FERM: I believe you attended the 1949 Billy Graham Crusade here in Los Angeles?
ZAMPERINI: Yeah, reluctantly.
FERM: How did...did someone bring you?
ZAMPERINI: My wife had gone down a week before my decision. And I believe we were just in the process of...of separation when Billy came to town. And a neighbor had been talking to us and my wife was persuaded in...in going down she accepted the Lord, and came home speaking of her new life and tried to get me down. And of course, I wouldn’t see it. And...but after a week of arguing she finally persuaded me. And of course, I was resentful. I was resentful when I entered the tent. But I’d always been poisoned against such tent meetings when I was...since I was a youngster. And...but as I entered the tent I suddenly realized that it was not at all what I’d expected. Everything was under control. And so I sat down. I got my next surprise when they introduced a fellow called Billy Graham [chuckles]. And...because I’d already pictured in my mind what an evangelist looked like, you know. But here was this tall, handsome, clean cut all-American athletic type.
FERM: You were all for athletics.
ZAMPERINI: Yeah [laughs]. And then I got my next surprise when he began to speak, because he talked only of one person, the person of Jesus Christ and he was continually quoting the Scriptures. “I didn’t say this; God said it,” you know? [chuckles] And I was very impressed with that. However, I got under conviction and got mad because of the Scriptures he read, grabbed my wife and said, “Let’s get out of here. Don’t ever bring me back to a place like this again.” But the next day she persuaded me in going back. I said, “Okay, I’ll go under one condition. When this fellow says, ‘Every head bowed and every eye closed,’ I’m getting out.” She said, “Fine.”
FERM: She knew the work was done by the Holy Spirit. [both chuckle]
ZAMPERINI: So back we went.
FERM: Praise the Lord for wives, huh.
ZAMPERINI: And I just...the second night I think the one verse that really struck me hard was, “And this is the record, that is, the witness of God, eternal life and this life is in His Son. Now, he that has the Son has life; he that has not the Son has not life.” [1 John 5:11-12] Well, I knew I didn’t have the Son, as well as I know that I have Him now. But...but you know, I thought back to my teenage days in high school, because I’d always believed. You know, if anyone had asked me....
FERM: You had a head belief?
ZAMPERINI: Right. If anybody had said, “Well, Louis, do you believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God,” well, as a teenager I would have...I wouldn’t have even considered that question worthy of an answer. I’d always believed it. But I had enough sense to realize there must be a difference then in the way one believes. And then Billy was quoting another verse from the Bible that gave me my answer: “If thou shalt confess with thy heart,” you know, “with thy mouth, and believe in thine heart that God would raise Him from the dead thou shalt be saved.” [Romans 10:9] Well, I knew then it had to be a heart belief, you know, besides the head. And so I knew, I knew, what I should do but I didn’t want to do it, because I...I...I felt that...well, I felt that if I made a decision that I’d be the biggest hypocrite in the world because I knew I couldn’t live a Christian life. But then other things were said that I grabbed on to at the meeting about the Lord upholding me with the right hand of His righteousness. I thought, “Well, if I had help, maybe I could make it.” And then...I was ready to leave the tent. I got to the main aisle when Billy began to say things like that and mentioned something about the Lord helping us. And I thought, “Well, if I had help maybe if I can make it.” It was then I turned to the right, went back to the prayer room and made my confession of faith in Christ. And then, boy, it was a complete turnabout. Things began to happen. [chuckles] And I had a totally new direction of life and a whole new purpose. And then I wanted to be used of God somehow, but I forget who I told. I think I might have told Billy. I said, “Well...” yeah, I did. I said, “Boy, they will never get me up on a platform like you.” [laughs]
FERM: And that’s where you went. [laughs]
ZAMPERINI: And a week later they sent me up to Cliff Barrow’s father in Modesto [California] and I was on the platform.