Profile In Faith: Eric Liddell - page 1

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From the Summer 2012 issue of Knowing & Doing:  

Eric Liddell: Muscular Disciple and Olympic Champion

by Joel S. Woodruff Ed.D.
Vice President of Discipleship & Outreach, C.S. Lewis Institute


ith the 2012 London Olympic Games beginning this July, it seems appropriate to remember the life of Eric Liddell, an Olympic hero and disciple of Christ. He may be the best historic mentor and Christian sports star of the past century.

The Son of Missionaries to China  James and Mary Liddell were engaged to be married when they arrived in China from Scotland in 1898 to work with the London Missionary Society. Married in 1899 in Shanghai, they were assigned to Mongolia. Danger, however, loomed on the horizon; in June 1900, a group self-described as the Boxers stirred up hatred among the Chinese against all foreigners, especially the foreign missionaries who were persuading many Chinese to become Christian. The Boxer Rebellion forced the Liddells to flee to a safer region of China. The rebellion was eventually put down by foreign troops, but not before two hundred missionaries (men, women, and children) and more than thirty thousand Chinese Christians had been killed.
  Out of this sacrificial and dangerous context, Mary Liddell gave birth to her second son on January 16, 1902. The boy was originally named Henry Eric Liddell, until a friend pointed out that his initials would be H.E.L. Steering clear of that potentially offensive nickname, James and Mary changed the name to Eric Henry Liddell.
   Eric spent the first five years of his life living on a missionary compound in Siaochang. He played with his older brother, Robert, wore Chinese clothes, and spoke Chinese and English. Life within the walls of the compound was safe and comfortable; the missionary children were sheltered from the hardships their parents encountered outside of the compound walls.

Bonnie Scotland and Boarding School

  In 1907 Eric, age five, and his family made the long voyage back to Scotland for missionary furlough. Eric and Robert enjoyed the freedom of roaming and exploring the countryside, something they’d been unable to do in China. However, after a wonderful year together as a family, Eric’s parents enrolled the boys in London’s School for the Sons of Missionaries and returned to China. It would be seven long years before the boys saw their mom again and thirteen before they were reunited with their dad. The teachers and students of the boarding school would become their new family. Fortunately Eric had his older brother, Robert, as his best friend and protector. The two bonded loyally to each other for life.
   The boarding school included a strict regimen of academics, character training, Christian teaching, not-so appetizing meals, some hazing, and, fortunately for the Liddells, a healthy dose of exercise and athletics. The English believed that sports taught boys the concepts of fair play, teamwork, and respect for authority.
   In 1912 the school moved to a new location with a magnificent playing field and changed its name to Eltham College. As Eric entered the teen years, he discovered a love for math and science under the tutelage of Master D.H. Burleigh, an enthusiastic chemistry teacher who happened to be a former track star. After playing the part of Dormouse in Alice in Wonderland, Eric was given the nickname “the Mouse,” because it fit his shy and quiet personality.

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