“Eric Liddell: The Flying Scotsman”
Eric Liddell the “The Flying Scot” was born in January 16, 1902 in Tientsin, China. Though Scottish in heritage his parents James and Mary Liddell were missionaries to China under the London Missionary Society. Eric grew up understanding the Chinese culture and mastering the Chinese language as a boy. However most of his boyhood, Eric, and his brother Rob stayed in Scotland and went to boarding school, while their parents were doing mission work in China. They would only know their parents through correspondence and periodic visits when they would come home. When Eric became an adult he went to the University of Edinburgh where he was a great student and became known as a great preacher as well, having a great impact on many of the young men on campus. He was described as the kind of preacher that did not pound the pulpit or point the finger but rather as if he was having a conversation when he preached as one has said “as if chatting over a picket fence.” Yet his words would often come with power and conviction as people heard him.
Eric was also very athletic and his brother Rob were very good rugby players in their years at Edinburgh. Yet the sport that Eric mastered the most was running, and it soon became evident in his College years that he was an outstanding runner, as a result many newspapers began to write about him and put his picture in the paper. Through the providence of God Eric was such a gifted runner that he earned a sport in the 1924 Olympics in Paris to run the 100meter dash. Eric trained hard in preparation for the big race until it was made known to him that the race for the gold would take place on Sunday, July 6, 1924. The problem with this was that Eric was a devoted Christian and because of his faith would not break the Sabbath to run. It came as a shock to nearly everyone when he made it clear saying “I am not running,” that he would not run for the gold on a Sunday. Eric considered Sunday a day that was to be set apart to the Lord and devoted to him, and he would not exchange his convictions for the glory of man.
The 100 meter dash was Eric’s best event and he was highly favored to win the gold in that race, but still chose the glory of God over the glory of man, and did not run for the gold in the 100meter. Interestingly enough on the Sunday that he was to run, he preached in a church in Paris close to the event, and during his preaching the gun could be heard that started the 100 meter race for the gold that he was expected to win. Although Eric didn’t run in the 100meter race he did run three days later on July 11 in the 200 meter race and the 400 meter race. On the morning of the races a team manager had slipped a piece of paper into Eric’s pocket that said “In the Old Book it says: ‘He who honors me I will honor.’ Wishing you the best of success always.” Eric was greatly enriched to find out that there were others who understood his decision not to run on the Sabbath so that he might honor the Sabbath.
Eric received the bronze medal that day in the 200 meter race and then he worked his way to qualify that day for the 400 meter race. Eric was not favored to win the 400 because he was more of a sprinter and the 100 meter race was a sprinters race. He was asked what his plan for victory was and he responded with “I run the first 200 meters as had as I can. Then, for the second 200 meters, with God’s help, I run harder.” Eric Liddell made to the track that day shaking hands with other runners and lined up to run. The gun went off and Eric took off and ran the whole 400 meters in a dead sprint. Eric had a very awkward way of running often with his head tilted into the air and with his arms thrashing, yet when he crossed the finished line he found himself coming in first. Not only did he win the race but he also set a world record for the time of 47.6 seconds, a record that would remain for nearly 12 years afterwards in Europe.
Yet Eric’s greatest achievement came from not what he did on the track in winning the gold, but rather what he did off the field in winning the hearts of the people of China. In 1925 a year after his Olympic victory Eric Liddell felt called by God to go back to China as a missionary. Eric would spend the next 20 years of his life serving in China and would only come back to Scotland on just a few occasions to visit in 1932 and 1939. For the first 12 years in China Eric served as a science and sports teacher at a College in the same Chinese city he was born in Tientsin. He was particularly involved in working with the youth through sports and teaching them about Christ. He was dearly loved among the youth and the people that he worked with. It was during this time that Eric met and married his wife Florence. They had 3 children together but he would never see his third child (Maureen), but rather had died before ever getting to meet her. After 12 year Eric decided to become an ordained minister to spreading the word of God as an evangelist and humanitarian the Xiaochang County.
In 1943 the city in which Eric was in came under Japanese control and Eric was sent to a prison camp called the Weihsien Internment Camp. This was a very dangerous area as during this time the area had come under Japanese control and it became a Japanese prison camp. China became a place where there an increasing number of rape and murder by the occupying Japanese forces, and a dangerous place for Eric’s family to live in. Therefore Eric sent his family to Canada for safety but he believed that God wanted him to stay in China. Yet Eric was fearless in his pursuit of Christ and making him known. Many times he would travel to visit the sick and needy people without an armed guard trusting in God, though every time he walked out of his door he ran the risk of getting shot. So dangerous was it that Eric was asked by the British government to leave the country. Winston Churchill had even made a means through a prisoner exchange to set Eric free from but he declined, and instead he offered his freedom to another pregnant woman who was able to be set free by the gracious act of Eric.
In the prison camp that Eric was constantly under great pressures of moral decay and wickedness among the prisoners. Langdon Gilkey was a fellow survivor in the same prison camp that Eric Liddell described the kind of man Eric was when he said “It is rare indeed that a person has the good fortune to meet a saint, but he came as close to it as anyone I have ever known.” Eric Liddell “The Flying Scot” who stole the heart of the world at the 1924 Olympics died on February, February 21, 1945 died of brain tumor in Japanese prison camp. Eric died without notoriety and without pomp and splendor, and no gold medals to grace around his neck. He died a poor and unknown man in a prison camp where most the world would never see him, to sacrifice his life that others would know the truth of Jesus Christ. He left earth with one gold medal he could not take with him, to receive a crown in Heaven that will never be taken from him. Langdon Gilkey upon the death of Eric Liddell said “Shortly before the camp ended, he was stricken with a brain tumor and died the same day. The entire camp, especially its youth, was stunned for days, so great was the vacuum that Eric’s death had left.”
Eric was a man who understood God’s call and often would say “God made me for China,” and he lived that truth out in his sacrifice on behalf of the youth and people of China. Shortly after Eric died in August of 1945 some American rescuers came in and set free all those imprisoned in the camp where Eric was imprisoned at, although Eric never got to see their freedom. So inspirational was Eric’s life that a move was made of his life in 1981 called “Chariots Of Fire” produced by David Puttnam in which it was nominated for 7 academy awards and won 4 of them. To this day the movie is ranked 19th in the British Film Institutes of top 100 British films.