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Remembering C. Russell Deibler

A History Of
C. Russell Deibler

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February 1940- The Pioneer

Rev. C. Russell Deibler

It was the month of February 1939 when a small party of coolies and policemen, under the leadership of a Dutch government official, discovered the great valley of Kemandora in Central Netherlands New Guinea. Some months previous, while here at his post at the Wissel Lakes, the official learned of the existence of this valley from strange men who came from that area. However, after six days of travel from this already inland base, he contacted the first of these new people. He found there an immense valley in habited by some twenty thousand souls. They appeared most friendly and gave freely of the food of the land, yet they were stone-age men and as primitive as the people among whom we now live and work.
Several times during the intervening months we have wanted to visit these tribes, but were requested not to make the trip until it was possible to travel with a police escort. In October, seven months after the discovery, we learned of a police patrol going to that valley, and so accompanied them.
Early in October, we left our base here at the Lakes with the party. Having crossed the corner of the Lakes, we proceeded up a small river the whole of the first day. The second day we traveled through swamp and long grass. That day I saw more mud than I had ever seen before! We waded the whole day through mud to our knees, and several times I fell waist deep into it. The second day we began gradually to ascend the mountains. Much of that day there was no trail, so we traveled in the bed of a river. Fortunately, the water was low or we should have had to wait until it receded. The third day we reached the summit of the mountain where we found a native fetish. It was crudely made of wood, and on it were placed various native articles. There were three stone axes tied to the structure, and each pointed to the East. It was explained to be the border or dividing line between two tribes, and there were evidently few border violations. Would it not be well if European frontiers were as carefully observed, and as simply guarded?
Almost the whole of the fourth day, as we descended the other side of the mountain, we were obliged to follow another river bed. The past two days we had traveled through an area entirely unpopulated. However, on the fifth day we began meeting a few of these new people, and later in the day entered the large valley of Kemandora. In order to do so, we were obliged to cross a number of swift streams which we barely managed with the assistance of long ropes stretched from one shore to the other. That evening we camped in one of the most populous places of the valley.
Here I learned a few interesting things about these people. I had just made camp that evening when I saw four men running through the village with the ever-ready bow and arrow set for action. When they stopped near my sleeping quarters I asked for an explanation. Without hesitation they revealed that they were searching for the wife of a man who had just died. They stated further that it was a practice among them to shoot to death with bow and arrow the wife after the husband's death. A boy standing nearby showed some nasty scars, saying that he had been wounded when his mother, while carrying him in her arms, had been shot to death.
Shortly after this incident, I noticed when the women of the village gave us some fruit, that several fingers of their hands were missing. Upon inquiry I learned that it was a practice among the women to cut off a finger upon the decease of a child or loved one; evidently an act of mourning, and they were very proud to show their disfigured hands. Strange people with strange customs, but nevertheless souls for whom Christ died as well as for you and me!
As the party was not continuing farther up the valley, I traveled the whole next day with my three Dyak carriers. We were very warmly welcomed as we traveled through village after village. We were given the few fruits of which the land boasts, and plenty of the ever-present sweet potatoes. Realizing that we were pressed for time and that our supplies were getting low, I left the Dyaks to rest in camp the seventh day before the long return trip.
Early that morning I continued the trek alone, yet not alone as I had two native lads as guides, and a very deep sense of His continuous presence with me. That noon I visited in the last village contacted by the party on its expedition to the valley in February. I shall never forget the view from the village built there on the edge of a mountain. I gazed miles and miles into the hinterland of unknown New Guinea, past two very high mountains and into the haze of yet distant ranges. What secret does that labyrinth of valleys, mountains and passes hold? Doubtless many, many more tribes of people yet unknown and undiscovered, stone-age men, who know nothing of an outside world, or the use of iron and steel; and worse, know not that One who died long ago to free them from their sin, superstition and ignorance. I am not a poet, nor the son of a poet, so I shall not try to give you a word picture of that scene, or the feeling that possessed me that day. I felt like one of old who, on a mountain top, deeply moved, said, "Lord, let us make here three tabernacles." I felt that I wanted to make one for the Kapaoekoes, and one for the Zoengoenoes, among whom we have now work, and yet another for the people whose village fires I could see in the distance, but who had never been visited by explorer or missionary; not actual tabernacles, of course, but centers from which the Gospel message could spread to all these people.
Would that there was as much money for missionary work as there seemingly is for scientific work and exploration! Would that there were as many truly pioneer missionaries seeking His smile of approval as there are pioneers in the field of exploration who are desirous of worldly distinction! We do not ask your assistance to discover new peoples, but we do most earnestly covet your help and prayers in endeavoring to take the Gospel to those tribes so recently discovered. Jesus said, "Other sheep I have, --them also I must bring." Will you help us to bring these so recently found to Him?

November 1940- The Pioneer

Rev. C. Russell Deibler

An American museum once spent $300,000 and wrecked a ship on an expedition sent to the Arctic to explore a mirage. Twice Peary had seen 'the white summits of a distant land, above the ice horizon'. He named it Crocker Land and later the excited Museum sent out an expedition to explore it. The leader of the new expedition thoroughly explored the area where the Land should have been. It wasn't there. He then suspected that Peary had been fooled by a mirage. He then proceeded to the point where Peary had seen the supposed land, and there it was. His glasses brought it out so clearly that he might have staked his life on its existence. A magnificent mirage.
Since being obliged to withdraw temporarily from our mission post at the Wissel Lakes in central Netherlands New Guinea, the vision that began the year and a half of arduous pioneer work there seems now to have been but a magnificent mirage. When we made our first trip to the Lakes, we visualized the day when a people from among those newly discovered tribes would have been called out for His Name. It was the vision of that day that encouraged us to continue the work amidst tremendous difficulties. Now we have had to abandon the field for a season. Those pygmoid tribes are left without a single witness of the Gospel, left to slip back into 'splendid isolation'. Went we forth to the evangelization of that field seeing but a magnificent mirage or went we forth in response to faith? We were confident that this was no fanciful mirage begotten of wishful thinking, but a glorious conquest of faith and we still believe that God has many whom He wills to save in New Guinea.
Early in '37, the Lakes were seen for the first time from the air. Later that year, the Government officials made the first overland expedition to contact these new tribes. Mr. Jaffray felt the challenge of this discovery, and, in the wake of the explorers, we went forth in response to the appeal of these new people. That first survey trip was made under unthinkable conditions. Next Mr. Post and I accompanied by three native workers and twenty Dyak carriers, moved in to possess the land. During those genesis months at great labor and expense, the Dyaks carried inland almost every mouthful of food we ate. We were obliged to build our own crude bamboo shelters to protect us from the incessant wind and rain. Acquiring the language word by word was a most tedious task. We lived on a very meager diet, and for an entire year were separated from our wives. Did we undergo the inconveniences of those months because we had seen a mere mirage? No, we persevered in the work knowing that our labors in the Lord would not be in vain. During our early months there, our ministry was almost entirely among the Kapaukus in the environs of the Lakes. Almost every passing month, brought us contacts with and news about other new tribes in the hinterland. Shortly after the discovery of the Kemandora valley, inland from the Lakes, we visited the Zonggoenoe tribe which inhabits that populous area. While on that trip, we met with Dani tribesmen, whose village fires we could see in an adjoining valley, but whom we had not the opportunity of visiting. Looking east of the Lakes, one sees the country inhabited by the Mappia tribe, while farther north is the land of the Jabbis. A young lad once visited us from another populous valley to which no outsider has ever gone. Standing in front of our bamboo home at the Lakes, one can count any number of mountains etched on the horizon, which have never known the tread of a white man's foot, and on which slopes there must be many yet undiscovered tribes. And what shall we more say? Time would fail us to tell of the great field of New Guinea which we have seen in part. No mere mirage this but a tremendous challenge to your faith and mine. A great and effectual door to these Christ-less millions was momentarily opened, but now is closed. Our faith in a God of miracles and not mere mirages will again swing widely open that door. When the day is so far spent, and the night, in which no man can work, is so close at hand, dare we sin in ceasing to pray that yet a single opportunity to hear the Gospel will be afforded these long neglected tribes?

In the midst of our disappointment at being obliged to withdraw from New Guinea, comes now the heartening news that we may be permitted to return there shortly. How our hearts thrill at the thought of again representing Christ among the Kapaukus. We realize that we shall have to lay again the foundation of the work there. Our crude bamboo houses will have fallen in ruins. We may not have again the help of the Dyak carriers. We are looking to the Lord to provide a twin-motor plane which is now indispensable to the reopening of the field. Food supplies and workers could be flown inland to the Lakes, and with the aid of the plane, we could parachute supplies to workers in the outlying, almost inaccessible posts. We could then begin work in the Swart and Baliem river valleys, which are also recent discoveries. God grant that this may prove to be no idle dream, but the fulfillment of the desire to see the miracle work of salvation, as we have witnessed it among the Dyaks of Borneo, wrought also among the New Guinea tribes. We believe that a day is fast approaching when missionary work will be well nigh impossible. If New Guinea is to learn of Christ it must be soon. We dare not neglect this last opportunity of taking the Light of the Gospel to those who still sit in stygian darkness.

November 1940- The Pioneer
Mrs. C. R. Deibler

While waiting here in Makassar until it should be possible for me to join Mr. Deibler in the work there in New Guinea, I received many interesting letters from him giving vivid word pictures of his surroundings, the people among whom he was working and the struggles he was having in learning their unwritten language. I looked forward with longing to the day when I could join him and share those experiences about which he had written. Over a year passed before this desire was granted. We were permitted to labor together there only three months before our withdrawal was necessitated. Once again we find ourselves in Makassar, looking back upon our experiences shared there. Yes, but more than that we are looking forward to that day when again we shall be in our home and among our people at the Wissel Lakes. Kindly permit me to share with you a few of these reminiscences.
It is not difficult to forget the hardships of a journey when that journey's end is attained, but the images of those who have pled with you to remain in their midst learning their language, teaching them the Gospel message, the realization of their great need and utter destitution of their souls without a saving knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ, all these have become the memories from which there is no liberation.
After a few weeks of ardent language study, I was permitted to accompany Mr. Deibler and two of the student workers on an itinerary trip to the headwaters of several rivers which feed the Lake. Our first stop was on the opposite shore of the Lake in an outpost manned by one of the student workers. The men of the village gathered on the shore to award us a royal welcome but the women and girls were noticeably absent. We learned that most of the women were out in canoes fishing for shrimps, but had they been present, they would not have taken part in welcoming us to their village. A few hours later, when we saw them returning from their fishing, I walked down to the lake shore and called, "Friend ! Come. We want to talk with you!" Some of the women were very much alarmed by my presence there, so they drifted about in their canoes a few yards from shore hoping I would grow weary and leave. However, I stood my ground and when they saw that others were able to pass by me without harm they gathered courage, and soon all the canoes were brought to shore. We invited them to come to the house after they had eaten. The worker had always found the men friendly and teachable, but the women scurried out of sight when they saw him approach. We could only hope that their curiosity would draw them to the house that all our expectations they responded to our invitation and before the sun had set nearly every woman in the village had gathered in front of the house, each bringing her gift of sweet potatoes or live shrimps. A few of the bolder ones ventured to touch my hand just to see what that white skin was like ! Their fears dispelled that was the beginning of a ministry among the women of the village.
Continuing on to headwaters of the first river, we found the largest village we have ever seen among the Kapaukus, consisting of some fifty houses and approximately three hundred people. Both men and women of this village were very friendly and they pled with us to remain with them, pointing out several sites where we could build ourselves a house and cultivate our own potatoes. They were so friendly we were loathe to leave them. After telling them the Gospel story in their own tongue, we left promising to return shortly and teach them further. Frequently, during these months that have passed since that promise was made we have thought of those people and of our inability to fulfill that promise. W e earnestly pray that God will enable us to return shortly to those who yet sit in darkness.
During the ensuing days, we traveled to the headwaters of the adjoining river. Rarely were we able to overtake these evasive tribesmen whom we sighted along the river's edge. However, at the headwaters of that river the people were very friendly and pled with us to build ourselves a house in their village and teach them more of the Great Father above. Our only answer to their pleas was, "We go now. In the future, someone will come to teach you. Meanwhile, don't forget this story ! Don't forget !" Even though their hearts are open and they are eager to hear the Gospel story, 'how can they hear without a preacher' ?
"Thou shalt not be afraid ...... for the arrow that flieth by day." Many times during the days that followed as we wended our way up the river into the third valley, this verse was brought to mind. Here the natives were neither afraid nor friendly, but were openly hostile and gestured with their bows and arrows for us to keep moving; we were not to trespass in their land. Contrary to their wishes, we drew the canoe up to the shore and talked with them in a friendly manner trying to win their confidence. When all other arguments failed, the Kapauku chief. who was accompanying us would wave a hand in my direction and state, "This is a woman from the outside world, have you seen her ?" "What ! A woman from the outside world ? Such things just don't exist ! That's a funny looking man !"
One old man asked. "Are you a woman from the outside world ?"
"I am."
He wrinkled up his nose in scorn and said, "You aren't ! !"
I wasn't accustomed to defending myself on that score so I could only lamely protest that I was. After we had fully won their confidence, our chieftain friend would tell them that we meant no harm, but had come to teach them of the 'Great Father above' and then in his own eloquent manner he preached to them all the Gospel that he himself knew. The intensity of interest and eagerness to hear more that was manifest in their faces stirred our hearts. While the chief told them all that he had heard from our lips, we sat silently praying that God, through His Holy Spirit, would cause them to understand, and that the 'entrance of His Word', so simply given, would bring light into their darkened hearts.

It was with reluctance and deep regret that we left those people, who had pled with us to stay and tell them more of our God. Having been obliged to withdraw so soon after returning to our headquarters at the Lakes we never again had the opportunity of making a second itinerary into that area. Those people yet await the return of the messenger of the Gospel. While we lament the fact that those tribes have had an inadequate opportunity of understanding the Message, having heard it only once, there are still others in inland New Guinea who have not had even the first witness. What joy will be ours when we can again return to our home and our people at the Wissel Lakes. Some would think them coarse, and their manners repulsive but by faith, we see them as 'treasures of darkness', 'bright gems for His Crown'.