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  • Martin Kirkbride

Thought For Today

The Scotsman Eric Liddell is best remembered for his sporting accomplishments from the 1981 film that dramatized them, Chariots of Fire.However, his record-breaking performance in the 1924 Olympics was not his only achievement. Locked up in a Japanese internment camp during the Second World War, Liddell once again showed his incredible strength of character.

Liddell was an incredible athlete, but his passion was the gospel. One year after winning his gold medal he returned to China as a Missionary. In 1943 he was interned in a Japanese prisoner of war camp. Conditions were harsh. Food supplies were limited. The people already there when Liddell arrived were emaciated. Strict rules and twice-a-day roll-calls kept the prisoners in order. Within the camp, the detainees time was largely their own. Liddell took a key part in organizing things, creating a school, entertainment, church meetings, and even something like a hospital. Freedom had been taken away, hunger and thirst was a daily experience, but life went on.

In caring for others Liddell continued his missionary work in the harshest of conditions. Guided by his religious principles, he preached the word of God and provided counseling to those he saw as in his care. He continued for nearly two years, keeping alive the hopes of those around him. Then, in early 1945, he became sick with a brain tumor. It developed quickly. There was nothing that could be done given the facilities of the camp.

But Liddell did two things: One, he asked his friends to sing his favorite hymn for him before he died, ‘ be still my soul, a hymn of faith when overcome with hardships and facing death - words set to the evocative tune Finlandia by Sibelius, a disconcerting yet comforting melody, a tune off sadness yet filled with the promise of joy.

I find myself deeply moved by the hymn, especially the closing verse :

Be still my soul the hour is hastening 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 and tears are past All safe and blessed we shall meet at last

Secondly, knowing that he had but a few weeks to live, he continued to received his daily food ration, meager as it was, and instead of eating it - he shared it out, amongst the camps children. He gave away his rice that others might survive.

In 1989 I met a Chinese Missionary, James Hudson-Taylor the 3rd, the American great grandson of the late 19th century British Missionary to China, James Hudson-Taylor. He shared with us that as a young child he himself had been in that same prison camp as Eric Liddell. Despite chronic malnutrition he had been one of the children who survived – survived because ‘Uncle Eric’ gave his food ration to them..

I mentioned that I had read much of the story and that Liddell had died, just before the camp was liberated, died of a brain tumour. Hudson -Taylor just shook his head, and said quietly, and with restrained emotion, ‘No, I think uncle Eric he died of starvation’.

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