“Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1). This month, we are going to look at the life of a young missionary wife to whom this verse became real as she faced hardships beyond what she had ever expected when she entered the mission field. As a young girl living in Boone, Iowa, the cry of her heart was, “Lord, I’d go anywhere for you, no matter what it cost!” The Lord led her to marry a missionary and begin to work on a small island in the Netherlands East Indies. As World War II unfolded and they were caught in the sweeping military might of Japan, the enthusiastic promise she made as a child was tested, for she had to give up every earthly treasure for Christ’s sake.
Russell and Darlene Deibler were only married for a year before they arrived in the Netherlands East Indies in August 1938, and began work among the Kapauku people in New Guinea. Their peaceful efforts to preach the Gospel of Peace were interrupted by the storm of war. The Japanese Empire slowly and gradually began expanding their brutal influence among the islands of the Pacific Ocean.
The missionaries waited and prayed and followed closely the war news over the radio. The situation became worse as Japan continued its sweep of destruction. Though the Deiblers and several other missionaries sought refuge in a quiet mountain retreat, eventually all the men were taken by Japanese troops to a prison camp. Russell and Darlene were not even given a chance to say good-bye. Only as Darlene handed Russell a pillowcase of clothes and belongings could Russell whisper a tender parting word: “Remember one thing, dear: God has said He would never leave us nor forsake us.”
This separation was painful. The words from Darlene’s childhood came back to her: “Lord, I’d go anywhere for You, no matter what the cost.” Was she truly willing to give up all? Through her tears, she prayed, “I meant it then, Lord, to the level of my understanding. With greater understanding I confirm to You tonight, it is still anywhere – I leave the costing to You.”
In a few months, women and children, too, were gathered up and taken to a prison camp called Kampili – a lonely spot surrounded by barbed wire and flooded rice fields. The women were divided up among the eight barracks. Here were women of all backgrounds and nationalities. Many had been torn from their husbands like Darlene had been. Fear of the unknown and grief over parting from loved ones were the general feelings among the women at Kampili.
As evening fell that first day, Darlene began what became a regular practice in Barracks 8, the barracks in which she was placed. The women gathered around, read a portion of Scripture, and prayed together. This gave them strength and comfort in the next four years they spent in Kampili. Separated from their homes and countries, isolated from the events happening around the world, and living daily under the heavy hand of a Japanese commander, it was the hope of God’s Word that would give them courage to face every hardship.
Life settled into a routine of hard work at Kampili. The women were required to raise pigs and chickens for the Japanese, work in the camp gardens, work as nurses in the camp hospital, cook the daily portions of food, sew uniforms for the Japanese soldiers, and even fell trees, clear land, and unload trucks. They worked long hours in the hot sun and the drenching rain. Darlene was put in charge of Barracks 8, and she tried to ease the burden of the women and children under her care by rotating their duties each week. With this grinding labor, the days passed into weeks and months.
Russell was still far away in a camp at Pare Pare. Darlene had not heard from him for over a year, but she prayed for him every day. One day a truck arrived at Kampili from Pare Pare, and Darlene and several other women received wooden clogs made by their husbands. Darlene recognized on hers a scrap of material from Russell’s shirt. How she treasured these clogs. However, two months later she received a terrible blow: Russell had died in Pare Pare, and this news had been kept from her for three months. Her heart, pierced with grief, leaned the more heavily on the Lord who had said – as Russell had told her in his parting words – that He would never leave her nor forsake her.
All the women knew of the Kempeitai, a Japanese operation of secret police that quelled resistance through cruel torture and interrogations. The black limousine, pulling up at Kampili, struck fear into the heart of every woman and child. Some women taken away never returned, and the ones who did came back broken and unwilling to speak of the experience.
When two other American women were taken away by the Kempeitai, Darlene feared that it would not be long until it was her turn. Indeed, soon the black limousine came again – this time for her. The Japanese were suspicious of the Americans being spies. Terror gripped Darlene’s heart as she was locked into a small stone cell, above which were written the words, “This person must die.” Day after day she endured intense interrogations, until she was officially condemned to death as a spy. She became very sick with dysentery, malaria, and beriberi, a disease brought on by a deficiency of vitamin B1. She never knew which day would be her last. She was alone and afraid, still grieving the death of Russell, and facing death by the hands of her enemies. But the Lord was with her. Suffering greatly from sickness, she prayed for healing, and complete healing came. When in hunger she prayed for just one banana to supplement her daily diet of dirty rice, the commander of Kampili came to visit her and brought her ninety-two bananas!
It was in the solitude of her cell that she learned the value of memorized Scripture. The Kempeitai had taken away her Bible – but they had not taken it out of her heart. Psalms 27 and 91 were especially precious. She would spend hours going through the alphabet, quoting verses that began with each letter. Songs learned in her childhood comforted her heart.
In this cell, on one particular day, all about her seemed dark and the Lord seemed to have forsaken her. She searched the Scriptures for help. Was there a hidden sin in her heart that she was not aware of? Why the sudden feeling of loneliness? The Lord Jesus had always seemed so near to her heart. She had felt his presence day and night. Now, she had nothing – except for the promises of God in the Bible. She searched her heart carefully, and knew that she had the promise of cleansing in 1 John 1:9. She recalled in Isaiah 43 that her sins had been blotted out by the blood of Jesus. She quoted Numbers 23:19, “God is not a man, that He should lie, . . . hath he not said, and shall he not do it?”
Confidently Darlene prayed to her Lord, “Lord, I believe all that the Bible says. I do walk by faith and not by sight. I do not need to feel You near, because Your Word says that You will never leave me nor forsake me. Lord, I confirm my faith; I believe.” At that moment, this verse came to her mind: “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” She realized then that her faith was not in feelings or moments of ecstasy, but in Jesus Christ Himself, who is the same yesterday, today, and forever. Even when she did not feel His presence, He was just as faithful, and she would put her trust in Him forever. She would continue to follow Him anywhere, whatever the cost.
The next morning, Darlene meticulously straightened her hair and ate the last of her ninety-two bananas. Suddenly she was called away from her cell. She was led with the two other American women outside. It became clear that they were being led to their execution. But in the mercy of God, as the Japanese officer began to unsheathe his sword, confusion broke out and the women were dragged away, placed in a car, and driven back to Kampili. The Lord had delivered them from death.
When the war ended, the Lord also delivered Darlene and the other women and children from the camp at Kampili. She returned to the States and had a joyful reunion with her father, mother, and siblings. In spite of all her sufferings, she was determined to go back to “her people,” the people among whom she and Russell had labored. God blessed her and she was able to go return with her husband, Jerry Rose. They labored for many years in New Guinea and later Australia, raising their two sons among the native people. Darlene Deibler Rose surely carried with her the rest of her life the lesson she had learned in the Japanese prison, that “faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” The Lord Jesus had not forsaken her then, and He never did, even to the day that He called her home to Himself.
Evidence Not Seen by Darlene Deibler Rose