Verent John Russell MILLS [1913-1996]

Submitted by Aldi on Tue, 02/21/2023 - 16:47
Verent John Russell
Birthplace (town, state)
Birthplace (country)
Died in (town, state)
San Francisco
Died in (country)
United States

Born in England (1913) but raised in Canada, Verent Mills gave up a promising career as a diesel engineer to became a missionary (with a heart for children) to south China in 1931.  Desperately lonely, he cabled his fiancee Alma Kenney back home, and invited her to join the work.  She came straight out, they married in 1932 and continued the work, at the same time raising a family there.   Together they started 9 churches in Kwang Tung Province.  Like other missionaries, they provided their own music for the singing; he played the trombone and she the accordion.

When the Japanese invaded China in 1937, he stayed when many fled.  Alma and the children had to be evacuated firstly to Hong Kong and then to Australia, but he stayed on to do something for the Chinese.  Sending telegrams to every relief agency he knew of, he managed to raise large sums of money to set up soup kitchens in the Sy Yup area which fed thousands and averted extreme famine.  The war produced many displaced children.  He started taking them in one by one, and housing them in abandoned schools and ancestral halls, and feeding and clothing them.    When the Japanese came too close, he led some 142 children 450 miles to safety in Ku Kong, where China’s Children Fund had an orphanage. By the end of the war he had over 700 children in 5 orphanages.

In 1947 at the invitation of CCF Director J Calvitt Clarke, Mills joined China's Children Fund as Regional Director in Shanghai, and had great success in getting sponsors and funding from the USA for Chinese children.  When the Chinese government took over the orphanages, the Mills family moved to Hong Kong.

As CCF's work went beyond China to countries like Japan and Korea, (where it catered for abandoned, illegitimate children of American soldiers)a name change became necessary, and in 1951 the movement became Christian Children’s Fund.  Dr Mills was named CCF’s overseas director in that year, and continued his work 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.  Hong Kong of the 1950s was flooded with hundreds of thousands of refugees from China and the Colony had an overwhelming humanitarian crisis.  The United Nations took the initiative and funded the construction of several dozen huge, H-shaped, 7-story apartment complexes, each housing 2,500 peoplein 40 resettlement areas scattered throughout the Kowloon Peninsula

Among the refugees were 300 children from CCF's orphanages in Canton, urgently needing accommodation.  Dr Mills' Children's Garden was a massive "cottage plan" orphanage complex consisting of 90 cottages, each housing 12 children and each having a cottage mother, who would be a war widow (of which there were many) or a woman abandoned by her husband.  CCF successfully bid for a tract of land at the foot of Saddleback Mountain, which had been originally marked for an airstrip, and succeeded in getting it for 10 cents per square foot or HK$120,000 for 28 acres.  For the next 5 years Dr Mills was very much the 'hands on' director, from driving a bulldozer to managing the construction team.

Not content to rest there, he realised that there would be thousands of children in need of education and it was his suggestion to the HK government to permit charities like CCF to fund 'roof-top schools' on the tops of the H-Block apartments, operating on a 'hot desk' basis, with a shift in the morning and another in the afternoon.  At its peak CCF was sponsoring some 30 roof top schools in Hong Kong.  Other charities like World Vision joined the work.

Mills quickly expanded the work of CCF to help children around the globe, and by 1958 CCF was helping around 250,000 children worldwide.

In that year, Mills was transferred back to CCF headquarters in Richmond, USA, where he used his invaluable experience working firstly as a coordinator, and then when Dr Calvitt Clarke stepped down in 1963, becoming director of operations.  Finally in 1970, he became executive director.

Verent Mills died at the age of 83 in 1996, but his legacy carries on.  His was a life of astonishing achievement, parts of which can only be described as miraculous.

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Sources:  ChildFund website . See 'our history.'

Verent Mills Biography - 

Let My Heart Be Broken - Richard Gehman


Photos that show this Person



UK Birth Index

Verent J R Mills registered Aston Warwickshire Quarter 2 1913

1921 Census Canada

Verant (sic} John Russell Mills age 8 son of John William Mills  and Ruth Timms. Religion Brethren

Alma a second wife? In 1954 US Record of Aliens  she is recorded as Alma R Mills

US Social Security Records

Verent Johnnrussell  (sic) Mills

Born 12 May 1913 in Birmingham UK  Death date 21 November 1996  San Francisco USA