Tag Archives: Scottish missionaries

Review: God’s Joyful Runner

Rating: ★★★★★

Author: Russell Wilcox Ramsey is an American athlete, writer, and a national security educator. He was decorated with the Bronze Star and is a National Record Holder in swimming (men, 55-59 age group). In addition to many books on national security, he has written several books related to Christian athletes and the Olympics, including God’s Joyful Runner: The Story of Eric Liddell (1987), the novel A Lady, A Peacemaker (1988), and the Christian living book From Mount Olympus to Calvary (2014).

Subject: Eric Liddell (1902-1945) was an Olympic Gold Medalist (400m, 1924) and a missionary in Northern China, from 1925 until he was put into a Japanese internment camp, where he later died. He was famously (although somewhat sensationally) portrayed in the film Chariots of Fire, which won Best Picture for 1982.

Overview:

This story really starts where Chariots of Fire ends: with Liddell’s missionary call. Eric Liddell not only overcame obstacles at the 1924 Olympics; he served the people of China dauntlessly in the 1930s and on into World War II, giving up any shot at an Olympic return. He served for two decades in a rural and poor area of Hebei Province, in northern China, and stayed there even after the United Kingdom advised its citizens to leave in 1941. Somewhat over against the strong sacred-secular divide that may result from misinterpreting the 1982 film, Liddell did also compete in athletics during his missionary service, but he only did so in East Asia, and in ways that did not interfere with his other duties.

Eventually, after several close calls, Liddell was placed in an internment camp in 1943, on a school compound, and he spent the last two years of his life there. He died suddenly of a brain tumor in 1945, at the age of 43, but with much more to show for his life than any gold medal could offer: many lives changed for God. He took the same physical determination and sense of duty to the mission field, and bore it without complaint, cheerful yet self-effacing, devout but without pretense.

Meat:

I was impressed, as I read this book, that Liddell’s physical prowess served him well in the mission field. He was in rural China, without much access to modern transportation methods. Ramsey tells several anecdotes which show what an asset his physical endurance was in serving the poor on the mission field. I remember in particular that Liddell had to carry an injured man by wheelbarrow for many miles.

There were two athletic anecdotes in this book that literally made my jaw drop:

The first occurs in the film Chariots of Fire. During a race (I believe it was only 400m, but I am not able to verify), Liddell was knocked to the ground. Not only did he get back up and keep running, he won the race. (Movie clip here.)

The second is not mentioned in the film because it occurs after Liddell left for the mission field. Liddell did not give up running forever when he left Scotland—in fact, he competed in the Asian Games in Japan while he was living in China. However, he had a steamer to catch so that he could teach Sunday school the next day. Having placed at the games, he stood and saluted while they played through British national anthem, and then the French national anthem. Finally, he said his goodbyes and ran out of the stadium. Arriving at the pier, the ferry had just cast off. Not willing to be stuck in Japan two more days, Liddell reared back, got a running start, and jumped onto the ship as it was departing the pier.

Bones:

God’s Joyful Runner is a great introduction to Eric Liddell’s life and has much more than can be summarized in a brief article like this. But there are some aspects of Liddell’s life that it doesn’t tell us much about. It doesn’t say much, for instance, about Liddell’s writings. If readers want greater detail, though, I believe they could find that in David McCasland’s longer book, Eric Liddell: Pure Gold.

James Gilmour of Mongolia review

Review: James Gilmour of Mongolia

Rating: ★★★★★

Who: James Gilmour, pioneer missionary in China and Mongolia.

Richard Lovett arranged these memoirs using Gilmour’s journals in the year after Gilmour’s death.

When: Gilmour was active in the mission field from 1870 until his death in China in 1891.

Where: Gilmour spends much of the book training and equipping in northern China before making various excursions into Mongolia.

Overview: A few pioneers had translated the Bible for the Buryat people (a Mongol people group) in Russia in the early 1800s with permission from the Russian Emperor, but they had been sent home after many years by the same. At the time Gilmour began work among them, the Mongols were an extensive and widespread people group with no church and no missionary.

Mongolia at the time was so wholly untouched by Western influence that Gilmour could say, after just a few years of excursions, that he knew more of Mongolia than any European he was aware of. This is the unromantic record of a very difficult missionary life on a pioneer field.

Meat: Gilmour’s writings here on the missionary call (quoted below) are very well known. He ate, slept, and travelled as a low-class Mongolian; he experienced bereavement on the mission field and nearly drowned in flash floods; but he wrote that all this was merely obedience to the Great Commission.

Gilmour deals pretty extensively with grief, depression, and disappointment on the mission field, and this is reflected much better in this firsthand account than in modern retellings. Lovett writes, “The most constant force acting in the direction of mental depression was what appeared to him like the want of immediate success.” (p. 225)

Bones: The original edition has some repetitive letters and journal entries that could easily be abridged. In spite of this, it is very inspiring to read his own words, rather than some romantic modern summary of his life.

Quotes: “I feel quite ready to go anywhere if only He goes with me.” (p. 177)

“Where is now the Lord God of Elijah? He is waiting for Elijah to call on Him.” (p. 59-60)

“I go out as a missionary not that I may follow the dictates of common sense, but that I may obey that command of Christ, ‘Go into all the world and preach.’ He who said ‘preach,’ said also, ‘Go ye into and preach’, and what Christ hath joined together let not man put asunder. This command seems to me to be strictly a missionary injunction, and, as far as I can see, those to whom it was first delivered regarded it in that light, so that, apart altogether from choice and other lower reasons, my going forth is a matter of obedience to a plain command; and in place of seeking to assign a reason for going abroad, I would prefer to say that I have failed to discover any reason why I should stay at home.” (p. 42-43)

On missionary depression:

“In the shape of converts I have seen no result. I have not, as far as I am aware, seen anyone who even wanted to be a Christian.” (p. 97)

“In terrible darkness and tears for two days. Light broke over me at my stand to-day in the thought that Jesus was tempted forty days of the devil after His baptism, and that He felt forsaken on the cross.” (May 9. 1888; p. 224-225)

“The only trouble that haunted him was that the results of his long journeys and of his various missionary enterprises had been apparently so few.”

Related: Among the Mongols, More about the Mongols.

This biography is available for free on Kindle, Project Gutenberg, and the Internet Archive.

Review:  Candle in the Dark: The Story of Ion Keith-Falconer

Rating: ★★★★

Author: Robert Sinker.

Who: Ion Keith-Falconer, Arabic scholar, prominent cyclist, and pioneer missionary to Yemen.

When: 1856-1887.

Where: The book covers his training and travels in Scotland, England, Germany, Egypt, and Yemen.

Overview: This is the authorized biography of Ion Keith-Falconer, published within a year of his unexpected death by a friend who knew him at Cambridge. It is still the most complete biography of him available.

Keith-Falconer came from a noble Scottish bloodline. He was definitely a son of privilege; but to his credit, he used this privilege to support Gospel work. He liberally supported urban evangelistic work, not only with money, but with his own sweat.

He was an exemplary academic and excelled in Arabic and other Semitic languages at Cambridge. Before he went to Yemen as a missionary with the Free Church of Scotland, he was offered a lectureship in Arabic by Cambridge, and accepted, if only because the requirements were so light, and the benefits so obvious—he would only have to lecture once annually at the minimum.

He also exemplifies “muscular Christianity.” He stumbled into fame as a cyclist when the sport was just budding into existence on college campuses.

He began to seriously consider missions in late 1884, and left for Yemen in November 1885 for a trial visit. He returned with his family a year later, in November 1886, but within just a few short months, he succumbed to several bouts of malaria, and died at the age of 31.

Meat: Keith-Falconer is in many ways the prototypical missionary of the Arabian Peninsula. He taught that hospitals and academic work were an appropriate avenue for missionaries there, and many followed in his wake.

The announcement of his death coincided closely with the General Assembly of the Free Church of Scotland, and as a result, many were moved to consider the mission field after he died.

Bones: The author, Sinker, was an academic and sometimes gives too much detail on Keith-Falconer’s academic life at the expense of his personal life. An ideal biography would give a better sense of Keith-Falconer’s habits and daily life.

A member of the Yemen mission, James Robson, later produced a bite-sized biography, Ion Keith-Falconer of Arabia (1923), which essentially abridges the material found here.

Quotes: “Still, it seemed as if some scheme ought to present itself in which Christian zeal and linguistic power might work hand in hand, or rather, shall I say, in which his intellectual attainments and his learning might be to him something more than a mere parallel interest, existing side by side with, but having no connection with, work for Christ.” (loc. 2116)

“The efforts already made to Christianize Mohammedan countries have produced commensurate results.” (loc. 2724)

“The heathen are in darkness, and we are asleep. . . . While vast continents are shrouded in almost utter darkness, and hundreds of millions suffer the horrors of heathenism or of Islam, the burden of proof lies upon you to show that the circumstances in which God gas placed you were meant by Him to keep you out of the foreign mission-field.” (loc. 2797)