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Liddell received a hero’s welcome upon returning to Scotland. All who had been so critical of him previously for not running on Sunday now praised him for his integrity and his amazing win in the 400 meters, a race he wasn’t favored to win. At his university graduation, the commencement speaker put an Olympic wreath on Eric’s head, and he was carried out of the auditorium through the streets of Edinburgh in celebration. However, Eric was soon to make a surprise announcement. He had decided to follow in his parents’ footsteps and return to China the following year to serve in Christian missions.
In the months to follow, as he prepared for China, Eric kept up a demanding speaking schedule as he challenged young and old alike in down-to-earth terms to give their lives to Christ. He proclaimed, “In Jesus Christ you will find a leader worthy of all your devotion and mine. I looked for one I could admire and I found Christ.”11
Missionary to China
At twenty-three years of age, Eric had become a world-renowned athlete, fervent evangelist, and hero to many. And yet he knew that God was calling him to leave the comforts of Scotland and return to the land of his birth, China. In many ways, the second half of his life, as a missionary, teacher, evangelist, pastor, and disciple of Christ, was to be even more challenging and heroic. In 1925 he took the Trans-Siberian railroad from London to China. He entered a China in the midst of great turmoil as communists, warlords, and nationalists battled it out for control.
His first assignment took him to Tianjin, where he taught science, coached sports, and led Bible studies. He maintained his fitness, and in 1928, when the French and Japanese Olympic teams came to compete in the South Manchuria Games, Eric entered and won the 200- and 400-meter races in times faster than the gold medal times of the recent Olympic Games in Amsterdam. Perhaps his greatest exploit came after these games as he ran to catch a boat to get back home. The boat had eased away from the port, so, to get on board, Eric threw his bags onto the ship, then leaped what witnesses say was more than 15 feet across the water onto the deck of the boat. A journalist who saw this exploit wired an article back home that read “Flying Scotsman Leaps Fifteen Feet.” The article also mentioned that the world’s fastest quarter miler hadn’t been at the Amsterdam Olympics but instead was a missionary in China. From then on, Liddell was known by many as “The Flying Scotsman.”
On his first furlough in 1932, Liddell became an ordained minister. Sought after by many as a speaker, he challenged his countrymen by saying, “We are all missionaries. Wherever we go, we either bring people nearer to Christ, or we repel them from Christ. We are working for the great Kingdom of God.”12
After returning to China, he married Florence Mackenzie, the daughter of Canadian missionaries, in 1934. He was captivated by her beauty and her devotion to Christ. After proposing to her, he waited four years to marry her while she went back to Canada to complete nursing school. She was ten years his younger, but like him she had a heart for China. Over the next seven years, the couple had three daughters, Patricia, Heather, and Maureen.
His work at the school continued to influence many young men for the cause of Christ. However, following the Japanese invasion of China in 1937, Eric, with the suggestion of his missionary agency, felt the call to become involved in more dangerous work as an evangelist alongside his brother, Robert, the medical doctor in Siaochang Province.
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