About six months ago my wife and I were preparing to drive to New York City. I asked her if there was a book she wanted to listen to during the trip. She replied, “Yes: Unbroken!”
Neither of us knew anything about the book other than it being a best-seller written by Laura Hillenbrand, the author of Seabiscuit. We were both quickly drawn in to this spellbinding story that begins with Louis Zamperini as a young juvenile delinquent in Torrance, California. Zamperini seems destined for a life of crime.
His older brother intervenes, introducing Zamperini to running. A gifted athlete, Zamperini gets an opportunity to run at the 1936 Olympics. He has a shot at winning a gold medal in the 1940 Olympics, but then World War II breaks out and ends his chances.
Zamperini joins the United States Army Air Corps in 1941, serving in the Pacific theater as a bombardier on a B-24 Liberator.
While on a mission in 1943, Zamperini’s bomber develops mechanical problems and crashes into the Pacific. After enduring forty-seven days drifting on a life raft, Zamperini is rescued by the Japanese and spends the next two years in a prison camp.
At this point in the book a pattern emerges: when things seem like they can’t get any worse for Zamperini…they do.
Even after the war ends and Zamperini returns to the United States as a war hero and marries the girl of his dreams, the “happy ever after” life still eludes him.
He is haunted nightly by nightmares of his captors. Alcoholism, severe post-traumatic stress, a string of unsuccessful business ventures, and a failing marriage leave Zamperini obsessively dreaming of taking revenge on the Japanese.
In 1949 Zamperini’s wife implores him to go with her to Billy Graham’s tent revival in downtown Los Angeles. The second night Zamperini gives his live to Christ and publicly professes his new-found faith.
His life is radically changed. His captors never again torture him in his dreams. He tosses out booze and cigarettes and embraces a lifetime of selfless Christian service, including a trip to Japan to forgive his tormentors.
In a single, silent moment, his rage, his fear, his humiliation and helplessness, had fallen away. That morning, he believed, he was a new creation. Softly, he wept… At that moment, something shifted sweetly inside him. It was forgiveness, beautiful and effortless and complete. For Louie Zamperini, the war was over.
Unfortunately, the new movie based on the book ends shortly after Zamperini returns to the states.
Zamperini’s redemption narrative is largely reduced to a few title cards flashed before the closing credits, and moviegoers are left without knowing the rest of the story.
Zamperini went on to find his true calling when he opened Victory Boys Camp to help troubled boys, many who were renewed and reformed, enabling them to live productive lives.
There is a great lesson for all of us in Zamperini’s story. God has called each of us to do good works, at our jobs, in our families, our churches, and in our communities. Everything in our lives, good and bad, has prepared us for what he has called us to do today.
God had his hand on Zamperini’s life even in his darkest hours, preparing him for a life of service. The same can be said for each of us.
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