Tuesday, 28 September 2021

Like Eric Liddell, seek public good

IN our busy lives we are so often blinded by the dramatic or ostentatious and fail to appreciate the hidden depths beyond our view.    

The film Chariots of Fire was the dramatic story of the Christian evangelist Eric Liddell.  He won gold in the 400m in a world record time at the 1924 Olympic Games in Paris.

Notably, he had refused to run in the heats of the 100m, his best event, as they were to be run on a Sunday. Sunday was a day for worship and that was that!

His dramatic story of achievement was celebrated far beyond his native Scotland, especially in China, the land of his birth. 

Largely hidden from view back in Britain, that is where the true greatness of Eric Liddell’s story unfolded.

Eric was born in Tientsin in 1902, his father having been posted to China by the London Missionary Society in 1898.

The second of four siblings, he was educated at the School for the Sons of Missionaries before studying at Edinburgh University.

Following his sporting achievements of 1924, he returned to Tientsin in 1925 as a missionary teacher.  

For most of the Thirties, China was in a constant state of military unrest, firstly from civil conflict and secondly with the Japanese invasion of eastern China which culminated in full- scale Japanese occupation following the raid on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941.

Whether working in remote, deprived rural areas of Shandong Province or incarcerated in the Weihsien concentration camp, for the most part separated from his beloved wife and three daughters, Eric served the poor, the distressed and dispossessed. 

Fellow internees remember him as an “unruffled spirit” with a “serene temper” and a “constant smiling face”. 

Another commented that: “He never let anyone see him as downcast.  Every day to him was precious.  He threw himself into it to make others feel better about the situation all of us were in.”

In the final pages of his biography, Duncan Hamilton comments: “He knew that whatever else he would surely have achieved as an athlete was trivial besides what he went on to achieve as a missionary, forever combining public service and private sacrifice.” 

Beyond the worldly dramas, the Chariots of Fire we each experience, may we quietly seek the public good in serving our neighbour as ourselves. Eric Liddell certainly did!  

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