Louis Zamperini is a man that most people have probably never heard about, but his story is amazing. I stumbled upon his book Devil At My Heels some years ago while doing research for another book of mine, and then last week I remembered a scene in this story and wanted to hear it again for research for the one I’m writing now. I went to youtube and found various short films on him.
For those of you who don’t know about his story it’s amazing. He was born to poor Italian Immigrants in California. His life was heading not too much. He was a punk kid who had run ins with the local police on a regular basis. He discovered a talent for running, and that was what made him begin to do something with himself. At 19 years old he qualified for the historic 1936 Olympics in Berlin. While in Berlin he stole a Nazi flag because he thought it looked cool, and almost spurred an international incident. Met Adolf Hitler before it came known what was really going on in Germany at the time. He missed his chance to really shine at an Olympics due to the outbreak of WWII. When WWII broke out he joined and ended up flying in a bomber crew. He was on a plane that got shot down over the Pacific Ocean. Everyone thought he was dead; He and another soldier survived over a month on a raft in the ocean to catch sharks with their bare hands and eat them raw, and live off rain water. When they hit land, it was only to discover they’d drifted across the ocean in to Japanese territory. He was captured, tortured, and held as a POW. Because of his public appeal the Japanese kept trying to get him to go on the radio and become an anti-American personality. While he had one radio session he refused to do more, and it caused him more hardship in the prison. When the war finally ended and he came home, obviously he wasn’t the same person. He wanted to save up his money go back to Japan and kill his captors. He wanted revenge. He began drinking too much. He married and his marriage was failing. He had nightmares of his time in the POW camps.
His wife out of a divine connection found out about a then starting up evangelist who was having a tent meeting nearby. Few people had ever heard of Billy Graham at the time. Louis Zamperini attended the meeting and gave his life to the Lord. His public appeal and fame is what helped bring publicity to this new and upcoming Billy Graham’s ministry. The press went wild. Billy Graham’s ministry began taking off.
Louis actually got opportunity years later to go back to Japan. But it wasn’t to kill his former captors. He went back to preach to them, and led many of them to the Lord. The interview with him I saw was a promo for 1998 Nagano Japan Olympics where he’d once been a captive. At age 81, he was given the torch to run through the city.
I love this man’s story, and I keep waiting on them to make a movie out of his life. According to him he’s never seen a script he liked. It is a story of redemption. It is a story of extraordinary survival. It’s a story of what God can do.
So many things happen in life. God’s will is never for evil. But God can turn what happens in our lives for good. If you listen to Mr. Zamperini tell his story it’s amazing to hear. He wanted revenge on the people that had tortured him. He wanted freedom from his nightmares, but the very people he wanted revenge from God used him to touch. Romans 8:28 says, “And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose.” Which means bad things will happen, but God can work it out to His glory.
We have to get to a point in our lives that it’s not about what we want. When we come to the cross we have to lay our lives down. We have to realize that we are called to a higher purpose and God has plans to change us and use us for His kingdom. God takes our success, he takes our failures, he takes what we think is our talents, he takes our shortcomings. We have to lay them down, and according to Luke 9:23 “Then he said to them all: "If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.”
It can get very tiring fighting with God. Trust me I’ve done it over various things. It can get tiring when God’s told you to do something and you still insist on your own way. But you have to trust God that He knows you more than you know yourself. He sees your end from your beginning and you have to get to a place just like Jesus did in the Garden “not my will but yours be done.” We have to stop fighting with God, and start yielding to His will. It’s not about us. It’s time today to lay down those things that you’ve been insisting on holding onto. Like Louis Zamperini you might be surprised what God can do. You’ll be glad you did.