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Author Interview

90 Minutes in Heaven: A Decade of Faithful Ministry

By Chris Carpenter Program Director - By now, pastor Don Piper’s amazing story of survival is one that has traveled a great distance in literary circles.  Released in 2004, the New York Times Bestselling 90 Minutes in Heaven was the miraculous retelling of Piper’s amazing story of literally being killed by an 18-wheeler and waking up at the gates of Heaven.

Over the past decade, Piper has traveled the globe extensively to share his story, one that has fruitfully ministered to tens of thousands in more than 150 countries.  The journey has sometimes been painful due to the injuries he suffered but Piper has dutifully shared his testimony.  Due to his faithful servanthood, thousands have responded by accepting Jesus Christ as their personal savior.

I recently sat down with Piper to discuss the newly released Ten Year Anniversary edition of 90 Minutes in Heaven, why people seem to be fascinated with the afterlife, and why he wrote this book out of “self-defense”.

Why do you think people are so fascinated by the afterlife, or near-death experiences as they are often called?

Of course the death rate here on Earth is 100%. We’re not going to survive this. For believers there is an option. If you’re ready, if Jesus returns during your lifetime you won’t die. Other than that, we’re all destined to die, take our last breath here and take our next breath somewhere else. Hell is just as real as Heaven. I think people are fascinated. We know we’re going to die, so what happens next? I think people want hope; and so when they hear a story about somebody who has had an experience in Heaven, they want to hear about that because they want to know if there is a better place and if you can go there.

This is the ten-year anniversary of 90 Minutes in Heaven. When you wrote this book, did you have any idea that it would become a New York Times bestseller and maintain the longevity that it’s had?

No one did. The publisher didn’t. We didn’t. I really wrote the book in self-defense.

What I meant by that is, “Now that I’m telling this story against my better judgment, after I finish telling this story, would you just stop asking me about the story?” because I just don’t feel like I can keep going, and I don’t want to repeat the story over and over again, and that’s exactly what happened. I tried to put something behind me and God put it in front of me. He does that sometimes, and I think that’s an indication of the fact that people just want to know can you go to Heaven, and how. Thomas did.  On the night that Jesus was arrested, Thomas said, “How do we go to Heaven? Where is it?” And Jesus answered, “I am the Way, I am the Truth, I am the Life. No man comes to the Father except through me.” So that happened. I took my last breath on an old bridge after being run over by an 18-wheeler, and I took my next breath at the gates of Heaven. There are 12 of them and I’m at one of them. That is what happened to me, but I was ready to go. I wasn’t planning to die that day, but I had made my decision to follow Christ. I had made my decision to accept Him as the only one who could give me eternal life, and so because I was prepared and because I was killed, I went there. So Heaven’s a prepared place for prepared people, you’ve got to be ready.

My next question is not a “Why?” question but a “How?” question. How has 90 Minutes in Heaven changed you in the ten years since its release, or has it?

That’s a great question. Well, it’s changed the way I do ministry. I’ll give you an example. I have conducted many funerals in my ministry for many years, but I don’t do them the way I used to do. When I have a casket down there in front of me and we’re about to conclude the service and go to a graveside ceremony at the cemetery, I’ll usually walk down and put my hand on the casket and say, “In a moment, we’re going to take this body out to the cemetery and put it in the ground, but I must say to you based on what I’ve seen, she is more alive today than she ever was while she was here. She is absent from the body and present to the Lord.” And people, because they know my story, know that I mean that, know that it actually happened. So it’s changed the way I do ministry. I never really planned to be an itinerate evangelist. I wanted to be a local pastor. That’s what I was before I had the accident.  But I’ve spent ten years on the road in every conceivable little church and big church you can possibly imagine, and that’s been joyful. It’s been difficult though.  I don’t get around very well because I have some limitations as a result of all the injuries that I sustained. But I must be about my Father’s business. We’re trying to get people into Heaven, and we’re trying to help them have a better trip on the way, that’s what this is about.

Do you have a story or two about how this book has impacted individuals for the glory of God?

I was actually in Sweden, in Gothenburg, and we had a service; and a lady came to the service and then stayed afterwards to get her book signed by me.  She said, “I owned your book, and my husband and I took it on vacation so I could read it on the beach, and we were reading it together. My husband was not a believer and I was reading your book and he was beside me on the beach and all of a sudden this incredible wave came and washed everything away (the 2004 Indonesian Tsunami). We were separated immediately, and it was beyond chaos. After a day or two, they started putting up billboards with photos on them, and on one side of the billboard were photos of people who were still living and where they could be found,” because there was no communication of any kind, “on the other side were pictures of the deceased and where they were currently located.  Every day I would go to look for my husband’s picture on the billboard and I never did see him. Finally, the Swedish embassy tracked me down and were making arrangements for me to go home because my husband couldn’t be found and it looked like he never would be found, and on the last day before I was scheduled to leave, I went back to look at the billboard and I looked on the deceased side, and he was not on there. I was grateful, but then I walked around to look on the other side before I went and got on the plane, and his picture was on it and I located him. We were joyously reunited and were scheduled to go back to Sweden on the plane. On the way home he held my hand the whole time, he never let go, and finally before we landed he said, ‘I’m so glad you’re here and I’m so glad we lived. That book you were reading on the beach, 90 Minutes in Heaven, is that book about Heaven?’” And she said, “Oh, yes. A man died and went to Heaven and he came back to talk about it.” He said, “Is there any way I could get a copy of the book?” And now she’s standing in front of me in Gothenburg, Sweden. She was on her way home and she passed by the church and saw the sign that I was going to speak there.  She called her husband and said, “I’m going to be late. I’ll tell you why when I get home.” And she’s getting a copy of the book, which of course I gave her, and I said, “I want to give you this book, but I want you to tell me what he thinks after he reads it, and let me tell you how to get in touch with me.” So I gave her that information and there was a crush of people. I didn’t get a chance to visit with her a great deal.  I went back to the United States. I’m at home and a great deal of time difference, but one morning I open my email and there’s an email from her, and all it said was, “He is going to Heaven.”  All from a tsunami, and all from a book that was washed away and never found.

How does this book reflect the urgency of hope?

I can answer that very simply, I got killed on the way to church. I wasn’t doing something, I didn’t have a heart attack; I wasn’t reacting to some kind of narcotics somebody had given me. I was literally on my way to lead a Bible study at a Wednesday night service at my church like I did on Wednesday nights, and I was on a bridge in the middle of nowhere and suddenly an 18-wheeler crossed the center stripe and hit me. I was surrounded by people at the gates of Heaven who I’d known and loved in life, but now some of them were only 18 when they died in tragic accidents. My great grandmother was standing in front of me, she was 76 when she had the stroke. The truth is all of the people who greeted me at the gates of Heaven were not planning to die the day they died, but they were ready when they did die, as was I, at the age of only 38. So it is urgent because you have to be ready all of the time. You’re not going to be able to hit the pause button on your life when you’re confronted with a crisis or an urgent situation, saying, “Wait a minute, all of the stuff I’ve heard about Christ and everything, I guess I better start to think about this and maybe make a decision.” That’s not going to happen. Deathbed confessions are wonderful, but we can’t presume we can do that. So there is a great urgency about this.   Terrible things in our world can happen very quickly, so don’t wait.

Why do you think God allowed this to happen to you all of those years ago?

I have the scars to show for it inside and out, so that takes some humbling. I mean, you do have to decide to make yourself very vulnerable. I don’t know if I said it just a moment ago, but our life is for sale at Wal-Mart. We never planned on this.

So you end up becoming very vulnerable, and that makes you subject to criticism. I only agreed to write this book if it was unvarnished, if I didn’t come across as a hero in the book because I’m not, I’m a survivor; she’s the hero (his wife Eva), and that’s what her book is about.

In the throws of it, in those many days and weeks and months in the hospital bed with these horrible devices on and blood running down your leg, and bed pans, it was just a nightmare existence for a long time for all of us, so you wouldn’t really wish this on anybody.

But it’s not what happens to you, it’s what you do with it. It became very obvious to me one morning at 3 A.M. in my room all by myself that instead of having this massive pity party, which I was having, God wanted me to take that disappointment and look for divine appointments. We’re all here for a purpose and God wants us to do something.

Purchase 90 Minutes in Heaven, Tenth Anniversary Edition

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