Heroes of My Life II – Dr. Jack and Liz Layman

As we celebrate the 20th anniversary of CCAI and over 10,000 orphans’ lives changed in two decades, I can’t help but feel deeply grateful to the many incredible people who have permanently impacted my life and journey.  This blog series will allow me to share with you a few heroes of my life as a special tribute to CCAI’s 20 glorious years… and counting!

“How ya doing!?” I was startled from deep thought by a loud but very friendly greeting.  Standing in front of me was a towering figure with deep blue eyes, a half-grey bear of a man with an infectious smile.

“I’m fine,” I responded hesitantly.   I then proceeded to walk away because I had learned that “how are you doing” was just a greeting.  It didn’t mean anyone really wanted to know how you were actually doing.

“You didn’t answer my question.” To my surprise, the smiling man in his late 50s followed me.  “My name is Jack Layman. I am a professor here, teaching Philosophy of Religion.” He introduced himself by reaching out his hand, which was big, warm, and very strong.  “You look concerned.  Is there anything I can do to help you?”

It was March 1987, my third month at the Graduate School of Columbia Bible College.  I had made no friends other than my roommate Bobby, struggled greatly with my classes due to language difficulties, was very homesick, and had no phone or money to call home.

“Do you really want to know?”  I asked doubtfully.  “Oh yes!” he said, without the slightest hesitation.  For the next thirty-some minutes I shared with him my story of coming to the USA, my struggle with cultural adjustment, my academic challenges, and my loneliness.

He listened empathetically and prayed for me. “Why don’t you join us for dinner tonight?  My wife and kids would love to meet you.”  I was speechless and tears welled in my eyes.

I followed the directions Dr. Layman gave me to their ranch house on campus and rang the bell. “Welcome!  I am Liz, Jack’s wife.”  Liz was much shorter than Jack and full of energy and cheerfulness.  “Let me introduce our children.”

Standing in front of me were eight children ranging from about 10 to 25 in age. “Are these all your children?” I asked because three of them were African-Americans who resembled nothing of Jack and Liz and the rest of the crew.  “Oh yes!”  Liz laughed proudly.  “We have four biological children and we adopted four more!”

Adoption?  I came from a culture in which adoption was a social taboo and embarrassment.  My mom was adopted when she was six, but she hid the secret for many years until one day my father revealed the shocking truth to us.  My mom was so worried that her adoption might bring embarrassment to her children or that she would be looked down upon by others.

Jack and Liz with our family

I became a regular visitor to the Layman family’s home.  I even spent a few weeks during the summer break of 1987 staying in their basement.  Each and every time I was mesmerized and amazed by what I saw – lots of hugs and kisses, intimate family time and prayer, a simple but joyful lifestyle, and constant and heart-warming “I love you’s”!   I felt their genuine and natural affection, love, respect, and care for one another.  In this family, adoption carried a totally different meaning than from where I came from.   It was not a source of shame but pride, not a secret but a family celebration, not a division but a unifying power.  I started to realize there was another way to build a family – adoption.

My sponsor, who was responsible for getting me to Columbia Bible College, had originally agreed to support me financially for one academic year.  So by late 1987 she began to pressure me to go back to China as a missionary.  But by then I really wanted to finish my graduate degree and hoped one day I would go on for my post graduate so I could return to China with glory and accomplishments that would make my parents proud.

My sponsor had no interest in any of my “selfish and ungodly” plans and my refusal to follow her will enraged her.  She cancelled her financial support right away, withdrew her immigration sponsorship for me, and, as a major donor to the school, forced the school administration to kick me out immediately.

Suddenly I was on the verge being illegal and school-less.  When Jack learned about my situation, he was outraged.  He stormed into the president’s office and demanded: “How can we do such a thing to a student who simply wants to continue his education?”

Then Jack and Liz did something that was truly game-changing and life-saving.  They offered to be my new financial sponsors in order to keep my legal status in the USA!  I knew a bible college professor did not make a lot of money.  With eight children to support, the Laymans were obviously not in a strong financial position to take on an additional “burden.”   Nonetheless, they cared less about themselves and more about a poor young couple’s well-being. They simply “adopted” us into their family.  From that moment on, Lily and I started to call them our “American mom and dad.”

Six years later in 1992, I was finishing up my joint Ph.D. course at Denver University and Iliff School of Theology.  One day I visited a Chinese friend, Frank Hu, on campus and casually picked up his Chinese newspaper, The People’s Daily.  I couldn’t believe what I saw on the front page, in big, bold print: Adoption Law of China.  It was the first adoption law in the 5,000 years of recorded history of China!

I borrowed the paper from Frank and hurried home.  Before she moved to the USA to marry me, my wife Lily was among the first group of Chinese attorneys to pass the first Chinese National Bar Exam in 1985, the year when China was finally able to rebuild its de facto abolished legal system during the Cultural Revolution.  I showed the paper to Lily and we looked at each other and said almost simultaneously: “We should call the Laymans!”

We dialed Jack and Liz and told them with great excitement about the new adoption law which would allow non-Chinese citizens to adopt orphanage children. “Do you want to adopt a pretty Chinese girl?”  We asked.  They just laughed.  “We’d love to, but we don’t think the Chinese government will allow a couple in their early sixties to adopt.”  Then they said: “But there are many other families who would love to adopt a girl from China.”  “Really?”  We were incredulous.  “You are not the only loving adoptive couple in America?”  They laughed uncontrollably.  “Oh no, you would be surprised at how many loving people are out there.”

With that assurance, we started to quietly share with our friends on campus, at church, and in our neighborhood about China adoption.  The reactions and responses were mind-blowing.  “We’d love to!  My wife and I have been praying for a child for 10 years!” “We have spent so much money on infertility treatments and we are getting so tired of it.” “We have always loved Chinese culture.  Adopting a child from China would be a dream come true.” …

Knowing nothing about adoption rules, regulations, or processes, we approached several established adoption agencies and offered our volunteer service.  They were all eager to set up a China adoption program and take advantage of our China connection.  But as we studied their adoption information, we were astonished by how expensive adoption could be and how much money a family had to pay to an agency.  “Why do you charge so much for someone who simply wants to give a second chance to a homeless child?”  No agencies were able to give us a satisfactory answer.  “I think we should start our own agency!” I told Lily in the midst of frustration.

We struggled greatly and finally decided to call Dr. Layman.  He listened patiently, then asked, ”Have you thought about starting an agency of your own?”

The rest, as they say, is history….

On September 15, 1992, Chinese Children Adoption International was born in our 200-square-foot basement.  Six years later in 1998, CCAI became the largest China-only adoption agency in the USA and then in the world.

As we celebrate our 20th anniversary and over 10,000 successful placements, we thank God for bringing such incredible people like Jack and Liz to our lives.  Without their support and guidance, there would be no CCAI.

Heroes of My Life I – Toni Milkon
Heroes of My Life III – Dr. Ralph Covell

Heroes of My Life I – Toni Milkon

As we celebrate the 20th anniversary of CCAI and over 10,000 orphans’ lives changed in two decades, I can’t but feel deeply grateful to the many incredible people who have permanently impacted my life and journey.  This blog series will allow me to share with you a few heroes of my life as a special tribute to CCAI’s 20 glorious years… and counting!

The Chinese economy in the early 80’s was gloomy and lifeless.  Common people were still suffering from the economic hardship brought upon by the Second Sino-Japanese War (1937-1945), the Chinese Civil War (1945-1949), the Korean War (1950-1953), the irrational economic movement of the Great Leap Forward (1958-1961), the subsequent three-year Great Famine (1960-1963) which killed millions, and the murderous political campaign of the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976).

In 1978, a five-foot-tall giant of a man named Deng Xiaoping took the reins of the most populous nation on earth and put a fortune-changing brake on an economic wagon heading off the cliff.  China reopened its long and tightly-closed doors to the outside world and foreigners started to rush in to see what had happened to this mysterious kingdom of 5,000 years.

To save face, which is tremendously important in Chinese culture, and to lessen the potential negativity toward the Communists’ nation-building ability, the Chinese government became “shop owners” by opening specially designed Friendship Stores in some major cities that showcased their “socialist prosperity” to foreign tourists.  To enter and shop at these stores, where you could get peanut butter, Hershey’s chocolate, cheese, and sometimes even the New York Times, things that most Chinese had never seen in their whole lives, you had to be a foreign visitor, a diplomat, or a very high level government official.

As a result of the ten-year closure of all universities in China during the Cultural Revolution, professional English-speaking tour guides became a rarity.  In late 1982, as a sophomore college student in English, I and all 62 of my classmates were drafted to serve as tour guides, a job few of us were qualified or prepared for.  But we were all very nervous and excited for the opportunity to find out exactly how bad or good our English was, and besides, we would be paid 50 cents a day, plus a free good meal.

One day in September 1982, as I was waiting by the stairway, fascinated by the fabulously-dressed tourists scooping up things they liked with little hesitation, a classy lady in her mid-sixties walked toward me.  Before I could even greet her, she quickly flashed a 3×5 index card just a few inches in front of my eyes.  Six neatly written Chinese characters jumped out at me:  “Ni ren shi ji du ma?”  Do you know Jesus Christ?

Then, as quickly as she approached me, she very quickly walked away.  I had seen the nervousness in her beautiful blue eyes.


A few months earlier, I had gotten hold of a bible in our school library, buried under a mountain of forbidden books locked up during the Cultural Revolution.  As someone who grew up brainwashed by the communist ideology and told that the bible was the evil foundation of “corrupt western civilization and religion,” the curiosity and rebellious spirit inside urged me to seek out the dirty stuff in this famously “bad” book.

I was soon disappointed.  I couldn’t find anything I was looking for .  Instead, I was surprised by how similar many of its moral teaching are to some Confucian teachings, as well as to a few teachings of Communism.  For the first time, I started to question the Communist government’s total denial and defamation of Christianity.

I quickly caught up with the lady.  “I want to know more about Jesus!”  You can imagine her shock when she heard me.  She turned and looked at me with utter disbelief and heavy suspicion.  Before she gathered herself, I dragged her to a quiet corner and told her in my broken English my miraculous encounter with a bible.  Before I finished, tears streamed from her eyes and she reached out and gave me a big hug.  She was shaking, and so was I.

She murmured quietly in my ear: “Jesus loves you!  Jesus loves you!”

“Tell me more about Jesus!”  I murmured back to her, not 100% sure what I was asking, but feeling a deep urge.

She put her soft, slightly wrinkled hand on my shoulder and said a quick prayer.  At that moment I sensed something completely new taking root inside me.

At the end of the tour, before we said goodbye at the port, she ordered her 6’6”, 250-pound husband to keep talking to me while she hurried back to the Norwegian Cruise ship they arrived on.  A few minutes later, she returned and, shielded by her husband’s body, she handed me a small package wrapped in newspaper.  I quickly hid it under my shirt, so nervous that someone might be watching us.

Toni and Harvey Milkon

I waved goodbye to Toni and Harvey Milkon, not able to say much because my heart was pounding like crazy and I was sweating all over…

Back to my dorm and making sure all my five other roommates had fell into sleep, I unwrapped the packet under the moonlight.  It was a Bible Dictionary.

Four years later, I got a letter from Toni inviting me to study in the USA.  I was ecstatic.  Two months after that I got another letter from her, opened already by the time the mailman delivered it to me.  It was an invitation letter from the Graduate School of Columbia Bible College.  Bible college?  No way!  I could never get the government’s permission to travel!

When she didn’t hear anything from me for a few weeks, Toni sent me another letter.  Inside was a short bible verse typed on a small card: “Be strong and courageous.  Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.”  No doubt this lady wanted to send me to a prison!  I complained in my heart.

But, I decided to give it a try because I so much wanted to go to the USA, the “beautiful capitalist country.”  The public security official in charge of issuing passports gave me a puzzled look and did not say a word.  During the next four weeks I was ordered back to the security office almost every other day, and sometimes to a totally different location, to be interrogated by four or five officials at a time.

“Who is this lady and how do you know her?”

“How often do you communicate and where are all your letters?”

“What is her political affiliation and is she friendly to China?

“Why does she want to help you?  Why the bible?”

“How do we know you will come back?”

And so on…

It was the toughest four weeks of my life.  I was in a constant mind game trying to figure out the most appropriate and the safest answers, besides telling them “I don’t really know.”  Each meeting made me feel my chances were shrinking and many times I left their office totally exhausted and despairing.

Then a miracle happened.  One day the public security office called the school at which I was teaching and informed me that my passport was ready for pick up!  I couldn’t believe my ears and I rode my bike as fast as I could, not knowing what was really waiting for me.

Before I could catch my breath and sit down, a uniformed official walked toward me and handed me my passport without saying a word, and then he quietly walked away.  Smelling the fresh print of the passport and seeing my name and engraved picture inside the passport,  I was speechless.  I hit my face with the passport.  It hurt!  “Praise God, I am not dreaming!”

Before anyone could change their mind, I got on the earliest train to Shenyang, the capital city of Liaoning Province, where the closest U.S.  Consulate was located.  I turned in my visa application and 30 minutes later my name was called.  A big guy with a full beard in his forties stood behind a small interview window and looked at me with a huge and unforgettable smile.  My fear was suddenly gone.

“You are the first Chinese student I know to go to the USA for bible study.”  Then he handed my passport back to me, pointing to the visa seal he had just glued on.

On November 31, 1986, with $15 hiding in a pocket my mom sewed into my underwear, I kneeled for the last time in front of my parents and waved a tearful goodbye to my brothers and sister and my newly-engaged fiancée Lily.  Twelve hours later, I stepped off the huge, suffocating Air China jumbo jet and into the land of freedom and opportunity.

Now looking back, I can’t but feel forever grateful to the courageous and somewhat crazy Toni and her very kind husband Harvey.  Without them I might never have had the incredible blessing to start an adoption ministry in the USA and the privilege to be a small part of the lives of more than 10,000 adopted children from China.

Heroes of My Life II – Dr. Jack and Liz Layman
Heroes of My Life III – Dr. Ralph Covell


What 10,000 Means to Me

A few months ago, we had a contest for CCAI’s 20 year anniversary and our achievement of 10,000 kids being adopted.  We had contests in drawing, coloring and writing about what 10,000 means to me.  We posted many of the pictures that contestants had drawn and colored, but we wanted to share the top essays from our adopted children entitled, “What 10,000 Means to Me.” Here are the winners and their essays:

Tina W. 17 years old        Dragon Award

The number and concept 10,000 can be interpreted in multiple ways. The number 10,000 offers people a numerical value on just how many children CCAI has helped to adopt from China. But more importantly, the value 10,000 is a symbol representing how many lives CCAI has helped change.

There is a famous Chinese proverb that illustrates the importance of the number 10,000. The proverb suggests that a bird, named Peng, was so large that he could go from the northern sea to the southern sea in one single bound. The children that were adopted from China represent the bird. The first children adopted are at the front and beak area of the bird. While the most recent children adopted are on the end or near the rear area of the bird. I am near the front because I was one of the first one hundred children adopted through CCAI.

Continue reading

Congratulations to Lily!

On September 23 at Coors Field, home of the Colorado Rockies, CCAI’s Co-founder and CEO, Lily Nie received the University of Phoenix Alumnus of the Year Award for her “outstanding accomplishments on behalf of 20 years of family and child advocacy and over 10,000 adoptions.”

Congratulations to Lily!

National Adoption Month

November is National Adoption Month and we need your help to spread the word about Waiting Children who need a permanent home!

We are looking for families interested in hosting an adoption information meeting at their church or within their community.  We can provide some quick training and materials for you to distribute.

You never know…  A child’s life might be forever changed for the better as a result of your action of love!

If you plan to host a larger meeting, CCAI’s president Joshua Zhong would be pleased to fly to your area and join you!

Thank you for helping us to get the word out about these special children!

Toolkit for Adopting an Older child

   CCAI is excited to announce the release of a new book, Toolkit for Adopting an Older Child!  With so many older children being made available for adoption and now being adopted, it became clear that an informational book providing preparatory information for families considering or already entering into their own older child adoption was much needed.  Toolkit for Adopting an Older Child is our effort at CCAI to provide insight from both professionals and families who have adopted older children into the unique challenges that adopting an older child can present.  This book explores the initial adjustment of a child over the age of 5 into a family, how to cope with basic, immediate needs, and how to prepare for long term behavioral, emotional, and developmental difficulties.  It is our sincere hope that this book will meet the need of our families to have a resource to help them thoughtfully consider and prepare for the adoption of an older child.

Toolkit for Adopting an Older Child is now available in hard copy for $12.95 (plus S/H) and is also available as an e-book through Amazon.  To purchase your copy of this insightful and valuable new resource, please visit CCAI’s gift shop at http://www.chinacharm.org/

Special Love

Not much needs to be said if the children under our care are healthy, but these children with special needs are truly special, and we are constantly moved and inspired by the big steps and even every tiny bit of progress that they surprise us with daily.

Today I want to share with you a great little guy named WL Dang.

WL loves walking now.  Every time he sees someone going outside he will run to grab their hand and follow them.  He just loves and is curious about everything under the sun.

I remember clearly the day of July 15 as I was ready to leave the Lily Orphan Care Center. WL quickly crawled to me and reached for my hand while telling me: “go! Go!”  Then he tried to use his full force to drag me toward the door.  This silly but very lovely act just cracked me up.

His eyes lit up as soon as he was out in the open and let go of my hand right way.  Whenever I tried to give him a hand he always refused to take it.  He was a very independent and active boy!

But I couldn’t help to look back constantly to make sure he was OK.  Suddenly my high heels gave in to the slippery walk way and I fell heavily on the ground. “Ouch!” I screamed and WL was completely scared.  A few seconds later he walked toward me slowly appearing very concerned.  Then beyond my wildest expectation, he extended both of his hands to me trying to help me up!

I was completely surprised and touched.  “How could a child of such a small age be so caring!?”  Tears came down my cheeks, partially due to the pain, but mainly due to WL’s moving gesture.

I will forever treasure that special moment in my heart.  It is such a great feeling to know that our love for these special children has its priceless reward.

Qin, LOCC Nanyang Manager

August 1, 2012

More Donations Arrive at Nanyang Lily Orphan Care Center

CCAI adoptive mom Amy Ferrara and many of her friends have a big heart for orphans left behind in the orphanages.  Since her return from China with her daughter in April, she has been making it a mission to raise donations for NY LOCC where her daughter came from.  Yesterday, two more huge packages containing brand new clothes, toys, and diapers arrived at NY LOCC.  A big thanks to Amy and her friends for bringing happy smile to the LOCC children!

Adoption Fundraising…It Can Be a Puzzle!

by Kelli Wild
Community Relations Coordinator


In light of today’s economy, one of the greatest obstacles facing many families as they move forward with an adoption plan is the challenge of financing their adoption.

There are many creative fundraising efforts families throughout our agency are participating in, and we wanted to encourage a forum to share those ideas.

One adoption fundraiser we would like to feature is The Puzzle Fundraiser.

The goal of this adoption fundraiser is to encourage folks to “sponsor a piece” to help you bring your child home.

You may be amazed at how many people get excited about being a “piece of the puzzle” that helps a child find his or her forever family!

For many of us, it can be a little uncomfortable to ask others to help in this manner.

At CCAI, we know from experience that many people have a heart to love children and would be thrilled to be a part of changing a child’s life in a tangible way.

And you will be giving them one very tangible “way”!

As you gather friends and family to sponsor a piece, write each family or individual’s name on the back of each sponsored piece.

You may be surprised to find people you don’t even know who want to be a part of helping your child come home to his or her forever family!

Begin by selecting a puzzle anywhere from 100 pieces to 1,000 pieces.

Many families frame the completed puzzle with the sponsored pieces showing.

This is a wonderful reminder to your family for years to come of all those who stood with you while you were waiting, and who played a “piece” in bringing your child home.

Set a “minimum” sponsorship amount.  For example, if you select a 1,000 piece puzzle you can encourage folks to sponsor a piece for $25 (of course, they can sponsor more than one piece or give more if they would like).

You will also have the best response if you set up a way for people to donate online (consider starting a blog to which you can add a PayPal button; you can “Google” to learn how to do this).

Now get excited and tell everyone!

One of the best ways you can share your adoption fundraiser is on facebook (upload a picture of your puzzle pieces).  This allows your friends to find out what is going on and also allows them to share it with their friends.

Remember to share regularly … once is not enough.  Share about your adoption fundraiser as often as you feel comfortable, and give people updates.

We look forward to hearing how the “pieces” of your story come together.

Twitter and Colorado Gives Day

Hello hello!

We hope you had a great labor day weekend!

CCAI now has a twitter account!  Make sure to follow us on twitter, @CCAI_Family.  We will be tweeting about blog posts, quick announcements and reminders.  This will be one of the easiest ways to follow what’s going on at CCAI.

Another announcement we would like to make is that Colorado Gives Day is coming up on December 4th, and we want to tell you a bit about this wonderful day to donate and why it’s important.  The donations that we receive go into the orphanages to provide better care, a better living environment, and also special programs for the abandoned children.  These funds truly help us reach out to the children left behind  in China, and Colorado Gives Day is a great day to do your part in helping these children.

On Colorado Gives Day, when you donate through GivingFirst.org, all of the processing fees are paid for by First Bank which gives us 100% of the donation.  On top of that, the more money donated to organizations, the more chances they have of winning prizes worth several thousand dollars in donations.  You can donate money at any time, however, we ask that especially on December 4th, you open your hearts and donate money to the well-being of the Children in China who are looking for their forever families.  The link for donations can be found right here: https://www.givingfirst.org/chinesechildren/overview

Thank you from not only all of us at CCAI, but from the children as well.