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An Uganda-based children's choir is poised to perform at Birmingham's historic Lyric Theatre and the upcoming World Games. 

The journey for the Sozo Children's Choir to arrive in the United States has been a long and difficult one.

After a months-long immigration and visa process, which forced the choir to reschedule their entire tour, the children were able to start singing for crowds across the country. 

After the children arrived stateside, their multi-state tour went forward, and the children have been singing and dancing since they arrived on American soil. 

According to Suzanne Owens, CEO of Sozo Children, the choir simply could not wait to perform when they entered the country. 

"They kept saying when they first got here, 'When are we going to perform?" Owens said. "When are we going to perform?' And I said, 'You need to rest. You've been on a 27-hour flight.' This has been our most excited group about performing. …They really want to get out there and do what they've been training to do for a year."

Other than jetlag, the biggest issue the children now face is finding food that they like. 

"They're used to a diet of a lot of root-based plants and rice, so we try to tell people to have rice ready for them," Owens said. "But they've definitely learned to love Chick-fil-A. Chicken and [fries] are their most popular, but some are liking pizza, and some are liking burgers, so they're doing well."

Fresh from the stage in Maryland at a Youth For Christ dinner with Tim Tebow, the Sozo children will now come back to the historic Lyric Theatre in Birmingham to perform for the ministry's 12th anniversary on May 13.

"The choir tour is a mission trip, but it's more than just a chance for the kids to visit America," said Owens. "We want the kids to come away from this knowing they are loved and that they matter."

Sozo Children is a Christian ministry based in Birmingham that supplies aid and shelter to children in need in Uganda. 

"Sozo" is a Greek word that means to save, keep safe and rescue from harm: an appropriate title for an organization with such a unique story. 

The ministry began nearly 12 years ago after a missionary trip showed a glaring need for the children in Uganda. 

"When we started about 12 years ago, I was a youth pastor," said Owens, "And we sent over a couple of young people that had come through our youth ministry and then had come home from college and were helping us in small group; so they decided that they wanted to do some long-term missions."

When the two-person missionary team arrived in Uganda, they were immediately struck by the poverty that many children were suffering within a particular children's home in the country. When the team delivered food to the starving children in the home, it would be taken by someone else, never making it to the hungry kids. Owens recounted an event when one of the missionaries noticed a young girl's feet were raw due to rats gnawing on them while she slept. 

The squalor in which the children lived motivated the missionaries to begin a home of their own in Uganda. Within ten days, and with the help of Owens and others, the missionaries were able to start the first home and take in 17 children. 

Sozo receives children from the Ugandan equivalent of the Department of Human Resources. These children are either orphaned, abandoned or rescued from traffickers.

In the 12 subsequent years, Sozo has opened eight more homes in Uganda, with 176 kids going through the ministry. 

Additionally, 25 Sozo children have gone on to attend either university or trade schooling, including medical school, law school, Bible college, education, social work, plumbing, cosmetics, culinary and more. 

The choir developed out of Sozo's children's homes. According to Owens, the choir gives the children an opportunity to experience a mission trip, but it also lets them know that they are truly loved. 

The performance at the Lyric is something that has excited both young and old at Sozo.

"The show at the Lyric is exciting for all of us. Every choir tour just gets bigger and better," said Cathy Head, chairperson of the Sozo board of directors. "These children have been practicing for over a year to prepare for this trip, and to be able to celebrate this birthday with us in such an amazing venue is a real blessing. It's bigger than we could have imagined when we first planned the tour last year."

The Children's Choir will be doing several more events across the country and will be singing at the World Games in Birmingham. 

To connect with the author of this story, or to comment, email craig.monger@1819news.com.

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