Lord, Just One Banana
By DANNY MINTON
Editor’s Note: This is the fifth installment of articles about missionaries Russell and Darlene Deibler. Click here to read the first article, “Evidence Not Seen” Click here to read the second, “Beautiful Feet” Click here to read the third, “Walking With Jesus” Click here to read the fourth, Face to Face With Evil
The black limousine entering camp brought fear to the lives of Darlene Deibler and the other prisoners. The “Death Wagon,” named by the women, carried the Japanese Imperial Army version of the German Gestapo, the Kempeitai. The “Secret Police” would pick up prisoners and take them to another location for special interrogation. Some would return, but most didn’t. Those who returned never spoke of what happened to them. May 12, 1944, two days after Darlene’s twenty-seventh birthday, she would know why. This day would begin the darkest days of her imprisonment.
Everyone quietly watched as the “Death Wagon” rolled into camp, watching two men walk into Mr. Yamaji’s office. Moments later, a guard appeared and told Darlene to come with him to the office. Her heart pounded heavily, knowing that Americans were being taken from the camp, never returning. At the office, showing her some coded papers, the police inquired if she knew Morse code, believing her to be communicating with those outside the camp. Several times Darlene denied knowing how to read the code. “We’ll see,” came the reply from the police, ordering Darlene to gather some clothes and go with them.
As they neared her new destination, Darlene recognized the location as a former asylum, recently turned into a death camp. Entering the compound, she saw women she knew who were bruised and scarred from beatings and torture. In her heart, she protested to God that she had already suffered the loss of her husband, Russell, and now, “Must I go through this?” Then she heard in her thoughts, “Whom I love, my child, I discipline.” She answered Him, “All right, Lord, all right; just don’t leave me.”(pg.124)
The following weeks would bring endless interrogations, beatings, dysentery, and near starvation. The living conditions were horrid and unsanitary. The filth, mosquitos, and fearful situations weighed heavily on her life. She would hear women brought back from interrogations and, with a thud, dropped on the floors of their cells. She could tell they were unconscious, while others returned in tears and moaning from the pain they had endured. Written on Darlene’s cell door were the words, “Orang ini musti mati” (This person must die!) (pg. 125)
Darlene discovered one glimpse of the outside through the transom above her door. She would reach up and, by placing her foot on the doorknob, pull herself up to see those allowed to be in the outside courtyard. She watched as a woman stood in the yard on one occasion, carefully watching the guard. When he walked away from her, she would move close to the vine-covered wall. As he turned back, she’d stop. Darlene found it entertaining to watch the scene, expecting that the woman was communicating with someone on the outside. Finally, as she got closer to the wall, a hand reached through and handed her a bunch of bananas. Quickly hiding them under her robe, the woman moved from the wall.
From that point on, Darlene became obsessed with bananas. “I began to crave bananas. Everything in me wanted one. I could see them; I could smell them; I could taste them. I got down on my knees and said, ‘Lord, I’m not asking You for a whole bunch like that woman has. I just want one banana.’ I looked up and pleaded, ‘Lord, just one banana.'” (pg. 148)
Her prayer continued telling the Lord that she knew no one could get one to her and that He couldn’t do it. She continued, “Please don’t think I’m not thankful for the rice porridge. It’s just that; well, those bananas looked so delicious!” (pg. 148)
The following day, she heard the guard’s heavy boots make their way to her door. With difficulty, she stood up, hoping she didn’t forget to bow when they entered. She grabbed a bar in the window to steady herself and waited for her fate. Finally, the door opened, and there stood the smiling face of Mr. Yamaji. “Mr. Yamaji, it’s just like seeing an old friend!” Seeing Darlene’s condition, tears filled his eyes, and without saying a word, he turned and went outside to the courtyard to speak with the interrogators. She could see them hanging their heads low as it appeared Mr. Yamaji reprimanded them.
Returning to her cell, Mr. Yamaji sympathetically asked, “You’re very ill, aren’t you?” She responded, “Yes, Sir.” He then asked if there was anything she wanted him to tell her friends back at the camp. She told him to tell them she was alright and that “I’m still trusting the Lord. They’ll understand what I mean, and I believe you do.” When Mr. Yamaji left, a moment of fear entered Darlene’s heart. She had forgotten to bow to the guards and felt sure they would come back to beat her. (pg. 149-50)
As she heard them return, she cried to God, asking why He didn’t help her remember. She just couldn’t take another beating now. She again stood up, ready to go with the guards, when the door opened. She stood in silence as the guard placed a bunch of bananas at her feet. In the quietness of her cell, she counted them, all ninety-two of them. “Lord forgive me; I’m so ashamed. I couldn’t trust You enough to get even one banana for me. Just look at them; there are almost a hundred.” In the silent shadows, she heard Him speak to her heart, “That’s what I delight to do, the exceeding abundant above anything you ask or think.” She thought, “I knew in those moments that nothing is impossible to my God.” (pg. 150)
How many times have we found ourselves doubting the power and ability of God to take care of our needs when in our hearts, we know He can do all things. Darlene’s thought came from what Paul wrote to the Ephesians, words that have encouraged generations of followers of Christ. “Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever! Amen.” Ephesians 3:20-21 (NIV2011)
Learning to trust in God sounds easy, but to most of us, completely submitting and allowing Him to be in control becomes more complicated than we think. Something within us says, “I have to have some control.” We think if I can’t do it, it can’t be done. David often found himself in deep distress. In Psalm 31, he prays to God, telling of his despair and sorrow. He tells God of all the things going against him. However, he adds in Psalm 31:14,15, “But as for me, I trust I You, O Lord, I say, ‘You are my God.’ My times are in Your Hand.
Only when we realize, “I can’t do it on my own,” can we start to see where we need God’s help. We can have the peace that carries us through when we can release our egos and place our desires before Him, trusting in His ability to help us where He sees our needs. I love the words of David in Psalm 5. “In the morning, O Lord, You will hear my voice; In the morning, I will order my prayer to You and eagerly watch.” David understood what God could mean in the life of an individual. Just think how life would be if we offered our prayers to the Lord in the morning and had so much faith in his abilities that we were eager to see things come true.
Darlene prayed for one banana, only one, and God blessed her with ninety-two. God can do so much more for us if we learn to trust Him. Darlene learned the lesson that God will take care of us, no matter where we find ourselves or in what circumstance. What about you and me? Are we willing to completely hand our needs over to Him and eagerly wait?
(All scriptures quoted are from NASB 2011. Story quotes are from “Evidence Not Seen” by Darlene Deibler Rose, Harper Collins Publishers)
Danny Minton is Pastoral Minister and Elder at Southern Hills Church of Christ