No greater joy than being 'Uncle'
Steve Higgs never thought American Idol would change his life.
The 23-year-old Moncton, N.B. native is a bassist, not a singer—and he has no interest in a record deal. But seeing the African Children’s Choir for the first time on the popular show began a journey that has changed him forever.
Higgs had always been fascinated by African music, and a trip to the Democratic Republic of the Congo with his church one summer broke his heart for the children who had so little.
So when he heard the Choir was coming through Moose Jaw during his last year at Briercrest, he knew without a doubt he had to be there.
“I arrived at the concert late, about halfway through their program, but I was immediately drawn to the children and to the stories that they were telling on the stage,” Higgs wrote in an email while on tour with the Choir in the United Kingdom this fall.
“I had attended the concert with some friends, and we managed to squeeze into the packed auditorium just along the back wall. As soon as I heard the first song, though, my heart began beating faster than normal … After hearing a few songs and a few testimonies I was literally incapable of sitting still. My eyes were filled with tears, and my heart was filled with excitement.”
Higgs’ time at Briercrest taught him what a life lived in response to God’s kingdom should look like. The concert in Moose Jaw was his invitation.
He stopped by the information table in the church foyer after the performance and asked for more information. Within weeks, he was packing up his car to begin the 45-hour drive back to New Brunswick, where he would begin raising support for his tour with African Children’s Choir number 32 as a chaperone.
Twenty-two Ugandan and Kenyan children between the ages of seven and 12 would call him “uncle” throughout their 15-month tour. Each child was a victim of “war, disease, and unfathomable injustices.” Many were orphans. But performing with the Choir would provide the funds for schooling and a future.
Before leaving from Montreal for Uganda to meet “his” children for the first time in August 2008, Higgs began a blog:
“I have never been a father before, but the opportunity to invest in and build into the lives of these children fills me with more excitement and joy than I can express in words,” he wrote.
Higgs’ primary role on tour over the last two and a half years has been managing the sound and video during the Choir’s shows. But he feels most alive simply being their uncle.
An almost unspeakable joy has characterized these last three years for Higgs as he’s toured with three different African Children’s Choirs: Joy in the family God has given him through these children, more laughter and love than many people experience in a lifetime, and the profound ability to see not just what God has done in the past, and not just what He’ll do in the future, but what He’s doing today.
Just a few months into his journey with the Choir, Higgs wrote a blog post called “Jesus here and now”:
“The truth is, Jesus is becoming more and more alive to me as the days go by. I want to in every moment recognize His presence and His work. I want to be open to what He wants to reveal to me in the very present. I do want to be able to remember where He has brought me from, and I do want to be able to anticipate where He will lead me. But I don't want to stop just there. If I spend all of my time reflecting on those two things, then I will completely overlook what is happening in this moment. What He is doing right now.”
Day after day, Jesus was causing Higgs’ heart to run over with love for 22 young children that will undoubtedly remain with them—and him—forever.
A year into tour, many of Higgs’ friends had gone back to school, gotten married, and gotten jobs. “Meanwhile,” he wrote, “our little family of 30 has written a story a million pages thick.”
One page, written just a few months later, was about a little boy named Hanny:
“I've written about Hanny before, but I am continually blown away by this young boy. He is a child through and through, one of our smaller boys, if not the smallest, but I think he has the biggest appreciation for life, if not the biggest.
“The pitch was quite wet and muddy today, kudos to these North Carolina rains. At first I was hesitant about running through it. I had my white shoes on and some freshly laundered trousers. One look at Hanny, though, made me wonder why I had to think about it. The smile, the big eyes, the excitement to kick a ball around with his uncle. So how could I resist? I didn’t.
“I got messy and muddy, but didn't care. I would have rolled around in the swampy field all day if it meant laughing with Hanny.”
At the end of that tour, he reflected on the family he’d found himself a part of:
“The cliche goes that ‘all good things must come to and end.’ Personally, I think that saying is rubbish. True, this tour has been everything greater than good, and our tour is wrapping up tomorrow. In my humble opinion, though, only the good things will last … being a chaperone ends, but being an uncle lasts a lifetime.
“These kids will always be our kids. We will always be able to pray for them. We will always be able to hear of their progress in life. We will always remember these last days as the first days of the rest of our lives supporting one another from a distance. This investment is what will last.”
After being at home for a few months following that tour, Higgs realized that being an uncle was all he really wanted—God was calling him back. That spring, he joined Choir 33. The following fall, he joined Choir 34, and their tour of the United Kingdom wrapped up in December 2010.
“I love what I am doing with the Choir because I have the incredible privilege of watching these children grow,” Higgs wrote just weeks before heading home for Christmas. “While I have the chance to teach them about life, they have also taught me so much. So much about living faithfully, so much about living with a spirit of gratitude, and so much about the joy of the Lord.
“I love this job because at the end of each day I put my head down on my pillow and praise the Lord for delivering these children from poverty into reaching their full potential. I love this job because I get to watch these children develop their confidence in who they are in Christ over the months we spend on the road together. Because I get to watch these little ones transform from hopeless to hopeful.”
To read more about Higgs’ journey, visit his blog: stevetheuncle.blogspot.com.