Eric Liddell (1902-1945)

Eric Liddell was born to missionary parents who served in northern China and his early years were in a London Missionary Society compound. His parents had been missionaries in Mongolia when the Boxer Rebellion had broken out. The Boxers were a group of people who wanted to kill all foreigners, especially missionaries. Two hundred missionaries and over thirty thousand Chinese Christians were killed in the uprising.

When Eric was five years old, his family returned to Scotland and in 1908 he and his brother were sent to a boarding school in London. It was seven years before they saw their mother again and thirteen years before they saw their father again. It was 1921 before the family were together again, by which time Eric was at Edinburgh University.

Eric excelled at athletics and rugby but an event that took place in 1921 changed the direction of his life. Eric was invited to speak about his Christian faith at a public meeting. This was reported in the Scottish press and Eric started to receive many invitations to share the Gospel. He also continued running and was getting faster and faster. He qualified for the 1924 Olympics and gained notoriety when he refused to run in three events because they had been scheduled to be run on a Sunday. During this time his brother qualified as a doctor and accepted a post as a missionary doctor in China. Eric also applied to be a missionary in China, where his parents were then stationed.

The 1924 Olympics took place in Paris. Harold Abrahams won the 100 meters GOLD, the race that Eric had refused to run in. Eric won a bronze in the 200 meters, a race in which he was not expected to do well. He was also in the 400 meters where there was even less chance, or so the experts thought! Eric not only won the race but he set a new world record. Eric had gone from being a Scottish hero to a coward and traitor and back to a national hero.

Within eighteen months of the Olympics Eric Liddell had given up athletics and was on his way to China, at a time when the country was in turmoil and the communists were fighting for power. He was going as a chemistry and sports teacher. He was married in 1934 and soon had two children.

However, in 1937 he was asked to go to an area in China that had been devastated by fighting. He was to be a village missionary in an area where three separate factions were fighting each other. The villages had been plundered and many people had been killed. The young men had been forced to join whichever group had captured the village. This was an eventful and dangerous time for Eric and it was two years before he was able to leave China, with his family, for a break.

In 1940 the family went back to China and Eric went back to Siao Chang to continue being a village missionary. Five months later the Japanese ordered all foreigners to leave the area and Eric went back to Tientsin. The Japanese attacked Pearl Harbour and the America and Britain declared war on the Japanese. All the foreigners were put under house arrest and in 1943 were interned. Eighteen hundred internees were packed into a small compound for just over two years. Eric’s release had come six months earlier when he collapsed and died of what turned out to be a brain tumour. Eric Liddell gave up a life of fame in this world to serve God and to obtain an eternal, glorious future.

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