Monday, August 27, 2012

Bananas in prison

Darlene Deibler Rose was a missionary in Indonesia and was captured and imprisoned by the Japanese during World War II. She writes her story in Evidence Not Seen, a gripping, unforgettable book. Here is one of my favorite stories. Darlene is in a cell that has a window overlooking the courtyard. She looks out to see Margaret Kemp, one of her fellow missionaries, who was also imprisoned.

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About a week later, at the time of day when the guard herded the women from the front cell block into the courtyard, I decided to check on Margaret Kemp. There she was in my housecoat. I was so pleased that she had it and wished I dared call to her. With her in the graveled courtyard were several native women prisoners. They had been jailed for minor misdemeanors and were allowed to take air and exercise afternoons in the courtyard, whenever it pleased the officer in charge.

The actions of one woman in particular fascinated me. Every time the sentry on duty turned his back to her and marched to the other side of the courtyard, she inched over toward a fence covered with Honolulu Creeper. When the guard clicked his heels, turned about, and began to stroll in her direction, she stopped. There he went, and there she went. "Aha, intrigue. She's going to make contact with someone who's hidden in those vines. Isn't this exciting! Oh, do be careful. With no books to read, I'll watch the drama taking place here before my very eyes!" I empathized with her. I wanted her to succeed, and not to be caught. Finally, reaching the vine-covered fence, the woman stood very still. The guard clicked his heels and went off again. At that moment, I saw a hand shoot through the tangle of vine. It held a big bunch of bananas. Quickly she grabbed the bananas, slipped them into the folds of her sarong, and strolled nonchalantly back to join the other women. Nobody knew she had those bananas. But I did--bananas!

I dropped to the floor of my cell. Exhausted from my efforts, I shook all over. Worse still, I began to crave bananas. Everything in me wanted one. I could see them; I could smell them; I could taste them. I got down on my knees and said, "Lord, I'm not asking you for a whole bunch like that woman has. I just want one banana." I looked up and pleaded, "Lord, just one banana."

Then I began to rationalize--how could God possibly get a banana to me through these prison walls? I would never ask the guard. If he helped me and was discovered, it would mean reprisals. I would certainly never ask a favor of the Interrogator or the Brain. There was more chance of the moon falling out of the sky than of one of them bringing me a banana. Then I ran out of people. These three were the only ones. Of course, there was the old Indonesian night watchman. "Don't let it even enter his thinking to bring me a banana. He'd be shot if caught."

I bowed my head again and prayed, "Lord, there's no one here who could get a banana to me. There's no way for You to do it. Please don't think I'm not thankful for the rice porridge. It's just that--well, those bananas looked so delicious!"

What I needed to do was link my impotence to God's omnipotence, but I couldn't see how God could get a banana to me through these prison walls, even after the knife episode and my healing.

When the Japanese officers from the ships docked in Macassar Harbor visited the prison, great hardships were inflicted upon the prisoners. We were laughed at, scorned, and insulted. When the cells were opened, we were expected to bow low at a perfect ninety-degree angle. If we didn't perform to their satisfaction, we were struck across the back with a cane. These were humiliating and desperate experiences.

The morning after the banana drama, I heard the click of officers' leather heels on the concrete walkway. The thought of getting to my feet and having to execute a bow was onerous, to say the least. My weight had dropped during those months in the converted insane asylum, until now I was skin drawn over bones. One nice thing about my streamlined proportions was that the thinner I got, the longer my dress became, so I had more covering at night. I stretched out my hands often and laughed at my bird's claws. The meager daily meals were not designed for putting on weight. I had been healed, but I needed food for strength. I wondered if I could manage to get to my feet and remain upright, but I was determined that when that door opened, they would find me on my feet.

The officers were almost at the door. I reached up, grabbed the window ledge, and pulled myself upright. "Now, Lord," I prayed, "officers are coming. Give me strength to make a proper bow." I heard the guard slip a key into the door, but he had the wrong one and ran back to the office to get the right key. I dropped to the floor to rest, then came to my feet again when I heard his tennis shoe-shod feet moving quickly down the walkway. My legs were trembling, and I clutched the bars of the window to steady myself. "Lord, please help me to bow correctly."

Finally, the door opened, and I looked into the smiling face of Mr. Yamaji, the Kampili camp commander. This was early July, and it had been so long since I had seen a smiling or a familiar face. I clapped my hands and exclaimed, Tuan Yamaji, seperti lihat sobat jan lama, "Mr. Yamaji, it's just like seeing an old friend!"

Tears filled his eyes. He didn't say a word but turned and walked out into the courtyard and began to talk with the two officers who had conducted my interrogations. At roll call in Kampili, I had had to give certain commands in Japanese, but I had made a deliberate effort to learn as little of the Japanese language as possible. It was better not to know it. I couldn't understand what Yamaji was saying--but he spoke with them for a long time. What had happened to the hauteur and belligerence with which those two always conducted themselves toward me? I could see their heads hanging lower and lower. Perhaps he spoke to them of my work as a missionary, or maybe he shared with them concerning that afternoon in his office after I had learned of Russell's death, when I spoke of Christ, my Savior, Who gives us love for others--even for our enemies, those who use us badly.

Finally, Mr. Yamaji came back to my cell. "You're very ill, aren't you?" he asked sympathetically.

"Yes, sir, Mr. Yamaji, I am."

"I'm going back to the camp now. Have you any word for the women?"

The Lord gave me confidence to answer, "Yes, sir, when you go back, please tell them for me that I'm all right. I'm still trusting the Lord. They'll understand what I mean, and I believe you do."

"All right," he replied; then, turning on his heels, he left.

When Mr. Yamaji and the Kempeitai officers had gone and the guard had closed the door, it hit me--I didn't bow to those men! "Oh Lord," I cried, "why didn't You help me remember? They'll come back and beat me. Lord, please, not back to the hearing room again. Not now, Lord. I can't; I just can't."

I heard the guard coming back and knew he was coming for me. Struggling to my feet, I stood ready to go. He opened the door, walked in, and with a sweeping gesture laid at my feet--bananas! "They're yours," he said, "and they're all from Mr. Yamaji." I sat down in stunned silence and counted them. There were ninety-two bananas!

In all my spiritual experience, I've never known such shame before my Lord. I pushed the bananas into a corner and wept before Him. "Lord, forgive me; I'm so ashamed. I couldn't trust You enough to get even one banana for me. Just look at them--there are almost a hundred."

In the quiet of the shadowed cell, He answered back within my heart: "That's what I delight to do, the exceeding abundant above anything you ask or think." I knew in those moments that nothing is impossible to my God.

After God assured me it was His delight to send me those bananas, my heart was salved, and it took all the character I possessed not to eat all ninety-two in one sitting. After months of meager rations of rice porridge, I knew that to gorge could make me deathly ill, so I portioned out so many bananas per day, saving the greener ones for last. This was God's provision, and strength began to flow into my body. "Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies" (Psalm 23:5).

Late in the afternoon of the day following Yamaji's visit, I heard the Indonesian night watchman paused outside my door. He called softly, Njonja.

"Yes, sir?" I jumped up and put my ear to the door.

Njonja suka pisang gorengkah? "Do you like fried bananas?"

"Oh, yes, I like anything to eat!" I heard him walk away and knew he wasn't risking opening the door. Trembling with excitement, I climbed to the transom above the door and saw him returning. The overhang of the roof concealed from the view of others the fried banana tied in a corn husk dangling gaily from the bayonet atop his gun. Imperceptibly he shortened his steps as he passed my cell to allow me to reach out through the transom and grab the gift. Murmuring my sincere thanks, I jumped to the floor and promptly dispatched it with relish. Did Mr. Yamaji's act of kindness embolden the night watchman, or was it pity for me that prompted the gift? Perhaps both.

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From Evidence Not Seen: A Woman's Miraculous Faith in the Jungles of World War II by Darlene Deibler Rose, chapter 8.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for sharing your story! In Christ who never fails, Susan Price


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