Louis Zamperini, b. 1917 – d. 2014

Louis_Zamperini_at_announcement_of_2015_Tournament_of_Roses_Grand_MarshalA great number of people may not be familiar with the name Louis Zamperini, but the man’s fame is beginning to spread. In May the Whittier Daily News carried an article reporting that this ninty-seven-year-old would be the Grand Marshall for the 2015 Rose Parade, this after the book about his life, Unbroken, hit the New York Times best-seller list. On top of that, a movie based on the book is due out this coming December.

The only sad part of this story is that Louie Zamperini passed away earlier this month. The joyous part, besides his successful athletic career and his World War II heroism, is his transformed life. Some might even say Louie was a miracle.

As a fifteen-year-old, Louie was bordering on juvenile delinquency, though I don’t know if that term was in use yet.

Thankfully, his success as a runner provided him with a meaningful channel for all his energy and drive and got him off the streets and into school. After setting records at USC, he made the 1936 US Olympic team.

However, another turn in his life lay ahead. World War II dashed his hopes of returning to the Olympics to run for a medal.

While serving in the Air Force Louie’s plane was shot down. He and two others survived, only to be adrift on the Pacific Ocean for forty-seven days (one man died a month into the ordeal). Unfortunately the two US servicemen were “rescued” by the Japanese and consigned to a prisoner of war camp. The treatment there was cruel.

Once again, events in Louie’s life changed him:

He returned from the war a haunted man, filled with bitterness and rage, his once promising running career over. Suffering from what today would be recognized as post-traumatic stress disorder, Zamperini took to heavy drinking. (Obituary, Whittier Daily News)

God had preserved and protected this man for a reason, though. He had not seen the last of dramatic twists in the direction his life would take. In what I consider to be Apostle-Paul-like fashion, Louie changed again, this time not because his circumstances were different, but because he was.

Then everything changed.

After attending a 1949 Billy Graham revival tent meeting on the streets of Los Angeles at the insistence of his wife, Cynthia, Zamperini said he experienced a rebirth and Christian conversion that was to guide the rest of his days. (Obituary, Whittier Daily News)

Probably the greatest evidence of his changed life was his ability to forgive those who had tortured him, in particular the commander in charge of both the prisoner of war camps in which Louie was taken. In essence, when he met Christ, the supernatural power of His Spirit brought peace to Louie’s life.

After Louie met Billy, the former POW never had another prisoner-of-war nightmare. He lost his desire to kill the Bird [the commander responsible for his torture]. He no longer hated the guards who’d tortured him. He forgave Jimmie Sasaki [a Japanese man who had graduated from USC] for pretending to be his friend when he really was his enemy. The turmoil of his life was replaced by calmness and a conviction that he’d found the right path.

Zamp began to speak about his experiences. He wasn’t afraid to talk about his new faith, but he resolved that he would never push his thinking on anyone (Awesome Stories, p. 12).

No need for Louie to try to make people listen. God clearly has opened a door for the world to hear bout this one changed life.

I don’t know if the movie will mention Louie’s coming to Christ or even Victory Boys Camp, the organization he founded in 1952 for troubled teens. But that’s OK. Louie Zamperini’s life can be an example that prepares soil for some or shines the light on the path to Jesus for others. God can use him even now after he has heard the “Well-done, good and faithful servant,” from the Master he served.

When he was adrift on that raft back in 1943, he’d prayed

If you will save me,
I will serve you forever.

For years he struggled to live the life God had saved without serving Him in return. I don’t really believe in “bargaining with God,” but it’s apparent that God in fact wanted Louie to serve Him.

Louie fought against God’s call on his life. His wife wanted him to go to listen to that preacher Billy Graham, and Louie said no. Over and over he said no. When he finally gave in, he left early. His wife asked him to go back. Finally he agreed, only if they would leave at the point that the preacher would tell them to bow their heads.

Zamp returned to the tent, fully planning to leave at the predetermined time. Then, he heard Billy say these words:

    What kind of life are you living? Are you satisfied with your life?

Louie reacted to Dr. Graham’s words:

Just then, my whole rotten sinful life passed before my eyes and I began to get an inkling of what I feared I had to do. Only I didn’t want to do it. Why? Men prefer darkness to light. How could I give up the parties and the liquor and living for the moment and the fun? (Devil at My Heels, page 241.)

Zamp grabbed Cynthia’s hand and told her they were leaving. When he got to the aisle, something made him change his mind:

…I got to the aisle. I stepped onto the sawdust path and knew it was my crossroads of decision. I fought against it, perhaps harder than I’d ever fought, but in the end I made my decision, turned right, toward Billy Graham, released Cynthia’s hand … (Devil at My Heels, page 242.)

(Awesome Stories, p. 11; quotes from Louis Zamperini’s autobiography)

Hitler Should Not Have Been

Adolf_HitlerA good many people seem to have forgotten that if we don’t learn the lessons of history, we’re doomed to repeat them. There’s a lesson we should have learned from Hitler coming to power.

Hitler’s coming into being is not at issue, but the phenomena over which he presided—the creation of the Third Reich; Germany’s invasion of Austria, Czechoslovakia, Poland; World War II; the Holocaust—should never have taken place.

At the end of World War I, known at the time as the Great War, Germany underwent a revolution which brought to power a moderate government that walked the line between socialists and communists on one side and extreme right wing forces that believed democracy would weaken the country on the other. The new government took the form of a parliamentary republic system and became know as the Weimar Republic.

As the government was being set up and a constitution written, fighting continued between the extreme forces inside Germany.

A Soviet republic was declared in Munich, but was quickly put down by Freikorps and remnants of the regular army. The fall of the Munich Soviet Republic to these units, many of which were situated on the extreme right, resulted in the growth of far-right movements and organisations in Bavaria, including Organisation Consul, the Nazi Party, and societies of exiled Russian Monarchists. Sporadic fighting continued to flare up around the country. In eastern provinces, forces loyal to Germany’s fallen Monarchy fought the republic, while militias of Polish nationalists fought for independence (“Weimar Republic”)

You might liken these circumstances to the sectarian fighting between Sunni and Shi’a in Iraq along with the Kurds who want their own homeland.

The fledgling German republic faced problems from outside, too. The conquering Allies presented them with a repressive peace treaty which limited the size of Germany’s armed forces, took away land, and required impossible war reparations payments. In addition they maintained a blockade which stifled trade.

Soon the value of the new republic’s currency fell. Inflation grew along with unemployment, and the extreme elements, both left and right, blamed the moderate Weimar government for signing the Treaty of Versailles and for not solving the enormous problems it created.

For a short period, as America extended some financial aid that alleviated some of the pressing problems of the reparations debt and France worked with Germany to solve the land disputes, the Weimar Republic stabilized to a degree.

Then came the Great Depression. With unemployment soaring, the Nazi party gained enough votes in the German parliament to foil attempts to create a working coalition which would allow the government to function. Instead through the use of the emergency powers granted to the president by the constitution, a chancellor was appointed to operate independently of the parliament. Eventually that body was dissolved and new elections took place, bringing a shift away from the republic idea of government.

For three years the chancellor tried to reform the Weimar Republic, often ruling by decrees issued by the president. His policies were unpopular. A new chancellor brought some change, including a second dismantling of the parliament and more elections.

The Nazi party doubled in size but still no party held a majority in parliament. Political maneuvers continued for a year, but in the end, the president appointed Hitler to be the chancellor of Germany.

By early February, a mere week after Hitler’s assumption of the chancellorship, the government had begun to clamp down on the opposition. Meetings of the left-wing parties were banned and even some of the moderate parties found their members threatened and assaulted. Measures with an appearance of legality suppressed the Communist Party in mid-February and included the plainly illegal arrests of Reichstag [parliament] deputies. (“Weimar Republic”)

Late in February the parliament building was set on fire. The following day, using the state of emergency as motivation, Hitler had the president suspend parliament. With the new elections, the last multi-party elections and the last under the Weimar Republic, the Nazis took control.

But where were the Allies?

During all the unrest, the war-weary, depression era governments adopted an appeasement stance with Germany. So when reparation payments stopped, nothing happened. When the military began to rebuild and munitions once again were churned out from German factories, nothing happened.

Having taken a repressive stand early, the Allies now took a permissive approach, letting Germany solve Germany’s problems.

Hitler would not have come to power if the Allies had not treated Germany like a continuing enemy after the war ended, humiliating them and forcing their new government to agree to things that were bad for the country.

Hitler would not have come to power if the Allies had done more to alleviate the economic plight of the country, before the Depression.

Hitler would not have created the havoc he did if the Allies had not appeased him for so long.

So here’s the history lesson. Yes, we are war-weary in the US. Yes, we can say it was a mistake to go into Iraq in the first place, especially when we hadn’t actually won the war in Afghanistan yet. But as one veteran of Iraq put it, if you break it, you buy it.

If the US doesn’t “own” the new democratic government in Iraq, it is destined to go the way of the Weimar Republic. And who knows what Hitler is waiting in the wings to rise to power.

Published in: on June 20, 2014 at 6:55 pm  Comments (1)  
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There Will Always Be A Lusitania

British_Lusitania_poster_1915_LOC_cph.3g10930Some of you may remember the Lusitania from your school days studying World War I. In 1915 this British passenger ship sailing from the US was hit by a German torpedo and sank, killing nearly 1200 people.

At the time the US was neutral in the war, but a number of people used the sinking of the Lusitania to fuel the argument that the Central Powers needed to be stopped.

In writing terms, you can think of the Lusitania as the inciting incident.

The gassing of Syrian civilians by their own government is today’s Lusitania. As in 1915, there’s no doubt that the event occurred. And there are people using the tragedy as evidence that one side of the conflict needs to be stopped, that in fact, the US should intervene.

The truth is, however, “inciting incidents” happen all the time, and governments resist the inclination to act. Perhaps the clearest example of this resistance occurred during the years leading up to World War II when Germany under Hitler’s rule annexed Austria, then part of Czechoslovakia, and finally invaded the latter.

Throughout, the war-weary European states attempted diplomatic solutions to placate Hitler. After resisting for several years, they drew the line with Poland, however, and Poland became the Allies’ Lusitania.

In contemporary times, the US government has closed its eyes to genocide in Rwanda, attacks against citizens by Idi Amin in Uganda, civil war in the Central African Republic and in Nigeria, and attacks against Christians in Sudan. None of the many incidents that cost hundreds of lives, even thousands, became a Lusitania.

The international community was aware, for example, of what went on in Sudan when the government began

a campaign of ethnic cleansing against non-Arabs in Darfur resulting in the deaths of tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of civilians [“Sudan internal conflict (2011–present)“]

Torpedoed_LusitaniaDespite the indictment of Sudan’s president Omar al-Bashir for genocide and crimes against humanity by the International Criminal Court (Ibid.), the US did not intervene on behalf of those people, and neither did any of the European nations or the United Nations, or any of the Arab nations.

What is it, then, that turns a human tragedy into a Lusitania?

President Obama says in Syria, US interests are at stake. More so than in Iraq, the country the US declared war on because of their threat to US interests? Weren’t Democrats viciously blasting President Bush for responding to a Lusitania that goaded the US into conflict?

The thing about Lusitania‘s–someone is always claiming conspiracy. Even the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor has some convinced that the US government “let” it happen so that the public would get behind the war President Roosevelt wanted to declare.

When it comes to Syria, I have questions. Where did this poison gas come from? Is Syria producing it in secret labs as Iraq was supposed to be doing? Have the investigators ruled out the possibility that rebel forces aren’t the perpetrators–for the very reason that they wanted to create a Lusitania?

And where are the other countries of the world? Why is Russia continuing to back a government accused of an action the international community agrees is illegal? Supposedly the US has the backing of other Arab nations for a military strike. But why? Why aren’t these Arab nations acting against one of their own that is out of line?

Further, why is death by gas so much more heinous than death by machette or AK40 or suicide bomber so that the government must take action in Syria when none was taken in other places or was ridiculed as evidence of Republican greed?

And finally, what would US forces strike? As I understand it, the center of Damascus, where government buildings are, is filled with civilians who have fled the fighting in the suburbs. Will the military target Damascus? And how are we to protect civilians from our bombs? Is the US killing people better than Syria killing people?

Not every Lusitania needs to be resisted, but I’m wondering if this isn’t one.

Published in: on September 5, 2013 at 6:11 pm  Comments (2)  
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People of Faith: Corrie ten Boom, Part 3

Continued from Part 1 and Part 2. Corrie and her sister Betsie have been sent to the German concentration camp, Ravensbruck.

– – – – –

Miraculously Corrie was able to take her Bible (Betsie had given hers away, a book at a time) into Ravensbruck, though the prisoners were stripped and required to leave all their belongings behind in the processing center. In the darkness of that sin-sick place, God’s light—His Word, His miraculous answers to prayer, the worship offered Him by those living on the edge of death—shone brightest. Whenever possible, Corrie told her fellow prisoners that Jesus died on the cross for them, and by way of encouragement she reminded them that Jesus was Victor.

The sisters were assigned to the knitting crew and this group soon became the praying heart of the camp, making petition for their guards, the healing of Germany, Europe, the world—just as their mother had once prayed from the prison of her crippled body, just as Corrie would one day pray from her own personal confinement.

They held their services in the evening, and the highlight of their worship was reading Scripture. Because the prisoners in Ravensbruck came from all over Europe, only a few could understand the Dutch rendition Corrie read, but a translation chain developed and the life-giving words were passed from one language to another.

Even as their spirits grew stronger, however, their bodies grew weaker. In late November Betsie became gravely ill, and in December she died. Three days later Corrie received word that she was to be released—a miracle since all the women her age and older were scheduled for execution soon after. However, she failed the required physical and spent two weeks in the medical facility. Finally her clearance came through, and by New Year’s Day she was on her way back to Holland.

After a period of recovery, Corrie tried to return to her previous activities, working in the watch shop and re-establishing her ministry to the mentally disabled, but she was restless. At last she realized she needed to fulfill the work that Betsie had envisioned for them during those months in Ravensbruck: telling people what they had learned—that even in a concentration camp, Jesus was Victor because no pit was so deep that God wasn’t deeper still. That very week, Corrie began her speaking career.

After the war, by God’s providential provision, she was able to open a home for concentration-camp survivors in a fifty-six-room mansion in Haarlem. Because God had taught Corrie forgiveness through His Word and Christ’s example on the cross, she also turned the Beje into a home where the hated Dutch collaborators could find restoration.

A year later, she saw the fulfillment of another of Betsie’s visions—an old concentration camp in Germany converted into a facility to minister to those displaced by the war.

Meanwhile Corrie continued to speak, in part to raise money for these rehabilitation efforts but also because those who survived the war had a hunger for the message of forgiveness.

Over the years her evangelistic speaking ministry expanded until she became a “tramp for the Lord” (the title of one of her later books), traveling during the next thirty-three years to more than sixty countries. She spoke in prisons and churches, to large groups and small, always telling about God’s love and forgiveness, most clearly lived out by Betsie in Ravensbruck as she expressed compassion for her enemies and prayed for those who mistreated her.

Eventually Corrie added writing to her speaking engagements. Her autobiography, The Hiding Place, co-authored by John and Elizabeth Sherrill, was published in 1971. Four years later eighty-three-year-old Corrie saw her story become a movie distributed by World Wide Pictures.

The next year she shifted her focus from personal speaking engagements to writing and film production. To facilitate the latter she decided to settle in Southern California. She found a home she called Shalom House and much like her father before her, opened her doors to those in need of prayer and counseling. Including those she talked to on the telephone, Corrie ministered in this way to hundreds of people. Correspondence flooded her from across the globe.

Eighteen months after Corrie moved into Shalom House, her longest imprisonment and most remarkable ministry began. In August 1978 she suffered the first of a series of strokes that left her progressively disabled. First she experienced temporary paralysis and loss of speech. While she regained some mobility, she lost the ability to communicate in sentences. Though Corrie worked hard at therapy, a subsequent stroke robbed her of all speech, and she lost much of her independent functions.

Despite her limitations, God continued to use her. Nurses, visitors, the gardener, a cleaning lady—any number of people saw the love and joy of the Lord shining through her eyes. Some came to Christ as a result. Many commented on the peace of God that pervaded her home. And Corrie continued to pray. Eventually she became bed-ridden. Five years after her first stroke, on her ninety-first birthday, she passed into God’s presence. But even in death the message of her life continued—inscribed on her grave marker were the words “Jesus is Victor.”

“She had served Jesus Christ in her strength; she served Him in weakness,” wrote her companion and care-giver Pamela Rosewell Moore in the forward to Corrie’s devotional Not I, But Christ. “She served Him in her life; she served Him in death. How precious her life and testimony were to Him, even when she was removed from the public eye. She followed and obeyed Him then as constantly as she ever had” (p. 12).

To be continued.

See “People of Faith: Corrie ten Boom, Part 4.”

People of Faith: Corrie ten Boom, Part 2

At the end of Part 1: Corrie, her sister Betsie, and their father are living in Holland in an oddly constructed house called the Beje, during World War II. As the persecution of Jews intensifies, they look for opportunities to help those in need.

– – – – –

A year and a half after the occupation began, a need presented itself to them. The police raided the furrier shop across the street from the Beje, evicting the Jewish owner. Mr. Weil, whose wife was away visiting friends, stood alone in the street, unable to return to his home over his shop. The Ten Booms befriended him and slipped him out of town to Willem.

Six months later a Jewish woman was similarly evicted from her clothing store. Afraid to return to her apartment, she went to the Ten Booms, saying she heard they had helped someone like her before.

Two nights later an elderly couple in similar circumstances arrived. Corrie traveled to Hilversum, again seeking Willem’s help. He told her she would have to develop her own network—operatives and resources for things like food ration cards and identification papers.

As Jews in need continued to turn up at the Beje, Corrie found the connections she needed by God’s direction. Eventually Willem’s son Kik introduced her to the “professional” underground, and her number of contacts grew. One such person, a Mr. Smit (the name used by all those in their organization to protect their identity), volunteered to build a secret room in the Beje. In the event of a raid, any people passing through their station would have a place to hide.

He chose a room at the top of the three-tiered oddly constructed building—Corrie’s room—and there he and his workers surreptitiously built a two-and-a-half-foot-wide room accessed by a crawl space near her bed.

The underground activity continued throughout the next year and spread from helping Jews to hiding military-age boys to keep them from conscription. The network of workers grew to eighty elderly women and middle-aged men, with the Beje at the center of the web. Eventually, however, finding safe homes outside the city for the numbers of people moving through their underground station became harder and harder, particularly for those with distinct Semitic features. Thus four men and soon after, three women became borders in the Beje.

On February 28, 1944, because of information provided by a collaborator posing as someone in need, the dreaded raid occurred. While the guests boarding at the Beje were able to hide in the secret room, the family members and a number of others present for a Bible study were arrested. In addition, some underground workers came to the watch shop to warn of the impending raid, and they too were taken into custody.

In all, thirty-five of Corrie’s family and friends were transported and imprisoned in the federal penitentiary in Scheveningen outside The Hague. Within ten days, Corrie’s eighty-four-year-old father Casper ten Boom died, though she wouldn’t learn of his passing until April.

Two weeks into her imprisonment, Corrie was taken to solitary confinement. While the ensuing four months of isolation felt like punishment because she was not allowed to speak to anyone, including the prisoners who delivered her meals, she later learned she was separated from the other inmates because of her illness. Two days before the raid, she had started running a fever, and in prison her condition worsened to “severe pleurisy.”

Two months into her prison stay, she began receiving periodic letters and packages, in particular from her sister Nollie who, along with the other family members except Betsie and her father, had been released.

When Corrie recovered from her illness, she was summoned to appear before a German officer to determine her sentence. Led by God she seized the opportunity to ask this lieutenant if there was darkness in his life. When he admitted there was no light at all, she told him about Jesus, the Light of the world. This man, who years later Corrie led to Christ, arranged for the Ten Boom family to gather in his office for the reading of their father’s will. Nollie used the occasion to give both Corrie and Betsie small Bibles placed in pouches they could wear around their necks.

Early in June the inmates were moved to Vught, a concentration camp for political prisoners located in southern Holland. At last, Corrie’s isolation was over. By God’s providence she located Betsie as the guards herded the prisoners onto a train. The sisters stayed together for the next six months.

While in Vught, they continued to receive occasional encouragement and supplies from home, though these “privileges” were often revoked by the guards as punishment wielded against an entire barracks. Corrie and Betsie spent long days on work details and regularly battled hunger and illness.

Sundays altered the camp routine. Without assignment demands, the Ten Boom sisters took walks and sat outside in the sun, but most important, they began conducting worship services with other prisoners. By August they had a group of sixty in attendance.

In September, however, the Nazis committed mass executions on the men’s side of the camp and once again loaded the women on a train—this time packing them in freight cars for the journey to Ravensbruck, a concentration camp in Germany.

Life there, in such close proximity to a crematorium, was bleak and the conditions inhumane. Besides the humiliation of having to parade naked in front of the male guards for health inspections, the women were packed into lice and flea infested barracks.

Prompted by the Scripture the two sisters read that morning, Betsie insisted they thank God for their new environment. They thanked Him they were together, that they had His Word. They thanked Him for the overcrowding because many more people could hear God’s life-giving message of salvation. And Betsie said they should thank Him for the fleas.

Though Corrie could see no reason to thank God for an infestation that added to their misery, she joined Betsie out of obedience and trust in what God said in His Word. Later when the two conducted daily services in their barracks without interference from the Germans, they learned they enjoyed this freedom because the guards did not want to go where there were fleas.

To be continued.

See “People of Faith: Corrie ten Boom, Part 3.”

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