Don Piper knows miracles are real. He is one.
On January 18, 1989, Piper was on his way home from a Southern Baptist convention and was crushed underneath the weight of a runaway semi-truck. His body was mangled and he had no pulse. Rescue workers declared him dead almost instantly.
Yet, that didn’t stop one fellow Christian pastor, Dick Onerecker, from praying for him. As Onerecker called out to God inside the dismantled car, Piper suddenly started singing and came back to life. A total of 90 minutes had elapsed. During that time, he visited what he believes was Heaven.
The entire experience, from Piper's initial fight for life and his grueling recovery, to the beautiful moments he spent in Heaven, was shared in his 2004 bestselling book 90 Minutes in Heaven. Now, thanks to Giving Films, you can soon witness Mr. Piper’s miraculous trip to and from Heaven in a theater near you.
Ahead of the film’s September release, Don, along with his wife Eva, who he calls the ‘real hero,’ spoke with Townhall about the experience that changed their lives.
One of the main takeaways Piper learned from his miraculous return from death, was the power of prayer. In addition to Mr. Onerecker’s passionate and faithful prayer in his dismantled car, Piper learned that thousands of people were praying for him to make it through the night of the crash, and the ensuing weeks in the hospital.
"People prayed all over the world,” he recalled. “I am still meeting, 26 years later, people who prayed for me that day."
His wife Eva was one of those faithful Christians. While she grew up in a godly home, she admitted her prayer life was “superficial” until her husband’s serious accident.
“I think it was genuine prayer, but I kept it very surface level,” she explained. “It was when I was there in the room when I first stopped to see Don…that I realized that prayer is a whole lot more. Prayer is a deep, honest, communication with God. It doesn't have to be relegated to one time a day. Really, you should be in constant communication with God.”
Piper practiced this form of prayer himself in the months he was confined to a hospital bed, over time being able to answer the bewildering question as to why God spared his life.
"I asked him a lot, laying there in that hospital bed for a year and a half,” Piper said. “I think it's so I can help other people get there, having seen it and experienced it, I can speak to its reality. Most humans assume there's something that happens after this and there is. But, you have to have reservations.”
Piper has taken this message across the country on several speaking engagements, a bestselling book, and now a movie. Yet, if he would have followed his first instincts, his heavenly experience would have remained an individual memory.
“I actually never planned to talk about it because it was a sacred secret,” he explained. “I felt it was just something I had been exposed to and shown and I didn’t really know why God had done that. It took me awhile to try and figure that out. Then I only did it as a result of the encouragement of people I trust, who said, ‘You really need to tell this, it’ll be very helpful and encouraging to a lot of people.’”
So, what was Heaven like? Piper says despite what many people think, it is not full of cherubs playing harps and floating on clouds, but is a very active place. One of the most vivid memories Piper has from Heaven, is the beautiful music he heard.
“It’s with me constantly, it’s just a question of volume," he explained. "The more weary I grow here, the louder the music grows inside me and my spirit. So I carry it with me always. You can’t have that kind of experience and not be changed.”
“I’m not a singer, I have witnesses,” he joked. “But it doesn’t stop me from trying. All the Bible says is that we need to make a joyful noise.”
Music was also a source of comfort for Eva during those trying months in the hospital.
“It was hard in the hospital,” she explained. “He wouldn’t talk, he was depressed. I couldn’t quite figure out what was going on there...“Caregiving role is a very, very tough role and it’s a role that you’re never really prepared for,” she said. “It’s always going to catch you off guard. Very often the caregiver is the loneliest person in the room because everyone’s focused on the person who is injured or who is ill and there is someone sitting over in the corner who is responsible for that person.”
It was in these moments when she escaped to her car and listened to oldies or Christian radio and sang at the top of her lungs.
“When I’m singing, I don’t have to think,” she said. “The words just come.”
“I’m a survivor, she’s an overcomer,” Don added.
The Pipers said that they were at first nervous about watching the whole harrowing ordeal unfold again onscreen, yet the movie left them with a sense of hope.
“There were a lot of tears, especially in that initial part of the movie,” Eva explained. “But, in the end, it’s also so heartwarming to go back and remember all those people who stood by us and to see the progress as Don did get better. By the end of the movie, I was all smiles.”
“It’s a ministry tool,” he said. “It’s a means to give people hope that there is a better place and that they can live a better life on the way to the place.”
To learn more about the Pipers’ incredible story, emotional roller coaster and ultimate redemption, get a copy of 90 Minutes in Heaven here. The film, starring Hayden Christensen (“Star Wars”) and Kate Bosworth (“Superman Returns”), will be released September 11, 2015.