ERIC  LIDDELL  A MAN WHO COULD FORGIVE

 By Stephen. A. Metcalf.

 

 

                                           As Eric lined up for the 400 meters Olympic final. A masseur stepped up to him handing him a piece of paper, on it were written the simple words. “Those who honour me I will honour.” 1 Samuel.2.30.  Little did he know just how great an honour the Lord was going to give him in the years ahead. Centuries  earlier Moses had refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter. He chose to suffer with  the children of God rather than enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season. Eric stood for a principle, he had refused to run on “The Lord’s Day,” and would not give way to expediency. He was running in Paris where during the French revolution they had thrown out Sunday observance and persecuted Christians had fled to Scotland. He went on to not only win but set a new world record in the 400 meters getting a bronze in the 200meters.

 

                            It’s not often that God can boast about his servants.  Eric Liddell was one of those rare men whom God could boast about. In the first chapter of Job we have a picture of God boasting to Satan. “Have you considered my servant Job? There is no one on earth like him.”     Satan replied;  “Does  Job fear God for nothing?  Stretch forth your hand and strike everything he has and he will surely curse you to your face.”   In 1941   Eric was faced with just such test of his faith.  Eric found that the clouds of war  surrounded him. In order to stay faithful to God’s work he said farewell to his wife and two little daughters. Sailing from Kobe Japan.  Little did he realise that he would never again see them, nor the unborn baby.

 

                                     Time moved on and when most people thought that Eric’s life was just another missionary life that had taken its place in missionary  history.  When 35 years after his death Gods  time  for honouring His servant had arrived. God put it in the mind of  Sir David Puttman to make a really good film. Again, it was God who lead  Puttman to read the l924 Olympic Review and inspired him to make the film “Chariots of Fire.” Unknown to David Puttman. God’s providential hand was moving him to choose the best actors and inspired him to produce an Oscar winning film about his humble servant Eric Liddell. “This is what shall be done to the man whom the  King delights to honour,” (Esther 6.verse 6.) not only in Scotland but throughout the whole world, including China the land of his birth and missionary ministry.”

 

                                     In 1980 I was back in England from Japan. The film “Chariots of Fire” came out. The timing was no coincidence to God’s servants for it coincided with breaking of the ban on sports on Sunday.  I went with the family to see it.  As I listened to the youths behind me in the theatre arguing about whether it was a Christian film. That lonely scene in a prison camp by his  graveside in North China, in February 1945 flashed before me. When in my desolation I had said to myself. “Is this how the life of such a great man ends, is this all?”  Now, I was seeing how years later God was honouring his servant. I was learning that God’s thinking was not limited to my little life span. “When Chariots of Fire”  won an Oscar, it triggered a worldwide interest. Since then book after book on the life of Eric have been published including one in Chinese.  Videos, plays, and now a full length film. All these go to, “honour the man who God delights to honour.” ( Esther 6.verse 11.)

 

                            Today, where once there was a prison camp now in a little park, there prominently stands  a seven foot high slab of red granite, brought from the Isle of Mull in Scotland, a tribute to Eric. On the front, it  bears a brief obituary in Chinese and English. On the back a fitting text found among his writings. “They shall mount up with wings like eagles. They shall run and not be weary.”  In August 2005 I stood in front of  this rock and was privileged to give the celebratory speech in commemoration of the 60th year since the prisoners had been released.

 

                                      In  December 1941 the bombing of Pearl Harbour by the Japanese plunged America and the British Empire into war.  North China was then a Japanese colony and it wasn’t long before the allied nationals were all rounded up and herded into the Weishien (Now Weifang) Prison Camp. 150 yards by 200 yards, housing the 1200 prisoners. Eric in spite of having parted from his wife, threw himself with great dedication and enthusiasm into serving this polyglot community.

 

                                                 I was just finishing my schooling at Chefoo Boarding School, when the whole school were interned at Weishein. The first Sunday I was there, I found myself sitting in a Bible class that was led by Eric. His name and achievements put an aura around this happy man. But this was very quickly dispelled by a sense of his  genuine identification with those he was speaking to. The subject that day was “The Sermon on the Mount.” This seemed to always be the overriding subject of his Bible studies and talks.  It was his enthusiasm in his subject and his winsome  manner that held my  attention.  But in the months to come, it was the reality of seeing his life living out the Sermon on the Mount that left an indelible impression on my young mind.

 

                                   To offset the drudgery of our confinement. Eric had arranged some sports events between the Tiensin Grammar School and our own  school. It was the final event, a relay, that remains in my mind. I was running anchor for the Chefoo School team and as I took over the baton their man was already away. I chased him all the way and just before the finish I managed to burst through from behind to breast the tape. Limp and exhausted I found myself in the arms of Eric who was exuberant exulting in the victory. This was so typical of the man, who in spite of being a Tiensin Grammar School master, and coach of the rival team. He could enthusiastically rejoice with the team that won and encourage the team that was defeated.  It was with this kind of magnanimous  spirit that in international rugby, when Eric was fouled against that he would simply turn around and out play his rival.

 

                                  During the following years it was my privilege to help Eric in his  work on the recreation committee. Fixing the obsolete sports equipment. The revolting smell of melting down the thin sticks of Chinese black glue made from horse hoofs is hard to forget. He was always so enthusiastic  and never thought of it as a sacrifice to tear up his sheets to bind up old bats and hockey sticks etc. Even some of his trophies were sold on the black market to  help the suffering. As the years passed, we were all suffering in one way or another, and the tremendous work load he took on himself  began to take its toll.

       

                                         In another Bible Study on the Sermon on the Mount he confronted us with the words from Mathew 5 verse 43. “Love your enemy.” Was this a real possibility, could we really love the Japanese guards. Was this just an ideal that we should aim at. Or was it a practical reality. The discussion that followed  tended towards the idea that this was the ideal. For Mathew 5 ends with the words “Be perfect, as your Heavenly Father is perfect.”  Eric beamed as he said, “I also thought that was the case, but then I noticed the next words.   “Pray for them that persecute you.”  He told how he had started to pray for the Japanese. Eric said, “We spend a lot of time praying for all our loved ones and the people we like but Jesus  told  us  to pray for the people we don’t like. He challenged us to start praying for the Japanese. When you hate you are self centred. When you pray you are God centred, The opposite to Love(Agape) is indifference and self-centred thinking. Its hard to hate the people God loves, praying changes your attitude.                                                                                      

 

                                        Shortly after this  I listened to some lectures on Japan by a professor from Yengjing University, she was a Quaker. As my knowledge of Japan, its history, culture and religious beliefs  grew. My spiritual concern for this nation began to take on a new dimension.  This helped explain the acts of such a wicked and  ruthless army which I had witnessed. Japan had  little or no knowledge of the love of God to act as break to stop its cruel lust for power.  In a moment of spiritual heart searching I told God that if I came out of this prison camp alive I would go to Japan as a missionary. But these thoughts lay dormant in a life that was embroiled in all the complexities  of a prison camp. And it was years before they took shape.

 

                                       About three weeks before Eric began to succumb to the brain tumour he came up to me with his pair of dilapidated  running shoes. They were all patched and sewn up with string. In a shy and almost offhand manner, he said. “Steve, I see your shoes are worn out and it is now  midwinter. Perhaps you will be able to get a few weeks of wear out of these.” Then with a knowing nod , he pressed them into my hand. It wasn’t until much later that I realized  that those  shoes had meant something to him and that he had gone to a lot of work to patch them up for me. A few weeks later and he was gone to his eternal reward . Only his Heavenly Father knew how faithfully he ran his short 43 years.  The running shoes did wear out. At the end of the war everything was in rags and tatters and were  infested  by the nests of a myriad bedbugs that tormented our sleep.  In hindsight, I might have kept them. Even the Chinese who raked through our refuse would find them useless.  But I  gladly gave them up for a pair of US Army boots.  However I received something far better than Eric’s running shoes. I have his missionary baton of forgiveness and the torch of the gospel, which with the Sermon on the Mount that has been  shared with thousands of Japanese.

 

                                                The funeral service was an unforgettable occasion. I was one of his pall bearers, and wore the running shoes he had given me. Only about a dozen of us under guard went to the grave.  The Beatitudes were read and we lowered the coffin into the ground. We were all shivering with the cold as we walked back, with the freezing N.W. wind from Siberia cutting into us. My thoughts at that moment were crushing me. We had lost a champion and a saint.  Was this all that happened to a man who had given up so much to serve the Chinese. Not even his wife and children knew.  Surely God would in someway honour him with greater acclaim.  Life in the prison camp had to go on. Some of us young fellows picked up some of the many  jobs  that he left behind. As I reflect upon what happened, nobody in the camp spoke to me about the running shoes, or drew attention to who had owned them. In fact the worn out shoes I had been wearing belonged to one of the prisoners who had died.

                                              

                                          The war ended, so suddenly, with the Atomic Bomb. And in a few weeks I was over in Australia.  Where I settled down with a steady job and very busy life in the local church.  One day in 1948  I heard a rebroadcast of General Douglas McArthur’s appeal for missionaries to go to Japan. He was in command of the occupation of Japan.  He said that Japan now had a new democratic constitution but they didn’t understand democracy which has its roots in the Bible, and its teaching of the value of each individual.  This came like the voice of God to me and after Theological training and some pastoral work. I sailed for Japan in 1952.  Eric has been one of the many lives that has influenced and inspired me, as I set out  on a missionary vocation in Japan.

 

                                         The little ship that took me to Japan was  packed with teenage British conscripts, heading for the war in Korea. On the Sunday the officer asked me to speak to the men. I told them about Eric Liddell and praying for your enemies. I told them they were going to Korea with the UN forces to make Peace, by force with guns. I was going to Japan, with the Bible  in the name of the Prince of Peace. As some of these young soldiers spoke to me after, they were amazed that an ex Japanese POW would go to Japan. I sensed that they thought I was a deluded idealist. In fact in farewell services in Australia Christian people would come to me remonstrating with me about going to Japan. Why not another country!

 

                                        After a number of years of language study I was baffled to find that the Japanese had deliberately made it a taboo to talk about the war. If I mentioned the war I noticed peoples faces froze. Soldiers who had returned from the war often were too ashamed to even talk to their families. They had failed their ancestors, and broken their army vows to their Emperor, that they would never surrender.  Occasionally when they were drunk they would open up and talk to me about the war. In the following years every  school child seemed to make a  School trip to Hiroshima. The message they got was we were the victims of the atom bomb so we must proclaim to the world, “No more Hiroshima’s!” As I listened to the guides speaking to the  youth I was struck  that  it was embroidered with a patriotic nationalism.

 

                                        One year the city I was living in decided to have a big  Exhibition for Peace. I was approached by a VIP to ask if I would make a speech at the exhibition on world peace. In preparation for this I had to go to this man’s house. I arrived at his front door and rang the bell. Then I realised a rowdy shouting match was going on at the back of the house. So I rang the bell longer and louder. Still the angry voices continued.  In embarrassment,   I opened the door and shouted  “Excuse me is anybody home.” Then the wife came running. “Oh its you teacher.” Showing me into their living room, she said, “I will quickly call my husband.”  Soon he came in and for next hour we discussed international problems and world peace.”  All the time I kept thinking here is a man so zealous about world peace and he doesn’t even have peace in his own home.  Finally, I picked up courage to point it out to him in a rather indirect way. He went very silent for a time. Finally saying, “We must all do better”.

 

                                     In 1989 The war time Emperor died and to our astonishment people around us began asking us about the war. Teachers, students, church people. Even the TV began to show war documentaries. It seemed they had fought for the Emperor but now the spell was broken. By 1995 we had retired and were living in London. There was a meeting for reconciliation and friendship held at the Japanese Embassy commemorating  fifty years since the end of the war. At the meeting I was approached by a Japanese English teacher from a large High School. “Would you please tell me about the war?” “Now that’s a very big subject.” I said. “What is behind your question?”

 

                                      Then he told me that he had had to take his graduating students on a trip to Beijing. When we got there we met with Chinese High School students and  there was an open forum to ask questions. A Chinese student asked a question about the  war. The Japanese students looked at each other unable to answer the question.  They said they didn’t know the answer, please ask a different question. Then another student asked a question about the war. So the students turned to their teacher (the man I was talking to) He too knew nothing about the war. He embarrassingly bluffed an answer saying the students don’t study about  the war it was a long time ago. Then a  Chinese student asked about the Korean war and the Japanese students gave a clear answer. Following that they asked a question about the Vietnam war and the war in Europe and again the Japanese gave well informed answers. At that, some of the Chinese students got angry and said. “What’s the matter with your history books? You know all about the other wars, but you don't know anything about the war you fought in China.”  Some of the Japanese students replied that they didn’t know they had fought a war in China. Then the teacher told me, when he got back to his high school he reported the matter to the head, who replied this a serious political problem and until it’s resolved we can’t pay visits to China. The politicians in the Education  Ministry say that whatever they print in the text books it will be a loss of face to somebody and also for  the dead ancestral heroes of the war. The Japanese don’t just live for the living but also their dead ancestors.

 

                                       Actually there has been a lot written about the war by Japanese war veterans, Some of the books  expose the war crimes but most people never read that kind of book. School textbooks  not published by the Government are quite realistic in their accounts of the war, but then the teachers skim over these because the curriculum is already overloaded.  Japan has made a big mistake by trying to sweep the war under the carpet. As one young teacher said to me, “What’s the use of discussing what happened 60 years ago.” As a result, it has meant that there are two generations who have grown up indifferent to what the grandfathers and grandmothers of China  and the Far Eastern countries have been telling their children about the horrific ravages of the Japanese army. Most Chinese who were affected by the war feel that the Atomic Bomb was a cruel and horrendous thing. But that it was justified in the light of the barbaric actions of the Japanese army forcing the conquered nations to worship and bow down to the Japanese Emperor.

 

                                   Unfortunately forgiveness is something that has to be mutual to bring about harmony and peace. Reconciliation is dependant on forgiveness and forgiveness is dependant on an act of the human will. This means that forgiveness is a very personal matter. National pride and patriotism are a great hindrance to international reconciliation. China today is unwittingly  sowing seeds of hate and anger in the hearts of their youth and children by showing them graphic documentaries of the Japanese atrocities perpetrated by the Japanese army over 60 years ago. Jesus prayed.  “Father forgive them for they know not what they do.” I’m afraid this problem is going to fester on. Only an understanding of God’s love and forgiveness can put an end to such  tidal waves of malicious evil.

 

                                    This paper was given at a gathering sponsored by Keiko Holme’s Agape Reconciliation Movement, by Stephen. A. Metcalf  October 2003. People can contact Steve in London by Email. sametcalf@hotmail.com.