Catholic couple's 'apostolic hobby' assists 1,400 Chinese orphans

A nurse holds an orphan with a cleft lip. Courtesy Little Flower Projects.
A nurse holds an orphan with a cleft lip. Courtesy Little Flower Projects.

.- For the past decade and a half, an American couple living in China have cited total reliance on God as the source of their success in giving aid to hundreds of medically-fragile orphans.

“You really have to have an absolute dependence on God that the money's gonna show up when you need it,” Brent Johnson of China Little Flower told CNA 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.

The two first met in China in 1990 while there studying Chinese.  Brent later converted to Catholicism and the couple married on December 28, 1991.

When they returned to China as teachers shortly after the birth of their eldest son, Thomas Becket, in 1993, the Johnsons were confronted with the “unbelievable” conditions of Chinese orphanages.

“It was a confrontation with the truly ugly side of humanity,” Johnson said. “So we said, 'We gotta do something.'”

Although conditions in the government-run orphanages have improved since the 1990s, for a variety of very complex reasons and difficulties, he said about one-third of the country's roughly 700 facilities still maintain very high infant mortality rates.

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,” Johnson said. “When we started this, we didn't think of ourselves as on any special kind of a mission.”

After fostering the first child, the couple worked hard to convince others in China to do the same, especially Chinese families and also began to help pay for the costs of the care.

“For us, this wasn't any great leap in brilliance…this was just doing what (Serena's) parents had done,” Johnson said, referring to his in-laws in Connecticut who had three adopted children, three biological children and had served as foster parents for several years.

Since then, the Johnsons and their work with Little Flower Projects have given aid to 1,400 orphans who would have otherwise have perished. 

In 2005, the organization also began to arrange group homes for children with physical disabilities, where they can live and be educated in a family-like setting and eventually live independent lives.

“We feel this incredible pressure to just save as many babies as we can,” he said.
Johnson, who works full-time as a business manager and now has 6 children of his own, said the charity generally only boasts about 2-3 months worth of funding in the bank at one time.

“I don't know if it's bad management on my part,” he said with a laugh, “or God's plan.”
Johnson added, “The truth of the matter is that every time we get ahead with money, we start a new project.”

Some people call such a move financially irresponsible, but Johnson generally ignores such 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, Johnson 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 person 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 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,” Johnson said.

To find out more about China Little Flower, visit

Tags: Human rights, Church in China, Adoption

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