This is a story of grace. It is about a man called Louis Zamperini (1917-2014). He was an angry criminal youth who grew up in Torrance, California. He loved sports. He was freed from the life of crime and poverty by his success in athletics. In 1936 he competed in the Olympic games, finishing 8th in the 5000 meters race. He was looking forward to the 1940 Games where he hoped to win the gold medal. Then, the II World War started and stopped those dreams. Soon, he was flying bomber planes over the Pacific Ocean. After many dangerous missions as a war pilot, his plane went down off the Marshall Islands in 1943. Adrift on a raft for seven weeks, Louis and two of his colleagues barely survived. When one of them died, Louis prayed and asked God for mercy, to rescue him, promising to serve Him is he got home alive. He did survive. He was rescued by the Japanese, who were the enemies. For two years he was tortured in a Japanese prison, subject to near starvation and savage brutality. But Louis was set free again, this time by the US troops. He returned home to California as a hero. The city airport was named after him, in his honor. Soon, he married the girl of his dreams. He received a lot of money as compensation. But he was haunted by the memory of his suffering in the Japan prison. He hated all the Japanese. He wasted all his money on get rich schemes. He drowned his pain with alcohol. His marriage was almost ruined. Bitterness was holding him captive. His freedom was only an illusion.
In 1949 a neighbor invited him to a Billy Graham crusade. Louis refused to attend. But his wife went and came back saying that she is now born again. She begged him to come the next day. He promised her to come just once. When Billy Graham preached that ‘all have sinned and come short of the glory of God’ (Rom 3:3) he got angry and ran away from the crusade. But he could not sleep. He became restless. The Holy Spirit convicted him of sin. He saw that all his achievements as an athlete or as a soldier cannot save him from hell. He could not buy peace of mind with money. At last, he humbled himself before God and surrendered his life to Christ. In 1950 he finally went back to Japan to face his former tormentors. Preaching at the very prison where he suffered so much, Louis told them that only Christ sets free from sin, emptiness, folly, anger, hatred and bitterness. He told them that because of Jesus who died on the Cross for him, he forgave all his enemies. Some of the Japanese officials believed and became saved.
Louis, his wife and their children became members of the First Presbyterian Church in Hollywood, California. He started a ministry for troubled youths, helping them to live good lives. Many found Christ thru his ministry. He told them that he could have died many times, but God kept him for His purpose. He lived a long blessed life. From sin to grace, torment to joy, anger to forgiveness, hatred to love, wasted talents to an abundant fruitful life, Jesus has set him free indeed! “If the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed!” (Jn 8:36)
(In the pictures, you see Louis Zamperini, when he was young and when he was old)