(…continued) Louie did eventually go back to Japan, but not to kill ‘the Bird.’ He took very seriously the words of Jesus about forgiveness, and in his heart he forgave all of his guards and tormentors. This did not happen all at once, but by looking to Jesus and spending time in God’s word and in prayer, Louie began to take hold of this new life, and in time, he became a new person.
Louie had heard about a prison where many convicted war criminals were being held, including some he knew. ‘The Bird’ was not there. Word was that he had committed suicide. ‘The Bird’ was the worst, but there were many others who had been very cruel. Louie went into that prison, talked to all of them about the love and forgiveness of Jesus, and then told them he too had forgiven them. There were several Japanese there that Louie knew and remembered, and they remembered him. It was a powerful time.
In 1998 Louie again returned to Japan, this time to carry the torch for the Olympics. Long after the war, it was revealed that ‘The Bird’ had not committed suicide and was never captured. He kept himself hidden until amnesty was granted, and then came out, got married and had a family, became very wealthy, and was still alive. Louie offered to meet him, but ‘The Bird’ said no. So Louie wrote him this letter:
To Mutsuhiro Watanabe: As a result of my prisoner of war experience under your unwarranted and unreasonable punishment, my post-war life became a nightmare. It was not so much due to the pain and suffering, as it was the tension of stress and humiliation that caused me to hate you with a vengeance. Under you, my rights, not only as a prisoner of war but also as a human being, were stripped from me. It was a struggle to maintain enough dignity and hope to live until the war’s end.
The post-war nightmares caused my life to crumble, but thanks to a confrontation with God through the evangelist Billy Graham, I committed my life to Christ. Love has replaced the hate I had for you. Christ said, ‘Forgive your enemies and pray for them.’ I returned to Japan in 1952 and was graciously allowed to address all the Japanese war criminals at Sugamo Prison. I asked then about you, and was told that you were probably dead, which I was sad to hear. At that moment, like the others, I also forgave you, and now would hope that you would also become a Christian. –Louis Zamperini
Only by reading in the book about the relentless suffering Louie endured at this man’s hands can one fully appreciate the miracle of such forgiveness.
Louie went on to keep the promise he made on that life raft about serving God. He appeared many times with Billy Graham to tell the incredible story of his life and conversion. And as I said, this is just one of millions of lives who were touched by Billy Graham, who himself was touched and gifted by God in a special way.
Louie Zamperini speaking at a 1958 Billy Graham Crusade in San Francisco
Listen again now to some verses on conversion from today’s Scripture readings. From Psalm 107: “O give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; for his steadfast love endures forever. Let those he redeemed from trouble say so. Some were sick through their sinful ways, and because of their iniquities endured affliction; and they drew near to the gates of death. Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble, and he saved them from their distress. Let them thank the Lord for his steadfast love, for his wonderful works; and let them tell of his deeds with joy.”
From Ephesians chapter two: “You were dead through the sins in which you once lived, following the course of this world, following the spirit at work among those who are disobedient. But God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive together with Christ. For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God– not the result of works, so that no one may boast.”
And finally from the familiar and much loved words of Jesus in John chapter 3: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.”
Just As I Am, 1835, by Charlotte Elliot (1789-1871)
This hymn was played during the altar call at a revival meeting in 1934 during which Billy Graham went forward and gave his life to Christ. Graham then used it as the altar call hymn in all of his preaching crusades.
Just as I am, without one plea, but that thy blood was shed for me,
and that thou bidst me come to thee, O Lamb of God, I come, I come.
Just as I am, and waiting not to rid my soul of one dark blot,
to thee whose blood can cleanse each spot, O Lamb of God, I come, I come.
Just as I am, though tossed about, with many a conflict, many a doubt,
fightings and fears within, without, O Lamb of God, I come, I come.
Just as I am, poor, wretched, blind; sight, riches, healing of the mind,
yea, all I need in thee to find, O Lamb of God, I come, I come.
Just as I am, thou wilt receive, wilt welcome, pardon, cleanse, relieve;
because thy promise I believe, O Lamb of God, I come, I come.
Just as I am, thy love unknown hath broken every barrier down;
now, to be thine, yea thine alone, O Lamb of God, I come, I come.
Billy and Louie a few years ago.