History – how did the work start?

The story of Maj-Lis Johansson and how her great compassion for fellow humans in need eventually led her to set up a foundation is a long and fascinating one. In fact, it starts back in 1964 with a job in Algeria during which she met her husband, Eskil. 

Read her own account here. 

History of the ministry

After many trips around the world and the strong impact of her experiences of all the world religions, Maj-Lis decided to go along with the beggars to their homes in the slums in Portugal and see their real living conditions. From there, a fast growing ministry was started. 
Between 1975 and the early 2000’s, networks were established and a constant stream of trucks delivered items from Sweden, England and Belgium. For her part, Maj-Lis trained volunteers to help.
Following a TV program in Sweden with Annika Hagström that showed Maj-Lis’s everyday life, even more people wanted to help out and in 1988 the foundation was officially formed. For seventeen years all of the work was based from their own home and now it has grown into the organization it is today. Keep reading and follow Maj-Lis’s story and how the foundation developed. 
The work started long before the foundation was set up.
Every day hungry people came. Between 1926 and 1974 Portugal was under a
military dictatorship. In 1975, the year after the revolution, the family moved to Carcavelos, 20 km outside Lisbon. Several times a day the doorbell would ring and there outside was somebody standing with an empty plastic bag, begging for food. Maj-Lis decided to accompany the people home to see if they really were so poor that they needed to beg for something to eat.

The situation was worse than she expected. People lived in utter misery just a stone’s throw from their home. Behind the normal houses a shanty town had emerged.  The make-shift shelters were a jumble of all kinds of material, with no electricity or running water. In every shack there were many people, each and every one with their story.
People were sitting around from morning to night half intoxicated with drink or drugs and hopelessness. Many could not even read. To walk around there herself amongst this wretchedness was far different to watching people suffering on TV. 
The work started to develop with voluntary contributions
Maj-Lis’s mother, Ingeborg Olsson from Årjäng, visited and saw the many hungry beggars standing at the gate every day. Ingeborg said: “We must do something for these people here”. As a mother of three, with a 6-year old and two one-year olds in a foreign country, Maj-Lis still wanted to do something to relieve the distress. But how was that going to happen, if not by giving from what little she had – such as her children’s extra coats or food from the fridge.  

Grandma Ingeborg went back to Värmland, Sweden, and asked sewing groups in her church and the Red Cross to start sending clothes to Portugal. Before long, 10 kg packages started to arrive at the post office. In the packages were homesewn clothing and knitted children’s clothes, hygiene products, glasses, amongst many other things. Basically, the whole community of Årjäng was involved!
A fee had to be paid to claim every package. After a while money for the charge was also included in the packages. (See “About us” – ”The growth of the foundation”)

No international help

The needs were endless amongst all those coming from the former colonies to “their own” country. But they were not welcome. The people from the ex-colonies with, for example, Angola/Portugal in their passports were not recognized by the UN as refugees. Instead they were called “migrant population” and as such they received no international help.  Despite a thorough search Maj-Lis could not find any organization that supported work in Europe as the aid was all aimed at the third world. 

A personal network emerged

In the beginning Maj-Lis wrote personal letters to everyone who sent a package and told them about the need. When people started to realize that their contributions actually made a difference and that the help reached the people, they started collecting from all over Sweden and packed containers to come on trucks, all the way to Maj-Lis’s house. 
This was before the EU and many stamps were required and much paperwork were needed to import the goods. But the knowledge that every morning there would be people waiting by the gate to meet “Madame” as they knew she could help them was what kept her going.
A personal network was emerging and help came not only from Sweden, but also from England, Belgium, France and Germany. There were clothes, hygiene articles, furniture, hospital supplies, fire trucks, school benches and sewing machines – the list was endless!  Maj-Lis was there on the step to direct the help to where it was most needed. Fortunately, she had a number of volunteers to assist her.

Tidiga medarbetare i verksamheten

20th November 1988 - the Maj-Lis Philanthropic Foundation was formed
After a documentary showing Maj-Lis’s everyday life on a popular show on Swedish television in the 80’s, “Always on a Sunday” with Annika Hagström and film producer  Bengt Jägerskog, even more people wanted to be involved and do something. It was around this time that the Foundation was formed. At first it was called The Foundation of Maj-Lis’s Philanthropic Ministry in Portugal. 

For 17 years Maj-Lis ran the ministry from her own home. The work continued to grow and in 1993 the ministry moved to a larger space near the fire station. Then trucks started to deliver donated items to the warehouse and from there groups were trained how to make the distribution from the local churches. What started as a simple gesture from one fellow man to another in need had gradually grown into an organization. 

Times are changing also for Portugal

Portugal has developed from the poorest nation in Western Europe to become a full member of the EU. It has already been the host country for the Union three times and the President of the EU is a Portuguese, José Manuel Barroso. 
Now in 2012, Portugal is once again a nation in crisis and nobody knows if it will remain on the EU map and if so, for how long. Portugal needs all our help today, especially the one million or so, children and adults, who cannot read or write. 
If children and adults were educated, extreme poverty would diminish. From our experience we know that some of those we have helped into schools, have today a job and are able to make a living despite the prevalent crisis situation.  
For this reason literacy programs are very dear to our hearts in the Foundation.


About Maj-Lis Johansson

The journey started in Algeria in 1964

It was 1964, Maj-Lis was 25 years old and in Algeria for The Lutheran World Federation. There, in the Sahara desert, by coincidence she met Eskil. They married in Japan when Maj-Lis’s contract ended and then traveled from country to country helping missionaries to use media - radio and television. 

As a result a number of radio stations started broadcasting Christian programs, most of them are today under Swedish Pentecostal mission and managed by Ibra Media (IBRA)(

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Algeria to Japan and Sweden
More than a hundred nations in five years
After five years of traveling, several circuits of the globe to hundreds of nations, their first child, Mikael, was born in 1969. At the same time Eskil got the green light to start  transmitting from the mega radio station in Portugal, Radio Trans Europe. It was in Lisbon that the family, for the first time, settled. 
The days were busy producing radio programs in different languages, both for Europe and the nations behind the so called ‘Iron Curtain’.  In 1974, the Portuguese had to give up their colonies in Angola, Mozambique and Guinea-Bissau. People also escaped from the previously liberated colonies Cape Verde and Timor. Portugal was transformed into a refugee camp. That same year the twins Daniel and Samuel were born.  

Maj-Lis’s driving force

“When hungry people started to come from the misery on the other side of the street to our gate, I felt a real anguish for these people and their situation. They would never search for a Christian radio channel to hear about “A Hope In The Dark”. The only thing to do would be to walk over to them, across on the other side of the street and tell them.”


About the founder Maj-Lis Johansson 

portratt maj-lis


My conviction drives me
One can say that I am driven by a conviction, a conversion that affects absolutely everything in life and with my own personal experiences has grown stronger over the years. Already at age nineteen, I had a personal conversion I wanted to share with everyone. I wanted to see others just as happy as I had become.
While still studying in college, I saw people just suddenly dying – an artery that burst, an overdose that became the last one, a heart that stopped, a friend that drowned, one took his life in the bath tub… These occurrences became experiences that marked me for the rest of my life and influenced my choice of roads in life and finally contributed to the formation of the Foundation.

What became the most important?
During the years Eskil and I traveled all over the world we experienced political unrest overturna, wars and revolutions and sometimes experienced what it feels like not even knowing if you will live through tomorrow. I packed a small ‘first-aid bag’ that I placed by the front door, with personal documents, pictures of closest family, money in different currencies and a mini-Bible. I had learned that life could change drastically in an instant. 
 Actually, I was never really afraid, because I knew that no one could ever touch my soul. I knew that when I had said my yes to living with God as number one in my life, He would take care of us, no matter what happened. 


Time line of Maj-Lis Johansson/ the formation of the Foundation

1939 Born in Frösön, Sweden 
1956 Graduated from High School
1958 VLL school for fashion design. Studied at the Swedish Dental Service 
1963 Graduated as a nurse
1964 Graduated as a midwife. Scholarship for studies in England
1964-1965 Opened a clinic in Algeria with The Lutheran World Federation
1974 Revolution and a flood of people from the colonies Angola and Mozambique
1975 Started helping refugees from Angola and Mozambique 
1979 Development of humanitarian aid 
1981 Gave start-up help to International Christian Aid, a refugee organization        
1982-83 Gave start-up help to Desafio Jovem, rehab-center for drug addicts 
1984 Trucks started to come from Siloam Mission England with clothes, wheel chairs…
         Received the award “Woman of the Year” by the magazine Nova Gente
1987 Documentary about Maj-Lis on Swedish Television
1988 The Maj-Lis Foundation was founded. Re-located from home to a warehouse
1989 Training of a network of co-workers 
1990 Gave start-up help to the Blue Cross, at their first home for alcoholics in Portugal
1991 Helped Remar, rehab for drug addicts. Provided a fire truck. Cymbal Film made film.   
1992 Award from the Fire Department: “Socio Benemerito Honorario” 
         Fire Station offers space as a counseling center. Cymbal Film produces another film.
1993 Two fire trucks supplied to the Fire Department
1994 The Foundation’s first brochure was printed. Started home for elderly in Caldas da Rainha with pastor Anca. Visited Mozambique and also organized help in Angola
1995 Study visits from social workers, missionaries, organizations increased
1996 Co-operation with food bank. Making visits to groups of donors in Sweden 
1997 Trucks with emergency aid, food deliveries, training students…
1999 Oldsberg film about Europe, with Maj-Lis as The Angel of Portugal, for SRTV
2000 Long term students, clothes and food deliveries continued
2002 Regular study visits from health centers in Sweden amongst others
2004-2007 Big changes in Portugal due to the EU, demolition of slum areas, etc
2008 Intense year when poor people were moved to social housing
2009 Summer camps and deliveries
2010 Trucks with supplies continued coming 
2011 Preparations for website Continued working on the MRS priorities