Miraculous Survival of a WWII Prisoner of War


Darlene Deibler Rose

(May 10, 1917 – February 24, 2004)

Newlyweds, Darlene and Russell Deibler, sensed God’s call to New Guinea. However, the bulk of the events recorded in Darlene’s autobiography, Evidence Not Seen, takes place in Indonesia from roughly 1937 through 1945. The Deibler’s hoped-for destination of New Guinea’s Wissel Lakes was 1000 miles due east.

Darlene exhibited Christ through her devotion to God, her love for others, her humble service, her commitment to prayer and to community, and her witness through holy living and through her words. In her book, Darlene describes beatings, solitary confinement on death row, and malnutrition as well as separation from, and the death of, her husband, Russell.

Darlene Mae McIntosh put her trust in Christ at age nine and sensed a call to missions at thirteen. Many years later, while training with the Christian and Missionary Alliance, she met and married Russell Deibler, on leave from his assignment in the islands of Dutch Indonesia. After six months of learning Dutch in Amsterdam, Darlene and Russell disembarked at Batavia, Java, on their first wedding anniversary, August 18, 1938. They traveled on to Macassar, a port city and capital of Celebes (now called Sulawesi). Soon after, Darlene began learning Indonesian.

Darlene and Russell in New Guinea

By December, Russell and Walter Post left by steamer for Papua New Guinea. Darlene and Viola Post stayed behind in Macassar with the other missionaries.

In February 1939, Russell returned from exploring uncharted areas of New Guinea. Darlene could barely recognize him. The trek had been grueling. He lost sixty pounds and had an advanced case of jungle rot on his feet.

Eight months later, Russell and Walter were back in the same unexplored territory, but this time Bornean Dyaks accompanied them. For this second attempt, the Dyaks were well-suited for the terrain and climate. They were invaluable for blazing trails and building canoes, bridges, and ladders. After six months, these Indonesian believers returned home, making an important contribution toward reaching the stone-age peoples of New Guinea.

Russell learned on this particular trip that the native New Guinea peoples, the Kapaukus, thought the missionaries and the government men at the outpost were spirits because they apparently had no wives. In order to present the gospel, Russell and Walter knew their wives needed to come. In February 1940, Darlene joined Russell on his third trip to the Wissel Lakes area.

The New Guinea government ordered the missionaries to leave after only about six months because of World War II. The Dutch government forces were stretched thin and could not protect that part of the country.

Darlene and Russell in Indonesia

Russell and Darlene returned to Macassar. In January, they learned they could resume ministry in the Wissel Lakes area. Simultaneously, their fellow missionaries elected Russell to be the assistant field chairman. They were initially heartbroken to stay at their headquarters but recognized God’s will.

Soon, the Japanese rapidly advanced, considering the oil fields and rubber plantations of the Dutch East Indies vital resources. On March 13, 1942, invading Japanese soldiers rounded up the missionaries. The Japanese sent Russell and the men to a camp in Parepare. In May 1943, the Japanese herded the women to a camp at Kampili, the native tuberculosis sanitarium. In August 1943, Russell died of dysentery. Darlene was told three months afterward.

Darlene as a Prisoner of War

The prisoners of Kampili ranged from infants to grandmothers. Besides Darlene and her fellow missionaries, bunkmates came from the Salvation Army, Catholicism, and the Jewish faith. The international makeup of the Dutch East Indies was evident in Barracks 8, where Darlene was barracks captain. British, Armenian, Dutch, Indonesian, Jewish, Chinese, Eurasian, American, Czechoslovakian, and German women and children occupied the bunks. Together, these women from many countries and faiths formed a close-knit community.  Their suffering was part of what drew them together.

Darlene had many interactions with the camp commander, Yamiji. He was volatile and even killed a man when enraged. Early on, she began praying for him. She knew the Lord’s admonition: “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven (Matthew 5:44-45, ESV).”

After Darlene was told Russell had died, Commander Yamiji called her to his office. He said, “What you heard today, women in Japan have heard.” Darlene used that opportunity to tell him in Indonesian that Jesus loves him. Tears began running down his cheeks and he left the room hastily.

Life as a prisoner-of-war sank to its lowest when the Kempeitai, the gestapo of Imperial Japan, imprisoned Darlene in 1944. Darlene was adept at languages, but purposely did not learn Japanese to avoid any risk of being accused of spying; they accused her anyway. The Kempeitai tortured her and two other women missionaries in a former insane asylum for many months.

Near the end of this time, Commander Yamiji spent three days trying to locate her. He told the chief interrogator that Darlene was not a spy and then explained to the interrogator what Darlene told him about God.

The next day, the chief interrogator said to Darlene (she did not know about Commander Yamiji’s witness), “But if we win the war, you would not stay and tell my people about God, would you? You’d go back to America?”

Darlene explained that she would stay if God wanted her to and said, “Do you know that God loves your people too?”

Weeks later, the interrogator forced her to sign a false confession for espionage. Darlene was minutes away from a beheading when a car screeched into the headquarters and whisked her back to Kampili.

After she returned to Kampili, she described changes in Commander Yamiji’s character. Because of his kindness to her during her imprisonment with the Kempeitai, his war crimes were eventually commuted. She later learned through God’s providence that he was sorry for his cruelty to the women of the POW camp. He even shared the Gospel with his people over Japanese radio.

September 19, 1945, seventeen days after the truce with Japan was signed, Darlene began her journey from Celebes back to America.

Darlene Returns to New Guinea

Darlene recovered with her loving family and then began preparing for her return to New Guinea. She met Jerry Rose in 1946 and they married in 1948. Together, they raised a family and served as missionaries in New Guinea until 1988. According to her obituary, “…Darlene and Jerry were used of God to bring hundreds of aborigines to the Lord and discipling them to Christ. They were also instrumental in beginning several indigenous churches that are pastored by natives.”

Darlene was very faithful to a call to holy living. She also depended on her Lord, on prayer, and on the Word of God. Darlene walked closely with God and lived in community with fellow believers. As God’s ambassador, she readily shared God’s offer of reconciliation even to her harshest persecutors. Darlene’s love for God and for others, her prayers, her witness through holy living and through her words are an inspiration.

Listen to Darlene’s story:

NOTES:

  • The image is a screenshot of the audiobook, Evidence Not Seen.
  • After World War II, the Dutch East Indies claimed independence after 350 years of colonial rule. A young Dutchman, now known as Brother Andrew, signed up for the army. His experiences as a soldier during this conflict helped bring him to Christ. I recommend reading his autobiography, God’s Smuggler.
  • Don and Carol Richardson were also serving in Netherlands New Guinea during the same time Jerry and Darlene were there. The Richardsons arrived to work with the Sawi in 1962. Don is the author of Peace Child and other bestsellers about missions.

Creative Commons License
Miraculous Survival of a WWII Prisoner of War by Sus Schmitt is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.

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