Chapter 8 Johan: New Desires

Yvonne threw up her hands in mock dismay as thirteen children swarmed towards her from their schoolhouse. It was time for them to play outside and they desperately wanted to play ‘stuck in the mud’ with Yvonne. As they surrounded her, she couldn’t help but grin as they started to organise themselves for their game.

Yvonne remembered her own childhood, just before the Great Suffering. She and other children her age had been taught this same game by a kindly older lady who had been killed when the looting started, along with many others in her town. Yvonne wondered when she would be raised and where she would be placed. But now a boy was pulling her by the hand and Yvonne snapped out of her memories.

“Look at them playing,” said Johan from the ladder that reached up to where Yan was arranging new straw on a thatched roof. “They will never know war, or hunger and abuse. Doesn’t that make you wonder?”

Yan paused his work and looked down on the playground.

“But they will need to learn to love one another,” replied Yan. “And that can only be learned through relationships and everything that goes along with them.”

Johan looked up at Yan, wiping sweat from his brow.

“Yes, but doesn’t it make you wonder why we had to suffer so much before coming here? I don’t understand why God couldn’t just make it all like this in the first place.”

Sensing Johan’s need to talk, Yan settled himself on the roof near the ladder.

“The Previous Ages were a time of multiplication of the species on the earth, and the desires we had were designed to ensure that the population increased. These desires were essential to produce great diversity and ensure that each person and creature was a unique individual. But the desires to procreate and protect ourselves, our families and our communities could become twisted and be used in the wrong way. That’s what caused much of the pain and suffering that you and many others experienced. Now that God has brought that time to an end, the desires in our resurrected bodies are of a different nature. We do not need to procreate or protect our own interests as we once did.”

“So is that why I’ve felt no desire for sex since coming here?” asked Johan, relieved to be able to ask Yan about a matter that had been troubling him.

“Yes, on the New Earth our resurrected bodies do not drive us toward sex anymore.”

“Can I tell you something?” asked Johan quietly, glancing around to check nobody was within earshot.

“When I was a soldier, I went into the city...”

Yan nodded.

“My comrades and I…, well, we went to a house.” Johan eyes were fixed on the ground.

“There were girls there. And I had never… you know... I went along with it. We all did. I paid the girl and…. I felt sick afterwards. Not because of her, but because it felt so cheap and meaningless. I think about her sometimes.”

“Johan, thank you for telling me. The way you felt shows that you were open to your conscience. Did you learn anything else?”

Johan held tight to the rungs of the ladder and avoided Yan’s eyes as he took a deep breath and continued.

“I wanted to be with someone, I guess. I wanted human touch – one that wasn’t violent. I wanted a woman’s touch. But I was just one in a long line of soldiers and she touched me because I paid her. At that moment it felt good, but afterwards I felt I had degraded what human touch really means. If we had been in love and just the two of us, it would have been so different.”

“I understand,” said Yan quietly. “It is a hard thing to recognise, but you have seen clearly how this was not the right place to fulfil your natural desires. It was loving relationships and real feelings that made sex so enjoyable and fulfilling in the Previous Age.”

“Yes, and I am sorry for it,” said Johan, looking back into Yan’s face.

“Listen, Johan. This is part of the process. Our experiences help us learn and recognise what is good. When we see clearly, we can face up to our regrets and we can let them go. We are all loved, and nothing we did is held against us. God keeps no records of such things.”

“But when he sees me, doesn’t he see the things I’ve done?”

“He does not bring them to mind, but he is aware of the influence they have on your heart. He understands how they have affected you, but our intrinsic value is not in what we did or didn’t do. God’s love is so special that we have a special word for it – agape. It’s hard to describe in words, but this divine love heals, restores, reconciles and redeems all who embrace it. When we come to realise that we are held in agape love, we change – sometimes quickly, more often slowly. It depends how open our heart is. Agape love comes to us in many ways and forms. It doesn’t demand to be worshipped but always seeks to gently nurture us.”

Yan reached down and put an arm around Johan’s shoulder as he digested these words.


Snack time meant a generous mix of fruit and nuts and Eric sidled up to Yvonne to enjoy his portion.

“Yvonne?” asked Eric, squinting up at her. “Gerty’s big brother, Johan. He’s nice, but… he seems sad sometimes. He plays with Gerty, but he never joins in the games with us.”

Yvonne smiled down at Eric and ruffled his hair.

“You know what?” she said. “Some of the grown-ups have seen some awful things in the Previous Age. Do you remember, we learned about that in school? Most of you kids don’t remember much about the Previous Age, because you came here when you were so young. But the grown-ups still think about what happened and often struggle to understand it.”

“He seems jealous of you, Yvonne.”

“That’s very perceptive of you. What makes you think that?”

“I sometimes see him watching you when you play with us. When you laugh with us, I see his face. He stares at you looking a little cross.”

“So why do you think he might be jealous, Eric?”

Eric took another handful of nuts and berries, chewing them thoughtfully. Before finishing his mouthful, he looked back up at Yvonne.

“He wants to laugh like you do.”

“Ok, so why do you think he doesn’t?”

Eric put his bowl down. “I think he is still sad about what he saw before.”

“Why do you think that might stop him having fun with us now?”

“Well, maybe he is thinking that the past is more real than where we are now?”

Yvonne was startled by Eric’s simple but profound insights. Looking up, she could see Johan and Yan thatching the roof of one of the houses nestled on the hillside.

“So, Eric, what do you think would help Johan?”

“If he could believe that everything will be made right, then the hurt of the Previous Age might go away.”

“Will everything be ok here?”

“Well, Jesus and all his friends like you are helping everyone find the love inside them that can make life better for everyone.”

Yvonne was delighted with how much Eric understood. He had died in infancy on a cotton plantation in the late nineteenth century. His parents had been slaves.

“What do you remember about your time in the Previous Age?” asked Yvonne.

Eric furrowed his brow.

“Not very much. Men on horses. I was scared of them because they beat us. And I remember singing together with my family, and Mumma and Papa swinging me as I held their hands.”

“It’s so good that you can be with your Mumma and Papa again.”

“Yes! Jesus resurrected them so that we can all be here together.”

Eric stood up and smiled at Yvonne.

“Can I go now?” he asked sweetly.

“Of course you can. Thank you for the good chat.” 

Eric skipped over to Gerty and sat down to join in comparing the animals they’d seen that day.



“Not like that,” said Johan. “Like this.” He dug deep into the stack of straw and twisted the fork, pulling out an impressive amount.

Eric pushed in his fork and lifted out a tuft which promptly fell apart and floated off in the breeze.

“No! You must twist the fork! Twist the fork!” Johan was now yelling. “All this spare straw needs sorting out.”

Eric waited for Johan to attack the stack of straw again before turning to Gerty.

“Why is he so bossy? Is he always like this?”

Gerty checked her brother wasn’t watching and then nodded. “He sometimes shouts at home as well.”

Johan turned back to the two children. “Try again, then!” he ordered.

Eric dug in his fork, twisted it and successfully hoisted a golden clump of straw into the air.

“Ok,” said Johan. “Now spread it like I did.”

Doing his best to lower his straw to the ground, Eric held the fork in a horizontal position while Gerty instinctively helped him by removing the straw with her hands.

“No, Gerty! Leave him alone. How will Eric learn if you help him?”

Gerty sighed and stepped back. Eric spread the straw as he had been told and looked back at Johan, searching for approval.

“Ok,” said Johan. “And again.”

“So, what makes him so angry and why does he shout so much?” Eric asked Gerty as they walked home together, once Johan had called the work day over.

Gerty thought for a minute. “I think it’s because he was in the army. War broke out when he was only fifteen and he wanted to be like the other boys in our village who signed up for the infantry. His training was very tough, but it taught him how to fight. Maybe he thinks that all teaching should be like his army training.”

“We had angry men like him where I grew up. They shouted at us from horses and had whips. I hated them.”

“Do you hate Johan?” asked Gerty.

“No, I don’t hate him. I have seen him be kind to people too. I think it’s just when he is doing things for the village he feels he needs to shout and be bossy. I like him when he isn’t shouting.”

“Ok, I won’t say you said anything, but I will try and talk to him later.”

Eric was thankful for Gerty’s courage and her willingness to confront her big brother.


“How do you think Eric did today?” asked Gerty over the table.

Johan looked up from his plate, knife and fork in hand.

“He did fine. He’s a hard worker.”

“I think he is too, but… it was his first time today and you were really hard on him.”

Johan looked startled. “Was I?” He sat back in his chair, recalling the events of the afternoon.

“You are such a kind person,” Gerty reassured him. “But Eric felt a little sad about how you were angry with him.”

Johan sat forward again, and Gerty was pleased that he seemed to be listening.

“I guess I never thought about it. I’m glad you’ve said something. I don’t want to discourage Eric. I just want everyone to do a good job. I think maybe I shout at him because that’s how I was taught in the army.”

“I thought so,” said Gerty. “I remember watching you on parade in the town square. The man shouting at you all frightened me.”

Johan smiled through sad eyes.

“He was shouting at us to help us learn how to stay alive. He was shouting to make us into better soldiers.”

“But everyone is safe here, aren’t they?” replied Gerty. “And we have time to learn.”

“I guess you’re right. Still, we need to have focus and discipline.”

Afterwards, Gerty thought about what her brother had said but decided that she didn’t completely agree with him.

As the weeks passed, Eric steadily improved in his thatching skills and joined Johan and several other men and women roofing new structures around the village.

One lunchtime, Eric was sitting with Gerty and Johan enjoying some of the fresh bread made at the bakery that morning.

“You’re dropping crumbs everywhere,” Johan remarked impatiently as Eric tucked into his currant bun.

Eric glanced up, embarrassed, but no longer surprised by his brusque manner. Brushing the crumbs from his shirt, he summoned up the courage to speak, “But Johan, we are outside.”

Johan was not used to Eric talking back. Johan cleared his throat, got up and walked away.

“He’s always telling me off!” said Eric indignantly.

“I know,” acknowledged Gerty. “I did try to speak to him about it, but he doesn’t seem to realise that he is harder on you than on anyone else.”

“Yoo-hoo,” called Yvonne, calling from across the field

Eric and Gerty waved back.

Eric jumped up as he recognised his father, Ebo, walking with Yvonne. “Come and see our roof!” 

“Oh, it’s spectacular!” marvelled Ebo. “Great job, son, and well done Gerty, too. Did you do this one yourselves?”

“Johan did help a little,” admitted Eric, just as Johan rounded the corner of the building having heard voices.

Ebo greeted him with a broad smile. “Johan, I see you are teaching these young ones very well.”

Johan did not return the greeting.

Noticing the awkwardness between the two men, Yvonne was quick to add, “I think you’re all doing a great job.” 

“And what are you doing today?” Johan asked, directing his question to Yvonne.

“We’re looking at some fields to the west. They are ready for more crops to be planted, and we have received a shipment of seeds from Zion. Ebo is going to head up the cultivation project.”

“You will be in charge, Pa?” asked Eric, with pride in his voice.

“I guess I will be,” said Ebo. “But it’s a team effort.”

“Yes,” added Johan. “A team effort.”

“What is it with him?” asked Ebo, as he and Yvonne continued back to the village hall.

A familiar and warm feeling came over Yvonne. She knew it was Ruach. A picture formed itself in her mind. She saw Johan as a boy, wearing the uniform of a Nazi soldier. Before him a children’s book lay open with grotesque racist illustrations on its pages. In that moment Yvonne understood how Johan was still influenced by the racist culture that had shaped him from an impressionable age.

Ebo knew the answer to his question. Although he tried to quell his anger, part of him was seething that even here on the New Earth he still faced prejudice. He didn’t want to voice his suspicions and create problems in the village. For the most part he and his family felt welcomed and accepted.

Yvonne sensed Ebo’s mood.  “Some folk still have so much to work through.”

“Well, I guess that’s just fine. And what about you, Yvonne? What do you have to work through?”

Yvonne was surprised by sarcasm in Ebo’s tone. “I would like to tell you, but I don’t want to give you defensive answers.”

Ebo was stopped short. He shook his head and turning to face Yvonne, he saw empathy in her eyes.

“Oh, I am sorry.”

He shook his head again. “Yvonne, I am sorry. I’m not asking you to make everything right, but I have to tell you, I am feeling angry.”

“I know,” said Yvonne. “I hear you.”

The two sat and talked, Ebo shared his frustrations. When the conversation reached a plateau, Yvonne reached down and took Ebo’s hands.

“Come, let’s go and see the seed delivery.”


Johan woke with the birdsong as he did every morning. His village, surrounded by pine forest, was shrouded in a delicate pink mist. Though he had now been living there for three years, the peaceful atmosphere that reigned each day was still striking. Johan enjoyed his job, which had evolved from thatching into general building maintenance.

When he woke, he loved to get out of bed and do one hundred press-ups, feeling his body’s natural strength. This was part of his normal routine, but today was a special day. It was three years to the day since he had been reunited with his sister. 

Gerty was now ten years old, counting from her birth in the Previous Age and including her years after resurrection. She benefitted from having grown up mostly on the New Earth and possessed a wisdom that constantly surprised Johan.

On awakening, Gerty laughed with delight to see the special cake that Johan had made her sitting proudly on the kitchen table.

“It’s our three-year rebirthday!” he announced.

“It doesn’t feel that long at all!”

“That’s true. Time here is so different.”

“What are you doing today?” asked Gerty, demolishing a large slice of cake.

“Varnishing the wheel at the mill. How about you?”

“We’re continuing our experiments with crossbreeding tomato plants at school. Eric has some really interesting new ideas to try.”

“Is that right?” said Johan.

“You always do that!”

“Do what?”

“Be sarcastic when I mention Eric! Why can’t you just accept him?”

Johan felt sad that he had disappointed Gerty, but he couldn’t deny that he still had negative feelings about Eric and his family.

“Ok. It’s our special day today and I want to show you that I’m listening.”

There was a polite knock at the door, and when Johan swung it open, there stood Yan with a backpack full for the day of work ahead.

“Varnishing day!” Yan announced.

“Right,” said Johan. “Let’s go.”

Gerty came to the door and waved them off on their way to the river. The village was bustling into life with people setting off for work, and the narrow streets were filled with the sound of friendly chatter as people stopped to greet their neighbours. 

“Hello, you two!” called a familiar voice to their right.

Yvonne was carefully descending a steep path with a wheelbarrow full of fresh compost. She had spent several hours the previous evening in deep meditation thinking about Johan’s past and was pleased to see him.

“Hi Johan, shall we get some lunch together sometime this week?”

Johan was a little taken by surprise, but he felt a great affection for Yvonne and was pleased to be asked.

“Yes, I’d like that very much. What about tomorrow?”

“I’ll come and find you at the mill at midday.”

“Ok, right…” Johan suddenly felt a little self-conscious and was unable to finish his sentence.

“See you both soon!” chirped Yvonne as she headed off in the direction of the plant nursery.

Yan slapped Johan on the back. “You ok?” he chuckled.

“Yes, it’s just… I haven’t been asked to spend any time with her before.”

“Ah, she’s great. You’ll get along very well.” 

Soon the two men were happily coating the wheel at the watermill with varnish made from tree sap. Some of the bakery team arrived to fetch freshly ground flour from the mill and several conversations were struck up between the various working parties.

Further up the river a group were partly damming the flow of the water to create a swifter current. The sound of people singing together drifted back downstream. The day was warm, but a gentle breeze kept the air fresh. The work was hard, but everyone enjoyed the physical activity and the power of their resurrection bodies.