I recently read a book entitled Evidence Not Seen written by Darlene Deibler Rose, a missionary called to Indonesia in the late 1930’s to serve with her husband Russell Deibler and several other American and Dutch missionaries. The dedication to learn languages and to embrace harsh living conditions in order to bring the Gospel to unreached peoples is inspiring.
The subtitle of the book reveals that the dreams of the young missionary couple did not go as anticipated: A Woman’s Miraculous Faith in the Jungles of World War II. After the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor in December of 1941, the islands of the South Pacific became danger zones. The Deiblers and over 1,500 others were rounded up by the Japanese and imprisoned on the island of Celebes. Eventually the men were taken to one location and the women and children were held at a place called Kampili.
The cruelty of their captors and the terrible living conditions drove believers to ask many difficult questions: “Where are You, God?” “Why would You call us to preach the Gospel and then allow us to become prisoners of war?” “Will we survive this horror?”
Some survived; some did not. The Gospel was preached; there was just a different audience than expected. And whether one felt it or not… God was there. The greatest testimony of men and women of faith who enter any fiery furnace remains: He is with me.
Russell encouraged scores of prisoners of many nationalities, but the sicknesses of the jungle wore down his body. He died in captivity in 1943. Darlene was not told of her husband’s death until three months later and her sorrow was overwhelming. “Why God? What is the purpose? Will You take me too?”
The Japanese leader of her camp, who was guilty of personally beating and killing prisoners during fits of rage, was touched by the grief of the twenty-six-year-old American. When he tried to explain that such are the happenings in war, Darlene was given the grace to share what Christians know is true.
“Mr. Yamaji, I don’t sorrow like people who have no hope. I want to tell you about Someone of Whom you may never have heard. I learned about Him when I was a little girl in Sunday School back in Boone, Iowa, in America. His name is Jesus. He’s the Son of Almighty God, the Creator of heaven and earth.” God opened the most wonderful opportunity to lay the plan of salvation before the Japanese camp commander. Tears started to course down his cheeks. “He died for you, Mr. Yamaji, and He puts love in our hearts – even for those who are our enemies. That’s why I don’t hate you, Mr. Yamaji. Maybe God brought me to this place and this time to tell you He loves you.” With tears running down his cheeks, he rose hastily and went into his bedroom…
After being a POW for nearly four years, the war ended and Darlene was freed. Of their close circle of missionaries, eight died during imprisonment and seven survived. Darlene returned to America, eventually re-married, and served for over thirty years with her husband Jerry Rose as a missionary in New Guinea and Australia.
Some joyous news came to Darlene years after the war. “A friend vacationing in Java happened upon a priest who had just returned from bicycling in Japan. While in a small coastal village, the priest had stopped at a bicycle shop for repairs. Striking up a conversation with the owner, who spoke Indonesian, the priest discovered that the man had been the commander of the women’s POW camp outside Macassar during World War II. The owner asked the priest if he ever met any of the women who had been in Kampili, to tell them he was sorry he’d been so cruel. He said he was a different man now. Later Darlene heard that Mr. Yamiji had spoken on radio, sharing the Gospel of Jesus Christ with the Japanese people.”
“Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” (KJV)
“Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.” (NIV)
Quotes from Evidence Not Seen, by Darlene Deibler Rose, published by Harper and Row, ©1988, pp 111, 224