This past Sunday was a prime example. My wife, Joanne, mentioned to me about a speaker who was in the Des Moines area talking about his time in heaven. "I think we should go hear him", she said. "He's got a real interesting story". Well, since I didn't have a real good excuse, at least one that would stand up when it comes to a husband-wife relationship, I sheepishly agreed. Not with any great excitement, mind you. But I agreed.
Sunday morning we shot down the interstate to Norwalk, a small town south of Des Moines. As we entered the high school parking lot most of my intuitions were met. There were three cars in the lot and we were 5 minutes away from the beginning of the engagement. "How about we go", I offered. "No, I think we should stay and support Mr. Piper, even if others don't", was her reply.
As we entered the building it was apparent we weren't at the right door. We were greeted by a young lady who said to follow the hallways down to the auditorium where over 500 people were anxiously awaiting words on a journey many were curious of....."90 Minutes in Heaven". Clearly I ate my words....at least those I could muster up. And what I heard in the next 90 minutes was nothing short of a miracle.
|Remnants of the Ford Escort on the Texas Highway Bridge|
"Don Piper was relieved when the pastor's conference he had been attending finished a little early that Wednesday in January, 1989. Being associate pastor and having just been appointed minister of education at a Houston area church, Don was a busy man. The early start home would provide him much needed time to mentally organize his hectic schedule.
"I was thinking about that night and also that I was going to be preaching that next Sunday morning in three services," Don remembers.
Little did Don know he would be late for the service that night--not just by minutes or hours, but by months--and before he got home, he would take a detour he would never forget.
Within minutes of leaving the retreat center, Don drove onto a bridge spanning a lake. It was a fairly long bridge and there was water on both sides of the elevated highway.
Recalling the scene, Don says, "I approached the end of the bridge, and before I reached the end, a tractor-trailer truck owned by the Texas Dept. of Corrections crossed the center stripe and hit my car head on."
Not only did the truck hit Don's car, it ran over the passenger side of the small Ford Escort, completely crushing the vehicle and killing Don Piper. Instantly, Don began an amazing journey.
"When I was killed, I was instantly transported to heaven's gate," he says. "It was an instantaneous thing." Don found himself standing in front of a divine portal, surrounded by familiar faces.
"I didn't see a single person that I did not know," he says. "They were relatives, they were friends that died in high school, they were teachers--they were people I had seen and known all my life who had gone to glory. They were smiling; they were embracing me; they were welcoming me' they were in the process of taking me through the gate of heaven." Looking over the heads of his friends, Don saw a looming pearl gate.
While Don stood at the gates of heaven, pastor Dick Onerecker of Kline, Texas, stood on a Texas highway by Don's lifeless body. He had also attended the pastor's conference. He came upon the accident moments after it happened. The EMS personnel had told him that Don was dead.
"It was as though I was compelled to stop and to pray for him. The Lord had just impressed on me very emphatically, very urgently that I was to pray for him," says Dick. "I walked over by the door. There was great physical damage on the outside. I laid my hands on him and began to pray for him."
As soon as Don's journey to Heaven began, it ended. Don found himself back in his crushed vehicle, staring up at a tarp that had been thrown over him by medical attendants.
Says Don, "The first conscious memory was 'What a Friend we have in Jesus.' I was singing. I was thinking to myself, Why am I singing this song? I'm in the dark, and I knew it was about noon time when the accident happened. I'm in the dark, I'm singing, and I'm holding a hand. I'm thinking to myself, What on earth is happening?" Dick had begun singing hymns to Don.
What's left out of those words is the facts that Piper broke nearly every bone in his body and his left arm and right leg were severed in the accident. Why didn't he bleed out, you ask? Simply, because his heart had stopped beating. Now, back on earth and with his heart showing life, the rush began to save Don. Over the course of the next 6 and 1/2 hours he was taken to three different hospitals before finally reaching the best care center in Texas, TIRR Memorial Hermann Hospital in Houston. During the next thirteen months and some 300 surgeries, Potter fought for his life and questioned his God.
|The 13-month home of the Don Piper with family at his bedside|
"I like to say that I came back by popular demand," he says. "People prayed me back from the gates of heaven. People prayed me back from death's door. I'm here because people asked God for me to be here.".
You can find out more about Piper's story. Some sixteen years after the crash, he began selling a book, "90 Minutes in Heaven". It has sold over 6 million copies and it's still as popular as ever. A movie depicting his life will be released soon
Here are several takeaways I had from the morning. Prayer Changed Everything. Piper said that in addition to Onerecker's prayers at the accident scene, his church put out a prayer request for his well-being that went around the globe. Little did his church know, Piper was dead at the time. "Just recently", Piper mentioned, "a gentleman came up to me after a lecture and told me he prayed for me that day while in Taipei, Taiwan. Imagine someone telling you that some twenty plus years later."
In addition, Piper encouraged his audience to look for a miracle in their lives...."because you're going to need one to live this life". "Take your test and make it a testimony and your mess and make it a message", he added.
And lastly....next time, I need to surrender and see where God is at Work. Not on my terms or my schedule.
And to think of what I would have missed if I had stayed home.