orphans

Stories for Telling: A Personal Journey through ChildFund’s Archives

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.

The Chan family with Dr. and Mrs. Mills in Fresno, Calif. (Jamie in front on rock.)

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.

Giving Children Homes

31 in 31In Belarus, thousands of children are orphaned or lack parental care. Since 1993, ChildFund International has worked in that country to combat this problem through the Supporting Orphans and Vulnerable Children program.

The program operates in five communities and strives to reduce the number of institutionalized children by finding ways to return them to their families or live in alternative care structures. Another one of this program’s goals is to strengthen protective services and activities for these children so they feel secure.

Children are not the only ones who need our help. Parents also need guidance on proper childcare to create a healthy environment in which their children can grow up. By teaching parents clear, sound guidelines for parenting as well as nonviolent conflict resolution, we help them develop a foundation of discipline and respect within their families. Parents are also able to take classes on reproductive health and child abuse prevention.

ChildFund recognizes that children are critical to social change in Belarus. We support public schools that use programs such as life skills education, social interactive theater and youth volunteer activities to develop children’s ability to create social change.

We also help children build their social and leadership skills by empowering them to design and implement their own programs to help other children. These peer-to-peer programs are used in schools, hospitals, prisons and for children with disabilities.

To learn more about our work in Belarus, click here.

More on Belarus
Population: 9.6 million
ChildFund beneficiaries: More than 110,000 children and families
Did You Know?: Through 2005, about a fifth of Belarusian land continues to be affected by radiation fallout from neighboring Ukraine’s 1986 Chernobyl nuclear disaster.

Next in our “31 in 31” series: We take a photo tour of Bolivia.

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