SALT LAKE CITY — Fans looking forward to "The Other Side of Heaven 2: Fire of Faith" have President Thomas S. Monson, former president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, to thank for the film.
Actually, you can thank President Monson, who died in early 2018, for both movies and a series of books authored by Elder John H. Groberg, who served in the First Quorum of the Seventy before he was granted emeritus status in 2005.
When he was called as a general authority in 1976, Elder Groberg said then-Elder Monson of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles encouraged him to write about his missionary experiences in Tonga. If he didn't, it would be a lost chapter of church history, the apostle said.
Elder Groberg said his only motive was obedience. He never imagined his efforts might result in one film, let alone two.
"That's why I wrote the books. I did not intend to write them, I was asked to write them by President Monson. In fact, he insisted," Elder Groberg said. "I appreciate President Monson insisting that I write the books and I appreciate the fact that I had the sense to be obedient. We hope it will do some good."
This story behind the story was one of a few insights Elder Groberg shared with the Deseret News before Friday premiere of "The Other Side of Heaven 2: Fire of Faith."
Elder Groberg started with a book titled "In the Eye of the Storm," published in 1994. It recapped his days as a young missionary and in 2001 debuted on screen as "The Other Side of Heaven."
When Elder Groberg showed the manuscript to then-Elder Monson, the apostle said there was only one problem — he left out his experiences as a mission president.
"I misunderstood," Elder Groberg said. "He said, 'You need to write another one. I will give you a couple of years.'"
In the new film, Elder Groberg, played again by Christopher Gorham, is called as mission president of the Tonga-Fiji Mission and takes his wife Sister Jean Groberg (played by Natalie Medlock) and children back to the islands. Russell Dixon plays a young Elder Monson and Joe Folau returns as Elder Groberg's old friend and mission companion Feki.
Elder Groberg has viewed small parts of "Fire of Faith" but not the entire movie, and wasn't present during the filming, although he did make a cameo appearance. He acknowledged the challenges of making a book into a movie, but trusts director, producer and writer Mitch Davis will follow his charge to stay close to the book, Elder Groberg said.
"I was pleased with the first one and felt they did a good job of making it a compelling story and capturing the spirit of the thing," Elder Groberg said. "I was sorry they had to leave out so much but that's the way it is."
Even so, with the Disney distribution, the first film performed well in the United States and circulated the globe. It was pirated throughout South America and shown on state television in most Muslim countries, Elder Groberg said.
"After the first movie got we received thousands of letters and cards, calls from people that said that's what influenced them to go on a mission," Elder Groberg said. "I have a feeling that the same thing will happen here, not necessarily to serve missions, but to be more faithful and more prayerful, hopefully not just members of the church but people throughout the world."
In addition to influencing people around the world, Elder Groberg's missionary experiences have influenced his own family. This summer, Elder and Sister Groberg will watch four more grandchildren leave on Latter-day Saint missions, pushing the total number of missionary grandchildren to 24. They've had grandchildren serve in Fiji, Samoa and Hawaii. Now finally the 21st is going to Tonga.
Most of all, Elder Groberg hopes "Fires of Faith" will help audiences to kindle faith in God and the Savior, and to better appreciate the power of prayer, as it did with viewers of the first "Other Side of Heaven."
"We hope the same thing will happen with this one, that it will become an ambassador for faith in God, for the power of prayer and the importance of family," Elder Groberg said. "We just hope these movies will increase faith throughout the world."