Today, Monday 26 September, 2016, Ray Barnett, founder of Friends In The West and the African Children’s Choir, celebrates his 80th birthday. The occasion is tinged with sadness, however, since just over three weeks ago, on 2nd September, Ray’s wife of more than 50 years, passed into the presence of the Lord.
Most people have long retired by their 80th birthday. Throughout his life, however, Ray has always prayed for ‘vision’ in line with God’s will. He firmly believes the Bible verse from Proverbs 29:18, “Where there is no vision the people perish”.
The desire to be part of God’s answer to the problems that exist in this world have given Ray a ‘drive’ that is extraordinary by normal standards. Ray began with Friends In The West, helping Christians who had been imprisoned for their faith behind what was then called the ‘Iron Curtain’.
His vision to help led to trips to Africa when Christians were suffering and being slaughtered under the dictator, Idi Amin. He had a God-given vision to help the many thousands of African children who had been orphaned as a result of what became known as the Uganda Holocaust. This led to the formation of the very first African Children’s Choir in 1984.
More than thirty years later, choirs continue to tour today and the organisation can look back on incredible achievements. The African Children’s Choir, facilitated by parent organisation Music For Life, has provided an education for more than 52,000 children throughout Uganda, Kenya, Sudan, Rwanda, Nigeria, Ghana and South Africa. It has also directly impacted the lives of thousands of other vulnerable African children through music therapy and life skills training camps, Music For life centres, and container shipments of food, clothing and supplies.
Over the years, Ray has personally signed on as legal guardian to more than a thousand children who have gone through the Choir program and have been fully supported by the organization to adulthood. With the support and love of the Music For Life staff and Daddy Ray, as he as affectionately called, many of the Choir children have earned their college degrees and have gone on to become doctors, attorneys, engineers, pastors, church leaders, journalists, teachers and relief workers in Africa—realizing Ray’s full-circle vision of “Helping Africa’s most vulnerable children today, so they can help Africa tomorrow.”
Ray is now looking at ways to help Christians in Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq and other parts of the Middle East who are facing imprisonment, torture and death by beheading because of their faith. Friends in the West has also embarked on a new project, currently being piloted in South Africa, that provides youth mentoring and leadership training. The program complements the work Friends in the West is already involved in, adding another dimension to its work of raising awareness of Christians under threat, and encouraging prayer and practical support for the persecuted and displaced.
Would you pray for Ray at this difficult time as he copes with bereavement along with other challenges that he’s facing? Would you go a step further and send him a message of encouragement? Maybe you have a Bible verse or other words of comfort. Even if you don’t know Ray personally, it would be lovely to know that people out there ‘care’ enough to get in touch.
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Below you can view Esther Rantzen’s, ‘Hearts of Gold’ programme featuring Ray barnett, founder of the African Children’s Choir.