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70-year-old children’s choir leader takes spiritual nurture to the womb

ADA, Okla. (BP)–“Before the foundation of the world, I knew you, says the Lord” (Jeremiah 1:5a).

For 30 years, Joy Wellington has weaved her love of children and music together through her work in the children’s choir program at First Baptist Church, Ada, Okla.

Now, at age 70, she is blazing new trails with a cutting-edge ministry to expectant moms and their pre-born babies.

It’s called Alpha Choir — though it more closely resembles one-on-one mentoring than a choir — and includes much more than music.

Wellington, long involved in Christian mentoring, has several expectant moms under her tutelage.

Known as “Miss Joy” or “Mama Joy” to those who know her, Wellington makes monthly visits to each expectant mom’s home to teach her new music to sing or play to her pre-born child. They pray, read Scripture and discuss what to expect in the various stages of pregnancy.

“We search the Scripture to see what God says about children, and we get in a little bit about the blessing that parents can give children,” Wellington said.

“Our goal,” the Alpha Choir’s literature states, “is to teach the mother to talk, read, sing and pray with her precious unborn child.”

Harold Ware, minister of music and media at the Oklahoma church, said the program is likely one of only a handful nationally, which could make it a model for other churches hoping to encourage spiritual enrichment from the womb on.

“Hopefully, [other churches] will take the best of what we’ve done and put a curriculum together,” Wellington said.

Several years ago while working with 2-year-olds, Wellington said she saw a need for a ministry that would expose babies to spiritual influences. She had heard about parents reading or singing to their pre-born children and about the supposed positive effects. That led to talks with Ware, who was an easy convert to the idea.

In fact, Ware said he regularly talked to his daughters in the womb. Ware said of one of his daughters after her birth: “It was like she knew who I was. She seemed to recognize my voice.”

As Wellington began researching the subject, she said she found mounting evidence that children exposed to music and other forms of mental stimulation as babies were typically more intellectually advanced as they developed.

So last September, armed with research articles, various Scriptures about God’s hand in the creation of life and ample inspiration, Alpha Choir was born.

Among Alpha Choir’s graduates thus far — a girl born prematurely at 27 weeks, but progressing well, Wellington said.

Alpha Choir participant Jennifer Cunningham, with a boom box in her lap, plays music to the boy growing in her womb. Her husband talks to the child, she said. “To me, even if the baby can’t understand the words, it’s important to create that spiritual environment,” she said.

The women use a CD called “The Mozart Effect: Music for Babies” and other classical and Christian music. Wellington said Mozart’s music is mathematically ordered in such a way that some researchers believe it enhances brain development. After attending a conference on Mozart, Wellington was sold on the concept, she said.

Lisa May, Wellington’s first participant, said Alpha Choir has helped her appreciate God’s hand in the miracle of life. She has played Mozart on her car stereo to the baby’s she’s expecting, her second, and tries daily to read to her baby Psalm 139 — which speaks of God’s foreknowledge in creation, she said.

She admitted her husband was perplexed when she first told him about Alpha Choir, but he has been very supportive since.

May thinks people often overlook opportunities to create a spiritual foundation in the womb. “As Christians, we’re reminded that babies count from conception,” she said.

Wellington takes each participating mother through a gospel presentation — in case an expectant mom is struggling with assurance of salvation or is unsaved. And, at least once during Wellington’s in-home sessions, she asks that the husband be present, “so if the husband is lost, it will also be a missions opportunity to witness for Christ.”

Derrell Billingsley, consultant for music ministries at LifeWay Christian Resources and a part-time music minister at Bellevue Church, Nashville, Tenn., said Bellevue and First Baptist, Ada, are the only churches he knows of offering spiritual or music training for pre-borns.

Bellevue offers a program called “Music for the Very Young,” in which Billingsley meets with expectant moms and mothers of children up to 3 years old, giving them music instruction they can teach to their kids.

He admitted skepticism when first approached about offering music for infants.

“I was turned off by it,” he said. “I thought, ‘Let them be babies for awhile.’ But, when someone helped me understand that we were offering them the opportunity to experience music, that got my attention.”

Billingsley said he believes Deuteronomy 6:7, which commands parents to teach their children God’s laws in all of life’s endeavors, is reason enough for such a ministry. He cited research by Harvard neuro-physiologist Howard Gardner that brain development climaxes between 24-36 months of age, as more reason to begin spiritual training with infants.

Wellington said: “Having been in our church music program all these years, I have been close to young women and concerned that they realize the nature of their miracle. Of course, after hearing what The Mozart Effect has done, why not have a spiritual effect?”

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  • Jerry Pierce