90 Minutes in Heaven, the new movie and book, tell a remarkable, heavenly tale. Premiering Sept. 11, the movie is based on Don Piper’s New York Times bestselling book of the same name and stars Hayden Christensen and Kate Bosworth.
On Jan. 18, 1989, Pastor Piper was on his way home from a church conference when he was killed instantly: A semi-trailer truck crashed into his car and crushed it.
Piper was pronounced dead by the first rescue worker on the scene and three other sets of EMTs. His body lay under a tarp for the next 90 minutes.
Meanwhile, his soul was experiencing love and joy as never before in a place he had never been — heaven.
Another pastor traveling back from the conference came upon the scene and begged rescue workers to allow him to pray over Piper’s body. Miraculously, after a few moments of prayer by Dick Onarecker, the dead pastor’s heart started to beat again, and he began to quietly sing along with his fellow pastor.
Back from the dead, the joys and bliss of heaven were suddenly replaced by excruciating and faith-shaking pain, as well as intense emotional turmoil he could not express.
Heaven’s bright light would be overshadowed by a long dark night.
The Register recently spoke in person with Piper and his wife, Eva, about their inspiring and incredible, albeit painful, experiences.
“I wasn’t expected to live,” Don said, after he came back to life. “I had brain damage and blood coming out of my ears and eyes and nose. Of course, my heart had stopped, so the blood dried up.”
Eva explained how she received the news: “I was teaching in my classroom, and an aide came in and motioned for me to come over, and I shook my head,” she recalled. “I had first graders that I couldn’t leave unattended. I told her, ‘I’ll be there in a minute.’”
But there was no time to wait. The aide insisted she come right away.
“I walked into the principal’s office, thinking it was something that our twin boys had done. They were at the same school [where] I was teaching. The principal told me that Don had been in a wreck.”
“I was supposed to be in that car!” she recalled. But as Providence would have it, one week before the trip, six new students were placed in her class, and Eva felt she shouldn’t attend the event.
Her book A Walk Through the Dark chronicles the life-changing circumstances.
“I was a young wife with three small children, and I needed to go back to teaching school, so we would have insurance, because there would be millions of dollars of medical bills,” she explained. But, through all the challenges, her faith and prayer life deepened.
During his recovery, Don felt despondent and frustrated. But he received a much-needed dose of tough love from his 80-year-old mentor, Jay B. Perkins (portrayed by Fred Thompson), who was upset with Don for shunning visitors and not appreciating their visits and care.
“I wasn’t just ill and hurt. I was despondent over what I had seen and lost. I asked myself in bed every day [speaking to God], ‘You brought me back for this?’” Don recalled.
No one then knew of Don’s visit to heaven.
Since Don was a captive audience, Jay told him, “You’ve been taking care of them all your life — it’s what you do — now, it’s their turn. You need to get your act together!”
In time, after a long recovery and rehabilitation, Don would move forward to identify with the suffering people he met. He has spoken to more than 3,000 audiences since the release of his book (Fleming Revell, 2004), sharing his heavenly journey.
“The truck didn’t just hit me. It hit all of us,” he said of his family, and he believes that movie viewers will relate to the story. “It’s going to be pretty easy for people to identify that what happens in times of crisis is not just you — it’s everybody.”
Eva is very thankful that the actors in 90 Minutes in Heaven have “captured it.”
The mission to spread the film’s message is both “overwhelming and humbling,” she said. She added, “We feel a huge responsibility to do it right and let people know that God is real and Jesus is his Son, and he is the way to heaven — that heaven is a real place, and you really can go there.”
Summing up his thoughts on the movie, Don said, “I think you’ll see in the movie 90 Minutes in Heaven a real story about real people who are going through a really dark night. The sun came up, and we’re not the same people we were before. But I think we’re better.”
As Eva said, “I know in my heart that God is going to use this movie” for good.
Donna-Marie Cooper O’Boyle is an EWTN TV host and author.