THE REST OF THE STORY
October 12, 2018
While the movie Unbroken: The Path to Redemption comes to a close shortly after Louis Zamperini’s acceptance of Jesus Christ as his Savior, this was really just the beginning of yet another chapter of Zamperini’s life. In his book Devil at My Heels, Louis Zamperini described his conversion this way:
“The Bible speaks of the Word of God as a seed. Sometimes it’s planted by the wayside, and nothing grows there. Sometimes it’s sown among the thorns and represents the person who makes the decision and then goes back to his old life of bars and chasing women or whatever. A third seed is sown among the rocks. There’s sand and dirt between the rocks, and when it rains you’ll see a stalk of green coming up. But on the first day with sunshine it wilts because there is no room for roots.
“The fourth seed is planted on fertile soil, and finally it takes hold and has a chance to grow and live [Matthew 13:5-8]. That’s what happened to me.”
The movie also seems to lead the viewer to believe that everything was easy in Zamperini’s life after he came to faith in Christ. Zamperini would be the first to disagree. He wrote that “very few people really understand the difficulties of accepting Christianity. The picture painted by the well-meaning is that after a conversion God gives the new believer a steady diet of happiness and all is immediately well. Nothing of the sort is true. On the contrary, like every other sincere person who is striving to believe in spite of having so long lived another way with a mind conditioned to cynicism, I had to go through a period of despondency, doubt, and painful self-examination.
“Christian life isn’t about a bowl of cherries. It’s a struggle, and that struggle keeps you dependent on Him.”
However, Zamperini chose Romans 8:28 as his theme: “All things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are called according to His purpose.”
“I sat on that [park] bench all morning [the next day] and thanked God for my life from the day I was born, for all that I’d been and been through, all that I’d lost, all the times I’d tried to change and failed, all the times I’d prayed to survive and had. Otherwise I’d never have known Christ. All things work together for the good. The Lord had seen to it that I’d made it through every life-threatening situation and lost in every business venture because that’s what brought me to the tent.”
Zamperini was excited about his new relationship with Jesus Christ and wanted to share his faith with others, but “rather than preach, [he’d] just plant the seed . . . and let God grant the increase.”
God did just that. In 1950, Zamperini attended a Christian conference in Indiana and had signed on to be a part of a missionary team to Europe. However, when Bob Pierce, who established World Vision, challenged the participants to send a team to Japan, Louis Zamperini felt God calling him to return to that country where he had experienced extreme hardship and abuse.
While there, Zamperini shared his testimony with troops in Okinawa and at four factories. Approximately fifty people accepted Christ at each of these events, but when he spoke at Waseda University in the wake of a Communist uprising, “nearly three hundred renounced all other gods and ideologies, even Communism.”
The most exciting opportunity in Japan came when Zamperini was finally allowed to visit his former captors who were now interned in Sugamo, the very prison where Zamperini had been a POW. His forgiveness of the Japanese was so complete that he began to hug them—an unfamiliar gesture in Japanese culture. Zamperini shared the Gospel of Jesus Christ with them, and some made a commitment to follow Christ that day.
In 1953, Zamperini started Victory Boys Camp for troubled youth with the help of Keith and Paul Wegeman, brothers who were Olympic skiers. Thus began a ministry which played a part in the rest of Louis Zamperini’s life.
Kyle G., a young man who benefitted from Zamperini’s generosity in paying for his tuition to a boys’ camp in Australia said this of his brief meeting with the Olympian, WWII hero, and disciple of Christ:
“When I finally left Louis’s house, I was more confused than when I’d arrived. My plan walking in was to go to Australia as an escape . . . . After meeting Louis that plan changed in a way that I couldn’t yet understand. He didn’t just leave me with money. He gave me something bigger through a glimpse of his heart. Now I had to discover what it was.
“The moment they raised me from the baptizing waters . . . I could finally see for myself the ‘something’ greater, bigger, and special that I had seen in Louis. It was clear why nothing in this world could compare to what was in his heart—because it couldn’t.
“No story, no fame, no amount of money, no drug, no drink, no woman can ever compare to the truth and love that Louis knew and helped reveal to me: of having a true, real relationship with Jesus Christ.”
Information and quotations in this article about Louis Zamperini came from the following:
Zamperini, L., & Rensin, D. (2003). Devil at my heels. New York: William Morrow.
Zamperini, L., & Rensin, D. (2015). Don’t give up, don’t give in: Lessons from an
extraordinary life. New York, NY: Dey St., an imprint of William Morrow.