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Phoenix man who built homes for Ukrainian orphans now a refugee in Poland

Sean Johnson felt called to help young people living on the streets in Ukraine nearly 20 years ago on a mission trip.

PHOENIX — Phoenix native Sean Johnson found his calling on a mission trip to Ukraine with his father nearly two decades ago. 

Johnson joined his father, a pastor, on the trip after he struggled with drugs and alcohol. It was a chance for Johnson to get away from negative influences. 

On the streets of Ukraine, he began meeting children in need of care; physically, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually. It was there that Johnson's faith was put into action.

"Our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and keep oneself from being polluted by the world, James 1:27," said Johnson. 

'I sold everything.'

Johnson returned from the mission's trip and sold everything before moving to Ukraine full-time in 2003. "I started to build homes for children who have been abused or abandoned," said Johnson. 

He founded the House of James Child Refuge to care for Ukrainian orphans living on the streets. 

Since 2003, he's built three House of James homes, which operate like long-term foster homes, each with house parents who provide comprehensive care for orphans. 

"We've had kids that were 11 months old and were with us until they are 18-20 getting married and having their own families," said Johnson. 

Becoming a refugee himself 

Last month, Johnson said the U.S. State Department began warning him of Russia invading Ukraine. He and his family traveled to Poland days before Russian troops crossed the Ukrainian border. 

"We didn't know it would be as bad as it was and thought it would be like a vacation until we realized this was different," said Johnson. 

"It's shocking to be a refugee," said Johnson. But Johnson remains steadfast in his calling to be a refuge for children abandoned and abused. 

"My personal home is being used to shelter people who had to run from Kyiv," said Johnson. "I have in-laws in Mariupol as we speak. We didn’t have word from them since March 2nd. Just a few days ago my sister-in-law got a phone call from my sister-in-law, that they’d be underneath their house in a cellar for 17 days. No electricity, no heat, no water, no food.”

Keeping focused on his mission

Two of the three House of James homes are still occupied by house parents and orphans.

"House of James two evacuated to the Czech Republic," said Johnson. As of now, the other homes are safe. "We are fortunate that the banks are still working so we can send funds to them. They can stock up on fuel and food," said Johnson. 

Johnson is now working from Poland to help get extended family to a place of safety and to provide resources to the remaining House of James homes. 

Ways to give 

There are homes in Selyshche and Kazatin, Ukraine. Johnson says any funds continue to help the non-profit's work.

Conflict in Ukraine

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