Experiencing God’s Redemptive Power
By LESLIE LUDY
Darlene Deibler lay on the dirty floor of her prison cell, bruised and exhausted from yet another brutal interrogation session by the notorious Japanese Kempeitai. It was hard to believe that only a few years earlier, she and her husband, Russell, had come to Indonesia as young, energetic missionaries to work among the tribal people in the unreached interior of New Guinea.
Now, at age 26, Darlene was already a widow, her husband’s life having been cut short by the cruelty of a Japanese prison camp. Her dreams of reaching the tribes of New Guinea with the Gospel had been abruptly halted by war. And instead of living and serving in the jungle among the people she dearly loved, Darlene was now on death row, falsely accused as an American spy and condemned to die. She was wasting away from starvation and deathly ill from several serious diseases. Any hope of her survival was remote.
And yet, incredibly, in response to each devastating circumstance she faced, Darlene’s attitude was not one of doubt and bitterness, but surrender and hope. She was one of those whom God could trust with pain.
From the first day she was roughly shoved into her solitary cell on death row and the prison door locked behind her, she had never known such terror. But immediately a song came into her heart that she had learned as a little girl in Sunday school:
Fear not, little flock, whatever your lot,
He enters all rooms, “the doors being shut,”
He never forsakes, He never is gone,
So count on His presence in darkness and dawn.
The words to that song exemplify everything that Darlene believed and experienced through the unthinkable suffering she faced during those awful four years as a prisoner of war. She later wrote, “I knew they could lock me in, but they couldn’t lock my Lord out. Jesus was there with me. That cell on death row became my sanctuary.” Even as she laid dying on the floor of her cell, she spent her time reflecting upon “the goodness and mercy of my Lord.”
How many of us would respond as she did in the same situation? This heart-attitude is only possible by the enabling grace of God. But that grace is available to each and every one of us if we are willing to ask for it.
Most of us will not experience the kind of extreme circumstances that Darlene faced as a prisoner of war. But all of us will experience (or have experienced) times of suffering, heartache, and pain. Are we willing to ask for God’s grace to trust Him implicitly, even when we cannot see the end of the story?
If yes, we will discover the amazing miracle of watching God create beauty from ashes in our lives; watching Him restore and redeem what was wounded or destroyed. We may not see the evidence of this miracle immediately. But as we surrender and trust, His providential hand is always at work even when we cannot see it, creating a beautiful and purposeful tapestry in and through our lives.
Evidence of God’s Redemptive Work
Darlene Deibler’s testimony is not merely a tale of incredible faith and endurance, it is also a beautiful story of God’s redemption and restoration. Her life is an amazing example of God working all things together for good for one who loved Him. (See Romans 8:28.)
Miraculously, Darlene’s life was spared only seconds before her execution was to be carried out. At that moment she knew God’s story for her life had not yet reached its final chapter.
When the war finally came to an end, Darlene boarded a boat to take her away from the Indonesian islands and eventually back to the United States. As she contemplated all that had unfolded during her years as a missionary there, her heart was filled with grief over the reality of her situation. She had come to these islands eight years before on her first wedding anniversary, eager to share the Gospel alongside her husband. And now, she was
Inwardly she told herself, I will never come back to these islands again. They have robbed me of everything that was most dear to me. But then she heard the sound of running feet and dozens of her Indonesian friends and converts singing a song that she had sung many times with them at the close of missionary services before the war: “God be with you till we meet again!”
She recounted, “All the bitterness washed away, and I said, ‘Father, please forgive me, these people are why I came here — not just because I was Russell’s wife. I came because as a little girl You called me and I promised You I’d go anywhere no matter what it cost. Forgive me, Lord.’” She waved and called to her people that someday she would come back again. And she knew that somehow, she would.
She recalled the testimonies of the men that her husband had led to Christ before his death in the prison camp. She remembered the cruel Japanese commander of the women’s work camp whose heart had been opened to the Gospel because of her example of hope in the midst of suffering. And she began to see that already, God had been creating beauty from ashes. Out of death had come life.
When Darlene finally returned home to the United States she told people everywhere about, “Jesus, my beloved Lord, who … never left my side during those long years of suffering and sorrow.”
But God’s redemptive work was still in motion. Her memories of her life with Russell in New Guinea confirmed her call to return. She resisted the many words of advice from others who told her to “stay home and let some years of comfort repay your pain in the South Pacific.” She had been called as a missionary long before she met Russell, and she was willing to return alone, with the Lord at her side.
As she prepared to return to the mission field, she experienced another beautiful evidence of God’s redemptive work in her life. In 1946, a young man named Reverend Jerald W. Rose was given a film to use in preparation for his own missionary work in New Guinea. It was a documentary of Russell Deibler’s first missionary trek to the interior of New Guinea.
Jerry Rose was already under appointment to this primitive mission field, when by God’s divine plan, he met Darlene. The two of them were married in 1948. Together they returned to New Guinea where they lived and worked among the jungle tribes for nearly 40 years along with their two sons who were born and raised among the native people. They became pioneer missionaries among the Dani tribe in the Baliem Valley, which became one of the earliest and strongest groups of Christian natives living in the New Guinea interior, and impacted many other native tribes with the Gospel as the years passed.
God gives beauty for ashes.
When I heard Darlene’s testimony, recorded nearly 50 years after her prison experience, I was struck by how dearly and deeply she loved her Lord through it all. She had not taken up an offense against
Darlene certainly did not have an easy life. Even when she returned to New Guinea as a missionary with her second husband, she faced many “waves of tidal proportions that threatened to dash her against the rocks.” Yet she sincerely thanked God for every storm and allowed Him to remain the anchor of her soul. Even up until her death, her life brought tremendous glory to God.
Oh, for the courage to follow her example — and the example of so many Christians like her throughout history! How blessed are those who are not offended because of Him.
Beauty for Ashes – Three Simple Truths
Though I can’t personally relate to Darlene’s extreme experiences with suffering, I am no stranger to heartache, disappointment, and pain. I suspect you aren’t either. But my prayer is that, no matter what we have gone through, we will be among those whom God can trust with pain; those who, by God’s grace, reject bitterness and doubt and stand firmly upon the promise that He will work all things together for our good. To that end, I’d like to share three simple truths that have helped me respond to difficulty with faith and hope instead of despair and hopelessness.
Rejoicing amidst pain feels very unnatural. But, as I once heard a veteran missionary say, rejoicing is faith in action. When we choose to thank God in all circumstances, it sets the stage for His power and faithfulness to be demonstrated. Betsie and Corrie ten Boom discovered this firsthand when they were imprisoned in a Nazi concentration camp. Their barracks
Remember, God gives beauty for ashes. And when we rejoice in all things, we see glimmers of heavenly beauty, no matter what we are walking through.
2 Seek the Right Comfort
When we are walking through trials, it’s easy to surround ourselves with people who will shower us with a “poor you” message. But as Amy Carmichael once said, that kind of sympathy weakens instead of strengthens. If you are struggling with any difficulty, I encourage you first and foremost to take your cares to the feet of Jesus and allow Him to be the God of all Comfort to you, just as He promises to be. And if you seek counsel or encouragement from other Christians, don’t go to those who will point you toward self-pity, cynicism, or doubt. Rather, find those who will encourage you with truth, point you to Jesus Christ, and infuse you with heavenly courage to be strong in the Lord and in the power of His might.
If you don’t have friends who can encourage you in this way, there is tremendous strength that can be received from the testimonies found in Christian biographies. Many times my faith has been bolstered by the stories of men and women who went through terrible things and emerged triumphant because of the amazing, enabling grace of God. What a blessing it is to realize that the same grace that was available to them is also available to us!
3 Welcome His Nearness
Psalm 34:18 says, “The LORD is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit” (NIV). When we are walking through difficulty, one of the most amazing gifts that
In one of Darlene Deibler’s audio messages, she quotes a beautiful poem by Annie J. Flint (a godly woman who suffered for years with a debilitating disease):
He giveth more grace when the burdens grow greater,
He sendeth more strength when the labors increase,
To multiplied trials, His multiplied peace.
When we have exhausted our store of endurance,
When our strength has failed ere the day is half done,
When we reach the end of our hoarded resources,
Our Father’s full giving is only begun.
Fear not that thy need shall exceed His provision,
Our God ever yearns His resources to share;
Lean hard on the arm everlasting, availing;
The Father both thee and thy load will upbear.
His love has no limits, His grace has no measure.
His power no boundary known unto men;
For out of His infinite riches in Jesus,
He giveth, and giveth, and giveth again.
If you are walking through any kind of pain or struggle, I encourage you to cling to Him tighter than ever before. Spend time in His presence, pour out your heart to Him, and let Him speak to your heart and reveal Himself to you in greater and greater measure. The Bible promises that when we purposefully draw near to Him, He will draw near to us. And as Darlene and many others have testified, Christ’s presence is so rich and sweet that even a prison cell can become a sanctuary.
So don’t let a season of suffering go to waste. Instead, let it draw you into the “fellowship of His sufferings” (Phil. 3:10) as Paul said, and experience the heavenly beauty that comes when He surrounds you with His presence.
Christians today often feel entitled to question, doubt, or reject God altogether because of unexpected or unexplained difficulty. Blogs and social media posts that celebrate cynicism and showcase doubt are extremely popular today. It’s easy to jump on that bandwagon when we are reeling from disappointment or heartache. But there is a better way to deal with our pain…
Allow God to give you beauty for ashes.
May we never forget that we serve a God of redemption; a God who delights to turn our mourning into dancing, as we put our hope in Him.