It's 12:30 AM and I am crying like a baby. The tears are tears of joy and thanksgiving to our Father in Heaven, and believe it or not, it is from something I've just seen on The Tonight Show!
As I sometimes do in the evenings, by 10:00 or so, I had fallen asleep in my recliner. Linda has learned that when I do such things it is futile to try to wake me. She knows I will eventually regain consciousness and make the climb up the stairs to my comfortable bed. So, she makes sure the doors are locked and all the lights are out, and leaves me in la la land with the flickering light of the television on until I snap back to reality.
Well, I did... and the Tonight Show was in its last few minutes. The beautiful Catherine Zeta-Jones was sitting to Jay Leno's far right, and a little bent man with a red baseball cap, and blue jacket was in the chair next to Leno's desk. He appeared to be in his 90's, and was in the process of recounting his World War II prisoner of war experience. With him being a member of my Dad's "Greatest Generation" I immediately took note of what he was saying.
His name was Louis Zamperini. He was a native of Torrance, California, where he was a juvenile delinquent in his younger years. However, he had been given a wonderful gift of athletic ability which led him to world fame as a track star. He had even competed for the USA in the 1936 Olympic games in Berlin. After World War II broke out, Zamperini joined the Army Air Corps and became a bombardier on a B-29.
As I roused from my slumber Zamperini was telling about the events that followed the crashing of his plane in the Pacific Ocean on May 27. 1943. He told about how he and the badly injured pilot and one other crew member were the sole survivors of the eleven man crew. The story that followed was absolutely fascinating. He told of how the three or them survived for 47 days on the raft, badly injured and surrounded by sharks. The one plane they saw during the ordeal, turned out to be an enemy aircraft. It made two passes at them firing machine guns at the three airmen. Miraculously, no one was hit, and he allowed that as they "played dead", the enemy pilot must have been low on fuel and returned to their base or aircraft carrier.
As the story went, Zamperini and the other survivors eventually washed ashore in the Japanese controlled Marshall Islands. When captured, Zamperini weighed only 67 pounds (he had lost 100 pounds during the 47 days as a castaway). The three Americans were taken as prisoners of war, where Zamperini was tortured for more than two years. Much of that time was at the hand of a cruel Japanese prison camp guard, known to the prisoners as "The Bird". The guard made Zamperini his personal project, but in over a year of his torturous treatment, the young American refused to break. The story is told in a book by Laura Hildenbrand, entitled "Unbroken". I'll be ordering that book from Amazon in the morning!
As riveting as Zamperini's story was, I wasn't prepared for what came next, and that was what brought the tears to my eyes.
Leno mentioned, "I understand that you have gone back to Japan, and that you have forgiven your captors, including "The Bird" who had nearly killed you with his torture".
The old man smiled as he told the rest of the story. "They didn't know what it was called back then, but we know now it is called post traumatic stress disorder" he recounted. He told about the nightmares he suffered for years after his freedom. He drank heavily, tortured by the demons of his memory. Each night in his dreams he dreamed of strangling the life out of "The Bird". Eventually, he said, he "met the girl of his dreams and married her". After his marriage he began to cut back on the drinking but the nightmares continued to haunt him. His wife urged him to seek help, but he maintained he could handle it on his own.
One night, while choking "The Bird" in his dreams, Zamperini awoke to realize he had his wife by the throat, choking the life out of her. Terrified and injured, she told him she had come to the end of her rope and that she would file for divorce. Needless to say, he was devastated.
Then, he said, Billy Graham came to town. Zamperini's wife had gone to the Crusade one night and had given her life to Christ. She came home that evening a new woman, telling her husband that she was not going through with the divorce, but was committing her life to Christ and trusting Him to take care of the situation. She encouraged Zamperini to attend the Crusade, which he did, but he "left the meeting angry and terribly under conviction". However, he went back the next night, and after hearing Graham say, "When you get to the end of your rope, and you have no where else to go, turn to God", he knew what he had to do.
Zamperini's mind went back to his 47 day ordeal at sea, and the two and a half years in captivity, and to how he had promised God that if He would spare his life, that he would live for Him and serve him faithfully. "I realized that night, that God had kept his promises to me, but I had not kept mine to Him. The next thing I knew" he said, "I had come forward, and was in the prayer room, committing my life to Christ. I told Him I was sorry and I asked Him to come into my heart and I would live for Him."
Zamperini said, from that moment on he had never had another drink of alcohol, and that the nightmares ended forever. He was able to forgive those who had treated him so horribly, and had opportunity to visit Japan and meet some of his captors, showing them the love of Christ.
The audience erupted in applause, and Zeta-Jones was noticeably moved. Jay Leno stood and shook his hand and simply said, "God bless you".
Obviously God already has done just that!
Now that is far from what one would normally see and hear on late night television, but what a blessing to hear that little bent man, a war hero from another generation, tell that young studio audience (as well as the millions watching on television) about the saving, life changing power of the Lord Jesus Christ. It was powerful, and terribly effective. I was reminded of the words from John Newton's immortal song, "Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me. I once was lost, but now am found. Was blind but now I see." People can argue about churches, denominations, and doctrinal differences, but no one can argue with the reality of a changed life!
There is nothing stronger than the power of a personal testimony of what Christ has done in an individual's life. May we be as quick as Louis Zamperini to share the Good News at every opportunity.