Don Piper is author of “90 Minutes in Heaven: A True Story of Death & Life,” which tells the story of his death, his journey to heaven, and his return to life. In 1989, his car was hit by a truck on a bridge and he was pronounced dead at the scene. The book, first published in 2004, celebrates its 10th anniversary this year. Piper was in Grand Rapids recently and talked about his journey and the book, which comes out in July.
WMCN: What made you decide to write “90 Minutes in Heaven” in the first place?
DP: Maybe 18 to 24 months after the accident a friend said, “You look good.” I said, “Compared to what? If you’d seen what I’ve seen, you’d know that this isn’t looking good.” Then I told him about heaven. He responded with “I knew you’d seen something!” I, literally, didn’t have the words to talk about it. I told another friend who wanted to know why I hadn’t told anyone. When I told my wife, she was just happy to have an explanation of why I was acting the way I did. I thought about heaven all the time. I still do. People encouraged me to write about my visit to heaven so I did, 14 years after the event.
WMCN: What question do you hear the most as you speak around the country about your experiences?
DP: People always ask me whether their loved ones miss them. And I always say, “No, they expect you.” There is no time in heaven, so 25 years is nothing. The people already there are expecting their loves ones to arrive.
WMCN: Do people believe your story of being in heaven for 90 minutes before returning to this world?
DP: Many people say that they just can’t believe the story, and I say, “I understand completely. All I know is that I was driving on bridge, got hit, died, went to heaven, and came back.” It’s remarkably complicated and remarkably simple at the same time.
WMCN: You probably hear some interesting stories when you talk to people.
DP:One time a trauma nurse came through a book signing line. She said the story was amazing and said because I was killed instantly I didn’t bleed out, which is how most trauma victims die. She also said that some of her best friends are Christian doctors and they have no problem believing my story. They see things they can’t explain all the time.
When I was young I went to church alone. Two boys died while I was attending that church. Later, after the book came out, I spoke at that church and was able to tell them that I had seen those two boys in heaven.
WMCN: What does the anniversary edition of “90 Minutes” include?
DP: It will include a personal update on what I’ve been doing, stories from people I’ve heard from over the years, an 8-page photo spread, and a publishers note from Dwight Baker, president of Baker Publishing Group. Note: Revell, publisher of “90 Minutes in Heaven,” is a division of Baker Publishing Group based in Grand Rapids.
WMCN: You’ve published several other books, haven’t you?
DP: I have written other books. One is titled “Heaven is Real: Lessons on Earthly Joy—What Happened after ’90 Minutes in Heaven,’” which I say is the book I wanted to write most because I wanted to help people get through the things that happen in their lives. It’s compassionate but forceful, telling readers that they have to decide to get through stuff. Determination is what propelled me.
I also wrote “Getting to Heaven: Departing Instructions for Your Life Now,” an exegetical examination of John 13. Jesus’ disciples were frightened and worried at the time of the Last Supper; Jesus washed their feet. The book asks, “If you know where you’re going, shouldn’t you be having a better trip?”
I also wrote a daily devotional based on “90 Minutes” called “Daily Devotions: 90 Reading for Hope and Heaven.”
WMCN: What are you working on now?
DP:I’m developing a book tentatively titled “The People I Met at the Gate,” but I don’t have a publisher yet. The people I met there actually helped me get to heaven’s gate. The book will help answer the questions about who will greet us when we get to heaven, and encourage people to do things here on earth to help everyone else get to heaven. There were whole bunches of people waiting at heaven’s gate for me. They were expecting me.
WMCN: What are your hobbies, besides speaking?
DP: I speak 150 to 180 times a year, though it used to be about 300 times a year. I’m also an old movie buff and every couple of years I act as part of a theater group. I’ve played Ben Franklin, Scrooge, and Shaw Moore from the movie “Footloose.”
WMCN: If you could have lunch with anyone, living or dead, who would you choose?
DP: I’d love to have lunch with C.S. Lewis, Ben Franklin, Abe Lincoln, Martin Luther King, Timothy from the Bible, and the disciple Thomas because I identify with him as a questioner. I would also like to talk with Mary Magdalene and Eleanor Roosevelt. I admire people who have a vision for what they were born to do, then do it.
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