Singing for a mission trip to Kenya


On Sunday, April 20, at 7 p.m., Celeste Bembry, student retention and recruitment coordinator for the College of Humanities, Arts and Sciences, will be performing “An Intimate Eve of Modern Jazz” at the Waterloo Center for the Arts. The event will function as a fundraiser for a mission trip to Kenya Bembry plans to go on in August.

Bembry will be going on the trip with six to seven members of the Antioch Baptist Church in Waterloo. The church has partnered with Children of Hope Ministries to engage with Kenyan orphans who have lost their parents due to HIV and AIDS.

“I just want to love the kids,” Bembry said. “They’re without their parents, so as brief as we are there, I want these children to know that they are loved and to have hope.”

Although Bembry is known for her classical singing and Christian spirituals, she chose to perform a selection of jazz pieces for her fundraiser to challenge herself as a musician.

Bembry will be covering artists like Cole Porter, Irving Berlin, George Gershwin and Rodgers and Hammerstein. The selection of songs for the evening will be on topics of love, community and environmentalism.

“I get to connect with people that are strangers to me, but not really a stranger, because we’re in this life experience together,” Bembry explained. “I think my goal is to invite folks from the Cedar Valley. I may not know them, but they’re coming in and from the exchange of what I give and as I talk — I will be very verbal, talking to folks during the set. So, I will get to know them as they get to know me, and that is a very beautiful thing to come out of that with another one hundred or so new friends.”

The duo Pantera Roxa — formerly known as Purple Panthers — will accompany Bembry during her performance.

The endeavor has been nearly three years in the making for Bembry. Back in 2015, members of the Antioch Baptist Church went on their first mission trip to Kenya. Approximately six months later, the congregation invited Bembry to perform at their church during a presentation about the trip.

“I sat there just overwhelmed with this wonderful opportunity to come from Waterloo, Iowa and to go in the world to do good things for people,” Bembry recalled. “And before I sang a note, I stood before that congregation, and I said, ‘I vow to you: if you do this again, I’m in! I would love to be a part of that mission work.’”

When Bembry discovered there was going to be a second trip this year, she leapt at the opportunity to join. According to Bembry, being able to go on a mission trip has been an item on her bucket list for a long time. Although she has traveled extensively for her professional music career — performing in Asia, Europe and South America — Bembry has never been to the African continent.

“I’d always had my sights on Kenya,” Bembry said. “It’s very intriguing to me — the people, their history, their culture [. . .] the Ivory Coast, the beautiful Kenyan people. According to the statistics that I have been aware of, 17 percent of adults have died, leaving several children without their parents.”

Bembry and the Antioch Church members will engage with two student populations: children in their formative years and teenagers. Each person going on the trip has been encouraged to use their personal strengths to help the Kenyan orphans. As an avid board game lover and tennis player, Bembry hopes to bring joy to the children through games.

“When it comes to music, I am a singer and I have a strong singing background,” Bembry said.

“But I am now walking into a culture that’s very ancient. So, I will just sit back and take their culture in, their music in, their language in, their cultural expressions in. I’m on their learning curve. Teach me, and I will be so excited about that opportunity.”

As a recruiter, Bembry is also passionate about representing UNI while in Kenya. She plans to bring UNI paraphernalia to the orphanages.

Tickets are available at the door or in advance from Bembry.