When you’re portraying a preacher in a movie, the script shouldn’t be too hard to find — particularly when the preacher was your grandfather.
Will Graham, grandson of the late evangelist Billy Graham, is playing his beloved grandfather in the forthcoming movie, “Unbroken: Path to Redemption,” which chronicles Louis Zamperini’s journey to faith in Jesus Christ.
Zamperini, who died in 2014, was a U.S. Olympic athlete and World War II veteran.
After his aircraft malfunctioned, sending him careening into the ocean, he and two other survivors lived on a raft for 47 days. A month and a half later, two of the men — one died at sea — washed ashore, on Japanese territory.
Zamperini and the plane’s pilot, Russell Allen Phillips, were taken as prisoners of war, where they remained under Japanese authority for more than two years. In fact, while he was being tortured, the U.S. military erroneously pronounced Zamperini dead.
When he finally returned after the war’s end, the military hero’s heart was hardened; he had no faith, hope or interest in God. Zamperini had experienced hell on earth, and he was convinced God put him there.
After a series of events and an intense downward spiral, Zamperini’s wife, Cynthia, convinced him to attend a 1949 tent revival in Los Angeles, where the Rev. Billy Graham was preaching. It was there, on the second night of the event, that Zamperini became a Christian.
Will Graham said his “script” for the movie, which premieres Friday, “was actually my granddaddy’s 1949 sermon that we believe Louis heard when he came to know Jesus Christ.”
“What you hear me preaching [in the movie] is my granddad’s own words that he preached in 1949,” he told Faithwire. “To be honest, I don’t think he ever preached it again because he was preaching on communism.”
The 43-year-old evangelist said his grandfather was delivering a series of messages on why God allows communism to exist. It wasn’t just about that, though, Will Graham explained, noting the sermons were centered on “why does God allow bad things to happen to good people.”
“That’s what Louis was struggling with in life,” Will Graham said. “[A]ll these things were going bad and he was questioning that about God. So he didn’t believe that God really liked him, but God was pursuing him the whole time.”
From that point forward, Zamperini’s entire life was transformed — his faith had renewed not only his hope for himself and his own life, but also for others, including his captors.
Will Graham said Zamperini’s entire story is undergirded by a groundswell of forgiveness, an expression that flowed freely from the hero’s life after he became a believer.
“What was really the test [of his faith] was a few years later, when he went back to Japan to face the same prisoners that had tormented him. Now they were incarcerated,” the preacher said. “When he faced them, he said, ‘If I still hate them, then I know God really didn’t do anything in my life, but if my heart’s changed, I know God’s changed my heart.’”
And when he finally looked at his captors, Will Graham explained, Zamperini said his “heart melted.”
“He loved those men and he shared Jesus Christ with them — how God forgave him and how God can forgive them,” he said. “He realized what God did in his life was absolutely real. It’s a story of forgiveness.”
For more information about “Unbroken: Path to Redemption,” click here.