Josephine Bakhita v. Eric Liddell

We're back for another exciting matchup as Josephine Bakhita takes on Eric Liddell. Who will run away with the victory? That's up to you!

Yesterday, in the tightest race of Lent Madness XIV to date (by far), Blandina squeezed past Simeon Bachos 51% to 49% to advance to the Saintly Sixteen. You see, your (single) vote does actually count!

Obviously you watched Monday Madness yesterday. But if you want to watch the rerun (we really should put these into syndication), you can watch it here.

Time to vote!

Josephine Bakhita

Josephine Bakhita was born in 1869 in what is now the Darfur region of Sudan, among the Daju people. By her account, she enjoyed a happy childhood in a relatively prosperous family in the town of Olgossa. However, in February of 1877, raiding slave traders put an end to that. She was captured and marched barefoot for more than 600 miles to be sold.

For the next 12 years of her life, Josephine was enslaved. So deep was the trauma from her kidnapping that she forgot her own birth name. She had various owners—some were benign; others tortured her with beatings, whippings, and cutting. Finally, in 1883, she was sold to the Italian Vice Consul of Sudan, Calisto Legani, who took her to Italy with him. Once there, he gave her as a gift to serve as a nanny for a friend’s family.

With her young charge, Josephine traveled to Venice to accompany the young girl to study with the Canossian Sisters. There, for the first time, Josephine found language to describe her sense of God’s presence and love. By her own account, she had always had a belief in a creator of the universe and a sense of a protective presence, but now, she understood what that presence was. With this new understanding, she also began to discern a call to enter the sisters’ community herself. Meanwhile, the girl’s family returned to pick up their daughter, but Josephine declined to leave. For three days, she raised such a ruckus that no one knew quite what to do until finally the mother superior went to the Italian authorities on Josephine’s behalf. The court determined that since slavery had been outlawed in the Sudan before Josephine was captured—and also, by the way—was illegal in Italy, Josephine was now free… and should have been free the whole time.

Presented with agency over her own person and the freedom to make her own choices, Josephine decided to stay with the sisters. On January 9, 1890, she was baptized and named herself Josephine Margaret, and she entered religious life in 1896 as a Canossian Daughter of Charity. She ended up in Schio, Vicenza, where she lived until her death, working as the doorkeeper and cook and occasionally traveling around to other convents to prepare fellow nuns to work in Africa. She became known for her gentle voice and her smile, and during World War II, the people of the village attributed their safety to her protection. She died in 1947.

Collect for Josephine Bakhita
O God of Love, who delivered your servant Josephine Margaret Bakhita from the bondage of slavery to the true freedom of your service; Grant to the wounded your healing grace in mind, body, and spirit and to your church the zeal to combat exploitation and slavery in all its forms; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Megan Castellan


Eric Liddell

Eric Liddell was born to Scottish missionaries in Tientsin, China, on January 16, 1902. When he was six years old, he and his older brother, Robert, were enrolled in a boarding school in London that served the sons of missionaries. While at the school, he began to distinguish himself as an athlete, excelling in cricket, rugby, and track and field.

Liddell’s true gift was speed. He began to attract international attention while at the University of Edinburgh. He competed for Great Britain in the 1924 Olympics in Paris. Although his strongest event was the 100 meters, he refused to race because the heats were scheduled on a Sunday. Instead, he ran in the 400, a distance that he was not known for. Nevertheless, he won the race and set Olympic and world records. He also won the bronze medal in the 200-meter race.

Perhaps more relevant to the current competition for the Golden Halo, Liddell decided to follow his parents’ footsteps and became a missionary to northern China in 1925, at the peak of his athletic career. After his first furlough in 1932, Liddell returned to China as an ordained minister in the Congregational Union of Scotland and married his wife, Florence Mackenzie, a daughter of Canadian missionaries. They had three daughters together, the youngest of whom he would never meet.

In 1941, Japanese aggression toward China prompted his wife and children to return to Canada for safety. Liddell stayed in China and moved to Xiaozhang to give his ailing brother, Robert, a medical missionary, a chance to furlough. When the fighting between Japan and China reached the town, Liddell returned to Tianjin. In 1943, Liddell was interned at the Weihsien Camp. He became an important leader in the camp, advocating for access to food, medicine, and supplies. He was called on to resolve disputes and was known to be an impartial arbiter between various groups and also taught and organized activities for the youth in the camp.

He wrote his last letter to his wife on the day that he died. He was suffering a nervous breakdown on account of all the work and responsibilities he had assumed. Further, he was suffering from an inoperable brain tumor, and the malnourishment and stress at the camp exacerbated his poor health. He died on February 21, 1945, five months before the camp was liberated.

Collect for Eric Liddell
Almighty God, you have surrounded us with a great cloud of witnesses: Grant that we, encouraged by the good example of your servant Eric Liddell, may persevere in running the race that is set before us, until at last we may with him attain to your eternal joy; through Jesus Christ, the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

David Creech


Josephine Bakhita: Unknown author, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Eric Liddell: unknown (Sports event handout)[1], Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons


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122 comments on “Josephine Bakhita v. Eric Liddell”

  1. Can’t imagine what it’s like to be a slave, chains wrapped around one’s neck, pushed about, slapped around. And through it all still find some hope for humanity. Josephine’s story almost contemporary. And slavery persists now. Could it make a comeback in a big way?

  2. Indeed a difficult one! As one commenter wisely mentioned, we know Eric Liddell from a movie, and it is not her fault we don’t know Josephine as well. Today I will honour slaves, children of slaves, and people of colour, and support Josephine for the halo.

  3. While Josephine Bakhita -- new to me -- was faithful in her religious vocation after overcoming horrific kidnapping and enslavement, Eric Liddell's pastoral and sacrificial leadership in his final years in an internment were saintly indeed. He gets my vote, even without the great movie soundtrack.

    I'm also curious as to whether or not, a century later, the Olympics have become more sensitive and accommodating to the varied religious obligations of Olympic athletes in all their diversity. If so, there are community soccer and Little League organizations all over who could learn from their example -- and Eric Liddell's.

  4. Wow! Another really tough one and even though I'm of Scottish heritage I've got to go with Josephine on this one.
    Both of these saints have been portrayed in great movies by the way.

    1. What movie depicted the life of Josephine Bakhita? I could not find one when I looked for one earlier in the day.

  5. I'm a little confused by requests for "canonized" saints. (I saw this another day too.) What canon are we talking about? I know not the Roman Catholic one, as that would exclude all Protestants since the Reformation. Does the Anglican Communion have an official canonization process for saints? I don't think we're just talking about the calendar in front of the BCP, because we could go through that list fairly quickly and we want Lent Madness to last more years.

    Not being an Episcopalian, I'm looking for a little bit of help here.

    For Lutherans it's something like this: When a new worship book is published (which happens much more frequently among us!), some committee adjusts the calendar in front of the book. Those calendars (and books) differ not just by the time and place of the book's publication but also by the particular Lutheran denomination (there can be more than one in a country.)

    Those lists provide stories to remember and inspire, as well as days to celebrate. But we would never say that the people on the lists "are the saints" and the people not on the lists "are not saints." We would say that all of us Christians are saints and sinners at the same time. (And I am reminded of your charming children's song: "You can meet [the saints of God] in school, or in trains, or at sea...")

    Needing to be on some list, somewhere, is a good requirement for Lent Madness, I think, since this prevents chaos.

    But I still am not sure what list/canon is being referred to in comments.

    1. I had a hard time with this as well when I first participated. What is it with all these alleged saints? Aren’t we all saints (in the Lutheran tradition)? What I have found, and you will to, is that not all people are saints in the Catholic or Episcopalian tradition, but the those being voted on are people that have done amazing things for the people of God through their strong belief in God. Martin Luther has not been formally named a saint, nor has his wife Katherine, but both have been up for vote and good old Martin even was awarded a silver halo. I think Katherine should have won just for putting up with Martin.

      1. I was sort of hoping an Episcopalian would answer this! According to everything I have heard or looked up, there does not actually seem to be an official, worldwide process for the canonization of new, officially approved saints in the Anglican Communion (as there is in the Roman Catholic Church). Rather similarly to our situation, they have a calendar in front of the prayer book, and that calendar is not necessarily the same for every country. A difference, of course, is that various Lutheran groups are constantly revising their books (and thus calendars), while this happens much more slowly in the Anglican Communion. So I still am not sure what a "canonized" saint is to an Episcopalian. If there really is a process in the Anglican Communion as there in the RC Church, then I hope someone will tell me where to find out about it!

    2. Pope John Paul II visited Sudan and honored her publicly. He canonized her on October 1, 2000.
      Saint Josephine Bakhita is the patron saint of Sudan and her feast day is celebrated on February 8.

  6. Come on! That’s an impossible choice. But I had to go with Liddell in honor of my grandparents, who were also missionaries to China and prisoners in a Japanese prison camp during the war. My grandmother was pregnant when they invaded, so my uncle was born there. Fortunately, they were rescued a few days before they were all going to be executed.

  7. I have runners in my family, so I voted for Eric. I suspect I’ll have a chance to Josephine in the next round. Two good choices today!

  8. I am a first time Lent Madness participant. I am loving to learn about God's people -- finding them in all times and in all walks of life. Hard to sum up anyone's amazing life in a few paragraphs. Bio writers write on! Thank you for giving us this chance to be intrigued and launch ourselves on a search for more information about these brother and sister saints!

  9. A powerful book describing the camp where Eric Liddell was interned is "Shantung Compound", by Langdon Gilkey, who was also interned there. Fascinating account of building community and the importance in that complicated and often conflicted process of missionaries such as Liddell. He has my vote!

  10. Both of these saintly people are worthy of my vote, but I have to go for Eric Liddell. Langdon Gilky's outstanding book, "Shantung Compound," highlight's Liddell's truly holy life.

  11. What remarkable lives. It seems entirely unfair -- shaking a fist at you Supreme Executive Committee -- to have to choose between these two remarkable individuals so early in the competition, especially after some days where neither life was, for me, particularly inspiring. Nevertheless, that is the task. I am voting for Josephine, whose life and witness I had never heard of before. That she could come through all that with a sense of God's presence and with compassion towards other is a profound testament. I am quite sad, though, to not also be able to vote for Eric Liddell. He showed tremendous compassion and courage in the face of danger.

  12. I’ve always been a Sports nut so I’ve heard of Liddell, not Bakhita but I liked her bio, so she gets my vote! Besides, my old principal nicknamed me Josephine instead of Joanne!

  13. Personally, this is the hardest choice of the "madness." The madness here (and daily) is that I am to choose between witnesses who far exceed anything I could ever emulate. It should not be assumed that I chose the Scotsman either because of my heritage or my gender. Rather because of his missionary heart toward the "east." A love which has gone unfulfilled in my service to our Savior.

  14. ARGHGH!, to quote Charlie Brown in "Peanuts". These choices just keep getting more difficult.

    Having watched "Chariots of Fire" a few times, I was all set to vote for Eric. But after reading Josephine's story, I had to vote for her and her outstanding determination and dedication.
    Again, I won't be disappointed if the vote goes the other way.

  15. I wanted to vote for both of these candidates, but did NOT want to be cast into Lent Madness purgatory. I went with Eric Liddell because he chose to remain where he was, taking the place of his brother, carrying out his vocation in increasingly dangerous circumstances. He gave up his life to do God's work.

  16. A great match-up. Two people of holy bearing that affected their surroundings. I enjoyed reading about both souls. Thanks Lent Madness for the introduction!

  17. Josephine Margaret won my vote. It is uplifting to think of her courage, strength, compassion and charity. Thank you for this, as I had not heard of her.

  18. "Acting up" is something we (as Episcopalians) should do more right now (according to the sermon I heard last week). St. Josephine Bakhita's acting up gave her freedom, an education, and a "calling". St. Eric Liddell's "acting up" gave him recognition for projecting Christian dogma that "sabbath day is always on Sunday", and apparently he worked himself into a "nervous breakdown". Does God give us more than we can handle...or is that something we do to ourselves?

    1. Have you ever actually read a biography on Eric Liddell? I believe that if you did, you would not make the comments you did, which were harsh and unfair. I recommend you read the biography, "For the Glory" by Duncan Hamilton. I also recommend Eric's devotional, which he wrote for Chinese pastors to help new Chinese converts. It's called "The Disciplines of the Christian Life." He actually wrote it while under house arrest, and finished it while in the concentration camp. Eric's entire life was dedicated to obeying God and serving others. His creed was about love and service to all. He didn't push any "dogma" regarding Sunday being the Sabbath. He quietly stood by his convictions and honored God, even when he faced enormous criticism -- or later on, extreme danger. And what you said about "nervous breakdown" is quite cruel and unfair. Eric's faith never wavered. He never blamed God. His last words were, "It's complete surrender." Eric had BRAIN CANCER. BRAIN CANCER changed his personality. He was always known to be optimistic and full of hope, and as the tumour grew in his brain, he fell into a deep state of depression. Depression is literally a symptom of brain cancer. He was separated from his wife and children, never met his third daughter, his mother and father-in-law had just died, and he was dying in a concentration camp; yet he still spent every waking our selflessly helping others in that camp until he could barely walk or talk and had blurred vision.

  19. Wow! This one will be a hard choice. I want to vote for both. They are equally worthy. I read more on each via Wiki and other sites. Each were described as saints by those who knew them.

  20. Have always loved the story of Eric Liddel. Chariots of Fire is one of my favorite movies. "When I run I feel his pleasure". I know his opponent is quite worthy as well, but today my vote is for Eric.

  21. Eric Liddell's comment "when I run I feel God's pleasure" got my vote. How many of us in these contentious days are feeling God's pleasure? I think Lenten Madness gives God pleasure--and if the Prime Being didn't have a sense of humor we'd all be in SUCH trouble. But I don't think God created us to attack each other, verbally, physically or any other way, although I'm good at it--a real talent for sarcasm here. But, even if he loses, I thank you for putting him in the lineup. And for filling my head the rest of the day with "that" music.

    1. Nancy Hause...think there are many of us humming along while visions of athletic young men run through the surf!

  22. I thought of the hymn.. we are all Saints of God...and
    how it outlines all the different kinds of people in
    all of our this is how I think of saints.
    Peg Nelson

  23. When I read a bio of Eric Liddell, it stated that he turned down opportunities to be freed in order to serve others in the camp. I have always regarded him as a saint.

  24. I believe that Josephine should be named as a Saint for Trafficked Humans, because that is what she experienced - she was taken post legal slavery, trafficked to others in countries that had outlawed slavery, and had to take sanctuary with the church in order to break free. Throughout all of this she felt the Presence of loving hand - which is a miracle in and of itself to be so aware during such a stressful life.

  25. The wife of our former rector, also a priest, served as canon of our cathedral and among her responsibilities was the group of Sundanese refugees. When she retired from the cathedral, and became an unofficial co-priest (among other services) with her mate, the Sudanese followed her and became part our congregation. What a blessing and example they, and their wonderful children, are to us! So I'm delighted to have the chance to vote for a Sudanese saint!