A Forgiving Spirit

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Louis Zamperini holds an Olympic torch, a memento of his participation in the 1936 Summer Games in Berlin.

You may think that you know what you are going to do for Memorial Day weekend, but you may want to think again.

Louis Zamperini is coming to town. More specifically, Louis will be speaking on Sunday of Memorial Weekend at St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church.

Louis Zamperini, former Olympic distance runner, World War II prisoner of war, and inspirational speaker will speak at the 8, 9:30 and 11 a.m. services on May 29.

Though many are familiar with his famous running prowess, Louie Zamperini’s name and life have become well known with Laura Hillenbrand’s No. 1 New York Times bestselling book, “Unbroken, A World War 11 Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption.’

Richard Kannwischer, senior pastor of St. Andrew’s, is excited to invite the community to hear a man with such a powerful story.

“I can’t wait to meet Louis Zamperini,” Richard stated. “When I read the book, I was swept up in a real life story of unbelievable perseverance and grace. When I got to the end of the book, I couldn’t believe he was still alive and living in Southern California. He is a hero in the deepest sense of the word, not only because of his military duty, but his humility and ability to forgive.”

“Forgiveness is the hardest thing to do.” Richard said. “Many of us can’t forgive one another for the smallest of things, and then you hear his story. For his heart not to be filled with resentment and anger is truly incredible. Louis never allows what happens to him to define him. No one could break him and yet his ultimate act was surrendering, but to the right thing.”

“We live in a time when we don’t know the stories of those who’ve gone before us.” Richard continued. “He’s 94, still alive and fully functioning. I became amazed at his ability to turn around and forgive. He was humble enough to return there and directly forgive his captors. This is real power; not military might, but power to share the depth of love through Christ.”

“Unbroken” was published in November. Laura Hillenbrand never actually met the man she wrote about so accurately and eloquently. She suffers from debilitating chronic fatigue syndrome, leaving her unable to leave her home in Washington, D.C, conducting the majority of her research by phone and over the Internet. Her first book was the bestseller “Seabiscuit: An American Legend,” which was made into a hit movie. “Unbroken” is her second book.

Louis was born to Italian immigrants and spoke no English when his family moved to California from New York, making him a target for bullies. In the interest of self-defense, his father taught him how to box. He soon picked fights for the pleasure of beating his opponents.

In the interest of a more worthwhile goal, his older brother coached him onto the school track team. In 1934 Louis won the state championships, helping him win a scholarship to USC and eventually a place on the 1936 U.S. Olympic team in the 5,000 meters, the youngest U.S. qualifier in that event. Louis finished eighth, but his final lap was fast enough that Adolf Hitler noticed and asked for a personal meeting. In the book, Louis recalls Hitler shaking his hand and saying, “Ah, you’re the boy with the fast finish.”

In 1941 he enlisted in the US Air Force, was later commissioned a second lieutenant and deployed to Hawaii as a bombardier on a B-24. While searching for a lost plane in 1943, his plane had mechanical problems and crashed into the ocean, killing all but three crewmembers. Only two of them survived the 47-day ordeal of being lost at sea, drifting 2,000 miles.

For the next two years, Louis survived a series of brutal prison camps, where Japanese prison guards tried repeatedly to break his spirit with verbal and physical cruelty.

After the war, Louis married but lacked direction and his life spun out of control. His wife convinced him to attend a Billy Graham crusade, which changed his life. He remembered a promise he had made to God to serve Him if he survived, and he felt God had intervened to save him. Louis decided to become a missionary to Japan, preaching about forgiveness to the same guards who tormented him.

Louis is full of life and speaks to audiences about his life and the freedom he found through a personal relationship with God.

Richard will interview Louis during the three morning services.

“Don’t miss this opportunity to experience grace from an incredible man, rather than just learn about it.” Richard said.

Cindy can be reached at [email protected].



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