“Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption” Laura Hillenbrand.

51m7P+bJfALunbroken._AA160_From time to time I mention running in my sermons, it happens because many of the better sermon ideas and scriptural insights I have come to me while I am running. A congregant here noticed that and handed me a copy of Unbroken, promising I would love it. I thanked him for the gift and put it on my never-ending pile of books. I figured it would be a good one to wait for my holidays to read. Man, I wish I had read it sooner!

The book is about Louis Zamperini, an Olympic miler and WWII veteran. Insofar as it is about WWII, Olympic racing, Japanese POW camps (I literally had to put it down and read Wendell Berry fiction because this book made it hard to sleep), and alcoholism, it’s a pretty manly book and I bet most men with any interest in reading will get a kick out of this one. I am pointing it out to church-folks for two reasons.

Firstly, it is a great example of the sovereignty and power of God. Zamperini went to hell and back. He may hold the record for survival on a life raft (47 days with sharks swirling, eating raw birds that landed on the raft, being strafed by a Japanese plane, etc.), then was picked up weighing under 100 lbs by some Japanese soldiers. He was sent to various prisoner of war camps where he was starved, beating almost daily, and made to do unspeakable things. When he eventually got home it didn’t take long for this past to become a demon tormenting him. He feared sleep for all the memories it brought back and found drinking himself into oblivion was easier than trying to sleep. Predictably, despite being physically free Zamperini, especially drunk Zamperini was anything but free.

This story tells of how his life turned around, how God put his hand upon Zamperini in a most powerful way giving him Freedom so that one day he could go back, meet his former tormentors, and cheerfully offer them forgiveness, seeing them with a compassion that surprised even him. God can do such amazing things!

Secondly, while there is no lack of stories about the power of sharing the faith, even when the people involved seem to us to be most unlikely folks to evangelize to, who eventually turn to God and prove yet again that it is not about how we perceive people, nor the feebleness of our words, but about how God is acting in the world and executing His divine plans, that matters, this story is among the best such tales I have read. The abused, alcoholic Zamperini attended a church meeting put on by a young Billy Graham and it didn’t take. At least not the first time he went, but his wife was adamant that they go again, and eventually as Billy spoke of God giving us the power to get through suffering, of his being by our sides no matter how rough the situation, Zamperini got it.

His flashbacks ended, the alcohol was poured down the sink, his marriage was saved and a life of goodwill and philanthropy was born. I know some people read these stories and think “yeah right, well I’m not Billy Graham.” But that’s the point in at least two ways. Billy wasn’t always Billy Graham the renowned evangelist; he was once just a Christian like the rest of us with a heart for God and sharing God’s news. Secondly, and I truly believe this, I have to believe his in order to keep preaching every week, even Billy Graham wasn’t Billy Graham, God was. God works through people, he can use Billy Graham, Andy Stanley, Tim Keller, Chuck Congram, or Mark Buchanan. He can use Moses, Jonah, or Saul er Paul because he is God and God is able.

Some people read a tale like Unbroken and know that they want to impact people’s lives and go out and do something about it, others think it and do nothing. I want to help the former, let’s do something great because every healed relationship, every comforted person, is a victory. It needn’t be thousands, if even a single person is transformed that is huge, imagine if it was your child, or someone you love deeply, would it matter to you if the person was transformed by a famous preacher, or would you just be happy that you child was freed from addiction? Maybe it doesn’t have to start in a tent, perhaps a humble coffee can do.

Unbroken is an inspiring story on many levels and told by a capable writer. I recommend you pick it up.


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