Sunday, October 26, 2008

Darlene Deibler Rose

What a story. What a woman. And what a glory to the Lord!

In the late 1930s, Darlene Deibler was a young, newly married missionary to the Dutch East Indies (now Indonesia). However, when the Japanese invaded and took over, Westerners were imprisoned (à la Empire of the Sun), Darlene was separated from her husband, and the two were never to see one other again.

Here's her story:
The beatings, the starvation and the solitary confinement never broke her.

"I never cried in front of them," said Darlene Deibler Rose of her Japanese captors in World War II. "But as soon as everyone went away, I cried buckets."

Mrs. Rose, 84, who moved to Chattanooga this year with her husband, Jerry, served as a missionary in New Guinea. She was there with the Christian Missionary Alliance from 1938 to 1942, and again after the war in what is now Papua New Guinea, from 1949 to 1978.

In between, she was imprisoned for three years on the island of Celebes, now Sulawesi.

In 1988, she told the story of her captivity in the book Evidence Not Seen.


Mission work was close to the heart of then-Mrs. Deibler when she arrived in what was called the Dutch East Indies on her first wedding anniversary, Aug. 18, 1938. Her husband, the Rev. C. Russell Deibler, already had served in New Guinea, and his wife had wanted to be a missionary since she was a child.

Their time with the people of New Guinea was happy and satisfying until March 1942, Mrs. Rose said, when the Imperial Japanese Army arrived on the island and made them prisoners. Eventually, the young couple was separated, never to see each other again.

Over the next three years, Mrs. Rose was confined to various camps and eventually held in solitary confinement when the Kempetai, the Japanese secret police, learned she was American, she said.

Her year of confinement in a one-room building with high, barred windows was the most trying, she said, but she found ways to bear it.

"The Lord had laid it on my heart to memorize Scripture," Mrs. Rose said, "and I knew I needed exercise, so I would walk around the room quietly saying Scripture and singing hymns."

On a particularly low day, she said, she heard a hymn from her childhood being sung outside her window. She shimmied up a pipe in her cell and held onto the bars of the window until the song stopped.

"I still don't know what it was," Mrs. Rose said, "but I got on my knees and told God, 'It's all right that I'm here.'" [See below for a more detailed account.]

She had to eat her small daily dish of rice without utensils, she said, and she lost so much weight she was no more than "skin and bones." When it was possible, Mrs. Rose said, the students in the Bible school where she had taught would add things to her rice to give her protein. They secured jobs near her in an effort to help.

"One day there was a nice, long worm in there," she said. "I just said, 'OK, Lord, here goes.'"

Mrs. Rose was once given 92 small bananas, surreptitiously furnished by one of her captors, whom she knew only as Mr. Yamaji and whom she had led to Christ, she said.

"I didn't eat them all at once," she said, "and didn't eat the last one until the day we were freed."

The two dresses she was allowed to take into captivity never wore out, despite their constant use, Mrs. Rose said. And she had to use them in other ways, she said, such as to remove the blood of mosquitoes she had killed on the cell walls. Her captors saw the blood, told her to remove it and ordered her not to kill any more mosquitoes.

Eventually, she contracted malaria, dysentery and beriberi -- all at the same time, she said. Through it all, including beatings that caused her permanently to lose her hair, Mrs. Rose said she was retained her faith.

"I have no regrets," she said. "It was a way to know God in a deeper way. He was always there."

Neither does she hold any animosity for her captors. She believes many of them had remorse, even when they were beating her.

"I don't hate the Japanese," she said. "With Mr. Yamaji, I could see it in him. I could see his tears."

When Mrs. Rose was freed by the Japanese, she was told of her husband's death, but learned he had led many others to a knowledge of Christ while in captivity. With that knowledge and her love of the native New Guinea people, she eventually decided to return to the islands.

When she did, it was with second husband Jerry Rose, who, like her first husband, felt a calling to serve the country. There they taught, preached, dispensed medicine, delivered babies, graded an airstrip and did whatever else they saw as necessary to serve.

"Fools rush in where others dare not go," Mr. Rose said. "Through it all, though, we were very conscious of the prayers back home."
(From the Chattanooga Times Free Press, Monday, November 19, 2001.)

And here's the more detailed account of the childhood hymn Darlene heard while imprisoned:
"The name of the Lord is a strong tower: the righteous runneth into it, and is safe." (Proverbs 18:10)

There is nothing that will plunge a person into despair more quickly than to suppose what could happen. This was another example of the worries of tomorrow that never come, robbing us of the joys of today. Poignant sadness, overwhelming me for the hurt of others, released the tears from my own widowhood. I was alone and I had time to weep, but with the tears came healing. In my moment of terrible aloneness and sorrow for a world of people so devastated by war, I heard someone with a beautiful, clear voice singing "Precious Name, Oh, How Sweet" outside my cell, but he was singing in Indonesian: "Precious is Your name, a shelter that is secure!" My heart burst with bright hope! The "time to weep" was past; it was a "time to laugh."

"O Lord," I cried, "forgive me. It isn't a game of 'suppose.' I live in the sure knowledge that 'the name of the Lord is a strong tower: the righteous runneth into it, and is safe.' The name of Jesus, Your precious name, is my strong tower of defense against the enemy of despair. It is my shelter that is secure; I enter in and am safe."

But who was the singer? How could he know I needed that song at that moment? Of course he couldn't know, but he loved God, that is sure. I had to see him.

I scrambled up to the transom. My eyes probed the late afternoon light -- no one by my door, no one in the courtyard other than the guard and night watchman. They were talking, and I knew they were totally unaware of the singing! Listening to this hymn of hope and assurance coming from I knew not where, great awe filled my heart. Quietly I slipped to the floor and bathed my soul in the presence of my God.
If you'd like more more information about Darlene Deibler Rose, you'll want to make sure to check out her website. Also, Pastor John Dubler has written a biography, which includes a couple of photos. And, of course, there's her book, Evidence Not Seen: A Woman's Miraculous Faith in the Jungles of World War II.

Other books along the same lines are Ernest Gordon's To End All Wars, which has been turned into a movie, and Esther Kim's If I Perish.

Finally, here's Darlene in her own words:

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