BEIJING — An American couple living in China for 15 years says their success in rescuing more than 1,000 medically fragile orphans is due to totally relying on God, especially during trying times.
“You really have to have an absolute dependence on God that the money’s gonna show up when you need it and that you’re going to stay out of trouble,” Brent Johnson of the organization China Little Flower said Oct. 17.
Founded in 1998, China Little Flower is the parent organization of Brent and Serena Johnson’s “apostolic hobby,” Little Flower Projects, a charity that seeks to reach out to the most vulnerable of China’s population by providing medical care to abandoned orphans and children.
While one was a student and the other a tourist, Brent and Serena met in China in 1990 and soon returned to the United States, where they converted to Catholicism and were married.
When they returned to China as teachers shortly after the 1995 birth of their eldest son, Thomas Becket, the Johnsons were confronted with the “unbelievable” conditions of Chinese orphanages.
“It was a confrontation with the truly ugly side of humanity,” Brent Johnson said. “So we said, ‘We gotta do something.’”
Although conditions in the government-run orphanages have improved since the 1990s, he said around one-third of the country’s roughly 700 facilities still have an infant mortality rate that hovers near 100%.
The Johnsons asked the orphanage leaders if they could foster one of the children in their own home and were granted permission.
“We were just kind of ordinary, young Catholics, living our faith, trying to do the right thing,” Brent said. “When we started this, we didn’t think of ourselves as missionaries.”
From then on, they convinced family friends in China to do the same. Eventually, they began to pay Chinese families to take in orphans as well.
“This wasn’t any great leap in brilliance; this was just doing what [Serena’s] parents had done,” Brent said, referring to his in-laws in Connecticut, who adopted three children, had three biological children and served as foster parents for several years.
Since then, the Johnsons and those who work with Little Flower Projects have helped rescue 1,400 orphans who would have otherwise died.
In 2005, the organization also began to arrange group homes for children with physical disabilities, giving them a place where they can live and be educated in a family-like setting until adulthood.
“We feel this incredible pressure to just save as many babies as we can,” Brent said, who works full time as a start-up business manager.
The Johnsons, who now have six children, said the charity generally has only about two to three months of funding in the bank at one time.
“I don’t know if it’s bad management on my part,” Brent said with a laugh, “or God’s plan.”
He added, “The truth of the matter is that every time we get ahead with money, we start a new project.”
While some people have called such a move financially irresponsible, Brent generally ignores their criticism.
“I think, Well, I have this money now. I can save 100 babies this year that otherwise wouldn’t be saved.”
Regardless of one’s opinion of China, Brent said it is important that Americans not “forget the little people” who make up the “bottom rung” of the country’s nearly 1.4 billion population.
Prayer and educating oneself about China’s orphans is the best way to get involved, he added.
Those who are interested can receive updates about the organization and the children they serve by “liking” their Facebook page, which frequently adds prayer requests and photos of the children in their care.
As Brent Johnson said, “As I said in the beginning, I think this is God’s hand at work here, and I’m not one of those kinds of Christians that says that lightly.”