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August 18, 2005

Chariots of Fire hero honored in Weifang, China

The residents of the Chinese city of Weifang paid tribute to Scottish-runner, Olympic gold-medallist and missionary Eric Liddell yesterday.

From the London Telegraph...

As part of a ceremony marking the 60th anniversary of the liberation of the Japanese internment camp where he died, Chinese officials, old friends and fellow inmates laid a wreath at a memorial marking his grave.

Liddell, a devout Christian, became famous for winning the 400 metres at the 1924 Paris Olympics after refusing to run his best distance, the 100 metres, because the heats were on a Sunday.

Less well known is that he was born and spent much of his life in China. The son of missionaries in the port city of Tianjin, he left Britain the year after his Paris triumph to follow in their footsteps as a missionary teacher....

More than 2,000 people were held in the camp, including 327 children, mostly from a western-run boarding school nearby.

Many were children of missionaries, as were some of the older westerners held there, a fact little mentioned yesterday....

“He gave me two things,” [78-year-old, former-internee Stephen] Metcalf said. “One was his worn-out running shoes.” It was winter, and like many boys Mr Metcalf had nothing to wear on his feet.

“The best thing he gave me was his baton of forgiveness. He taught me to love my enemies, the Japanese, and to pray for them.”

After the war, Mr Metcalf spent 40 years as a missionary teacher in Japan.

Liddell died of a brain tumour in the camp hospital on Feb 21, 1945. “We all trailed along behind his coffin,” remembered another former inmate, Estelle Cliff Horne. “My brother was one of the pall-bearers, and we buried him just by where the ceremony was.”

I bought a used copy of Chariots of Fire from a local video rental place last year. It's still in the plastic wrap they put it in to sell it. I've seen it several times before as has my wife, but we wanted there to be a special occasion to watch it with our kids. My wife's younger sister hasn't seen it, and we've been trying to juggle schedules so that we can have her and some others over to watch it (maybe with some popcorn and nachos).

There's two ways to look at someone like Eric Liddell. You can smile, shrug and say to yourself, “Yeah, there are some incredible people in the world, but it would be silly to think I could ever be like that.” Or you can realize, “He's a person just like me, except that he applied himself vigorously to what he knew he should do. I can do that if I try, and there's no reason I shouldn't.”

Unfortunately, the first approach is how most people respond.

Posted by Danny Carlton at August 18, 2005 09:08 AM

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