When Louis Zamperini was thirty-two years old, he got saved.
It happened this way.
He had been a juvenile semidelinquent who discovered he could run like the wind and then became a famous Olympian. Shot down during World War II, he survived forty-seven days on a raft at sea with two men—one of whom died. He was reduced to skin and bones; ate an albatross, “eyeballs and all,” like a chocolate sundae; and survived sharks, air attacks, and doldrums.
He prayed to God, If you save me, I’ll serve you forever.
He was then picked up by the Japanese and locked in a POW camp that made the raft look like a cruise ship. Beaten, humiliated, tempted, and tortured, he prayed to be saved.
When the war ended, he was saved by the Allies and came home. And then came the worst suffering. Not from the outside. Not from a plane crash, or thirst, or sharks, or a sadistic prison guard. From himself.
He was tormented by his own fear and anger. He drank heavily, lied, lost money, raged, and bullied those around him. He tried to choke his wife. He drove everyone away from him. He even thought about ending his life.
Then his wife dragged him to a revival meeting led by a preacher named Billy Graham. At the end of the sermon, there was an invitation for lost lambs to come forward. Louis didn’t want to, and he meant to leave the meeting, but he remembered his prayer—If you save me, I’ll serve you forever—and his feet turned toward Graham.
He walked to the front of the meeting.
He got saved.
He went home and threw away the liquor and the girlie magazines that were part of his old life. He found the Bible given to him when he joined the air corps. “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. . . . His rage, his fear, his humiliation and helplessness, had fallen away. That morning, he believed, he was a new creation.”
Sixty years later, during the last year of his life, Louis came to speak at the church where I work. He had broken his leg two weeks before, and the doctor wouldn’t let him fly, so he drove six hours with his son to come tell people he did not know about how he got saved more than sixty years ago and that there is hope for anyone.
This happened to a life.
It has happened to millions of lives.
It can happen to you.
Ortberg, John. 2018. Eternity Is Now in Session: A Radical Rediscovery of What Jesus Really Taught about Salvation, Eternity, and Getting to the Good Place. Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale Momentum.