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With His Sights on Eternal Life

February 11, 2016 by

On February 8, 2016, Johnny Fransham passed away at the Darvell Bruderhof, in Robertsbridge, England. He was 67.

As Bishop to the five European Bruderhof communities for the last ten years, he was dearly loved by the congregations he served. He was also greatly appreciated by the many people who knew him from his speaking engagements at schools across southeast England.

John Wallace Fransham was born on March 20, 1948, in Clarkesville, Georgia (USA). At the time, his parents were members of Macedonia, an interfaith cooperative. Earlier, his father’s search for a just society had led him to be imprisoned as a conscientious objector to war, and then to China as an aid worker with an ambulance unit. In 1954, the family moved to the Woodcrest Bruderhof, in upstate New York.

Hundreds turned to Johnny and his wife Anna Regula (known as Regi) for personal advice and encouragement – from teenagers and young couples to the elderly. He always passed on his conviction that a relationship to Jesus was what every person needed.

Johnny and Regi Fransham

He himself was no stranger to suffering. Johnny and Regi lost their fourth child, Johann, who was stillborn in 1980. But they used this experience to comfort and counsel other bereaved parents over many years.

Another tragedy occurred when Johnny was only four years old. His father was backing up a truck of firewood, and hit Johnny’s younger brother, Nicholas, who died. The accident could have torn the family apart, but it didn’t. His parents’ grief, and their insistence that forgiveness was the only way toward healing, instead knit the family together deeply.

The power of forgiveness always inspired Johnny. In 2008, he helped start Breaking the Cycle in the UK, an educational programme that counters violence by promoting forgiveness in secondary schools. Working together with teachers, police officers, and a dedicated team of speakers, he wove the story of his parents into his message, touching the lives of many students.

His dedication to children and families prompted him to speak frequently on the themes of marriage and parenting, including at Talk Marriage, an event held in London in 2012.

In November 2015, Johnny was diagnosed with an inoperable brain cancer. Refusing to be deterred by his bleak prognosis, he used his last months to carry on his life’s work – leading people to Jesus with enthusiasm and joy. He was also quick to remind people that in difficult situations, humour was important.

Even as he grew weaker, Johnny still carried out baptisms and continued to hold assemblies at the Bruderhof schools. Throughout his sickness, he and Regi also made time for many people who sought their guidance and encouragement.

On December 3, 2015, he said the following:

As you all know, the doctors have nothing to offer me. So God has become everything. I have to put my trust, my faith, in Him. And now I am trying to put my sights on eternity – on eternal life. It’s not easy, but it’s also not morbid, because it’s eternal life! There is so much need and suffering and violence on this world. God needs people who devote their lives to him, who are willing to work for his kingdom. Give your lives to him, and you will find unimaginable joy. Sure, you’ll have struggles – they always come. But you will also find joy, and that will sustain you.

Johnny died in great peace, surrounded by his family and community. In addition to his wife Regi, he leaves behind six children – Kathryn Manke, Nick Fransham, Edwin Fransham, Douglas Fransham, Margrit Swinger, and Fiona Barth – and eight grandchildren.

In the last months of his life, Johnny and Regi were upheld by these words of Jesus:

Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. In my Father's house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also.
—John 14:1-3

Greg Winter lives in the Darvell Bruderhof in East Sussex with his wife and three sons.

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  • i just read this and im glad to know this. thanks for sharing, and my parents want to say that they miss him.

    Ye Hyun Choi
  • "A great soul serves everyone all the time. A great soul never dies. It brings us together again and again" May Johnny's work bring comfort & healing to his family and community. Peace.

    William Sharpe
  • I am so sorry to have read about your Loss, Johnny sounded like he was well loved by you all and what a blessing he has been to you all, may his legacy continue in you all showing love and care to each other. My condolences goes out to his wife and family and not forgetting the congregation. May his soul rest in peace. Blessings from Marcia & Dorothy

    Marcia
  • I am so sorry to hear of Johnny's passing but heartened to hear of his peace and steadfastness to Jesus right to the end. May we all be encouraged to hold eternity in our eyes as we continue on our paths - we never know when it will be our time to go. RIP Johnny.

    Joy Roxborough
  • I am so sorry to hear of Johnny's passing but heartened to hear of his peace and steadfastness to Jesus right to the end. May we all be encouraged to hold eternity in our eyes as we continue on our paths - we never know when it will be our time to go. RIP Johnny.

    Joy Roxborough