A Hero of Olympic Proportion

I recently watched an incredibly moving biographical film on the life of Eric Liddell.  Liddell was famous as a Scottish Olympian and medalist in the 1928 games and for spending most of his life as a missionary in China. Some of you may recall that a film called “Chariots of Fire” popularized his life (with some license) and went on to win the 1981 Best Picture at the Academy of Awards . In light of the recent end of the 2012 Summer Olympics, I thought I would mention the story of a heroic Olympian whose life story is much deeper than what I would have realized from simply watching the film Chariots of Fire. Now, the film is terrific and if you haven’t seen it or are due for seeing it again, we have the film in the Marshburn Library collections. But I’d like to tell you more about what you might not see in it.

Unlike “Chariots”, this was a small film that provided family photographs, and interviews with two of his daughters, his classmates, and (now elderly) the children he taught in China. It traced his life from his earliest years in China, to his move as a young schoolboy to study at a missionary school in London with his brother Rob, while his parents and sister remained in China. His former classmates were interviewed and recalled his life as a student and an athlete, and his early ventures into evangelistic preaching were discussed. Shortly after graduating with a degree in chemistry he returned to the area he had begun in China, to serve as a chemistry teacher, a Bible teacher, and to do the work of missions.

The film relates stories of his marriage and the birth of his daughters and their memories of their father (who died when they were about eight and ten years of age). One of the former missionaries interviewed, who was a teen in the Chinese prison compound and took lessons from Eric, was a woman I have heard about through friends – a friend of mine from Washington DC was named for her and a close friend’s daughter was named for her as well. It was quite a delightful surprise to see her interviewed with the others, as I had not realized this part of her story.

In this day and age, we don’t often hold up missionaries as the heroes I believe they are. I’m not sure if traveling the world, made so much easier now, still causes us to ponder on sacrifice made? We can get to most parts of the planet in fairly short order – where missionaries in the late 19th and early 20th centuries had to often spend weeks or even months in transit. We have many stories in our special collections of missionaries who left family and friends, with no realistic expectations that they would see them again, often traveling with their belongings packed in caskets (many of these books can be found in the special denominational collections in the Stamps Library. Please contact me for more details). The early life of APU was led by individuals such as this and I believe we are blessed beyond measure in this rich heritage.

Eric Liddell died in China at age 43 while the missionaries were confined to their compounds …but the stories told here from old friends and students and colleagues on the mission field, shows with what vitality Eric lived.

The Story of Eric Liddell: An Olympic Gold Medalist’s Lifelong Race to Spread the Gospel.  Day of Discovery/RBC Ministries. The film was narrated by David McCasland, the author of one of the books on Eric Liddell, below. (While I watched it on DVD, I discovered today that the program is available on YouTube. Click here for the link).

If you would like to know more about Eric’s life and ministry, the University Libraries  also have the following books:

Liddell, Eric. The Disciplines of the Christian Life. Society for the Promotion of Christian Knowledge (SPCK), 2009.
.
.
.
.

McCasland, David. Eric Liddell : pure gold : a new biography of the Olympic champion who inspired Chariots of fire. Discovery House Publishers, 2001.
.
.
.

Magnusson, Sally. The Flying Scotsman. Quartet Books, 1981.
.
.
.
.
.
.

The painting at the top of page is by Eileen Soper and hangs in the National Portrait Gallery of Scotland.

Advertisements
This entry was posted in Books, Church History, Films. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to A Hero of Olympic Proportion

  1. Emily Griesinger says:

    Thanks for this excellent “teaser” on Eric Liddell. I will pass it on. I agree wholeheartedly with what you say about missionaries and heroism.

    • lleahy says:

      Thank you Emily! The video link to the YouTube documentary is really quite stirring. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did :>. And, we have wonderful stories of missionaries in our collections (as I’m sure you know!). Blessings to you!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s