Each year, about 300 people who lived in Christian Children’s Fund’s orphanages in Hong Kong in the late 1950s and early 1960s, as well as their spouses, gather in Hong Kong to celebrate and reflect upon how their lives were inextricably changed forever.
As part of the 75th anniversary celebration of ChildFund International (formerly known as Christian Children’s Fund), I too had the opportunity to attend the reunion in November.
Dr. Verent Mills, CCF’s third executive director (and before that, our overseas director), was like a father to many of the Hong Kong alumni. They remember being fortunate to grow up in an orphanage village started by Dr. Mills in Hong Kong. Many, if not most, of the orphans who escaped from war-torn China would not have survived if their paths did not meet that of Dr. Mills and CCF.
My trip to Hong Kong reminded me of how many people before us faithfully served the mission of ChildFund International, and we are here today standing on the shoulders of giants. ChildFund left a legacy of faith, love and hope for hundreds of orphaned Chinese girls and boys, who are now continuing the legacy of giving back as adults.
In our 2013 annual report we shared that we have helped 18.1 million children and family members in the past year to reach their potential. Our reach is exponentially greater than this number because of people like the Hong Kong alumni, who have assisted thousands of others through their generosity.
Among them, there are successful doctors, surgeons, bankers and building contractors, but there is one man who stands out to me, having had a difficult life as a laborer with only a sixth-grade education. He lives in Australia with his wife and made a generous donation, especially in proportion to his income, to the endowment fund named for Dr. Mills. This man was unable to attend the gathering in Hong Kong, but he sent this note with his donation:
Please accept our small offering to express our sincere gratitude and support of the works of ChildFund International. May our Lord bless ChildFund, as well all the people working there. Last but not least, may we say a big THANK YOU!
Please enjoy a short video slideshow of our Hong Kong alumni from past and present day:
By Kate Andrews, ChildFund Staff Writer
With credit to A Book about Children by Larry E. Tise and Yankee Si! by Edmund W. Janss
A name you’ll see often in our 75th anniversary blog series is Dr. Verent Mills, who was our third executive director from 1970 to 1981. But his connection to ChildFund (and our preceding identities as Christian Children’s Fund and China’s Children Fund) goes back much further.
Born in Birmingham, England, and raised in Winnipeg, Canada, Mills became a missionary to South China in 1931 and remained in Asia for decades. He and his wife, Alma Kenney Mills, and their three daughters lived in China through the 1940s, where Mills was director of an orphanage in Toishan, in the region of Sz Yup. This area was cut off from food supplies beginning in 1937, when Japan began its invasion of China.
In 1942, Mills led 142 children more than 300 miles to KuKong, where he knew CCF had established an orphanage. These children were malnourished, and others did not survive the journey. In 1945, Mills called upon CCF’s help again, as he moved 700 children from Toishan to Canton, another arduous journey.
Dr. Calvitt Clarke, our organization’s founder, agreed by letter to help support the 700 children by finding American sponsors for them. Ultimately, Mills moved the children into an orphanage in Canton, where they went to school and received training in skills that would be useful for their livelihoods: weaving for girls, carpentry for boys.
In 1947, Mills joined the CCF staff as regional director in Shanghai. He scouted existing orphanages in China’s northern provinces, which were underfunded and needed help. Funding came quickly from the United States, where Clarke was recruiting new sponsors so fast that Mills could hardly keep up with the writing of children’s case histories.
But in December 1949, the communist government was established on China’s mainland. At the time, our sponsors were assisting 5,113 children in 42 orphanages across the country. But Westerners, CCF staff members included, realized quickly that they were not welcome under the new regime. Like many others, Mills was accused of being a spy.
The government took over orphanages, and Mills was not allowed to visit the 11 homes for orphans in North China or have any contact with them, and he and all foreign CCF personnel were forced to leave the country shortly. The Mills family moved to Hong Kong.
Most of the 5,113 children’s fates are unknown, but 280 children, who were among the 700 orphans that Mills moved to Canton, were able to cross the border to Hong Kong. Many received full educations, and among them (according to an interview with Mills in the early 1990s) were five pastors, nine doctors, four dentists, three professors and two millionaires.
Mills, who was named our overseas director in 1950, continued his work for the renamed Christian Children’s Fund through the 1950s while based in Hong Kong, opening orphanages and expanding operations through Asia and the Middle East. He was instrumental in opening the campus-style Children’s Garden in Hong Kong for Chinese refugee children.
Coming to the United States
In 1958, Mills was transferred to CCF headquarters in Richmond, where he worked as a coordinator and then director of operations, and in 1970, he was named our third executive director.
During the ’70s, CCF concentrated its focus by decreasing its span from 70 countries to 20; we left Europe and the Middle East and focused greater attention on Africa, where a regional office in Nairobi, Kenya, opened in 1973.
Mills commissioned two evaluations of CCF’s philosophy and practices, which led to a shift toward home- and community-based projects, with less concentration on orphanages and boarding schools.
In 1976, CCF launched TV and magazine ads featuring actress and sponsor Sally Struthers, a move that brought greater attention to the organization and helped the number of sponsors grow through the 1970s and ’80s. Mills retired in 1981, and in 1995, the Verent Mills Endowment for Health and Education was established. This fund fosters innovative health and education programs in countries where ChildFund has long-term commitments.
Dr. Mills died at the age of 83 in 1996, but his legacy carries on. In a 1991 interview, he quoted a Chinese proverb that he thought demonstrated our philosophy: “If you plant for a year, you plant grain. If you plant for 10 years, you plant a tree. But if you plant for a hundred years, you plant men.”
By Kate Andrews, ChildFund Staff Writer
Seventy-five years have passed since ChildFund’s founder, Dr. J. Calvitt Clarke, unexpectedly met his friend, Dr. J. Stewart Nagle, on a train in the summer of 1938. Clarke, then 49, had decades of experience raising funds for displaced, impoverished people in the Middle East and Eastern Europe.
So, it comes as no surprise that the two men would talk about the suffering of Chinese orphans following the 1937 Japanese invasion of China. According to A Book About Children, a 1991 history of our organization written by Larry E. Tise, Nagle asked Clarke, “You’re a good fundraiser, why don’t you do something about it?”
That fall, Clarke did do something: He started China’s Children Fund, a national appeal for funds to help vulnerable Chinese orphans. The headquarters was in Clarke’s home in Richmond, Va.
This was the seed that became ChildFund International, a global child-focused development organization that now serves more than 17 million children and family members in 30 countries. By the early 1940s, person-to-person child sponsorship was in place, and Clarke and his founding board had raised and distributed funds to support children in China and other Asian countries.
In celebration of the 75th anniversary of ChildFund, we are launching a 75-post series that will run during the next several months. Historical moments, archived photos and memories from sponsors, employees and children will play a significant part in the series, as well as updates on our ongoing work around the globe. You will also hear from ChildFund Alliance members and national directors from several of our country offices, sharing current projects and the goals they hope to achieve in the future.
Most of all, as we reflect on our organization’s history we want to express our gratitude to our supporters – those who helped Dr. Clarke’s vision for Chinese orphans succeed and those who make our work for children possible today. Stay tuned during the coming weeks, and look for the 75th anniversary logo on the blog!
Guest Post by Pete Olson
Pete Olson is an American Formula car racer in the Asia Formula Renault Series. Olson’s Race for Children campaign is to raise awareness around the issue of child poverty while encouraging fans to become child sponsors. Olson shares his recent trip to meet sponsored child Trang.
After a decade of sponsoring various children through ChildFund, I finally made the decision to meet my sponsored child, Trang, and it was so worth it. Beyond the pictures and the letters from half a world away, my trip to Vietnam made my sponsorship experience that much more tangible. For the first time, I saw, in person, what my sponsorship had done for the little girl I’ve been communicating with over these past years.
To put it simply, meeting Trang is one of the most incredible things I’ve ever done.
My visit made me realize, more than ever, just how privileged I’ve been in my life. I have been very lucky to have so many opportunities, many of which I’ve taken for granted. The benefits my sponsorship are helping provide to Trang are things I’ve always been accustomed to having.
For instance, I saw how ChildFund has helped build a medical center in the village to provide basic health care; they’ve built a fresh water system so the community doesn’t have to walk to a stream to collect drinking and cooking water; and they’ve installed toilet facilities in the village to provide access to basic sanitation. It was eye-opening to realize these standard amenities were previously nonexistent in this community. But I was more shocked to learn from a ChildFund representative that some children have to walk over the surrounding hills to get to and from school each day. That’s probably an hour hike over – and we complain about the Stairmaster!
We gripe so much about trivial things when so many of our basic needs are met. We only have to do a little comparison with those who lack those conveniences to realize how thankful we should all be for what we have and often take for granted.
It is a shame that there are so many inequalities in the world, but I know that I can do my part, no matter how small, to help children like Trang to improve their lives. I sincerely hope that through the Racing for Children program and my own personal efforts, we can find many more sponsors for children like Trang. If more people were moved in the way that I was last month in Vietnam, I have no doubt they would contribute.
I’m already looking forward to going back to visit Trang and her community. I am so glad I made the effort. To think that I have been able to help so much with what we Americans think of as so little – it is really something.
Formula One World Champion race driver, Aytron Senna said it best, “Wealthy men can’t live in an island that is encircled by poverty. We all breathe the same air. We must give a chance to everyone, at least a basic chance.”
Indeed it is our duty, and yet our privilege – we should all do our part. Help a child in need by becoming a sponsor through ChildFund International.
By Loren Pritchett, ChildFund staff writer
In the 30 seconds it took him to watch the ChildFund commercial, Pete Olson, Formula car racer, knew he wanted to sponsor a child. The decision was quick, but he was no stranger to speed.
Fast forward more than a decade later and, today, Olson is supporting his third sponsored child and racing in the name of children in need. Behind the wheel, he is in control but admits that compassion is really what drives him.
“It’s an incredibly rewarding experience,” he says. “You can change a child’s life and give them opportunities that many of us take for granted.”
Opportunities like getting a quality education and receiving proper nutrition are among those Olson knew as a small child, adopted into a loving family. He credits his own success to his adopted parents’ support and saw sponsorship as a way to share his good fortune. He began sponsoring as a student at Boston University.
“I felt that many of us there were privileged and lucky to have the opportunities that we did,” he says. “It was a point in my life where I started to feel it was important to give something back for all that I have been so grateful to have in my life.”
Olson maintained child sponsorships while earning two degrees, a regional racing license and pursuing his passion for speed. He excelled from motorcycles to professional karting and eventually found himself racing in China – thousands of miles from U.S. tracks but only a few hundred from his sponsored child, Trang.
“She writes a lot about her schooling, which she really seems to enjoy,” he says. “That makes me very happy as I think education is something that we tend to take for granted back home. In many other countries, children don’t have the same opportunities for education.”
Trang, 11, lives in Vietnam. In some rural areas of the country, children are discouraged from attending school because their classrooms are too far away. Other areas of the region lack clean drinking water and have inadequate sanitation facilities. With Olson’s support, Trang is able to attend school regularly and benefits from the various ChildFund health and nutrition programs in her community.
With a desire to help more children like Trang, Olson now races in the Asia Formula Renault Series and does so for children in extreme poverty. The ChildFund logo that shines from the side of his red Formula car is an invitation to all of his fans – sponsor a child. And although he aspires to be the first American to win the series this year, he knows this is much bigger than winning.
“I’ve stopped keeping track of the wins,” he says. “No matter what’s going on in my own life, I know without a doubt that in another part of the world I am bringing joy and happiness to a child in need, enriching their life and providing them with opportunities they wouldn’t otherwise have.”
Olson plans to visit Trang soon to learn more about her family, community and where she goes to school. In the meantime, he continues his race for children.
Are you a racing fan? Catch Pete Olson September 15-16, October 20-21 and December 8-9. Check your local listings to find out how you can watch the races. Or stay updated on Facebook or www.peteolson.com. To learn more about sponsoring a child, speed over to the ChildFund website.
by Jamie Chan
Editor’s note: Today’s guest blogger, whose father grew up in the Faith-Love Orphanage near Hong Kong, is researching a book on Dr. Verent J. Mills, who joined Christian Children’s Fund in 1947 and whose work spanned decades, wars and cultures.
I grew up in a family of fortune. We had two cars and a house with a pool like other upper-middle class households in central California. We spoke English and made friends with Americans as well as any Chinese-American family could. I doubt that if you looked at us, you could tell that my father grew up in a refugee’s apartment made of scrap metal and cardboard.
The most basic version of my father’s life story manifests the American dream: he lost his father at age eight. He was sent to the Christian Children’s Fund Faith-Love orphanage on the outskirts of the Hong Kong, where he lived until he was 17. He then came to the U.S., earned two Ivy League degrees and became a doctor. He says that Faith-Love was the best thing that happened to him; it remains the backdrop for some of his favorite memories, a few of which I suspect have sweetened over the years.
The man behind Faith-Love was Dr. Verent J. Mills. For some, he was a saintly figure whose work spanned decades, wars and cultures. But to orphans like my father, he was a preacher, a storyteller, a jokester and Santa Claus — the only father figure they ever saw in an orphanage run by mothers, grandmothers and young men barely out of high school.
Mills began his career in 1931 at age 19 as a missionary in Southern China. After a decade of rescue work during the wars that followed, he joined Christian Children’s Fund in 1947 as Regional Director of Japan, North China and Korea. He became Executive Director of the organization in 1970.
Recently, I decided to write Dr. Mills’ story in light of my father’s experience at Faith-Love. I began my research in Richmond this August with the help of Joan Losen, ChildFund’s unofficial historian extraordinaire. She laid out an assortment of materials for me — correspondences, newspaper clippings, plans for an orphanage, mysterious photos of men in Chinese pongee jackets. Mills would have been well over 90 if he were still alive. Looking through these documents led me into a world of formality and dignity foreign to a person of my generation.
As I continue my research, I am drawn to Mills’ role among orphans and their families, and his place within the urban chaos of post-1949 Hong Kong. Missionary accounts have been influential in the Western world through their depiction of otherwise inaccessible places.
Because Mills continued his work through the duration of war while many fled, his story brings the possibility of historical insight, if only in bits and pieces. I don’t know quite yet where this research will take me, but I do know that one trip to ChildFund was not enough.
In short, I will be back, and blogging about it once again.