Eric Liddell: Making Sacrifices

Hi, friend! Welcome to my blog. I hope you’re doing well!

Today it’s time to kick off the Live It! series. The first person we’ll be talking about is Eric Liddell.

Who Was Eric Liddell?

Eric Henry Liddell was an Olympic runner and missionary to China. Born on January 16, 1902 in Tientsin, China, Liddell was the son of a Scottish missionary family. He spent his early years in China before being brought to Scotland with his older brother for his education at Eltham College.

During his school years, Liddell excelled in sports of all kinds, “At the age of 15, Liddell was named best athlete of the year and became the youngest in school history to captain both the cricket and rugby teams.” (ABWE, ‘Jesus In Running Shoes’: Honoring Eric Liddell 75 Years Later.)

After graduating from Eltham College, Liddell went on to Edinburgh University in 1921. During his time there, his running took off and he won several prizes from university races and competitions. In April of 1923, he also spoke in front of an audience about his Christian faith for the first time at an evangelistic campaign.

In July of the same year he qualified for the British Olympic team for the 1924 Olympics in Paris, France. Liddell’s best race was the 100-meter. However, since the qualifying races for that event were held on Sunday, he refused to run in them. This caused quite an uproar.

Some people even called him a traitor to his country. A man unfit to represent Scotland.

Something Greater Than Gold, p. 46

Liddell, however, stood by his decision. He agreed to run other races that weren’t held on Sundays, but he still sacrificed potential gold medals for standing by his beliefs.

After the Olympics Liddell decided he wanted to follow in his parents’ footsteps and pursue mission work in China. While in China, he taught Chinese students science and was liked by many people he worked with for his “friendly and energetic personality.” (ABWE, ‘Jesus In Running Shoes’: Honoring Eric Liddell 75 Years Later.)

While in China, Liddell got to know Florence Mackenzie, a daughter of another missionary family. He liked spending time with her and being around her, and after getting to know her, he decided he wanted her to be his wife. He proposed to her when she was still pretty young, but they waited until Florence had graduated from nursing school to get married. After several years of waiting, they were married in March of 1934. 

Liddell and his wife continued their work in China together. In the 1940s, however, things began to change and living in China was becoming more dangerous. In 1941, with World War II brewing, Liddell sent his two young girls and Florence, who was pregnant with their third child, to Canada. Liddell decided to stay behind in China to continue his work.

Escorting Flo and his daughters to the ship that would take them to Canada was probably the most difficult thing that Eric Liddell ever had to do in his life.

Something Greater Than Gold, p. 162

What makes Liddell’s decision so noble is that it was entirely voluntary. No one would have blamed Liddell for taking the easy route by going with his loved ones. This extraordinary sacrifice distinguishes Liddell as a man of utmost obedience.

‘Jesus In Running Shoes’: Honoring Eric Liddell 75 Years Later (ABWE)

Liddell was taken to a Japanese internment camp in 1943 before he could make the trip to Canada to return to his family. Liddell didn’t let the circumstances hinder him, however.

Eric was probably the most popular person in the whole camp. His roommates got tired of the constant stream of children parading past the door looking for Uncle Eric.

Something Greater Than Gold, p. 185

Sadly, though, Liddell’s health began to decline. He died in the internment camp from a brain tumor on February 21, 1945. He was never able to meet his third daughter or see his family again, and it was a couple of months before Florence heard of his death. 

The Legacy

Liddell sacrificed a lot in his life. He could have run on Sundays. He could have continued his career as an Olympic runner. He could have gone home with his family to Canada.

Instead, he gave his life to God. He didn’t run on Sundays. He decided that he would pursue a career as a missionary. He died in China, far away from his loved ones.

It’s terrible to read about his death at a young age away from his family, but it’s also beautiful. It’s beautiful that he was willing to continue to serve the Lord despite the dangerous circumstances. It’s beautiful that he chose to be a light to those in China and the internment camp, even though the situation was far from happy. It’s beautiful that he chose Jesus over everything else.

So what can we learn from Liddell’s life? We can learn that sometimes we have to make sacrifices. Sometimes we have to give things up, but that doesn’t mean we can’t be filled with joy and happiness in what God has done for us.

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.

Hebrews 12:1-2

Liddell ran his race, but for a much greater prize than gold, and keeping his eyes on Jesus all the way.

Final Thoughts

I hope you enjoyed today’s article on Eric Liddell! If you want to learn more about Liddell and his life, I’ll link the sources I used for this article down below. Thank you so much for reading! I’ll see you next time!

Have a blessed day, 

~Caroline

Bibliography

Benge, Janet and Geoff. Eric Liddell: Something Greater Than Gold. Seattle: YWAM Publishing, 1998.

Britannica, T. Editors of Encyclopedia. “Eric Liddell.” Encyclopedia Britannica, January 12, 2021. https://www.britannica.com/biography/Eric-Liddell.

McCasland, David. Eric Liddell: Pure Gold. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Discovery House, 2001.

Skinker, Loren. “‘Jesus In Running Shoes’: Honoring Eric Liddell 75 Years Later.” ABWE.org, February 21, 2020. https://www.abwe.org/blog/%E2%80%98jesus-running-shoes%E2%80%99-honoring-eric-liddell-75-years-later.

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