Offering hope

Daily Reading for February 22 • Eric Liddell, Missionary to China, 1945

Liddell arrived in Saiochang at a time of drought, locust plague, famine, and war. Traveling by bicycle or on foot, he served as an itinerant preacher, communicating with the help of an interpreter, Wang Feng Chou, until his childhood Mandarin fluency returned.

His brother went on furlough in the summer of 1938, leaving the clinic to Liddell, who was given rudimentary training. Patients of all sorts, including wounded Japanese soldiers and Chinese bandits, were welcomed with Christian love and care. Refugees found a haven, and his co-worker Annie Buchan provided soy milk for babies whose malnourished mothers could not nurse them. Liddell preached daily to desperate people, offering them hope in Christ. . . .

Cycling from one place to another, Liddell sought to pastor his scattered flock and spread a message of joy in the midst of deepening sorrow. Finally, in 1941 all missionaries were expelled from Siaochang, returning to Tianjin, where Japan’s alliance with Germany made its treatment of British nationals more and more harsh. Liddell’s wife and children sailed back to Canada in May of 1941 as rumors spread that all Westerners would soon be interned. Sure enough, in March of 1943 foreigners were taken to Weihsien (Weifang), Shandong, where a former missionary compound had been turned into a crowded camp for missionaries, merchants, civil servants, and their families. Order was quickly brought out of chaos as various work committees were set up.

Liddell assumed more responsibilities than anyone else, as teacher of math and science for the children, coach and teacher of sports, minister in the chapel, supervisor of two dormitories, and interpreter for the Japanese. He also helped to fetch water and coal, empty garbage, and clean the rooms. Soon he had formed a Christian fellowship, in which he served as Bible teacher and counselor. The Sermon on the Mount and Paul’s portrait of love in 1 Corinthians 13 were two favorite sources for his sermons.

As the months dragged on, more and more people came to him for advice and comfort, always finding in him a source of hope. He even broke his own rule against sports on Sundays in order to referee hockey games for the restless youth. Although he sorely missed his own family, he never complained, but turned his attention towards the children in the camp, becoming their beloved “Uncle Eric” in the process.

His immense physical reserves finally began to give out, inducing fatigue and sadness. He especially regretted not giving his wife and family more of his time. Despite his chronic headaches and other symptoms, no one suspected that a brain tumor was slowly killing him, for he typically did not speak of deteriorating condition. Even the doctors were surprised by his death. Long dependent upon Liddell to cheer them up, the grieving internees could only lament the loss of their hero, as did all of Scotland, where immense memorial services were held when the news reached them.

From “Eric Henry Liddell” by G. Wright Doyle, in the online Biographical Dictionary of Chinese Christianity;

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