Jeanie and I have been watching the Olympics this weekend while we have been in the NC mountains with family. I have been impressed with the skill and strength and beauty of these athletes of course.

But most of all I have thought of the many years of dedicated training that has brought them to Beijing – like the American swimmer Dana Torres who is still not only competing but winning at the age of 41!

Then I have thought of the long years of faithful endurance that the Christians in China have gone through. (And am grateful that President Bush spoke clearly to the Chinese leaders about the value of the churches of China – including the unregistered churches – to the future of the nation.

Coincidentally, yesterday I finished reading Alister McGrath’s intellectual biography of Chinese-born Thomas Torrance, the great Scottish theologian. (That’s been a long endurance for me to plough through it this summer!)

I read it first because I wanted to know more of Torrance’s important work in the relation of theology and science (for which he received the prestigious Templeton Prize) – which McGrath concludes “will be a major influence on Christian theological reflection in the next century.”

But I have been inspired also by the missionary and evangelism passion of this theologian.

Torrance’s father planted a church, which was destroyed in 1935 by Mao Zedong’s army. Its pastor and many members were executed. Torrance visited China in 1984, and asked to visit this site, wondering about the fate of the church. Permission was granted to visit this remote village. He found the church building in ruins. Yet the Christian community was alive and well. The church Bible had been hidden for years but now had returned home. Ten years later Torrance returned with financial support for the churches. And he found that the churches in the region were full and overflowing. His father’s work had not been in vain. And the years of oppression had strengthened their determination.

Thomas Torrance ran that kind of race from the time he was a young missionary child until the end. Lloyd Ogilvie who studied under him and was a longtime friend recounts that he last saw Torrance when he was 90, in a retirement home in Scotland. He had little strength. But as Lloyd left he saw Torrance hold up three fingers – his code sign for “Jesus is Lord.”

So now, when I watch the rest of the Olympics I will also remember with gratitude and prayers the “long endurance” of these brothers and sisters and of T. F. Torrance.

And the call that comes to all of us from Hebrews 12:1

“Let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith.”

Leighton Ford

August 2008

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