“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.” 2 Corinthians 5:17
Louie Zamperini, now 97, has lived a remarkable life. He was an Olympic runner who met Hitler at the 1936 Berlin Games. He served in the U.S. Army Air Forces during World War II. While on a search mission in May of 1943, Zamperini’s bomber crashed into the Pacific Ocean. He and a fellow crew member survived forty-seven days at sea in an inflatable raft, fending off sharks and hanging on to life as their bodies wasted away. They finally washed up at the Japanese-controlled Marshall Islands and immediately became prisoners-of-war.
Over the course of two years, Zamperini survived brutal conditions as he was transferred between several POW camps. He was singled out by a sadistic prison guard, nicknamed the “Bird,” who inflicted particular torture upon Zamperini. After the Bird was transferred away, Zamperini was relieved to be free of him. But only a short time later, Zamperini was sent to another POW camp where the Bird was waiting to inflict his brutality upon Zamperini again. Day after day, Zamperini suffered physical pain, humiliation, and loss of human dignity.
After the Allied victory over Japan, Zamperini was freed. He returned to the U.S., went on a speaking tour, and got married. He started training again, hoping to run in the next Olympics. But he could not continue, due to the damage done to his body while a POW. He began to suffer flashbacks and experience post traumatic stress disorder. His sleep was filled with dreams of the Bird’s brutality and of Zamperini finally getting his hands around the Bird’s neck and strangling him to death.
Zamperini sought refuge in alcoholism. His marriage was on the brink of divorce. Revenge became the focus of his life. He began to save up enough money so he could return to Japan, hunt down the Bird, and kill him.
In 1949, Cynthia, Louie’s wife, convinced him to attend a Billy Graham crusade in Los Angeles. There Zamperini heard of the love of God in Christ. He heard of the grace of God to overcome sorrows. But Louie, still feeling rage and shame, began to walk out, as he had the night before, when the invitation was given to come forward. Then he had one more flashback: He remembered when, while he was sitting on the raft in the Pacific, his body and hope wasting away, he had whispered a faint prayer to God: “If you save me, I will serve you forever.” God had saved him, and that night under a tent in Los Angeles, Louie turned and placed his faith in Christ.
From that moment forward, Louie Zamperini was a new man. His dignity was restored. He gave up alcohol and other vices. He wanted to forgive his enemies. The flashbacks and thirst for revenge ended.
When people experience the love of Christ for them and turn to Him in saving faith, lives are dramatically changed. Laura Hillenbrand, in her biography of Zamperini (Unbroken, p. 376), describes how the love of Christ transformed Louie Zamperini:
When he thought of his history, what resonated with him now was not all that he had suffered but the divine love that he believed had intervened to save him. He was not the worthless, broken, forsaken man that the Bird had striven to make of him. In a single, silent moment, his rage, his fear, his humiliation and helplessness, had fallen away… He was a new creation.