In 1937, J. F. Wissel, surveying for an oil company above the central highlands of New Guinea, was startled by what he observed in an area of beautiful lakes. His discovery spurred Dr. J. W. Cator to blaze a primitive trail to establish a government post there. Amazingly, they found countless settlements of people of stone-age civilization, unacquainted with the outside world. “Thanks to men seeking gold and oil in New Guinea, these people have been located,” C&MA missionary R. A. Jaffray exulted. “Shall not the missionary at once go up these trails and seek the lost?”
By 1938, Jaffray was in New Guinea, unexpectedly encountering Dr. Cator, the pioneer of the trail to the now-named Wissel Lakes! At year’s end, Jaffray envisioned missionary Russell Deibler and helpers “now on that dreadful trail—we are praying—that God will watch their steps and keep their feet from stumbling, lest they dash their foot against a stone.”
A dreadful trail it was. Deibler’s narrative is harrowing—he struggled through jungle, forded rivers, crept along precipitous mountain ledges and plodded through hip-high mud. After 18 days, Deibler, 30 pounds lighter, ended the arduous trek on January 13, 1939. Sharp rocks had shredded his shoes. He casually reported, “I was obliged to seek treatment for my feet.”
That treatment required his wife, Darlene, to remove layers of rotting tissue, enabling the application of healing ointment to the raw, throbbing flesh. One morning, Jaffray, a veteran missionary familiar with extremes of hardship, walked in “and saw Darlene tearing the dead tissue off her husband’s feet. Jaffray, sickened by the sight, hurried out of the room,” and shut himself away to write: “This morning I looked at the bleeding feet of a missionary, saw his wife tending them, saw the blood and pus running from them and thought, What a nauseating sight! But as I walked from that room, the Lord kept saying to me, ‘Oh, but to me they are beautiful feet!’
“Then I remembered, ‘How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him that bringeth good tidings’ [Isa. 52:7, KJV], good tidings to men and women like those in New Guinea who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death. Someday, it will all be over. Someday the tired, bleeding feet of the missionaries will for the last time cross over those broken-bottle limestone mountains. Someday for the last time they will go down into one of those newly discovered valleys. Someday for the last time they will speak the message of redemption through Jesus Christ our Lord. Some time the last one will turn to Jesus. Then the clouds will part and our Savior will be there.”
Neither Jaffray nor Deibler would see the result of their vision and sacrifice—the thrilling story of Alliance missions in West Papua, Indonesia, on the island of New Guinea. Shortly after the seed of the transforming gospel was planted, war swept though Asia. Both men died in a Japanese interment camp.