of those who suffer as if you shared their pain”. (Heb13:3)
Friends In The West has been highlighting some of the current stories of suffering of the Christian family around the world. Often these go unreported in the secular media, so it’s important that the Christian community is kept informed with regard to some of the things that Christians and other groups under attack are facing. This is not just for the sake of information alone, however, but that we will stand in prayer and support of our brothers and sisters who are suffering.
Ray believes the Christian community can draw encouragement from the stories in his books from events of thirty years ago. These in turn can help shape a strategy as we face difficult situations in the future. In the past, miracles solved problems that appeared to be unsolvable. Hearts were changed in the most hardened and unlikely people. Battles were won without killing anyone and without resorting to military might. Love overcome hate and good defeated evil. These are the central stories of the books Ray is re-publishing, with the underpinning message being that the difficult situations we are facing today in the worldwide Christian community, requires us to learn how situations can be changed through the power of prayer.
If you feel a burden for Christians who have been displaced and are suffering hardship because of their faith, then Ray would love to hear from you. It would be a huge encouragement just to know that there are others out there who are willing to pray and act as doors open up. He would also love to hear your story, no matter where you’re at on your journey. Maybe he could offer a word of advice or encouragement. And if you have a prayer request, we have partners who would love to pray for you.
Why not drop Ray an email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Also, Ray is now available for interviews either by telephone, SKYPE, or in person at your studio or office. If you have a connection with a publication or radio or TV outlet, why not get in touch and arrange for Ray to tell his story and encourage a wider audience. Ray will be visiting Northern Ireland during May 2016 and may be available for local meetings or to share at your church. So do get in touch. He’s looking forward to hearing from you.