There was something about Yvonne’s love of life that made Johan feel liberated. He felt free to be himself, just as she was free. The paradox of this was that this meant confusing emotions were coming to the surface. One such feeling was his complicated relationship with women. He was quick to notice that his fondness of Yvonne was a very pure feeling. He was able to identify that time alone with her did not send blood rushing anywhere. He marvelled at how clear headed this made him feel, as there was no sense of mind-games or strategy to move the relationship on toward a sexual encounter.
Johan felt elated about this, as nearly every thought he had about women in the Previous Age had a sexual connotation attached to it. Spending time around other young men in the army, he was encouraged to understand this as normal.
However, along with his relief at being able to relate to Yvonne with such clarity, he also noticed he thought a lot about his mother.
Johan’s mother was tall for women in her country. She was slight, but strong. Johan had spent nearly all his childhood in her direct care, as his father was a busy doctor across a wide district. Johan had respected his parents deeply but yearned for more affection from them. As a boy, he longed for more physical touch, but felt ashamed about it. He recalled with some difficulty the one time he hugged his mother; the day he left for the front-line. It was a stunted, awkward hug. Johan had wanted to be totally enveloped in his mother’s arms, but by then he was as tall as her and the hug lasted less than a second. Not enough time to take in the feeling of being held.
Yvonne chatted away about everything. Johan marvelled at how she could find fascination in every child, tree, animal, person. She seemed to be endlessly able to spout knowledge and insights he had never heard before. It was a relief to not feel he had to talk too much. It was enough for him to just listen and enjoy the picnic.
Yvonne spoke with unforced enthusiasm. She was delighted to be able to spend time with Johan, just the two of them. He intrigued her. She perceived that he had much going on under the calm surface but wasn’t ready to open up.
Yvonne came from the time of Great Suffering. She had been raised by a small group of women who had banded together to face the challenge of bringing up their children with their partners gone. Most children grew up without male role models because so many had gone to try and find work and resources for their families. The mother figures she’d known were brave and resilient. They had to be as many had died of diseases and starvation across the world as food and clean water had become scarce.
Only those with a strong will to live and the ability to relate to others were able to find ways through. After the immediate aftermath of the worst years, Yvonne’s family had been able to set up a farmstead. With much struggle they had established a life where livestock and crops were farmed successfully. It was during this time that Yvonne had met Thomas, Yan, Anne and Harmony and been able to help their community relocate.
She loved to be around men, having had little male company when growing up. She had come to think of Yan and Thomas as her older brothers, after all they had been through. She’d known sexual desire in the Previous Age, but it was something she had never had the chance to explore. Here on the New Earth, it was one less thing to think about and so she never missed it.
“And that is how we maintain the supply of cabbages,” Yvonne finished.
Johan’s grin cracked into a chuckle.
“You know so much!” he said admiringly.
“Well, I guess that’s what happens when you’ve lived for over a thousand years!” giggled Yvonne.
“Yes, I hear that some of you lived through an entire millennium. This intrigues me so much! How did you not go crazy?”
“Well, there was so much to do. After we had established our community, the focus became more and more on learning the ways of unfailing love. Thomas called it ‘Agape’ love. It’s a love that is divine. We grew to live immersed in it, choosing it - but it takes a process, and that takes time.”
“Did everyone learn it in your community?” asked Johan.
“Yes, but to varying degrees,” answered Yvonne. “Myself, a man called Carlos, another man called Bull, and a lady named Sylvia embraced Agape love. We were so changed that we were able to fully trust Papa God when it came to the end.”
“The end of the millennium period?”
“Yes, but more than that. The end of the entire Previous Age. The end of the Old Earth.”
“How did it end?” asked Johan, wide-eyed.
“Fire,” said Yvonne. She opened her arms out. “All-consuming fire! It was terrifying. The wall of fire was higher than any mountain. It didn’t burn things – no! It totally vapourised everything. When the people saw it approaching, they were afraid. Many cried out in horror. Carlos, Sylvia, Bull and I – well, we watched but we knew it was Papa God’s hand of mercy. We stood together and our hearts were ready to transition.”
“Transition? Don’t you mean ‘die’?”
“Yeah, but we knew we were going to be raised. Thomas, Anne, Harmony and Yan. They had gone through it already. We trusted them so much, we knew that Papa would raise us to new bodies and the death of our flesh was by no means ‘the end’. It was exhilarating! I won’t say I wasn’t daunted by the wall of fire, but I was arm in arm with my brothers and sisters and we allowed it to take our breath and our bodies.
The worst bit was when it was getting really, really close and you knew there was no way out. For a brief moment I did feel a mixture of fear and awe and excitement. It was wild!”
“It must have been so good not to fear death. I was killed by an explosion. Didn’t hear it coming. I fell asleep in my dug-out with my friends and woke up in Jesus’ house.”
“You were in a war. Did you frequently feel afraid?”
“All the time. I saw terrible suffering. I saw men I knew have their limbs blown off, or have bullets cut their arteries and watched them bleed to death. We all expected it to happen to us, sooner or later. There was no way any of us thought we would survive the fighting. I guess we were right!”
Yvonne was touched by Johan’s reflection.
“So, the other people in your community. They didn’t learn Agape Love to the extent that you and your friends did? What has become of them?” asked Johan.
“I guess they are raised,” replied Yvonne. “They will be brought into a community where they can begin the next phase of their lives. Most of them had learned a lot, and so won’t take long to progress to Zion. I’m sure of that.”
“I wonder how long it will take me,” said Johan with an air of sadness.
“I can’t answer that,” said Yvonne. “I do think that the only way anyone can really enjoy Zion is to be completely ready. If we aren’t given over completely to the ways of Agape Love, it will ask too much of us.”
“That’s interesting,” said Johan, slightly raising one eyebrow. “It’s almost like you’re saying that it’s merciful that I am not in Zion.”
“I think so,” said Yvonne. “It would be very hard for anyone to enter Zion unless they are ready. Following Jesus means a heart that is always able to choose Agape Love, and this looks like hardship and suffering through any other lens!”
Suddenly Johan felt wonderfully peaceful. He looked around at the meadow they were in, and at the river gurgling past. Johan felt that this was exactly where he should be.
Yvonne could sense what Johan was feeling.
“You are in the best place for you, right at this moment,” she reassured.
“I believe it,” said Johan, looking back into her eyes. “For the first time I really think I believe it. It’s all a gift, isn’t it?”
“It is,” smiled Yvonne.
Each day Johan was grateful to be with his little sister Gerty, who was growing into the most amazing woman. However, Johan couldn’t shake off the thought that his parents might be raised and that he would soon see them again. His tasks and friendships gave him a great sense of satisfaction and enjoyment with his life on the New Earth, but he longed to see his mother and father.
Walking with Yan one evening, he decided to bring it up in conversation.
“I am sure that we are all supposed to be finding out who we are in ourselves for the time being,” responded Yan. “The idea is that when we do meet them again we are able to relate without the often-broken identities that were forged in the Previous Age.”
“But I loved my parents, and I am sure there was nothing broken about my relationship with them,” Johan responded.
“Even so, I think that they are finding out who they are away from being a parent, a wife, a husband, a son, a daughter…”
“What about Gerty?”
“Well, when she is fully grown, she will most likely spend some time away from you, establishing who she is away from being your sister. This is the way of life. We are each unique, it’s wonderful that we are. Papa wants us to really know, understand and accept who we are.
However, we are also part of families and communities. Much of the twisted desires in the Previous Age were down to unhealthy interdependence and attachments. We have to be free of those, so that we can relate to each other in the healthiest way possible. Like Jesus, Ruach and Papa God, they are distinct but also One. They relate infinitely well with each other, but they always retain their individual identities.”
Johan listened. What Yan was saying did make sense, but it didn’t ease his longing to be with his family.
“Your longing for your family is a beautiful thing, and they will be longing for you. But our longings must be tempered with being mature in our formation as an individual.”
“What about you, Yan? Don’t you want to see your family?”
“Yes, I do. But I am sure this will happen when it is the perfect time for all of us. When I see them, they will be ready, and I will be ready, and we will come together in the most complete and wonderful way. All the healing that has to happen will have happened because we will all have let go of that which hinders and restricts. It will be true and lasting reconciliation.”
“Don’t you get tired of longing?”
“Good question,” said Yan. “I am human, so of course my feelings and emotions fluctuate each day. I exercise my ‘trust muscles’ and have done for many centuries! This is the way I am strong in my faith that all will be well. You see, for a long time I believed and trusted Jesus before I even met him.
But then there came a day when I met him. Face to face I met him! All my faith and longing were rewarded in that moment. I know now that there are stages and seasons and ages. All things are working together to achieve an environment of Agape Love.”
“I guess I am still immature in these ways,” said Johan sadly.
“You are growing all the time, every day. Take heart my friend! The Christ in you is being revealed and the same is happening for every human being. Each one of us is going to be fully formed in Christ, when we have given up resisting, and placing our identity in anything else.”
“What if people don’t want to be formed ‘in Christ’?”
“Then they are free to resist, but each path they turn down will lead back to Christ, as Christ is the beginning and the end, the A and the Z. The very logic of reality. All that was made was made by Christ and through Christ. Trying not to be like Christ is like fighting your own breathing.”
“But so many will reject these ideas?”
“Yes, but that’s because they don’t yet understand the ‘science’ of God. Everything was made by Love and for Love. It is the very foundation of the universe. When we reject these ideas, it is because we haven’t accepted the basis on which everything stands. All resistance is just a detour on an inevitable path, seeing as Love is the very metaphysical reality that sustains all things.
Denying love is like denying you even exist. But people do it because they don’t understand Agape love. The objective of this age is to bring people to an understanding and experience of Agape love, within themselves, with their neighbour, and with God.”
Johan was quiet, piecing together Yan’s explanation. Jesus was real, that was for sure. Johan struggled to compute the idea that this humble man who had welcomed him personally to the New Earth was, also the very face of God in the flesh and the walking, talking logic of all reality. It was mind-blowing.
“It’s going to take a while to get used to these things,” encouraged Yan. “You don’t have to work it all out. We have eternity to grow in our sense of wonder and awe at the whole thing. There will always be more mystery to explore.”
“For some reason, right now,” began Johan. “I just feel incredibly grateful to be alive.”
“That’s wonderful!” exclaimed Yan with delight. “That’s what thinking upon all this does! We are filled with gratitude and gradually we aren’t longing for what is not but are grateful and joyful for what is!”
Johan felt more at peace after each conversation with Yan and Yvonne. They had a great gift of knowing how to explain things to him in a way that greatly helped him understand.
Johan’s new passion for learning was leading to some surprising new revelations. He had come to realise that he could now easily absorb new knowledge. He really enjoyed using his mental faculties and had begun to help the children in the school alongside Yvonne. He had been grateful to become reacquainted with maths and science and was relieved that resurrected brains weren’t nearly as forgetful or easily distracted.
“Language interests me,” said Johan. “We are all speaking English, which I learned in school. However, there must be other languages present on the New Earth?”
“Yes of course” agreed Yvonne. “Every tribe and tongue are present on the New Earth. For now, we are in an English-speaking community, but there are many other communities for different languages. We will all be able to learn other languages over the course of the ages here, and our brains will learn faster and more easily than in the Previous Age. This way, we get to learn about many other languages and cultures”.
“I suppose we will be able to speak every language eventually then?”
“It’s hard to imagine, but yes, this might be possible in eternity. I wouldn’t be surprised if a new common language evolves as well.”
“This brings up another question,” said Johan. “Where are we? I mean, I know we are on the New Earth, and it’s in many ways a similar planet to the old earth, but where on the face of the Earth do we live?”
“The New Earth is much bigger than the old earth and has completely new continents,” said Yan. “The climate is upgraded, and the ecosystems are thriving in new ways. The land is literally a different shape, so no one can say ‘This was China’ or ‘This is England’ or anything like that.”
“In creating the New Earth God had many objectives, and one of them was to mould a new landscape so that The New Earth could support God’s purposes for this Age,” added Yvonne.
“I like that!” exclaimed Johan. “The old has gone and the new is here, and so there is a whole new world to explore.”
“Though we currently have to move along with the community structures and cycles of Jubilees,” said Yan. “A day will come when all the New Earth will be accessible to everyone. But for now, we must live where our communities are situated, and we cannot go beyond the boundaries that have been set for us.”
Johan was satisfied with this suggestion. He knew that he could trust what Yan and Yvonne were saying. He felt confident in the timing of everything, and for now was perfectly happy to be within his community.
Harvest on the New Earth was no longer a time in late summer. The constant energy from the three “suns” meant that there was fruit and vegetables to be harvested throughout the year. The whole community would sometimes be needed to bring certain crops in to store houses when they were ready.
Johan could easily work alongside most of the villagers, but being placed in a team with Ebo, his wife Jemila and their son Eric caused Johan to clam up inside. Johan felt his tongue become tied and his words dry up. The only time he felt he could speak was to correct or reprimand the family if he observed what he viewed as sub-par work on their part.
Gerty looked on in quiet frustration at her brother’s callus attitude. To her it was clear he was still struggling with something strong inside that prevented him from relating to Ebo, Jemila and Eric.
Once again couched in the warmth and familiarity of their dinner table, Gerty reflected on the day’s work before coming to the point she wanted to make.
“You still seem different around Eric’s family. Why do you only talk to them so negatively?”
He looked over at his sister, whose face was not angry, but full of an innocence and sadness that totally disarmed his defensiveness. Johan stared into space for a few moments. He gently put down his cutlery and finished chewing his mouthful. Dabbing the corners of his mouth with a napkin, Johan’s shoulders dropped.
“What it is?” asked Gerty.
“I’ve just realised something,” her brother answered in a hushed voice. “In the Previous Age… We were told over and over that we were the ‘master race’. We were told that everyone else was inferior.”
“What do you mean?” enquired Gerty.
“I am so glad you don’t remember,” he said, pushing his plate away.
“The whole country was told that any other race was less than human. Jewish people, Romana, Asians, and Black people like Eric and his family.”
Gerty smiled awkwardly, unable to comprehend what Johan was saying. Johan clutched his hands to his chin.
“Oh, I am so ashamed. I think there is something left in my heart from what I was told. I think I view Eric’s family that way. Oh Gerty! I didn’t mean to.”
“That’s not like you?” reassured his sister. “Your best friend is Yan, and he is Asian?”
Johan was encouraged by her observation.
“Even so, I think there may be some nasty attitudes left in me.”
A new awareness had opened for Johan. Over the next few weeks, he observed his interaction with Eric and took the time to consider his inner attitudes. His feelings oscillated between prideful stubbornness, that resisted change, to disgust towards himself.
Johan learnt to be more benevolent toward Eric and slowly became better at encouraging him. Eric performed well under Johan’s improved guidance.
“Great job young man,” Johan enthused, examining Eric’s thatching.
Eric beamed with pride. Johan felt a glow of satisfaction as he saw his words nourish Eric’s sense of confidence. After lunch, they resumed work on the roof. Eric struggled to tie the right knot with the thatching thread used to keep the straw in place on the beams.
Johan frowned and an awful word ran through his mind. Eric looked worried and his head dropped in anticipation of critical words from Johan. It was at that moment a rush of determination flushed through Johan. Eric searched Johan’s face, which was clearly demonstrating something deep going on inside him.
It took a matter of seconds, but Johan’s frown melted, and a broad smile spread across his face. Johan began to laugh. He gently placed his hand on Eric’s shoulder. Crouching down to his height, Johan felt a rush of love toward both Eric and himself.
“Hey, you’re doing great. Let’s try it again, my man.”
The glow inside Johan became obvious in all he did. Everyone around him enjoyed the afternoon’s work.
At evening mealtime, Johan sat with Gerty enjoying their food.
“You look different to me,” said Gerty.
“You know I have been paying close attention to my attitudes? Today I was having a great time with Eric, until he got something wrong. That’s when a racist word came into my head. Well, I knew what it was and where it came from. I know now that I was programmed in the Previous Age to think that way. I felt disgust; I grabbed it and I subdued it. I turned away from it and disowned it.”
“Wow,” said Gerty. “This is powerful. So, something deeper inside you took that thought captive and rejected it?”
“Yes,” said Johan. “I don’t want to think that way. I totally abhor the racism in my attitudes.”
“So sometimes we can’t help but think something, but we are not our thoughts?” mused Gerty.
“Instead of acting on the thought, I threw it out and chose to affirm and encourage Eric instead. As soon as I did this, I felt so good! I am not my thoughts or my background. I am my choices. I am what I do. I can choose love and goodness.”
Gerty was overjoyed to hear this. “I am so proud of you!”
Johan blushed a little. “I am proud of me too, and it’s ok to say that! I know what I need to do.”
Johan’s face turned steely.
“I need to speak to Eric and his family.”
After clearing away the meal, Johan and Gerty left their home to go and see Eric’s family. Johan looked at his sister, who looked back and nodded her approval. Johan took a deep breath and knocked on the door.
The door was soon opened by a woman, and a man could also be seen approaching the door, wiping his hands with a cloth.
“Hello Johan,” she said brightly, “Hello Gerty! How lovely to see you both! Won’t you come in?”
“Come in, come in,” echoed the man, waving his hand as his son emerged from upstairs.
“Thank you, but I don’t feel I can until I have said what I need to say.”
Johan looked at the beautiful family looking at him in their entrance hall. “I am here to apologise.”
Johan knelt to be eye-level with the young boy, who looked a little confused.
“Eric, I want you to know that I shouldn’t have shouted at you the way I used to do.”
Eric’s face began to turn from confusing to an expression of surprise.
“I was not kind or patient with you, and you didn’t deserve to be treated the way you were. You are a hard-working, diligent, intelligent, trust-worthy young man, and I have not honoured you properly.”
Before Johan could say anything else, Eric flung his arms around Johan’s neck. “Thank you, Johan,” he cried.
Johan looked up at Eric’s parents. “I was told so many lies about other races of people. I am so sorry. I don’t ever want to think that way again. I have harboured racist attitudes toward you.”
“Come on in, won’t you?” Eric’s father, Ebo, invited again.
Johan stood up and bowed respectfully. Johan took a seat around the family table while Ebo filled a glass with fruit juice for him and Gerty.
“You know,” said Ebo, “I have to say something, too.”
Johan looked at him intently.
“We were taken by people with white skin like yours. We were beaten and put in chains. We were degraded and hated.” Ebo sat down and grasped Eric’s mother’s hand.
“I need you to know that Jemila and I died in an uprising. We hated our masters and their people. We fought back one day and were beaten to death for it. So, when we came here and had to live with white people, we also struggled with what we felt in our hearts.”
Jemila searched Johan’s face and was moved to see tears flowing from his eyes.
“We found that people here expected us to be compliant because we are black. Jesus warned each of us when we were raised that many people expect black people to forgive quickly. First, we met Yvonne and she is so lovely and different to all the white people we knew in our time. It was a first step for us to change our minds. What I am saying is, we have had to work on our attitudes as well.”
Ebo reached across the table and took Johan’s trembling hand in his. “I accept your apology. Will you accept mine?”
Johan squeezed back and looked at each person around the table in turn. “Yes. I accept yours and I renounce every lie I ever believed about other races being inferior.”
“And we renounce all hatred against white people,” said Ebo.
Eric and Gerty looked on with smiles on their young faces. Jemila laughed to see their expression.
“Isn’t it so good that these little ones will never know the burdens of the Previous Age?”
“We are all friends, right?” asked Gerty.
“Yes,” said Ebo firmly. “We are learning to treat everyone as a sibling in this wonderful new world.”