When Louis “Louie” Zamperini carried the Olympic torch near the end of its Japanese journey in 1998, he was only a short distance from the place where he had suffered indescribable torture as a prisoner during World War II. The winter Olympics stretched the participants to their limits during the days that followed his run, but none of them were put to tests of endurance that even came close to what he had experienced nearly 50 years earlier.
When Louie’s story was told during the closing ceremonies of the Olympics that year, many viewed it as the most moving part of the entire televised presentation of the games.
Louis Zamperini had been an Olympian runner and had taken part in the summer games in Germany during Hitler’s time, but his greatest physical and mental contests were ahead. During World War II, his plane had plunged into the Pacific and after 40 days of drifting, he and another airman were taken prisoner by the Japanese. A third companion had died on the journey.
Zamperini’s prison camp treatment would have tested the metal of anyone, and when he was set free it was evident the awful ordeal had taken a terrible toll on this former athlete. Even after Louie’s release, his troubles weren’t over. One war had ended for him and another was about to begin: a personal war with alcohol.
At the urging of his wife, Louie attended a Billy Graham crusade and there came to faith in Christ. This armistice with God changed everything. He no longer needed alcohol to lift him when he was down or silence the haunting voices of his tortured past. He was finally free. This new beginning took Louis on an international adventure he would never have imagined possible. He returned to Japan with missionary zeal and developed a challenging outreach to youth. The American Olympian who didn’t medal in Germany during his youth became a champion of faith in his golden years.
Millions long for a new beginning.
Louisa Tarkington’s song “The Land of Beginning Again” expresses this common desire for some wonderful place where all our gaffs and hurts could be dropped like a shabby old coat and never put on again. Look up this song. You’ll be glad you did.
The good news is that there is such a place.
Faith takes us there.
And the book of faith is filled with true stories of those who failed, but found a way to start over.
Peter denied his Lord three times just before the crucifixion, but was forgiven and became a hero of faith. Thomas doubted the resurrection of Christ, but after one weak week became a minister and martyr for his Lord. Paul, the apostle, first persecuted the church, but then became the greatest missionary of all time.
Many have come to faith after coming to the end of themselves.
You can make a new beginning.
Go for it!
Go for the gold!
Roger Campbell was an author, a broadcaster and columnist who was a pastor for 22 years. An anthology containing over one hundred of his best columns, “Everywhere You Go There’s a Zacchaeus Up a Tree,” is now available at your local or online bookseller. Contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org or on FACEBOOK @YOURFAITHADVENTURE