Last night, millions of TV viewers watched author and entrepreneur Dani Johnson covertly volunteer at charities in Knoxville, Tennessee, on ABC’s new reality show, Secret Millionaire. At the end of the pilot episode, Johnson revealed her true identity and donated large sums of money to each of the non-profit organizations she visited.
Feeling God-blessed, Johnson was all-to-happy to give to the featured charities, some of which could have helped her years ago. Two years before Johnson earned her first million, she was homeless. Eager to share the whole story, Johnson recently spoke with me about being on ABC's new reality show and how God has blessed her life.
CBN.com: Your incredible story was previously featured on The 700 Club. In the video, you talk about being absolutely broke. What happened?
Johnson: I grew up on welfare in a home with intense violence. So I was exposed to things that no child should ever see, extreme drug abuse on a daily basis, brought up with physical, mental, verbal, and sexual abuse, which then led me in making the poorest of decisions.
I ended up pregnant, out of wedlock, totally judged by the church, walked away from God at 18 saying, “God, if I have to be like your people, I want nothing to do with you.” At age 21, I met and married a guy in seven days to find myself with $2.03, just a few months later, $2.03 to my name, a $35,000 debt and completely homeless. He was off in Japan with another woman and, obviously, I was completely depressed and suicidal. And I had become the failure that everybody said that I would be. Everyone that went to the church at the school, everyone at school, everyone at church, my whole family, they have always said I would be a failure, never amount to anything, and I couldn't do anything right. And so here I had become that. And I actually became less then what my parents were with all of the drug and issues like that, so I was like in the absolute rock bottom place.
The day after I did my first line of cocaine, ... I heard a voice say, “Pick up your mat and walk.” That was a voice that was familiar to me from when I was 13, when I gave my life to Christ. And even though I had walked away from Him because of His people, He had not abandoned me in that moment. So the very next day I started a business from the trunk of my car and a pay phone booth.... By the end of my second year, I had become a millionaire for the first time.
Today, I'm a multimillionaire, I own five companies. I'm a best-selling author of Spirit Driven Success, which Pat Robertson highlighted on his show, and Grooming the Next Generation for Success. I'm a speaker, a business coach, and a radio talk show host, and I'm passionately married to my husband, Hans. We have five kids, three grandkids.
CBN.com: The moment when you heard the voice, “Pick up your mat and walk,” was that your healing moment?
Johnson: It was a moment of seeking out Him, and not His people. I had been so wounded by His people, but it took me several years to get back into a building where Christians were.
CBN.com: How did you get in contact with producers of Secret Millionaire and what led you to want to be a part of it?
Johnson: Nearly a year ago, ABC had called us, and we told them no, actually. We told them no, four times. I wanted nothing to do with television. In my book, Grooming the Next Generation for Success, I talk a lot about that we are being groomed for failure or success, and part of that grooming happens through the media, happens through television, print, as well as the Internet, and I'm a firm believer of not being involved with any TV. I don't have a TV. I haven't had TV for over a decade. My kids have not been raised on television. So right away, the answer was no.
The other reason why the answer was no, was because we do all of our giving in secret. We've given millions of dollars away to orphans, to those who were victimized by the sex trade to the homeless. We've actually done the dirty work for years. We've done the dirty work of washing the feet of the homeless, trimming their fingernails, cooking them hot meals. We just came back from bringing a whole bunch of our clients to an orphanage where we served for a whole week during Christmas time and just brought food and gifts. I personally cooked for 80 people and cooked a beautiful, luxurious meal other than rice and beans, which is what these kids are used to. And we're actually building them a brand-new home.
So when they called us and presented the whole idea, my answer, my husband's answer, was, “no, thanks. Thanks, we're honored; however this is not for us”. But they persisted with us for months. To be really honest Hannah, it was prayer, because as they kept persisting, and once we had seen what the show was about, it basically was about what we do. It was about how we already live, and I’m like, “But we don't need that shown on television. We're just going to keep doing what we're doing.” Then, I realized I was fighting God, that this was God that had opened up this door that He wanted the message to get out. So once I realized I was fighting Him, we finally submitted after saying no four times and, hello, here we are today.
CBN.com: That’s an interesting point because some Christian viewers may watch the show and think of what it says in Matthew 6:3-4 (“But when you give to someone in need, don't let your left hand know what your right hand is doing. Give your gifts in private, and your Father, who sees everything, will reward you.”). Though you eventually said you would do the show, you initially fought against it?
Johnson: We did, because again, all our giving has been in secret. And so we may approach this, like, “Heck no! This is not for us”. But it was so crystal clear. It was so crystal clear. And when you see the show, you'll see that the Lord is clearly glorified in my episode. He is clearly glorified. ABC did not cut out me reading my Bible, me praying, they didn't cut out even the testimony of the Love Kitchen, which I'm sure that you saw it on the Oprah show, where they clearly testify to the work of the Lord.
I’ve read the Bible eight times straight through, and I'm a big studier of the Word. And I can tell you that I've studied out very specific scriptures in all the scriptures concerning money, and so we can become very legalistic and get stuck and rooted in our ways, just holding on to one passage. In all reality, God is about being glorified and showing and setting the example about how we should live and that we should be reaching out to the poor. So I got really convicted on that, because I let my holding on to this passage stop me. But I'll tell you this. You know what's happened since that show and how the Lord touched my life through that show. I cry when I say this, because although we’ve done all of our giving in secret, this recent trip with all of our clients was rooted from the show. Because I realize that, yes, I'm giving in secret, and we raised lots of money like when Haiti, when the earthquake happened in Haiti, we got our clients to give $152,000 in three days. And we're helping to build an orphanage down in Belize. The ones, who've received from us, receive in secret. They don't know it's us. They have no idea, and we give it in the name of Jesus. That was the hardest part about the show is like, "Ahhh! Number one, I don't want the credit. Number two, I don't want them to receive it from Dani Johnson." So I said, "listen, this is not for me. God has blessed us. Please receive this in the name of Jesus". Obviously, they didn't have that on the show, because they really wanted to be what they wanted it to be. But my point is that what came out of that was, but now I am mobilizing tens of thousands, just in my client base, even if this thing had never even aired on ABC. I have been mobilizing tens of thousands to go and rally and uphold the cause of the poor.
What God is talking about in Matthew is the heart. He's talking about the heart that wants to give to get the credit, and He says this, “You have received your reward in full.” That's what He says there. So to give to get credit for giving, you've received already your reward. There's no reward for you in Heaven. That is not why we give, and we've had a track record for two decades of giving in secret and distorting that passage, because what we have robbed our clients of, of being mobilized to give. Now we've taught thousands to give, but when you come out, and you say, “This is why we must, and this is why we have to, and we've got to come together and do something to help our nation who is dying,” that is a different heart issue. God is after the heart, and I know anyone that knows the Bible, and knows Him, knows that He judges our heart, and our heart was not for recognition for giving. Our heart was to do the right thing and help people who cannot help themselves.
CBN.com: You mentioned the Love Kitchen, but there are a few other non-profit organizations featured on your Secret Millionaire episode. How did you pick which ones to work with?
Johnson: To be honest with you, the Joy of Music is the one that touched my heart the most because they are bringing generational change. The Love Kitchen is doing an awesome thing, and I was homeless right, so obviously that really wrecked me, because when I was homeless, nobody reached out to help me. The fact that these two women in the name of God are helping the homeless is awesome.
However, the Joy of Music is doing something so powerful, so powerful. What they are doing is they're grabbing kids like who I was, growing up on welfare and abuse, in neighborhoods that no kid should be raised in. I walked those neighborhoods. I met those people. So those kids coming from that place and coming into this beautiful building where they are then given instruments. If they want to play piano, they deliver a piano to their house. If they want to play the flute, they deliver one to the house. If they want to play the drums, they deliver the drums to the house. They groom these kids with a skill set as well as vision and dreams as well as they have to make sure and maintain good grades in order to get these free lessons. And I'm telling you, I was there with two young men who had just graduated from high school, but because of the Joy of Music grooming them with the skills, both of these boys got full ride scholarships into universities around the country.
That is changing a generation, which is what my book is all about, Grooming the Next Generation for Success. It's grooming kids to succeed. It's pulling the kids out of the inner city, and those boys will never go back to the inner city. No way will they go back to the inner city. They're not only getting out of poverty, but now their next-generation is changed forever.
CBN.com: What have you learned about how God can work in dire situations?
Johnson: In my book, Spirit Driven Success, I had written a chapter on “The Big Picture and Your Part in It.” I just never thought I'd be a part of it. He had given me a vision that He would raise up His people and put them in the top influential places. So He would raise His people up and put them in media, and music, in politics, in business.
Now I knew I had my business niche, because for 20 years I've been grooming people to succeed in business. I've helped tens of thousands pay off debt. I knew that was my niche, but I never imagined that the big picture that God had shown me, that I would have a position in media, never in a million years. I thought He would raise somebody else up from all those other places.
He is after raising up His people to be positioned in those places of influence so that people that keep those high moral standards that truly have a heart for Him, that will walk in righteousness and make big decisions, will be the ones upholding influential positions, because the church has lost her influence. For many, many years, all the polls have showed that the church's influence doesn't even rate in the top 20 as the most influential anymore. Where in this country a long time ago, the pastors had the ear of the people, and that is not the case anymore. But television does, movies does, and music does, media does, secular writers do, education does, business does, and so again I knew my position, my assignment from the Lord was business. I never in a million years imagined that media would be part of my assignment. And my message there is, and what I wrote in Spirit Driven Success, is that He is raising up a people to hold very influential positions, to set an example for how we should all live. And so this is proof, Hannah, this is proof that that prophetic word that I spoke August of 2006 is true, and it's here, and I'm living it.
Watch Dani Johnson's incredible interview on The 700 Club!