His son was born with life-threatening illness in Tonga, and new John Groberg movie shows how his life was miraculously saved

Faith & Family

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IDAHO FALLS — John Groberg, an 85-year-old native of Idaho Falls, was 19-years-old when he was called to serve in Tonga as a missionary for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Groberg experienced many challenges while serving his mission. One morning, he woke up and realized rats had eaten calluses off his feet.

“I couldn’t feel it because (it was dead skin). Anytime they got close to a nerve or a blood vessel, the rats would back off because rats only eat dead things,” Groberg tells EastIdahoNews.com. “When I stood up in the morning, the weight of my body without the calluses just split the dead layer of skin and it started bleeding like crazy.”

The incident could have resulted in serious infection had locals not stepped in to help.

Later, he nearly drowned when his boat capsized in the ocean during a storm.

When Groberg returned from his mission, Church leaders asked him to write a book about his experience. It was called “In the Eye of the Storm,” and later turned into the 2001 Disney film “The Other Side of Heaven.”

RELATED: John Groberg looks back on his life, time in Tonga and talks about new movie

He wrote a second book called “The Fire of Faith,” which has also been adapted into a movie. “The Other Side of Heaven 2: Fire of Faith,” premieres in 200 theaters nationwide this weekend.

The sequel tells the story of his return to Tonga in the 1960s with his wife and five young daughters to serve as president of the Tonga-Fiji Mission.

Shortly after arriving in Tonga, Groberg’s wife, Jean, became pregnant with their sixth child, a boy who is born with a life-threatening illness. The boy, too weak to be evacuated to another country with medical care sufficient to properly diagnose and treat him, now faced the ultimate trial.

With their child’s life on the line, the Grobergs found themselves surrounded by the love and prayers of thousands of Tongans who united in a nationwide fast for the health of their little boy.

“(Doctors in the U.S.) later discovered he’d been born with a congenital kidney defect that would definitely result in very bad consequences if it weren’t taken care of. They took care of it but they would not allow him to come back to Tonga,” says Groberg. “We didn’t get to see him again until he was a year and a half old.”

Groberg says he has high expectations for the movie, and hopes the film’s message of prayer, faith, and family will help those who see it walk away with a greater understanding of God’s power in their life.

“I hope that they take away that it’s important not only to believe in God, but to pray in faith, and to believe that there is a Savior,” Groberg says. “One of the things I really hope they take away is the importance of family and the importance of husbands and wives loving one another and helping one another.”

“The Other Side of Heaven” was an independent film produced by Excel Entertainment. It is the company’s highest grossing film to date, and it paved the way for other successful titles like “The Cokeville Miracle,” “Saints and Soldiers,” and “Forever Strong.”

Arthur Van Wagenen, the Product Director for Excel Entertainment, recently told EastIdahoNews.com a resurgence of faith-based films in Hollywood in the last several years has whet the public’s appetite for Christian filmmaking.

“We’ve had some successes and some failures, both commercially and creatively, but (the Christian audience) is a proven marketplace,” Van Wagenen said.

The goal with all their films, he says, is to resonate with a large audience.

The 2001 film had a modest opening, but went on to gross $5 million at the box office, according to Box Office Mojo. The film was picked up by Disney for the DVD release. Anne Hathaway’s performance as Groberg’s wife helped bolster the film’s box office receipts, Mitch Davis, the film’s director, said in a news conference earlier this week.

Hathaway does not appear in the sequel, but Christopher Gorham, who portrayed Groberg in the first movie, reprises his role. And the real John Groberg even makes a cameo appearance.

A movie premiere is taking place at Edward’s Grand Teton Stadium 14 in Idaho Falls Thursday night. Groberg and his wife will be in attendance, along with other members of the cast.

For showtimes or to purchase tickets, visit the movie premiere Facebook page.

Listen to our conversation with Groberg in the video player above.

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