Evangelistic booklet for Olympics highlights Eric Liddell who honored God and won gold in Paris 100 years ago

By Chris Eyte |
 Canon J. John distributes evangelism booklet for Olympics and Paralympics to “create curiosity and conversation” 100 years after runner Eric Liddell witnessed for Christ and won gold at Paris Olympics
Eric Liddell rose above expectations and won gold | Screenshot from Olympics video

100 years ago, spectators at the Paris Olympics 1924 witnessed a breathtaking sight as Scottish runner Eric Liddell powered down the 400 meters race track and broke both Olympic and world records, leaving the other runners way behind. The centenary of that event in 2024 sees the Olympics return again to Paris this summer, alongside the Paralympics.

Evangelist the Rev. Canon J. John is keen to use the mass sporting event as a springboard, reminding people about this famed athlete from yesteryear, whose witness for Jesus Christ stands as tall as his sporting achievements.

Liddell trained for the 100 meters at the 1924 Paris Olympics but refused to run because it conflicted with his Christian faith to take part in such an activity on a Sunday. He decided to enter the 100 and 400-meter sprints on a different day instead. 

The 100 meters earned him a bronze medal. Then Liddell turned his attention to the 400 meters, having received a note from someone saying, ‘those who honor God, God will honor’ and unexpectedly flew down the outside lane, smashing both Olympic and world records with a record of 47.6 seconds.

Writing a booklet for the 2024 Paris Olympics called ‘Running the Race of Your Life’, J. John is telling the story of Liddell’s refusal to compromise his faith and his witness for Christ later as a missionary. Some 100,000 copies have been distributed so far in the U.K. and abroad. 

J. John said it “cannot be a coincidence” that the Olympics has returned to Paris 100 years after Liddell won gold, and he felt inspired to write a little booklet about the witness of this extraordinary man. He hoped to print one million copies for the purposes of evangelism.   

“We are praying that individuals, churches and para church ministries will order huge quantities and maximize the use of this little booklet within their streams, within their ponds, to enable as many Christians as possible to have these booklets to give out to friends, families, neighbors and colleagues,” said J. John. 

“We want to help as many people as possible during the Olympics and Paralympics in July and August, so that we can use these booklets to help others know the same Jesus that Eric Liddell experienced all those years ago.” 

The Eric Liddell Community notes Liddell’s birth in Tianjin, North China on Jan. 16 1902 to Rev. and Mrs. James Dunlop Liddell, missionaries with the London Mission Society. Liddell was educated in England but studied at the University of Edinburgh before his athletic prowess changed his career direction. 

After winning gold, Liddell journeyed to China as a missionary in 1925, following in his parents’ example. He was stationed firstly in Tianjin, the place of his birth, and then Xiaozhang. He worked as a missionary teacher at an Anglo-Chinese college, training boys in sports, and became ordained as a minister with the Congregational Union of Scotland.

Liddell was once asked if he regretted leaving behind the glory of the Olympics, although he still occasionally took part in running events. “It’s natural for a chap to think over all that sometimes,” he responded humbly, “but I’m glad I’m at the work I’m engaged in now. A fellow’s life counts for far more at this, than the other.” 

After the Second World War broke out, the Japanese interned Liddell at Weihsien Internment Camp in 1943. One of the survivors of the camp, Langdon Gilkey, later said Liddell could often be seen “pouring all of himself” into activities to encourage the “penned-up youths” in the camp, such as playing chess or making a model boat. 

“He was overflowing with good humor and love for life, and with enthusiasm and charm. It is rare indeed that a person has the good fortune to meet a saint, but he came as close to it as anyone I have ever known.”

Even so, Liddell struggled with a nervous breakdown, then a brain tumor, and likely malnutrition. He died in the camp on Feb. 21 1945.

Yet this Olympic runner-turned-missionary still witnesses for Jesus today, by his example, according to J. John. Some 47,000 copies of J.John’s booklet about Liddell have now been handed out to chaplains for prisons in the U.K. and to prison-focused groups, anticipating excitement at this summer of sports in Paris and using the opportunity to invite readers of the pamphlet to think about deeper issues in life. 

Copies of the booklet have also been ordered in bulk for parents at Olympic-themed holiday clubs, also foodbanks, and door drops at homes, as well as for various schools and churches. 

“We are delighted that this booklet has already had such a significant reach,” said J. John. “It is such a simple resource to be able to give to someone to stir curiosity and conversation. We are still praying that we might ‘God-willing’ distribute one million copies by the end of the year, and we are planning how we can further develop this initiative to reach even more people with the Good News of Jesus. ”

Olympic long jumper, Abigail Irozuru, who is a Christian, expressed sheer delight at the opportunity the leaflet presented via the power of sports enthusiasm for reaching people for Jesus.

“This little pamphlet is a wonderful reminder of the power of sport as a vehicle to fulfill the gifts and purposes of the Lord in our lives,” Irozuru said. “Everybody has their own ministry and it's amazing that Liddell's lives-on in a legacy that has spanned a century.”

Irozuru thanked J. John for creating ‘Running the Race of Your Life’ to inspire readers through the story of Liddell’s faith and professional sports career.

“It particularly resonates with me as an Olympic long jumper; his story has always inspired me. 

“Hopefully, in the hands of young people, this will be a great opportunity for them to reflect on what comes first in their lives - rightfully elevating God's plans, purposes and promises in their lives, no matter how difficult that may be. What an important challenge for us all!”

J. John has visited 69 countries in the past four decades, bringing the message of the gospel to towns, cities and universities.  

Copes of the evangelistic booklet cost 10 pence GBP (14 U.S. Cents) each to enable bulk orders, plus postage and packaging. More details at raceofyourlife.co.uk