Mounting the steps into His presence, I prayed and God came to me with the gift of remembrance of a little girl saying, “Lord I’d go anywhere with You, no matter what it cost.” Darlene Deibler Rose
As a young bride, Darlene Deibler accompanied her missionary husband to the Baliem Valley of New Guinea in hopes of ministering to the tribal people. Instead she ended up in a Japanese prison camp for the duration of World War II.
1938: New Guinea
After six months of language study in Holland, Darlene and Russell Deibler landed in Batavia, Java, on August 18, 1938, the day of their first year wedding anniversary. From there, they traveled by steamer to Macassar, the capital and chief seaport of Celebes, where they began making preparations for their final destination: New Guinea.
However, they didn’t leave until two years later. During those two years, Russell and Darlene borrowed various living quarters and were often separated. At last the day arrived when Darlene and Russell Deibler, along with fellow missionaries Walter and Viola Post, left to follow the trail through the Baliem Valley to the Wissel Lakes of New Guinea.
1940: The Baliem Valley
Darlene writes of entering the Kapauku’s territory for the first time:
“Cresting the summit, I looked down into the valley and saw men, women, and children running out of their gardens or hurrying out of their huts. All were heading toward the mountainside. Half of them yodeled, ‘Hoo!’ and then the answering ‘Hoo!’ echoed back on octave lower from the rest of the crowd.
I raised my hands, waving to the people. My cheeks streaked with tears, I started running down the mountainside, singing at the top of my lungs, ‘I’m home! I’m home!’”
Darlene loved it all: being with her husband in that isolated place, the precious Kapauku people, and the little house Russell had readied for her.
She describes her house: “Then Russell took me home, our very first home. It was beautiful to me. There were two rooms: a living room and study-bedroom with woven
bamboo-mat walls and floor. The bed was made of pit-sawn planks, as was the counter across one side of the bedroom.
What a wonderful idea, using isinglass for windows to keep out the cold and let in the view. Russell had chosen a lovely spot for the house, on the hillside looking across Lake Paniai to the tree-clad mountains behind which the sun was just setting. The magnificence of the sunset mirrored on the lake was breathtaking.”
The natives were amazed at Darlene’s thick, curly hair and blue eyes and eagerly responded to her enthusiastic overtures of friendship. One little Kapauku boy decided to adopt her. She discovered him one morning juggling hot coals in her kitchen. He said his job was to start the fire for her and that he was called Imopai. Darlene immediately responded to his wide grin. Then he explained that his mother was dead. Therefore, he must be her boy now. Darlene and Russell took him in.
During their months in the Baliem Valley, they taught school, held services, and faithfully shared the Gospel. Many times a day Darlene found herself saying, “Thank you, Lord, it’s so wonderful to be here.”
Then came the day when Russell set up their battery-powered radio and tuned in to the BBC. He and Darlene heard the shocking news that the Nazis had invaded Holland. It was the tenth of May, 1940, Darlene’s twenty-third birthday.
The war escalated quickly. Submarines and U-boats began operating in the Indian Ocean, the Java Sea, and the Macassar Straits, affecting their peaceful islands. The missionary board decided to close the outpost where Darlene and Russell were serving.
Russell was sad to leave, but Darlene recalls that she and Imopai were more than sad, they
were devastated. She considered him her boy and had loved him as a mother.
Before she left, she tried once more to explain God’s love to Imopai.
When she was finished she asked, “Oh, Imopai, do you understand?”
“He had been staring at his hands. Suddenly he looked up, understanding showing in his big brown eyes. ‘Yes, Mama, I have listened. Jetoti, Jesus, died for me.’ We bowed our heads while Imopai prayed and God heard.
When they left, Imopai accompanied Darlene over the first mountain range.
She says in her memoir: “Finally I sadly said, ‘Imopai, you must turn around and go back.’ I held his hand in a tight clasp. I could say no more. Tears were too near the surface. He stopped, and I walked on down the valley.
When I turned around, there he was, standing on the mountainside. I saw the little boy, so alone, silhouetted against the afternoon sky. I could tell he was crying. Feeling he was too old to cry, he wiped his face with an angry gesture, then brushed the tears off on his hip.
Finally he called, ‘Mama, egaa kedaa! Return, quickly!’
At the bend of the trail I looked back. Imopai was gone. Sitting down, I wept for my boy, my son in the faith. ‘Dear God, please take care of him, until I can come back.’”
And only God knew when that would be.