The Greatest Reward

Editor’s Note: This is the sixth 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 Click here to read the fifth, “Lord, Just One Banana


Darlene slowly peeled the last blackened banana, thanking God for the blessing she had received despite her doubts. Little did she know that an act of kindness done months before would save her life. As she savored each bite of her gift from God, she heard the heavy shoes of the guard make their way to her cell door. The door jerked open, and the guard demanded, “Get up, quickly. We’re taking you somewhere else.”

She and two of her American friends were roughly tossed into a waiting car and headed out of the death camp. At first, she thought they were returning to their original camp, but fear entered her thoughts when the car turned in the opposite direction. The new location was the secret police headquarters. Standing before them were “the Brain,” the man over the interrogators, one of whom demanded that Darlene copy a letter they would dictate to her confessing their involvement as spies. As soon as Darlene signed the letter, she found herself against a wall with “the Brain” blasting her, “You’ve done this and this and this, and as an American spy, you are worthy of death.” She watched as he drew his sword when suddenly a car pulled up outside with screeching brakes.

Outside, they could hear yelling and arguing, then the women were escorted out and again tossed into the vehicle, headed toward the original Kampili camp. Before being released, “the Brain” made one final statement to Darlene, “If you ever have contact with anyone outside the camp, I’ll get you; or if you ever tell anyone about what happened to you, you’ll not escape the next time!”

Russell and Darlene Deibler

The daily struggle of prison camp life would continue for the remaining months of the war. However, Mr. Yamaji was different and not as harsh as previously. Eventually, the war would end, and the American forces freed the women from the camp. On her final day in camp, Darlene went to see Mr. Yamaji to thank him for coming to the death camp and getting the bananas that she felt saved her life. “Did you know that the Kempeitai men said they would cut off my head?” she told Mr. Yamaji. With a note of compassion, Mr. Yamaji answered, “Njonja, I told them you were not a spy. I knew you weren’t, because of what you had told me about God, here in my office. I told them what you had told me. I’m sorry, Njonja, that your husband died, and you have had so much trouble, but now go back to America.” This meeting would be the last time Darlene would see Mr. Yamaji, but her most treasured memory of him was yet to come.

The day Darlene stepped aboard the dinghy that would take her to her escort home, she felt a sense of bitterness finally overcome her. The pain and anger had suddenly hit her, and in her mind, she told herself she’d never come back to these islands again. She told herself, “I’ll not look back!” “But I heard the sound of running feet and voices calling, Nona Kemp! Njonja Deibler! Selamat djalan! ‘A peaceful journey!’ Then the voices were raised in song, one I had sung many times with them at the close of service in the Tabernacle. I said I wouldn’t look back, but I did, and God broke my heart.” “Nona, Njonja, leka Kembali! ‘Miss, Mrs., come back quickly!’ We waved and I called, “Someday I will come back again.”

Learning to forgive when we’ve felt mistreated is one of the most challenging actions for someone to learn and understand. Even Christians find it difficult to set aside personal hurts and open our hearts toward those who somehow wronged us. But forgiveness is one of those lessons that Jesus taught until the end of His life. Hanging on the cross, he uttered, “Father, forgive them. They don’t understand what they are doing!” 

In teaching his disciples to pray, Jesus used the words, “forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors.” (Mt. 6:12) A little later, He tells them, “For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others their sins, you Father will not forgive your sins.” (Mt. 6:14,15) Paul adds in his letter to the Romans, “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”

Darlene would return. She would marry another missionary, Gerald W. Rose, on April 6, 1948, and return to New Guinea in 1949. She learned that Mr. Yamaji faced execution for killing the man in camp, but because of his kindness to Darlene, he was given life and later had the sentence commuted. In 1986 while in Australia, they visited Elsie David, a fellow prisoner with Darlene at Kampili. Elsie told her of a friend who was a priest vacationing in Java. He came across a man at a bicycle shop who had been the commander of a women’s POW camp outside Macassar during WWII. He asked the priest to tell any of the women who had been in the camp that he was sorry he had been so cruel. He was a changed man now. Darlene later learned that Mr. Yamaji had been heard on the radio sharing the Gospel of Jesus Christ with the Japanese people.

Darlene felt that all the work and time she had spent in New Guinea had been important after all. It’s amazing how God uses us in every situation of life and how he rewards us for serving Him. Hearing that Mr. Yamaji was sharing the Gospel was one of Darlene’s greatest rewards.

(Note: These stories are only a part of Darlene’s story, and the whole story is told in her book “Evidence Not Seen” by Darlene Deibler Rose. Published by Harper Collins Publishers.)

Danny Minton is Pastoral Minister and Elder at Southern Hills Church of Christ

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