Stephen A. Metcalf

Stephen Metcalf talks about Eric Liddell.


As Eric lined up for the 400 metres Olympic final, the American athlete Schultz (Schultz later went to Burma as a missionary) stepped up to him handing him a piece of paper, on it was 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 to come. 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 the 100 metre heat on The Lord’s Day, and would not give way to expediency. He went on to not only win the 400 metre but set a new world record. At the time he was still at Edinburgh University studying chemistry.

Later he was to gain even greater acclaim for the way he won England an outstanding victory in the four by four relay.  When he took over the baton as anchor man, he was running almost last. It was as if the other runners were running in slow motion, while he overtook every one of them. As he breasted the tape the vast crowd rose from their seats to acclaim an incredulous victory.  Within two years he had left all behind to teach in China. Five years later he went back to Scotland and studied theology and was ordained in the Congregational Church returning to China with the London Missionary Society.

It is 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 Satanic attacks.  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, who returned to Canada, sailing from Kobe, Japan. Little did he realise that he would never again see them, nor the unborn baby.

Time moved on and most people thought that Eric’s life was just another missionary life that had left its place in Missionary History.

Thirty-five years after Eric’s death, God’s time for honouring His servant had arrived. God put it in the mind of David Puttman to make a really good film. Again, it was God who lead David Puttman to read the 1924 Olympic Review and inspired him to produce the film “Chariots of Fire.”

In 1980 I was back in England from Japan. The film “Chariots of Fire” came out and 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 as I stood by his graveside in the prison camp in North China 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. Returning to Japan some months later, I was puzzled that the Japanese film authorities had rejected this Oscar winning film. Their criticisms were. It was too British. Then there was the Jewish and Christian rivalries, also there was the seemingly ridiculous principal of not running on Sunday. These factors would not make it a box office success in Japan. Finally, it had a postscript to say Eric Liddell died in a Japanese POW camp. This postscript was omitted when it was finally shown in Japan.

Three years later it came to Japan as a second class English Film and was shown at minor theatres.  Little did they know that Eric used to get up 15 minutes earlier every morning to pray for the Japanese people and nation. How wrong they all were. As in other countries it still has an endearing appeal to its Japanese fans.

My personal connection with Eric started as result of the bombing of Pearl Harbour by the Japanese which plunged America and the British Empire into war with Japan.  North China, where I was living at the time, 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 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 lot of us 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 made one imagine 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 ensuing years it was the reality of seeing his life living out the Sermon on the Mount that left an indelible impression on my mind.

To offset the drudgery of our confinement, Eric had arranged some sports events between the Tiensin Grammar and our own school. It was the final event, a relay that remains in my mind. I was running anchor for the Chefoo 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 our rival team. He could enthusiastically rejoice with the team that won and encourage the team that was defeated.  It was with this kind of spirit that in International Rugby, when Eric was fouled against that he would simply turn around and outplay his rival.

During the following years it was my privilege to help Eric in his work on the prison camp recreation committee.  When we were fixing the obsolete sports equipment, 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 his gold medal went 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. The signs of his brain tumour began to show.

It was around this time, in another Bible Study on the Sermon on the Mount that 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 military police?

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. We quoted the last words in the chapter stating “Be ye perfect as your heavenly father is perfect”

Eric beamed as he said, I also thought that was the case, but then I took on board 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, our enemies!

He challenged us to start praying for the Japanese.

When you pray you are God centred, when you hate you are self-centred. It is hard to hate the people God loves, praying changes your focus.

From this time, I began to pray for Japan. My prayers didn’t appear to change the Japanese but I found my anger and animosity was changing.

Just as Jesus on the Cross prayed for the soldiers, “Father forgive them for they know not what they do.” I began to find a new compassion for my captors.

Shortly after this I listened to some lectures on Japan. These were given by an American professor from Yenjing University. 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 sadistic 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 his shy and yet offhand manner, he said. “Steve, I see your shoes are worn out and it is now winter. 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 heavenly reward. A massive brain tumour had brought on convulsions and finally his death. 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 infested by the nests of a myriad bedbugs that tormented our sleep. In hindsight I might have kept them.  But I received something far better than Eric’s running shoes. I received his missionary baton of forgiveness and the torch of the gospel which, with the Sermon on the Mount has been shared with hundreds 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 north-west wind 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.

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 Macarthur’s appeal for missionaries to go to Japan. He stated that Japan had a new democratic constitution, but they didn’t understand democracy which has its roots in the Bible which teaches the value of the 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 over the past years.


A speech by S A Metcalf in Weifang on 16-8-2005.

My name is Stephen Metcalf. I was born in Kunming, Yunnan Province nearly 78 years ago. My father was translating the Chinese Bible into the Ethnic Lisu language about the story of Stephen when I was born and my Chinese name is Si-Ti-Fan.

Weishien was my prison.

Weishien was also my school of adversity leading to liberation.

Weishien Camp had many great teachers. None of them meant more to me than Eric Liddell who was a famous Olympic athlete. He gave up all to come to China to teach the youth of China.

Eric gave me two things.

  1. His worn out running shoes. My own shoes had worn out and it was mid-winter. Three weeks later he died of a massive brain tumour.
  2. 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.

In these days when China is preparing for the Olympic Games, there are angry protests against the Japanese. We all need to learn that the opposite to love is being self-centred and indifferent.

In 1948 The American General in Japan appealed for missionaries to go to Japan. He said, Japan was a new democracy and the people didn’t understand government by the people for the people. This appeal came like the voice of heaven to me. I gave up my job and entered college to prepare to go to Japan as a teacher – like Eric.

In 1952, I went to Japan by ship, the ship was carrying 300 young British soldiers.  On Sunday, their officer asked me to speak to the soldiers. I told them the story of Eric Liddell and how he had taught me to love my enemies. I told them: “You are going to Korea with guns and may die there fighting with the UN for peace. – I am going to Japan with Eric’s message of true Peace.”

I have spent nearly 40 years in Japan and am now retired. Until 1989 nobody in Japan spoke about the war, it was taboo. When the Showa Emperor died, people began to ask me about the war.

Because people were ignorant about the war, they were indifferent about it. They all believed that they were the victims of the war not the aggressors, this was because of the atomic bomb.

In 1963, the town I was living in had a big International Exhibition for Peace. I was invited to give a speech on World Peace. I had to talk this over with a very important teacher in the college where I taught English.  So I went to his house. When I rang his door bell, I heard angry shouting going on at the back of the house. So I rang the bell again, but still the shouting continued. So again I rang louder and longer. This time the wife came running. “Oh, it’s you, teacher” she said. Quickly she showed me into their living room saying she would call her husband. For the next hour we talked about world Peace.   All the time I kept thinking, this important teacher is very zealous about world peace, but he doesn’t have harmony or peace in his own home.

In the end, I found it very hard to point this out to him. He listened very quietly and said he would think about what I told him. We will all have to try and do much better he said. He told his Japanese students about Eric Liddell. The great Olympic Athlete, who knew true peace and did something about it.

In London ten years ago I was approached by a Japanese English Teacher at the Japanese Embassy at a meeting for reconciliation. He asked me to tell him about the war. I said this was a very big subject – why did he ask? He told me he had to take a lot of graduating students on a trip to Beijing. There they had an open forum in which Japanese and Chinese students could ask questions and exchange answers. A Chinese student asked a question about the war. The Japanese Students said they didn’t know.  Then another Chinese student asked a question about the war in China. This time the students were ashamed and asked their teacher to answer for them. The teacher I was talking to said he was so ashamed that he couldn’t answer. Then the Chinese students asked them about the Korean War. The Japanese gave very good answers. So they asked them about the war in Vietnam again they gave good answers. So they asked them about the war in Europe. Again the Japanese students gave clear answers.  Then the Chinese students got angry and said. “You know all about the wars in other countries, but don’t know anything about the war you fought in China.”  What kind of text books do you have? Some of the Japanese spoke up and said they didn’t even know they fought a war in China. The Japanese have made a very great mistake by trying to sweep the war under the carpet. Indifference can lead to great problems.

I have written a book this year in Japanese and am presenting a copy to this museum. Unfortunately, this is a problem that just won’t go away. If any of you are interested, please talk to me later. Eric has shown the best way for athletes the world over – how to live.  Thank you for this opportunity to speak.