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Johanna goes to Heaven

Around the year 1978, in Walvis Bay, an African town on the Namib desert coast, lived a woman called Johanna Burden. During her life she became severely burdened; however, at the very end, her first name—meaning “Yahweh is gracious”—was fulfilled.

Johanna was the youngest of 13 children and grew up outside Upington, in the Northern Cape region of South Africa. As a young woman, she helped farm their land on Kanoneiland (Cannon Island) until she gave her heart to Jesus Christ and joined a missionary group. She eventually found herself in South West Africa (now Namibia), and there she married Godfrey, a carpenter who went on to become a builder.

At the time of this story, Godfrey worked as a foreman in a fish processing plant. He was also an active reserve soldier who fought in the Angolan Civil War. Their two boys were seven and nine years old respectively. Johanna ministered the Gospel of Christ Jesus to the native people, to people in her own community, and to Angolan refugees. She often held prayer and worship meetings and taught the children about God. I attended many of her prayer meetings in our home and in the townships.

Johanna loved God and served Him passionately.

Like most (if not all) other couples, Johanna and Godfrey had their moments of struggle and strife. However, there was something which caused a great offense in this particular woman’s heart towards her husband—something she wouldn’t forgive in her lifetime. Exactly what that offense was, only God knows.

Piecing together parts of her history, I can provide just a few sketches.

Since Johanna is no longer earthbound, my only other informant has been her ex-husband. Now over 90 years old, he is no longer silent about his past; Godfrey exhibits a crystal clear memory and readily recalls events, dates, and names, as if they recently occurred.

Johanna had experienced several trying incidents which may have led to animosity towards her husband.

Before having children, they lived on a farm outside the capital city of Windhoek. There were times when she had to deal with wild baboons while Godfrey was away. Once a wildfire threatened their farmhouse. Having to deal with severe difficulty on her own is a recurring theme in Johanna’s married life—moments in which negative feelings flourish and offenses penetrate the heart.

Two weeks after they moved to Walvis Bay, their first child was born. One and a half years later, their second boy. There were a few years when things normalized somewhat, and the family moved from a company apartment building to a house. Not long thereafter, an even nicer residence at number 13 Namib Street became their new home.

It was during her 1,000-mile journey to attend her mother’s funeral that calamity struck—Johanna, undertaking the road trip alone due to Godfrey’s work obligations, experienced the tragic miscarriage of their third child.

One cannot imagine what this loving mother went through at that terrible moment alone on the road. To make matters worse, she still needed to complete what remained of that arduous journey, attend a funeral, and undertake the return journey, despite now having to deal with the premature death of her child.

Did the stress of driving that distance by herself trigger the miscarriage? What if she hadn’t been alone? Would her precious daughter have otherwise lived? As I mull over such a frightening and traumatic experience, I realize I know far too little and cannot fully fathom her pain; however, the crucial questions are: What did she think? Did she blame her husband? Did she feel wronged? Did she take offense? If so, was this offense heaped upon prior unforgiven offenses caused by her husband or others, like her parents and siblings while growing up?

I only speculate that it was a girl she lost based on how Johanna would later, in her old age, lovingly cradle and lavish motherly affection upon my daughter’s porcelain doll, cooing over the pretty but lifeless girl. As she hugged and kissed the doll, I glimpsed her deep longing for the child she had lost that day.

Back from her mother’s funeral, the boys were cared for, and Johanna’s ministry flourished. Sadly, more desolation was just around the corner, as Godfrey repeatedly left on prolonged military warfare operations 400 miles to the north, on the Angolan border. There must have been terrible reports of soldiers maimed and dying on the front. I can only imagine that, for Johanna, these times were rife with the uncertainty and fear of her husband’s potential death in battle; the specter of raising their children alone—fatherless, penniless—hovering over her every waking moment.

In addition to his role as a corporal—appointed as his platoon’s heavy machine-gunner—Godfrey provided daily scripture reading and prayer to attentive fellow soldiers. Any day could be their last, and for some it was. He witnessed many unspeakable horrors. A few war stories which he later shared were without bloodshed, while others were gruesome and horribly sad. He experienced several near-death experiences himself. Many of his comrades died there, and those that were lucky enough to survive often suffered emotional scarring, some giving themselves over to alcohol, he later learned.

The fighting was intense, with weeks spent in enemy territory on meager rations, negotiating unknown terrain and unpredictable meetings with locals, suffering ambushes and even friendly fire. When they took breaks back at the camp, other platoon members often received letters from home but not him.

One day a package arrived containing a parcel and a letter. Inside the letter was their family photograph taken just before the war, but his wife Johanna snipped herself out of the picture. Deeply troubled by her letter and the butchered photo, he handed the men the unopened parcel of goodies and sat down to write a reply to his wife.

A few days later, on his birthday, Godfrey made the return trip home. Arriving at the station, he thought the crowd was there to greet him. Instead, they welcomed the new pastor and his family—people who were seated with him on the train. The only welcome he received was from a family friend, Julia. With grave concern she confided that something wasn’t right with Johanna, who had openly stated that her husband should have died in battle.

A sick sense of dread filled Godfrey as he realized how he’d come harrowingly close to fulfilling her wish. The rest of his platoon was killed in a landmine blast while being transported into battle—the same truck Godfrey himself would have been in . . . were it not for the fact he had spent that particular afternoon penning his reply to the disturbing letter Johanna had sent him.

Johanna had been doing a commendable job of raising the boys during his absence. She cooked delicious meals, baked perfect syrupy koeksisters and jam roly-poly, played games with her youngest son, helped her eldest with his homework, and was an attentive mother all around.

Now that their small family was reunited, Godfrey ensured they enjoyed several road-trip vacations in their customized minibus with convertible bunk beds and curtains. They camped by the sea and fished from the shore—enjoying black coffee and pan-fried fish roe—and they never missed a chance to take their boat, Old Joe, out on the lagoon for some more fishing.

At home, Johanna continued looking after the boys during the week, but on Fridays—when Godfrey returned from the factory for his weekend off—she increasingly withdrew from spending time with them all, instead staying in bed until Monday.

Recognizing this as highly concerning behavior, Godfrey insisted she fly down to Cape Town for psychiatric help. There she lodged with her older brother, Hendrik. Upon her return, when asked how things went at the clinic, she burst out laughing and said, “That man asked me questions as if I was the patient, but I put him in his place!”

Not long thereafter, Johanna nonchalantly asked her husband for a gun. She insisted, “I won’t make a mess. I’ll do it in the shed.” Her distressed husband refused.

When their eldest son was ten, the family of four moved from Namibia to South Africa, to a town called Middelburg in the Transvaal province. Although still legally married and living in the same house, husband and wife had separated in every other way that mattered.

One night, around 3 AM, Johanna and Godfrey were still awake. She announced she was going to make tea; he also requested some. She brought the tea into their spacious lounge and went to stand with her back against the wall. Unprompted, she suddenly declared she was going to sing on television and began banging her head against the wall as she sang in an entirely different voice. Turning cold with fear, her husband phoned the pastor despite the early hour. He also called his friend, Manna, as well as their family doctor.

When the pastor arrived, Johanna accused, “You came to kill me.”

When Manna arrived, Johanna declared, “You came to help him kill me.”

To the doctor, she said, “You came to help me.”

The doctor asked for a cup of tea for everyone, but Johanna would only make tea for herself and him. While she was busy in the kitchen, the men discussed a plan of action. Johanna entered with two cups of tea and sat herself down on the reclining chair.

Putting their plan into action, the three men pinned Johanna down, providing an opportunity for the doctor to inject her with a sedative. Even though the drug was administered, she brushed all of them aside as if they were rag dolls and—as if no such tussle had taken place—casually cleared the tea cups. The doctor intimated that a normal person would have been unconscious by now, but Johanna wasn’t even affected by the drug. The men came up with a new plan.

It took three additional attempts before the sedative finally took effect and an ambulance was called to take her to hospital.

Before the housekeeper came in the next morning, Godfrey heard movement inside their home. Upon inspection, he found his wife busy with chores as if the preceding night’s events were pure imagination. He asked how she got home, and she just laughed as she recounted how she’d escaped from hospital and caught a ride home with another doctor.

That night, Johanna went to sleep in her youngest son’s bed. When they again came for her, she clung onto her son, refusing to let him go. The frightened boy panicked. Her husband grabbed her, allowing his son to get away from his mother. He ran out of the house and across the vacant field to the café where they often played arcade games.

At the recommendation of a doctor, Johanna was admitted to a mental institution in Pretoria, a city 84 miles away. Although Johanna’s behavior revealed demonic manifestation, the doctors labeled it as schizophrenia.

I am the eldest of Godfrey and Johanna Newman’s two sons. In Walvis Bay, at the age of five, I had come to salvation in Jesus Christ through my mother, a vivid memory which I cherish. I still recall her, living in a separate room in our Middelburg house, using scissors to snip my dad out of a family photo. She loved my brother and I dearly. As a teenager, my dad took us to visit her in that mental institution. On Sundays I ministered to other children at church, leading them to God, praying for them to receive the gifts of the Holy Spirit. Life went on, and in 1987 I went to study Fine Arts at a university in the same city where my mother was hospitalized; however, I still had lingering questions—many.

One such question was how to obtain true healing for my mother? Medication only subdued her; hardly an adequate solution. Her life lay in ruins: no husband, no longer an active mother, no house, no home, no ministry, no friends, no community, and separated from family. She loved God, frequently praying, studying the Scriptures, and making colorful notes in her bible, yet at the same time she was tormented by evil spirits.

For a while she lived in my care in an apartment in Sunnyside, Pretoria. I was 18 and in my second year at university after having switched over to Computer Science.

Addressing those evil spirits “in the name of Jesus” did absolutely nothing. Their right to be there had not changed. Even as a Christian believer I was powerless and lacked divine authority while my mother remained bound. She clung to her hurts and blame towards my father—her twisted words urging me to find help.

I went to pastor Ed Roebert of Hatfield Christian Church and asked him what to do. Dismay overwhelmed me when this esteemed man—who led a large church of Spirit-filled believers—had no answers for me . . . not even the most basic suggestion that we should pray and ask God to show us.

I kept on seeking, asking God myself.

In a vivid dream He showed me how the evil spirit had come to torment her. She was a younger woman then, sleeping alone on a single bed. A pitch black figure silently entered the small room, twisted around the open door, and placed its pitch black hand onto her head, fingers splayed across her forehead. The hand clung to her head like a massive black spider.

Although still lacking authority to command evil to leave her, I had seen my mother’s invisible, parasitic enemy. As suspected, her affliction was spiritual, not physical or mental—although those were the outward symptoms.

Life went on, and years went by. Both my brother and I got married. Through tough times, my father, my brother, and I—along with our wives—supported my mother as best we could.

God started raising me up in spiritual matters. I learned that continued forgiveness is an essential requirement for a person to achieve and maintain a clean heart before Him—exactly as Jesus taught. I realized then that my mother had not forgiven my father (and perhaps others too) and that gave evil the right to torment her. I learned in my own life, and in the lives of those I had ministered to, just how amazing the cleansing of forgiveness is; I saw how God sets free and restores peace, joy, and often also health, often miraculously.

No longer in a mental institution, my mother lived in an elderly home where she received care and friendship. One fateful day she came to visit us. That day I was determined to share with her the message of forgiveness which the Lord had taught me: how to cleanse your heart before God by wholeheartedly writing off the hurts and wrongs of others against you—forgiving over and over until your heart is washed perfectly clean and healed, and asking God to also forgive your sins.

Helping her out of the car, she complained about how weak she was. This was one of her common complaints. The others being how tired she was, how hard she had worked, and how many years of rest she still needed. Her hair was white with age, and I linked my arm with hers to help her down the courtyard stairs. To my astonishment, I struggled to keep up with her as she dragged me along the pathway, strong as an ox! My wife had gone ahead to the kitchen to prepare tea, anticipating our ministry to my mother.

Entering our house, my mom asked for the bathroom, and I directed her. I sat down in the lounge, awaiting her return to start sharing with her the gospel of forgiveness towards my dad. Today was the day of her liberty! So sure was I of God’s truth and power to set the captives free.

When she walked past our dining table and stepped onto the lounge carpet, she exclaimed, “Oh, I’m falling!” and fell down dead at my feet. It was August 8, 2006 in Midrand, South Africa, and she was 71 years old.

I knelt down on the carpet next to her lifeless body. My wife was still in the kitchen making tea, unaware that our mother had died. I felt she needed CPR. Having watched it countless times on TV and in the movies does not train you for the real thing. Instead, I asked God to put breath into my mother’s body. Instantly she began breathing again and opened her eyes. However, when I looked into them she wasn’t there—no one was. Her body was alive, but her spirit was gone. After a short while, her breathing ceased. Again I asked God for breath, and again the Lord revived her. I still saw no spark inside her eyes. Three times the Lord resuscitated her, and three times she stopped breathing again. Then, in the Spirit, I knew by divine warning I should not ask again—it was over; she was not supposed to come back.

As I knelt there quietly next to her body, as clear as if He was sitting in our lounge, God spoke:

Johanna Newman is with Me.

Although pleased at realizing her eternal status with God, I pondered this. Then I asked the Lord how it’s possible that she was with Him, knowing she had died hating my dad. Don’t get me wrong, I was elated knowing she was with God! However, in that moment, it was crucial for me to gain spiritual understanding.

Instantly and clearly God replied:

She has had her punishment.

At the very same moment He gave me revelatory knowledge and brought to mind a Scripture. At once I knew why—for thirty to forty years—she had suffered hell on Earth: She had refused to honor Christ who had forgiven her; refused to forgive my dad as Christ had forgiven her. Instead, she cut his picture out of our family photos, believed blatant lies about him, spoke ill of him, and held onto past offenses. She should have written them off . . . should have had God heal her heart . . . should have loved her husband.

The joy which leapt up inside me regarding God’s gracious salvation of my mother hasn’t left me since. I am forever grateful that He snatched her away from the grip of evil and took her to heaven to be with Him.

The Apostle Paul wrote the following after an incident of sexual sin in a community . . .

[you…] are to deliver such a one to satan for the destruction of the flesh, that the spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus.

1 Corinthians 5:5 — World English Bible

Jesus had the following to say regarding unwillingness to forgive . . .

“His lord was angry, and delivered him to the tormentors, until he should pay all that was due to him. So my heavenly Father will also do to you, if you don’t each forgive your brother from your hearts for his misdeeds.”

Matthew 18:34 & 35 — World English Bible

That day the Lord gave me a deep understanding of the way He had made to free His people from eternal hell—even His disobedient and sinful children. I clearly saw God’s incredible love and mercy in it, and I took great joy in His ways. Even though decades long, Johanna’s suffering was relatively short compared to an eternity in hell which she was saved from. Had she forgiven others like Christ forgave her, she would have been free sooner, and all our lives would have been richer and fuller for it. None of that mattered anymore. She was eternally free, beyond the grasp of any evil, forever saved, and in God’s holy presence.

The emergency medic declared her dead and took her body away.

A few days later, while driving to a client, the Lord spoke to me out of the blue again:

Johanna Newman is with Me and her new name is Miriam.

I was eager to return home and research the meaning of her new heavenly name.

Receiving even more divine confirmation that my mother was with God was truly amazing and heartwarming! Her new name meant “bitterness,” “sea of sorrow,” or “rebellious”—which reflected her life. The name Miriam also means “wished-for-child” or “beloved,” which is how she was welcomed by God. I know the Lord has finally healed her, restored her, and given her peace. I know He did an infinitely better job of ministering to her than I could have done on her last day with us.

While she lived, I experienced times of deep sorrow, and I wept for my mom as I sought healing for her over the years. In my spiritual ignorance I had failed her. With her death, I had no sorrow but only joy—fist pumps, shouts of victory, and many exclamations of thanks to God, even to this day.

A vivid childhood memory I’ve held onto is of my mom tirelessly repeating scriptures from the booklet God’s Creative Power by Charles Capps. It dawned on me that she may have been trying to rid herself of the evil she felt  beset by. Sadly, witnessing how her life’s story played out, it’s obvious that merely repeating scriptures and positive affirmations—without actual heartfelt forgiveness—does not bring one into right-standing with God, nor does it provide the spiritual liberty and healing only He has the power to grant.

Mercifully, Miriam is now with God in heaven; not a mere superstitious imagining of heaven, but an absolute truth based on several reports which I received in person from the almighty God of that unseen realm.

But when this perishable body will have become imperishable, and this mortal will have put on immortality, then what is written will happen: “Death is swallowed up in victory. Death, where is your sting? Hades, where is your victory?”

1 Corinthians 15:54 & 55 — World English Bible

Even though a significant part of my mother’s life is a cautionary tale containing crucial lessons, she was a child of God who loved the Lord dearly. She loved her children dearly. There was a time when she loved her husband. She loved serving others, giving her time and energy in their service. Since I was there, I know. Even as a young boy I helped her prepare for prayer meetings in townships, typing up worship lyrics, and running copies on the Roneo machine.

My dad, Godfrey, still admires how Johanna loved the Lord and brought God into our lives, including his. Before her ministry was cut short, my mother’s life touched many others with God’s love and His teachings. She also touched my life, facilitating my early conversion to Christianity. She set an example for us to reach others with God’s love, to make work of it, to not just pursue our own pleasures and profits.

Likewise, my dad set a similar example to love and serve God, albeit with a different focus. Both my parents exposed us to freely associate with other races and cultures, of which there are plenty in Africa. I never grew up with a fear of socializing, eating, singing, praying, or working with all sorts of amazing people, free of class or other distinctions. Thanks to Godly parents, we learned to love freely and inclusively, like God loves everyone.

With two such believing parents, it’s no wonder my brother and I are both in divine relationship and service of God to this day, able to also share God with our spouses and children. I know for a fact that my mother has spiritual children attributed to her, and I’m one of them.

God’s goodness and love in our hearts kept us firmly on His path despite all calamities and trials over these decades, which is wonderful and miraculous.

It should be clear through this testimony that—even after salvation—work and cleansing is required every day of our Earthly lives. New Testament scriptures speak of this on several occasions. Giving our hearts to God through His Son, Jesus Christ, is not mission accomplished, but merely the crucial beginning of a fruitful, adventurous, and victorious life if we continue to work on ourselves (and others) as God teaches and leads us by His Holy Spirit.

One of my memories as a young boy is being seated in one of my mother’s classes. We occupied a room in our house where several children attended. She taught us with illustrated posters how the devil comes to dirty your heart, and how Jesus comes to clean it. Sadly, she failed to apply God’s cleansing to her own heart. Perhaps she believed—like many others I’ve encountered—that she was forgiven and perfectly clean from the day she gave her heart to God, with nothing more for her to do. Perhaps that is how she was taught in bible school.

Someone can feel abandoned, forlorn, betrayed, ignored—and take heavy offense in that emotional state. How it eats at you, gnaws at you . . . how desperate it gets while fighting alone, not receiving empathy, understanding, and help when you need it most. How that time of need stretches; the oasis—which once was you—degrading into a parched desert.

Hope wears thin while waiting on God’s love to manifest through other people. Your soul becomes tattered, like filthy threadbare clothing, leaving you destitute. Like a beggar, you wait for a meaningful handout of loving acceptance and healing help, while people pass you by. Why do they keep passing by?

You may begin to feel that the hunter-beast called hopelessness has found you; the warm breath from its gaping maw about to snuff out your feeble, flickering flame just before engulfing you in blackness.

Your outward appearance might seem fine, all good, handling it, smiling, dressed and groomed, working, moving forward day-by-day as best you can, with no one—not even your spouse—realizing your true state, and how close you are to a breakdown.

Then comes the incessant blame which your heart casts upon the people you feel should be helping, should be carrying some of your burdensome load, should be supportive and understanding, should ask how things are really going so that you have an opportunity to express what’s inside, to bring darkness into the light.

If someone with courage and wisdom would just care enough to ask with genuine interest. Will someone please just love me with God’s love—that beautiful love which leaves the ninety-nine to rescue the one? Can’t they discern the terrible battle raging inside my wounded soul?

You struggle with daily despondency when again realizing you’re on your own.

From personal experience, the only recourse is to cry out to God, baring your ailing soul to Him, and earnestly forgiving those who have failed you, ignored you, betrayed your relationship, made you feel unloved to extreme degrees, not worth their time or effort. Ask God for healing of your heart—all the while forgiving others. Then ask God to forgive your sins, because no one is without sin—as you continue to forgive that same offender. Forgive until there’s only peace, love, and joy in your heart when thinking of that person. If there are still evil, dark, or troubling thoughts about them, healing is not yet complete and your heartfelt forgiveness should be continued.

I imagine my mother’s thoughts: They would be better off without me. I’m worthless. No one will miss me when I’m gone. They will be fine without me. They don’t need me. I’m just a burden. It would be better if I die.

If I could speak to her back then with the wisdom I have now:

Mom, cry out to God for help and forgive Dad!

Mom, forgive over and over, and don’t stop forgiving Dad until you are perfectly whole—70×7!

I would share a scripture with her to explain.

Then Peter came and said to him, “Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? Until seven times?” Jesus said to him, “I don’t tell you until seven times, but, until seventy times seven.”

Matthew 18:21-22 — World English Bible

And I would further implore her.

Mom, lean on God. He walks with you. Open your heart to Him, forgive others, and repent of your sins. Ask God to heal you fully. We need you whole and healthy, Mom. We need you to be free and vibrant. You’re not a burden, you’re a blessing!

To me it seems my mother went through such inner struggles, but without the victory of forgiving her enemies, the prerequisite for being forgiven and set free by God. If only I could transfer my current spiritual wisdom forty or fifty years into her past.

She continued for decades in that state of being inwardly bruised and bleeding—her wounds left to fester. At some point her inner battle with vile demons showed on the outside . . . and it was neither pretty nor socially acceptable—it was unhealthy, sick, and certifiable.

For the rest of us life went on—visits with our mother all too infrequent and quite likely worsening her spiritual and mental troubles. How many struggling people are ignored and discarded simply because other people just carried on with their own lives? In truth, it’s not merely a lack of consideration (for others), but the result of spiritual ignorance. My dad wanted to help my mom, but didn’t know how; I eventually learned how, but much too late.

We shouldn’t be ignorant of spiritual affairs nor be unwilling to freely issue heartfelt forgiveness in every matter. Regardless of the severity of the offense or how many times forgiveness is required, we should strive to be made perfectly clean and healed. We should know that our right-standing with God absolutely depends on it. To forgive is to love as Jesus Christ loved when He forgave on the cross after being falsely accused and tortured. He forgave fully, even making us a welcome part of His family—one with His Father in Heaven—saved for eternity. Talk about fully forgiving and blessing your enemies!

Endeavor to forgive like this—readily and completely as God forgives us.

Who of us will take time out of our lives to tend to the spiritually wounded? Anyone who has taken offense, no matter how small the harm, is wounded. Any offense left unforgiven is a breached defense of the heart where fiery darts have pierced through. Let’s stop and look at the people in our lives. Do we sit with them, ask them about their struggles, and listen intently to their hearts? Do we make them feel special, loved, and cared for? Do we ask them if they’ll forgive that offensive person (perhaps that person was us)? Will we check in about the matter a few days or weeks later? Will we urge them to forgive again and again until they are healed? Will we sit and pray with them and for them?

Will the cleanliness and health of another’s heart and mind be a top priority for us, just as we know it is for our Good Shepherd? Or, when God pricks our conscience about someone else’s well-being, will we give Cain’s answer: “Am I my brother’s keeper?” We’ll hopefully not give God such a blatantly rebellious answer, but our generally self-centered lives and lack of care speaks volumes. Rarely do we realize that inaction has the power to ensure evil pervades that person’s life and legacy, destruction rippling outward to many in their circles, possibly across years and generations.

A sobering thought is that over the course of 40 to 50 years, not one person helped my mother become spiritually free, healed, whole, and restored. No amount of church or prayer-meeting attendance drove out the evil. Just being a Christian was not enough; God expected her to take action, to express loving forgiveness, setting her offenders free as His Son came to forgive and set sinners free.

I was too late to help my mother, but I’ve been helping others.

Believers have all been given the calling, divine gifts, and the Holy Spirit through the victory of Christ Jesus.

He said to him again a second time, “Simon, son of Jonah, do you love me?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I have affection for you.” He said to him, “Tend my sheep.”

John 21:16 — World English Bible

The Son of God commands His followers to tend His sheep. He means that in every sense—including the spiritual state of their hearts and our own, since we’re also His sheep—and it should be done prayerfully and under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, who grants loving compassion and wisdom according to His will.