Darlene Diebler Rose and her husband, The Reverend Russell Diebler, went to Papua, New Guinea as missionaries. Her husband was the first missionary to go to an interior, unreached, stone-age people group. These natives believed the physical world existed only in their valley, and the spirit world existed on the other side of the mountains. A year and a half after her husband’s arrival, Darlene was allowed to follow him. When this 20-ish woman walked over the top of the mountain from the other side, the people realized she and her husband were real humans, like them, and not spirit people.
I heard Mrs. Rose on tape once. Her voice in itself was neither dramatic nor impressive. But her story. That was something else. Soft-spoken, her gentle voice evidenced her humility.
WORLD WAR II
When World War II broke out and Japan took over the island, Reverend Diebler was taken to a prison camp. As he looked down at his wife from the vehicle that was about to take him away, he said “Honey, remember that God has promised he will never leave us or forsake us” (Hebrews 13:5). And there were times she wondered if her God had left her.
Darlene never saw her husband again. Several months later, the soldiers returned for Darlene and the others in their compound. In the truck beds, the younger people grasped hands to encircle the older people in the middle of the truck bed to prevent their falling off the truck and down the mountain as the drivers drove as fast as they could on the curvy mountain roads.
In the camp where they were taken, separate from the one where Russell was, Darlene was selected as head of the Dutch barracks because of her fluency in Dutch, Indonesian and English. Every night they all gathered in the barracks while Darlene read scripture and they prayed together.
Darlene, along with the other younger prisoners, often worked two or three jobs a day. They worked in soggy fields and got leg ulcers. They never had shoes, which made their feet strong. They “postponed” many meals while having to cook three meals for the soldiers daily.
Thirty-pound rats sometimes ate through her mosquito net and crawled into bed with her. Rats could smell death so the group had to set guards to protect the dysentery patients from them.
In November of 1943 the Dutch head of the camp came to tell her Russell had died three months earlier at Pare Pare camp.
“It was one of those moments when I thought my Lord had left me.” She turned around and said “God.” He answered, “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze.” (Isaiah 43:2).
Darlene said, “All right.” And she experienced God’s peace that comes, not with hope fulfilled, but hope surrendered.
Later that day, Mr. Yamaji, the Camp Commander, called her into his office.
“You know, the news you heard today, many Japanese women have also heard. One day this war will be over and you will be able to return to America and dance and forget all this.”
Darlene said, “I know, Mr. Yamaji, but may I have permission to speak to you?” When he agreed, she continued. “I don’t sorrow like people who have no hope. I met someone when I was nine years old …” and she shared the plan of salvation with him. She knew that day Mr. Yamaji became her friend.
Darlene was taken to a former insane asylum and placed on death row. The Japanese said they had evidence (false testimony) she was an American spy, reporting on plane and troop movements. The judo chops they inflicted caused her to think her neck was broken several times. Guards would take her back to her cell and she would say “Lord, I can’t take this any more.” And He would say “My child, my grace is sufficient for you.” And she would begin to sing “He giveth more grace as the burdens grow greater …”
She got dysentery, so they took her off whole rice and brought her rice porridge. She saw white on top of it and thought “Oh, someone knows I love coconut.” When she took the bowl nearer the window she saw it wasn’t coconut, but worms. She became skin and bones, and very weak.
One day Darlene watched another prisoner very, very carefully slip to the end of the camp and pull down a bunch of bananas. Darlene could smell them. “Oh Lord,” she prayed, “if I could just have one banana I would be so grateful. But if you can’t get one into this cell, I will thank you for the rice porridge.”
One day Mr. Yamaji arrived from the other camp and smiled at her as guards opened her cell door. She clapped her hands. “Mr. Yamaji, it’s like seeing an old friend.” Tears came to his eyes and he walked away to speak to the other guards. Then he returned to her cell.
“You’re very ill. I’m going back to the other camp now. The women all wonder where you are.” This camp had told her former camp she was dying of tuberculosis, because they didn’t want others to know she was to be beheaded.
“Tell them I’m all right, that I am still trusting in the Lord. They will understand, and you will understand, Mr. Yamaji.” He nodded and left.
After everyone was gone, she realized she hadn’t bowed to any of the officials when they came to her cell–a major offense. Soon a guard came to the door and she thought she was being taken to another “hearing.” Instead, he brought in 92 bananas!
“Oh Lord,” she said, “I have no right to eat those bananas. Yesterday I told you there was no way you could get one banana into this cell.” He replied, “This is what I delight to do, above and beyond what you ask or think.”
Some time later, Darlene was taken up the hill to where the executions took place. The Camp Commander, out of her line of sight, read the list of accusations. “You are worthy of death.” He slapped the hilt of his sword and pulled it out to behead her. At that very instant she heard cars coming from all directions and yelling for this man. He went into the office, where she heard lots of excited talking. He came out of the office, grabbed Darlene and put her into a jeep. He placed two bottles of wine in her lap and said “These are from Mr. Yamaji.” Then the jeep took her back to the barracks.
“If you ever tell anyone what happened here I’ll get you the next time.”
Darlene begged God to keep her sane. She began to sing “Underneath me, in trusting resting lie.” Billows of peace rolled over her and the fear of death left her as God filled her with His presence.
Darlene survived four years, from age 22 to 26, in the women’s camp at Kampili.
BOMBED AND RESCUED
One day an American plane flew over the camp. The next day the prisoners saw many planes coming toward their camp from the East. They dropped their shovels and picks and watched silver things drop. The Americans dropped 5000 incendiary bombs on that camp. Everything began to burn. Darlene jumped into a ditch, but the Lord said “You borrowed a Bible from that little woman.”
Jumping out of the ditch, Darlene ran to her cell to rescue the Bible. When she ran back out she saw the camp gate was open so the prisoners could escape the conflagration.
There were 138,000 soldiers around that camp, running over the prisoners to get to their machine guns. At the end of the day Darlene was amazed she was still alive. She found another woman crying.
The woman said “My mattress burned.”
“Please don’t cry. We’re alive.”
“I know, but I didn’t leave my mattress in my cell. I threw it in the ditch where you were.” They looked and right where Darlene had been hiding in the ditch, the mattress was incinerated with a bomb casing lying beside it. “Oh Lord, it wasn’t the Bible you wanted to rescue. It was me.”
Two weeks later the war ended. Mr. Yamaji pulled her in to help translate between the Americans and the Japanese. Some American soldiers hid her and flew her out, because there was no provision to remove the women and children from the camp.
At an Australian camp, she was asked if there was anything she would like.
“Yes, I’d like a shower.” (She didn’t think anyone had hot water, so expected cold water.) But the water was hot! The women showered until someone knocked on the door. “We have tea ready for you. If you’d like you can take another shower later.”
She returned to America alone at 26. Because she hadn’t heard from them since writing that she was coming home, she assumed her parents had also died.
She prayed for a Red Cross worker to help her find someone from the family who might be left. Turning a corner, she saw a Red Cross worker. Darlene told her she needed to find any remaining family in Ohio.
“What’s your name?” the worker asked.
“I’ve been on the ship all morning looking for you. I have three telegrams for you.” And they were from her mother and father, who were alive in Oakland, California. When she arrived at home there were many people from the church waiting to greet her. She didn’t know them but looked for two beloved faces. As she held her parents tight she thought, “What will it be like when someday those clouds will part asunder and Jesus will be there.”
In 1949 Darlene and her second husband, Jerry Rose, returned to New Guinea to serve God, then moved to another calling in the Australian Outback in 1978.
Years later they retired to Tennessee, where Darlene was taken into the arms of her Lord and Master in February 2004. Jerry followed six months later.
Darlene said she knew something of the cost of following Christ. But she didn’t remember that. She said she would follow Jesus anywhere. “Those were the sweetest years God gave me because then He taught me He would never leave me nor forsake me.”
Darlene Diebley Rose’s audio testimony is available at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=77AphiQbh9Q
And her book at https://amzn.to/3WvoGRo
Darlene found hope in God’s promises, and in her relationship with Jesus Christ. Where is your hope?