A. L. Ham 許華欽 (1889 - 1974)
by Bruce W. Lo, 2013
Basic Biographical Facts
Born on October 13, 1889, near Minneapolis,MN; died May 16, 1974 at St Helena Sanitarium and Hospital , CA.
Married Nina Fern Wilcox on December 23, 1912.
A.L. and Nina Ham have three children:
Summary of Service: Principal of Sam Yuk School, Canton; President of South China Mission, and later President of South China Union Mission. President of South Asia Division, and Vice President of General Conference
Figure 1: The family of A.L. Ham in 1932
Childhood and Education
A. L. Ham 許華欽 was born on October 13, 1889 in a farm near Minneapolis, Minnesota. When he was a child his parents joined the Seventh-day Adventist Church. The family later moved to Washington State and he attended the Forest Lake Academy. It was in that school that he met his future wife, Nina Fern Wilcox. After high school, Ham went to Walla Walla College, and Pacific Union College to continue his education. He also attended Loma Linda University. On December 23, 1912, A. L. Ham and Nina Wilcox were united in marriage. Nina's brother, Lyle Wilcox was also a missionary to China.
Entry to Mission Ministry in Canton
Immediately after their wedding, A.L. and Nina went to Tacoma Park, Washington, D.C. to received preparatory training for foreign missionaries. In 1913, the newly wedded accepted a call to be missionaries to China. They first arrived at Hong Kong, at that time a British Colony. Shortly after they moved to Canton 廣卅 (Pinyin: Guangzhou) In there, he reopened the Sam Yuk School 三育学校 in 1915, which was temporarily closed during the previous few years. This became the base where he spread the gospel, training local pastors and Bible workers. He frequently visited towns and villages ministering to new converts where the fire of the gospel was ignited by many of his Chinese pastors and Bible workers.
According to his youngest daughter, Beatrice Ham-Reinke , during Elder A.L. Ham's long and frequent absences from home on his itinerant duties, Mrs. Ham and children often ate Chinese food at home - rice, bean sprouts, bean cakes, bok choy, lam goks, and other Chinese delicacies. But when he cam home, they had to eat "American" food. The children, however, much preferred the Chinese food1.
As a mission director, A.L. Ham took his responsibilities seriously. He had great respect for the Chinese people. He also taught his children to show the utmost respect to the Chinese people, regardless of their station or work. "As a result, I still consider them (Chinese people) to be the finest people on earth." recalled daughter, Geatrice Ham-Reike1.
The itinerant life style took its toll on A.L. Ham. He was plagued with malaria during most of his years in China. Fortunately, the rest of the family seemed not to be bothered with this disease. Even after his first furlough, he seemed to have better health, yet he was still bothered with frequent bouts of malaria.
As with many foreign missionaries, it was always a challenge trying to learn the Chinese language, A.L. Ham shared the following rather humorous story with his family. He said one time during his first attempt to pray in Chinese, he got along very well until he came to the very end. He just could not remember how to end the prayer. So he prayed on and on, trying to remember what he was supposed to say. Finally, one of the Chinese brethren realized his dilemma, and whispered the proper word to him, and he ended his long prayer.
After many years of planning and prayers, A. Ham fulfilled his dream of starting a hospital in Dongshan 東山. He was appointed President of the South China Mission until the 1930's. When he returned to Hong Kong, he was elected President of South China Union Mission. During all those years his wife, Nina Ham, stood by him faithfully performed her duties as wife, mother, teacher, housekeeper and friend. She was a nurse to the girls in the Sam Yuk School when they were sick. She taught classes in English and Algebra in the school. She even taught some of them to play the organ. As the wife of the mission director, she received a small stipend for her services. The other missionary wives did not receive anything. But Nina decided to divide what she received with the others.
In 1924, Nina Ham's brother, Lyle Wilcox and his wife arrived in Canton for their first mission appointment as principal of the Sam Yuk Middle School. To much of Nina's relief, as a musician, Mrs. Wilcox took over the teaching of the organ and piano lessons. Lyle Wilcox started a small band at the school, in which my father attempted to play the trombone.
Ministry in Hong Kong
In Hong Kong, he was supported by a group of faithful Union Mission staff and local leaders. Under his leadership the work in Southern China continued to flourish. It was during his tenure that he laid the foundation stone of the Pioneer Memorial Church in Happy Valley, Hong Kong to honor the many pioneer missionaries who spread the seeds of the Gospel in China, among whom was Abram La Rue, who started the colporteur ministry as early as 1888.
After Pearl Harbor was bombed, America declared war against Japan. Many foreign missionaries in China were interned by the Japanese military and ceased their official church work. A.L. Ham and his staff tried to continue their duties. But it was a very difficult time. His internment was hard on his health. However, Chinese colleagues provided great assistance to Elder Ham and other foreign missionaries. Perhaps this was the way the national believers expressed their appreciation of the great sacrifices that the expatriates made in bringing the Gospel to China. Thus a unique bond and friendship were formed between Elder Ham and his Chinese friends. At the end of the war, A.L. Ham returned to the United States on the exchange of prisoners.
Southern Asia and General Conference
When the Chinese civil war prevented A.L Ham from returning to China, he went to India and became the President of Southern Asia Division in 1942. He served there for two terms, even he had typhus fever in India. While he loved the people of Southern Asia, he never lost his love and respect for the people of China. In 1950 he was called to be a General Conference Field Secretary and Vice President. A.L. Ham continued in that position until he retired in 1948.
During his retirement years, he was always greatly cheered by visits from his friends from old China. "I think our whole family think of ourselves as Chinese," said Beatrice Ham-Reinke, his youngest daughter, "In fact, when I was very young on our furlough I told everyone I was Chinese."1
Elder A.L. Ham passed to his rest on May 16, 1974 (or May 27?) at the age of 83 at the St. Helena Sanitarium and Hospital in California. Mrs. Nina Ham died on February 8, 1975 at the age of 84. They rested side by side awaiting the call of Jesus. "In that chariot of fire that transports us from Earth to Heaven, he will be looking for his Chinese family." concluded Beatrice Ham-Reinke in her memoir of her father2.
1. Ham-Reinke, Beatrice (1990) Memories of My Father, Elder A.L. Ham, in Old China, in Zane, D., Chow, B. & Lee, D. (editors) South China Reflections 1990, California.
2. Strictland, (2002), Life Story of A.L. Ham, in Samuel Young (editor), Chinese SDA History, Chinese Union Mission of SDA, Hong Kong.