30th November 2023
Randy Alcorn shares
The Little Known Story of Olympian Eric Liddell's Final Years
One of my favourite movies of all time is the 1981 Chariots of Fire.
It's the only reason many people are familiar with Eric Liddell, the "Flying Scotsman" who shocked the world by refusing to run the one hundred meters in the 1924 Paris Olympics, a race he was favoured to win.
He withdrew because the qualifying heat was on a Sunday, and he believed God didn't want him to run on the Lord's Day.
Liddell then went on to win a gold medal - and break a world record - in the four hundred meters, not his strongest event.
After the Olympics and his graduation, Eric returned as a missionary to China, where he had been born to missionary parents in 1902.
When the Japanese occupation made life dangerous, he sent his pregnant wife, Florence, and their two daughters to Canada.
Japanese invaders placed him in a squalid prison camp, without running water or working bathrooms.
There, separated from his family, Eric lived several years before dying at age forty-three.
Why did God withhold from this great man of faith a long life, years of fruitful service, the companionship of his wife, and the joy of raising those beloved children?
It makes no sense.
There is another way to look at the Eric Liddell story.
Nanci and I discovered this firsthand when we spent an unforgettable day in England with Phil and Margaret Holder, in May of 1988.
When Japan took control of eastern China, thirteen-year-old Margaret was imprisoned by the Japanese in Weihsien Internment Camp.
Margaret told us stories about a godly man she called "Uncle Eric."
In the camp, the children played basketball, rounders, and hockey, and Eric Liddell was their referee.
Not surprisingly, he refused to referee on Sundays. But in his absence, the children fought.
Liddell struggled over this.
He believed he shouldn't stop the children from playing because they needed the diversion.
Finally, Liddell decided to referee on Sundays.
This made a deep impression on Margaret - she saw that the athlete world famous for sacrificing success for principle was not a legalist.
Mary Taylor Previte, imprisoned at Weihsein as a child, described Eric as "Jesus in running shoes."
He was always involved in the Christian meetings which were a part of camp life.
Though he had become an "uncle" and father figure to numerous children, Eric Liddell never saw his own wife and daughters in this world again.
After writing a letter to Florence from his bed in the infirmary, he said to his friend and colleague "It's full surrender" and slipped into a coma.
Suffering with a brain tumour, he died in 1945. And while all Scotland mourned, all in Heaven who had cheered Eric on as a servant of Jesus gave him a rich welcome.
Through fresh tears that unforgettable day in their living room, Margaret Holder told us, "It was a cold February day when Uncle Eric died."
No one in the world mourned like those in that camp.
When five months later the children were rescued by American paratroopers and reunited with their families, many of their stories were about Uncle Eric.
Liddell's imprisonment broke the hearts of his family.
But for years - nearly to the war's end - God used him as a lifeline to hundreds of children, including Margaret Holder.
Viewed from that perspective, the apparent tragedy of Liddell's presence in that camp makes more sense, doesn't it?
I'm convinced Liddell and his family would tell us - and one day will tell us - that the sufferings of that time are not worthy to be compared with the glory they now know...and will forever know.
A glory far greater than the suffering which achieved it.
This is an edited version. The full article and Bible references are avaiable on request
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