DREAMERS THROUGH THE GENERATIONS
Leona ChoyI'm honored to represent the three founders of Ambassadors For Christ: Rev. Moses Chow, Ted Choy my husband, and myself. And also the special Christian ladies who were the final link in the long history of this property which was so generously given to AFC. They have all gone to their Eternal Reward-except me. I'm blessed to be a "leftover" to share this background history with you.
When I first saw this property more than a half century ago, it was a working plantation, as they called it. On these acres were a tobacco barn, an animal barn, fields of corn, soybeans and tobacco. And a house where an Amish family lived as tenant farmers. Including the historic Leaman homestead on Route 30, it all belonged to three elderly single ladies named “Leaman.”
How did all this valuable property come into their hands—and then into the hands of AFC?
I believe that God had a plan for this piece of land from the beginning. He was working out His plan through the dreams He was giving to people!
*In the early millennia after God created Planet Earth no one was here to cultivate this land into the garden spot that it has become. Only wild animals roamed this wilderness of forests and fields.
*Countless centuries passed. Eventually the earliest people arrived here. Where did they come from? Possibly from somewhere in Asia. They might have crossed the Bering Strait from what is now Russia, to Alaska, and across what is now Canada—long before America was discovered. Indians, native Americans were the first settlers on this land. Pequea tribes of Shawnee origin, part of the Iroquois nation.
*Many more years went by. A young English entrepreneur William Penn dreamed a dream to develop this part of the wilderness of America that the king of England regarded as colonial territory. Penn invited persecuted Christians from Europe to settle here. Dreaming their own dream, significant numbers of English, Welsh, French, Scotch-Irish, Germans, Swiss and others accepted his invitation as early as 1710. They called the land where we are right now the “Land of Promise,” "Paradise," because of its beauty and agricultural potential—and freedom of worship! Later it became a state, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.
*Enter the Leaman family connection! This is significant—exactly 300 years ago this year—in 1717, the first Leaman ancestor immigrated here. Peter Leaman, dreamed a dream to bring his family from Switzerland to settle in this area. Tracing the Leaman family heritage was at times confusing because many families named their children with the same names as the generations before them. The Leaman surname itself was spelled in different ways. For the record, here is the genealogy from the first immigrant Peter Leman, (1670-1741). Peter's youngest son was Daniel Leman (1727-1783); one of Daniel's sons was Christian Leman (1763-1846); one of his sons was Henry Leaman (1799-1887); one of Henry's sons was Charles Leaman (“China Charley” the missionary) (1845-1920); one of Charles' daughters was "China Mary” A. Leaman (1879-1972).
*The family homestead also had a history. Following our historical link, William Reynolds of Lancaster married one of the French immigrants, Catherine Ferree, and he dreamed about building a large residence in 1794 along the Lancaster-Philadelphia Turnpike, which many years later became Rt 30, Lincoln highway. Early on this was only a dirt road, at times muddy, that ran in front of the homestead. Reynolds died in 1801 and the following year Christian Leaman, the grandson of the first immigrant Peter, dreamed a dream to relocate his family and bought the large residence from the Reynolds estate. Christian's son Henry was known as “the Innkeeper.” (An interesting fact: Williams Reynolds' grandson with the same name as his grandfather was a Civil war admiral whose last foreign tour included an official visit to China. Reynolds' wife, Rebecca, became the first American woman to walk on the Great Wall of China. An early portent of a later China connection?)
Generations of Leamans lived in the homestead. Henry Leaman became a wealthy farmer. An entrepreneur, he built a hotel in 1834 next to the railroad station, adjacent to the Leaman property. Because of his prominence, in 1835 the village came to be called Leaman Place with its own post office.
*Where does the China connection come in? God was working His plan through the dreams He was giving to people! Christian Leaman's son Henry and his wife Amanda had seven children. Among them, one of the sons, Henry (Harry), became a medical doctor who practiced in Philadelphia. Another son Charles, so the story goes, ran away from home at age 16, hopped the train in Leaman Place and arrived in Philadelphia bent on joining the Marines. He forged his Dad's name for permission since he was underage. He served with distinction in the Civil war during the remainder of his teen years. (A historical fiction novel, The Admiral's Guard, has recently been published based on his letters to his sister.) Upon his discharge he returned to the family farm but a new dream stirred in his heart. Charles graduated from Princeton College and from Union Theological Seminary in N.Y. preparing himself for pioneer missionary work in China under the Presbyterian Mission. In 1874 he sailed alone for China.
“China Charley,” as he was known, began the China connection to this land. Charlie had his personal dream—to evangelize by identifying with the people. He wore Chinese clothing, sported a Chinese hairstyle, had excellent command of the Chinese language, and was a curious sight in China because he rode a motorcycle! He married Lucy Crouch who was already serving in China. Two daughters Mary A. and Lucy A. were born to them in China. After Mary A.'s education in America was complete in her early twenties, she didn't remain to accept a comfortable teaching position in the U.S. but dreamed a dream to spend the rest of her life serving God in China. With their mother, the two Leaman sisters founded the Ming Deh Presbyterian school for girls in Nanjing.
*How did Christiana Tsai factor into God's big plan? The Leaman's school was intended for orphans and poor girls. Nevertheless, Buddhist Christiana Tsai, age sixteen, the high-born, daughter of the wealthy and influential Vice Governor of Jiangsu Province, had her own dream. She pleaded to be enrolled in the Leaman school to learn English and music when it was rare for girls to be educated. In time she became a Christian despite her family's strong protests.
*God's plan continued to unfold. Lucy left China in 1924 because of ill health to live in the Leaman family homestead. However, Mary A. and Christiana continued to serve God together in China until World War II. Mary A. suffered greatly from internment in a Japanese prison camp and needed to leave China because of her extreme physical disability. In 1949 she sailed back to the U.S. With her came Christiana, also in chronic poor health, to live safely in the historic Leaman homestead.
*Was their dream of witnessing to the Chinese people over? In 1953 Christiana wrote her remarkable autobiography, The Queen of the Dark Chamber and a later sequel titled, Christiana Tsai. When these books were translated widely into other languages, Chinese people and strangers from many places far and wide traveled to visit Christiana and China Mary in the Paradise homestead.
*The plan of God and the dreams He was giving to people were coming together. Each of the living sons of Innkeeper Henry Leaman had partial inheritance in the Leaman Place homestead and farmland including Charles in China. However, as time passed and the sons in the generations died, the inheritance fell to three surviving Leaman women—to Mary W., the only child of Dr. Henry Leaman, and to her cousins Lucy A. and Mary A., children of Charles. After 1949, these three Leaman cousins lived together at the historic Leaman homestead and rented the farm plantation to tenants. It was from that time that to distinguish between the two Mary Leaman cousins, Mary A. was called “China Mary.” That was the state of affairs in 1956 when I first became friends with these three Leaman women and when I first met Christiana Tsai.
*God's plans unfolded rapidly. After the death of cousin Mary W. in 1963, the Leaman sisters added the name of Christiana Tsai to the deed of ownership of the Leaman estate. Since they were all single, advanced in age, in failing health and without heirs, they wisely made plans in advance to be good stewards of what had been committed to them through past generations. They hoped and prayed and dreamed that the property could somehow be used for the evangelization especially of Chinese people.
*Ambassadors For Christ comes into the picture! We three founders of this newly incorporated ministry among Chinese felt deeply honored by the friendship and trust of the two Leaman sisters and Christiana. We had worked with them in their outreach with the Chinese army officers, students, and other visitors. But we never dreamed that our fledgling ministry would become heir to all of this property. After prolonged prayer, in 1966 the three beloved single Christian ladies decided to deed the entire estate to Ambassadors For Christ. However, they reserved life tenancy for themselves to live in the homestead.
Lucy died first in 1968; China Mary died in 1972 and twelve years later after the death of Christiana in 1984, the full bequest to AFC became reality. The rest, as they say, is history—AFC's history.
It wouldn't have been feasible for AFC to use the original Leaman homestead for its ministry headquarters or retreat, conference and training center or for accommodations. After Christiana died in 1984, AFC sold the historic Leaman homestead to an adjoining business, Denlinger Lumber Company. It was sad when in 1985 its new owners demolished what had been the historic Leaman homestead for generations.
God provided the Leaman farm land on which to develop the ministry of AFC. AFC's dreams for expanding outreach were coming to reality. The date 1974 was significant in that it was exactly 100 years after Charles Leaman sailed to China, that AFC relocated its Headquarters from Washington, D.C. and built its new headquarters building here. In 1987 the farm house was renovated to be used as the Christiana Tsai Retreat Center. In 1991 the headquarters complex was expanded with the addition of a Publications Distribution Center. In 2013 celebrating 50 years of ministry a large, modern, multiple use building was built called The Great Commission Training Center.
AFC dreamed of a way to honor the generous women of God who were our benefactors. I'm certain this beautiful, modern Christiana Tsai Memorial Guest Lodge is in line with the vision and dreams of China Mary and Christiana. Generous Christian hospitality was always at the heart of their ministry. And remember? For a considerable time in the 1800's the Homestead on Route 30 served as a wayside inn offering overnight accommodations for travelers who arrived from Philadelphia by horse and carriage, stagecoach, and covered wagon. Legend has it that President George Washington slept there once! Now this beautiful, modern Guest Lodge will likewise serve as God's wayside inn to provide hospitality. However, people will not arrive at AFC in stage coaches and covered wagons, but by air and by gasoline powered horseless carriages!
We have traced God's plan at work through the dreams He gave to men—AND women! And we are here to see how God put it all together, for which we praise Him.
Today we stand on the shoulders of men and women of bygone generations most of whom were Christians. We have a “great cloud of witnesses” who have dreamed dreams. Now it is our turn to dream a new dream and put our shoulders to the Kingdom task to which God has called AFC—not only to reach Chinese people for Christ but to reach the world!
The 4th new building on AFC's mission campus in Paradise, PA