For much of his adulthood, Alton Lim sensed that something — or someone — was guiding his life. As a Chinese immigrant who started with little, survived a brush with death in World War II and eventually found success in business, it always seemed to him that a divine presence was protecting him and shaping his destiny.
But it wasn’t until about halfway through his life, with guidance from a Los Angeles pastor who also happened to teach at Biola’s Talbot School of Theology, that he came to know and trust this God by name.
Now 96, Alton said he wants to use his remaining time and resources to glorify God by making an investment that will last for eternity.
“God has blessed him financially, and he wanted to find a tangible means to re- turn back to God what is originally his,” said Daniel Lim, one of his four children.
In February 2015, Alton Lim made the largest cash donation in Biola University’s history: a $12 million gift toward one of the most significant buildings ever to be constructed on Biola’s campus. The Alton and Lydia Lim Center for Science, Technology and Health — the centerpiece facility of the university’s comprehensive campaign — will prepare generations of Biola students to make an impact for Christ in science-related careers.
The project combines two passions for Alton and his family: science and Scripture. Two of his sons are physicians and his son-in-law is a dentist. Each family member is also a committed Christian. For the Lims, part of the appeal of Biola’s facility was the opportunity to prepare Christian students to enter medical fields while also supporting their biblical knowledge and spiritual growth.
“This is going to help generation after generation to study and try to help people,” said Alton, who insists that he wants all glory for the gift to go directly to God.
Alton’s own story began in a humble village in rural China, where he spent the first two decades of his life. After immigrating to the United States in 1939, he found himself on the way back to Asia just two years later to serve in World War II as a member of the U.S. Air Force. His service was cut short, however, when his plane was shot down by a Japanese aircraft near a base in Saipan. He survived, but the close call stuck with him.
He eventually married Lydia, his late wife and loyal partner of 55 years, and after running a couple of grocery stores, opened a small motel in Los Angeles. Each Sunday, he would bring his children to the First Chinese Baptist Church in Chinatown, where they could experience Chinese culture and be surrounded by positive role models — though he personally was often too sleep-deprived or busy to stay for services. Noticing this, pastor Timothy Lin took an interest in him and spoke with him about Christ. Over time, Alton came to recognize that the Lord had always had a purpose for his life. He made a commitment to follow Christ, and was soon followed by his wife and children, making the entire family Christ-centered, Daniel said.
As Alton reached his later years, having achieved financial success through wise investment decisions and real estate holdings, he began to consider where he could return his financial blessings back to God. Though no member of the Lim family ever attended Biola, they always felt a connection through First Chinese Baptist Church, Daniel said. Pastor Lin taught at Talbot and was a close friend of Biola’s president, Sam Sutherland. Church members Fook Kong and Irene Li, who made a particular impact on the family, were members of Biola’s Board of Trustees. (Biola’s Li Apartments are now named after them, and their daughter Hannah serves as a trustee.) In addition, several close family friends attended the university over the years.
After calling to inquire about the university’s needs in late 2014 and learning of the science building, the project seemed to be a clear fit. Particularly exciting was the news that Biola was looking to create medical training partnerships in several Asian countries, family members said.
“The dedication of this building is a fulfillment of [his] commitment to return to God the blessings that God has bestowed upon him throughout his life,” wrote son Timothy Lim, who noted that his father’s life has been a testament to the truth of Proverbs 16:3: “Commit your actions to the Lord, and your plans will succeed.”
“The completion of this building is the culmination of these plans,” he wrote. “In a similar way it is hoped that the students who will occupy the [center] can claim God’s promise that the knowledge and skills they plan to learn will produce dividends that will ensure success, not just at home but abroad, when committed toward the glorification of God.”