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Erin Johnson to speak Sunday on Philippines mission

Erin Johnson is shown with some of the children she serves as a missionary in the Philippines. [CONTRIBUTED PHOTO] Erin Johnson is shown with some of the children she serves as a missionary in the Philippines. [CONTRIBUTED PHOTO]

To greatly understate the case, one might say that Erin Johnson works a mission field filled with opportunity.

“There are supposedly 1.8 million children on the street in the Philippines,” she said. “They’re not all necessarily living there. Some of them still go home, but they’re on the street to try to make money or survive. They say that a quarter of those approximately are literally living on the streets.”
A missionary with Action International, Johnson is sponsored by churches in Atlanta and Washington state and by her home church, First United Methodist. She is spending several weeks back home visiting her parents, Steve and Sharon Johnson, and also raising awareness about her mission and raising money for the next step, a shelter to house the young people.

“Action has I think 350 missionaries in 35 countries around the world,” she said.
Ever since she arrived in the Philippines in 2009, she’s focused on homeless children. Her mission field is the streets of Silang, where she lives, and Dasmariñas, an industrial city of 700,000 an hour south of Manila.
“They’re sleeping on the sidewalk under overhangs,” she said. “They’re out of school, they’re hungry, they’re sickly, they dig through the trash for food, sometimes they beg for food, or for money. And then a lot of times there’s older street kids that are kind of telling them what to do and bullying them for their money and that kind of thing. The kids end up forming these gangs and then end up doing drugs together. And so it’s a very sad lifestyle. And so we’re going to the streets to try to reach those kids and give them hope for a better future.”
While orphanages in Philippines help the younger children, Johnson’s organization, Brand New Day, is one of the few that helps teenagers through its outreach, education, day center and shelter.
“We’re just helping kids and following God’s leading,” she said. The team of missionaries started a day center in 2012 and two years later realized “we needed to also start a shelter to give them a place to live.” The center offers tutoring and scholarships. It uses small homes as shelters.
“There’s not a lot to rent in the Philippines that’s decent, especially bigger houses,” she said. “So we’ve gotten to the point where we have a vision to have our own facility the way that we feel like it needs to be done, to have lots of recreational space, outdoor space, gardens, that kind of thing.”
The mission bought land in 2019 and has now embarked on a campaign to raise $1.6 million for construction.
She and her coworkers now can only shelter 14 kids — 10 boys and four girls. The new shelter will be designed to house 70. Because the mission wants to maintain a family-style setting, three separate buildings will function as upstairs and downstairs households. We asked how she avoids despair when the need is so great.
“And I think what keeps me going, and I the rest of our team would say the same thing, is just witnessing the transformation that happens in these kids,” she said. “You know, seeing them come in being really skinny and unhealthy and dirty and bad attitude a lot of times and then just seeing them get cleaned up, start getting some meat on their bones and mostly just be transformed as they come to know God and start having hope and wanting something for their future.
“A lot of times they don’t even have hope when they come or they don’t even have a dream in life or they have no hope of having a better future. But then when they come into the program they get that hope. I think it’s really up to God. When they open up their lives to him, he’s the one that gives them hope. We’re just instruments.”

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Johnson will speak from the pulpit of First United Methodist Church at the 9 and 11 a.m. services Sunday, May 22, and present an information session at 10:15 a.m.