Most of us only think about Eric Liddell as ‘the man who wouldn’t run on Sunday’, about whom about the Oscar winning movie ‘Chariots of Fire’ was made. He was known as the ‘Flying Scotsman’
and was the first of his country to win Gold during the 1924 Paris Olympics. Committed Christian Eric Liddell refused to race on Sunday and was forced to withdraw from the 100 metres, his best event. Instead, Liddell raced in the 400 metres and little was expected of him. As Liddell went to the starting blocks for the race, an American slipped a piece of paper in his hand with a quotation from 1 Samuel 2:30, “Those who honour me I will honour.” Liddell ran with that piece of paper in his hand and not only won the race but broke the existing world record with a time of 47.6 seconds.
Liddell achieved a greater prize than Olympic Gold later on in his life. After the Olympics, Liddell returned to China to work as a missionary. His family, originally from Scotland, worked in China during the time of the Boxer Rebellion. Liddell worked as a teacher at a school for Chinese boys at which he taught chemistry and organized sports. He married in 1934 and in 1936 China prepared for war as Communist and Nationalist tensions increased. Liddell was asked by the London Missionary Society to give up his work in Tientsin, and work as a village evangelist in Siao Chang. This was a dangerous area. Liddell could not take his wife and two daughters with him and he was forced to leave them behind when he went to work there. He was able to visit on occasion, but it was a long journey. Visits were not frequent.
The villages Liddell worked in suffered many hardships as a result of the warring between Communists and Nationalists. On one day, the Communists would pillage and destroy a village and then leave. Later, on another day, the Nationalists would come and do the same thing. His job in the area was evangelism and to encourage the Christians already there. The work was dangerous. Travelling in the countryside with Communist and Nationalist forces equally hostile to missionary work put Liddell in harm’s way on a regular basis.
The Japanese invaded China and in 1940 Liddell told his wife to take their children to Canada where she could live with her parents. He stayed behind in Tientsin to continue his work. Liddell was sent by the Japanese to an Internment Camp where 1800 other internees were confined. He was not dissuaded by his circumstances. He worked tirelessly in the camp, doing just about anything that needed to be done, whether it was bible study, teaching children who were trying to keep up their studies, or organizing sports. In a prisoner exchange bargain, his freedom was arranged by Winston Churchill, but he gave it up and let a pregnant woman leave instead.
I HAVE FINISHED THE RACE
In 1944, Liddell was not well. The doctors did not have the resources to diagnose the real nature of the problem. On February 21, 1945, he began coughing uncontrollably, and as friends came to his aid, he lay back and uttered the words “It is surrender”. An autopsy later revealed that Liddell had a large tumour on the left side of his brain. He died never having seen his third child, Maureen Liddell. This man was truly committed to the cause of Christ. He had the opportunity to leave China but he chose to stay.He poured his life into the work of reaching the lost in China. He worked for a prize far greater than gold, even Olympic gold.