Sunday, May 29, 2016

For the Glory: Eric Liddell's Journey from Olympic Champion to Modern Martyr

I was barely into my twenties when I met Dr. Maybell Marion Holmes. She had been born to missionaries in China and later returned to China as a missionary. Her parents fled China during the Boxer Rebellion. Her father Rev. Thomas D. Holmes wrote a book, China Stories, about his experiences. Marion lived into her nineties. I only knew her for a few years before my husband's work brought a move.

While reading Duncan Hamilton's biography on Eric Liddell For the Glory I chastised myself for not having probed Dr. Holmes for stories. She had first hand experience of events of which I was totally ignorant. To think of what I could have learned!

The Chinese resented how the Western was influencing their country. Comprised mainly of peasants, the Boxers rebelled by destroying railroads, killing missionaries, and attacking foreign enclaves and diplomats. President McKinley joined Europeans in sending in troops. The Manchu Dynasty joined with the Boxers. It was the beginning of the Chinese Revolution.

Eric Liddell's parents were missionaries in China during the Boxer Rebellion until his father suffered a stroke. Eric idolized his father. "Be ye perfect" became Eric's goal, an example set by his father's embodiment of the ideals taught by Jesus.

Most people know Eric Liddell only from the 1981 movie Chariots of Fire which follows his career as a runner in the 1924 Paris Olympics.  The movie portrays Eric as a high minded idealist, adamant about keeping the Sabbath; he will not race on Sunday. A friend exchanges races; Eric runs feeling God's pleasure and wins a medal. The movie ends with a few lines about Eric becoming a missionary and dying in China.
1925 Liddell as painted by Eileen Soper
The story behind Eric's Olympic win is set forth in the first part of Hamilton's book, and he brings Liddell's personality and gifts to life. He comments on ways the movie altered truth for the sake of story.

But it is Eric's life after winning the gold that becomes most riveting, especially the last third of the book about his missionary career in China while under Japanese occupation during WWII. The author is certain he is writing about a saint, and makes us believe too.
Liddell returning to Japanese occupied China as a missionary
The man in these pages has the mind of a winner, the determination and drive to push himself beyond endurance. It is a trait he takes into all his life.

Eric was sent to an isolated village mission which fell under Japanese occupation. After a vacation break the mission society sent Eric back to the mission. It was a fateful decision. The missionaries were put under house arrest then rounded up and sent to a concentration camp in a run down former mission school. In over crowded, unsanitary, and claustrophobic conditions, the internees struggled to deal with the waste and developed a Black Market to supplement their scanty food supplies.

Eric kept up a public face of encouragement while teaching in the camp school, but also hauling water, cleaning excrement, offering non-judgmental counseling, and organizing sports events and races. His health steadily declined, and he died in the camp, emaciated and weak, after suffering several strokes. He had brain cancer.

For the Glory is a wonderful biography, inspiring and glorious, horrifying and sad. But beyond the sadness there is hope. Liddell's example of loving your enemies inspired a camp internee, Steve Metcalf, to become a missionary to Japan. Metcalf called it 'passing the baton of forgiveness.' To have witnessed the atrocities the Japanese inflicted on the Chinese, and yet forgiven them, came out of their deep faith and obedience to the teaching of Jesus.

Eric's daughter, whom he never saw, grew up resentful until she realized her father was meant to be in that camp, touching the lives of many, part of a bigger plan. She realized her family was meant to share him.

Eric's favorite hymn was Be Still My Soul, translated by a fellow Scott. Did he know these words would be needed to comfort him during his earthly trial?

Be still, my soul: the Lord is on thy side.
Bear patiently the cross of grief or pain.
Leave to thy God to order and provide;
In every change, He faithful will remain.
Be still, my soul: thy best, thy heav'nly Friend
Through thorny ways leads to a joyful end.

Be still, my soul: thy God doth undertake
To guide the future, as He has the past.
Thy hope, thy confidence let nothing shake;
All now mysterious shall be bright at last.
Be still, my soul: the waves and winds still now
His voice Who ruled them while he dwelt below.

Be still, my soul: when dearest friends depart,
And all is darkened in the vale of tears,
Then shalt thou better know His love, his heart,
Who comes to soothe thy sorrow and thy fears.
Be still, my soul: thy Jesus can repay
From His own fullness all he takes away.

Be still, my soul: the hour is hast'ning on
When we shall be forever with the Lord.
When disappointment, grief, and fear are gone,
Sorrow forgot, love's purest joys restored.
Be still, my soul: when change are tears are past
All safe and blessed we shall meet at last.

Be still, my soul: begin the song of praise
On earth, believing, to Thy Lord on high;
Acknowledge Him in all thy words and ways,
So shall he view thee with a well-pleased eye.
Be still, my soul: the Sun of life divine
Through passing clouds shall but more brightly shine.

I received a free ebook through NetGalley in exchange for a fair and unbiased review.

For the Glory
by Duncan Hamilton
Publication May 10, 2016
$27.95 hard cover
ISBN: 978159420627

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