We recently returned from a week on the northern shore of Lake Superior with our sons, daughter-in-laws and grandchildren. Paul and I wanted to celebrate 40 years of marriage with the family that matters so much to us. Hundreds of photos testify to the fact that precious memories were made.
We hiked, biked and dove into the cold waters together. We bumped heads and dried tears. We sat at table together. Laughed together. Prayed together. We are three generations not randomly thrown together by chance but purposefully knit together by the God of design.
On Sunday morning, we gathered in the great room of the cabin to read God’s Word, sing, and encourage generational faithfulness. It seemed fitting for me as a grandmother to speak to the eldest of the grandchildren Jaden, Ethan, Andrew and Max because they will always have the privilege of setting examples for their younger brothers and sisters Kate, Leah, Sam and Lane.
To get their attention, I asked: “What do worms, mosquitos, bedbugs and flies have to do with being a Christian and following Jesus?” Then I shared with them the true story of Darlene Diebler.
Darlene was born in Boone, IA. She was raised in a Christian home and knew Jesus Christ as her Savior. Encouraged by parents and pastors, she memorized Scripture and words of hymns. As her love for the Lord grew, so did her desire to become a missionary. When Russell Diebler, an experienced missionary, asked her to marry him, she said “Yes!”
The newlyweds settled in New Guinea before their first anniversary. Darlene was excited by the possibilities of living among people who had never heard of Jesus Christ. But Darlene did not become the kind of missionary she had dreamed of. A world war broke out and, together with other missionaries, she was taken prisoner by the Japanese. Men were put in one camp; women and children in another.
Darlene spent her days caring for the sick, comforting the fearful, working in the gardens or pig house, and repeatedly shared the hope of God’s Word—even with the camp commander. On the day when he called her into his office to tell her that her husband had died, a strange thing happened. Instead of breaking down in despair, Darlene witnessed to her captor about why her faith in Jesus Christ would sustain her. Her confidence and uncommon behavior caused the man to leave the room, but not before Darlene saw his eyes glisten with tears.
The only personal item not taken from Darlene was her Bible. God’s Word was light in her darkness. When she got mad at God, she read. When she questioned His will, she read. When she felt sorry for herself, she read. We might wonder: Why didn’t she just give up? Why continue fighting for life when all seemed so hopeless? Darlene didn’t give up because God’s Word was life to her! In meditating upon the Word, the Holy Spirit overcame doubt and turned her eyes to the goodness, faithfulness and promise of God. She was reminded that God had already gone before her and yet, at the same time, was right beside her.
Fear rose up again when Darlene was accused of being a spy for the American army. She was taken away by angry men who had no respect for her as a human being. They placed her in solitary confinement and took away her Bible. Her meals consisted of rice infested with worms. There was no way to protect herself from the flies and mosquitos that carried diseases. Bedbugs bit her flesh all night. Soon, Darlene became very ill. Malaria, beriberi, and dysentery ravaged her body and drained her physical strength. At times, words of prayer failed her. But the Holy Spirit was interceding for her with “groanings too deep for words” (Romans 8:26). He brought to mind Words of the Lord she had committed to memory and verses of hymns sung as a child.
When Darlene was feverish and quite possibly near death, a man appeared with a little bit of medicine. She never saw that man again; in fact, no one else saw or knew of him. To this day, she is convinced he was an angel. Within a very short time—and without a doctor—Darlene regained her strength.
All the worms, flies, mosquitos, and bedbugs tortured her body, but they did not kill her. The Japanese soldiers treated her worse than an animal, but they could not remove her identity as a daughter of God or take from her the Holy Spirit who dwelled within her.
What does this story have to do with my grandchildren? I believe that the prince of this world, the devil, and the culture shaped by his deception will pester my grandsons and granddaughters like so many mosquitos and flies. God’s Word is their only defense. Jesus says,
Behold, I have given you authority to tread on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy, and nothing shall hurt you . . . your names are written in heaven” (Luke 10:19-20).
I believe the names of my grandchildren are written in heaven. As baptized children of God in Jesus Christ, I believe they have power over the enemy. I also believe that when they live their faith, they will have an uncommon effect on the people around them.
Darlene’s faith in Christ had an effect on the Japanese prison commander. When he saw that she was not crushed under her load of suffering but had the strength to speak of Jesus even to him—her enemy, his attitude toward her changed. He became her advocate and, even though she was removed from under his authority into the hands of others, he did everything he could to keep her alive during her time in solitary confinement.
It won’t be easy for my grandchildren to live their faith; to “pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, steadfastness, gentleness” (1 Timothy 6:11). Even their friends may taunt them or abandon them for not “fitting in”. But God does not want His children to be common and malleable in the hands of just anybody. He wants them to be uncommon and malleable in His hands and for His purpose.
To help my grandsons and granddaughters, I want to be what my grandmother was to me. She was my encourager. My comfort. My example of faithfulness.
When I think of my grandmother, the words of one of her favorite Scripture passages speak to me. They are also words to a hymn. Because I pray my family will fight the good fight, I asked my husband, sons, daughters, grandsons and granddaughters to sing it with me:
Fight the good fight with all your might;
Christ is your strength and Christ your right.
Lay hold on life, and it shall be
Your joy and crown eternally.
Run the straight race through God’s good grace;
Lift up your eyes, and seek His face.
Life with its way before us lies,
Christ is the path, and Christ the prize.
Faint not nor fear, His arms are near;
He changes not who holds you dear;
Only believe, and you will see
That Christ is all eternally.
(LSB 664 “Fight the Good Fight” -
Text: John S.B. Monsell – 1 Timothy 6:12)
This post inspired by Darlene Deibler Rose
Evidence Not Seen:
A Woman’s Miraculous Faith in the Jungles of World War II
A Ruth Graham Dienert Book, 1988