Eric Liddell was a missionary kid born in China. At age seven his parents enrolled him in a boarding school in Britain, and he spent most of his childhood separated from them. But school officials encouraged him to devote himself to sports, and young Eric soon developed an athlete’s physique. He also began flexing his spiritual muscles, rising early each day to meet the Lord in prayer and Bible study.
When Eric entered the university he broke one record after another in sporting events. His sister wrote their parents in China, saying, “Every week he brings home prizes. We’ve nowhere to put them all.” As his fame grew an innovative Scottish evangelist named D. P. Thomson eyed him as an intriguing prospect for the ministry. He invited Eric to share his testimony with a group of men in Armadale, and on April 6, 1923 Liddell made his debut in public evangelism. By the time he arrived at the Paris Olympics that summer, Eric was known worldwide as a powerful athlete and as an outspoken Christian who, despite refusing to race on Sundays, could win the gold.
But fame didn’t stop him from following his parents to China. He arrived there as a missionary in 1925. When the Japanese invaded in 1937, he remained; and in 1943 he found himself interned in a camp outside Peking. Conditions were horrible. Eric ministered day-by-day, praying with the sick, coaching the children, witnessing to the lost. At times, though, his head throbbed. He began visibly weakening. On February 21, 1945, he died. An autopsy revealed a massive brain tumor.
A camp survivor was asked the reason for Liddell’s influence at the camp. She replied that every morning at 6 a.m. he would rise and light the peanut-oil lantern on the little dormitory table just enough to illumine his Bible and notebook. There he would silently meet God at the start of each new day. It was the Flying Scotsman’s lifelong habit, she said, and the secret of his power.
I have not yet reached my goal, and I am not perfect. But Christ has taken hold of me. So I keep on running and struggling to take hold of the prize. … I forget what is behind, and I struggle for what is ahead. I run toward the goal, so that I can win the prize of being called to heaven. (Philippians 3:12-14a)
Robert J. Morgan, On This Day : 265 Amazing and Inspiring Stories About Saints, Martyrs & Heroes, electronic ed. (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2000, c1997). April 6.