'90 Minutes in Heaven' author speaking at Mayor's Prayer Breakfast May 2

Jeanette Kendall/ TimesNewspapers
“90 Minutes in Heaven” author Don Piper will speak at the East Peoria Mayor’s Prayer Breakfast May 2 at Holiday Inn & Suites, 101 Holiday Drive.

Many of us have heard of near death experiences involving a white light, but Don Piper of Pasadena, Texas, experienced something much more intense after he died. He said he visited heaven for 90 minutes.

Piper will talk about his experience at the East Peoria Mayor’s Prayer Breakfast from 7-9 a.m. May 2 at the Holiday Inn & Suites, 101 Holiday Drive. 

Piper, 63, was in a car wreck Jan. 18, 1989, after leaving a minister’s conference. Piper was heading back to the South Park Baptist Church in Alvin, Texas, where he served as a pastor. 

Piper doesn’t recall much about the wreck.

“I left the conference that morning just before noon and only about 10 minutes out of the gate, I was crossing a rural old, narrow bridge and an 18-wheeler crossed the center stripe and hit me head on,” Piper said.

The driver of the truck also struck more cars after hitting Piper, but the other drivers were 

not seriously injured. Four paramedics worked to resuscitate Piper and declared him dead.

“I was pronounced dead on scene of the accident and the coroner was summoned. ... I was, frankly, covered up by a tarp. The car was just demolished and the windows were all gone. It was raining so they covered me up probably just to keep the rain off of me and so nobody would have to look at me. It was very gruesome. I was dismembered,” Piper said.

As the truck came at him, Piper said he raised his left arm to shield himself. Part of his arm was severed and ended up in the backseat of his Ford Escort.

“It was really a horrific collision, but I really don’t remember it. ... It all happened so fast. ... I probably just blotted it out. I  wouldn’t want to remember what it was like,” he said.

Piper suffered major injuries. He broke almost every bone in his body.

“The dashboard collapsed on my legs when the truck ran over the hood. ... My right leg was broken at the knee, and my left leg, because I must have slid on the seat a little bit forward on the left side, was severed just above the left knee,” Piper said.

Four inches of Piper’s femur, the largest bone in the body, was ejected from the car and never found. He also suffered internal injuries. 

“It would have been virtually impossible to survive this accident,” Piper said.

A pastor who witnessed the wreck got out of his car and prayed and sang hymns over Piper’s body for 90 minutes. As the pastor sang “What a Friend We Have in Jesus,” Piper suddenly joined him in song.

Many people have told Piper that it is a miracle he survived.

“I’m still here. I don’t feel very miraculous, but it is truly a miracle that anyone lived after this. I won’t say ‘lived through’ because I didn’t live through it,” he said.

The road ahead for Piper was a long and difficult one. He was in the hospital for 13 months, had 34 major surgeries and was in rehabilitation for two years.

“I didn’t know you could hurt like that, really I didn’t. I was frustrated with the pace of the recovery and the amount of surgeries they had to do to me and the fact that I was experimental. They did some bone stretching devices on me,” he said.

It was more than a year after the wreck that Piper talked about his visit to heaven, even though he said he realized he had been there immediately upon regaining consciousness in the intensive care unit.

“It was a sacred secret. I never really planned to talk about it. There were lots of reasons — very few of them frankly had to do with whether people would believe me or not. I really didn’t have the concern for that at all. I didn’t have the words to (explain heaven). There really aren’t any earthly words,” Piper said. 

Heaven, Piper said, was the most real thing he ever experienced. 

“As real as the pain was and the surgeries were and all of the recovery was, heaven was much more real than that. The contrast between the bliss, the joy of heaven and really, the nightmare I came back to couldn’t have been much more stark.”

At the gates of heaven, Piper said people he had known and loved in life were there to greet him.

“There really is a magnificent gate. Actually, there were 12 of them, but I was only at one, and it looks like the inside of an oyster. There is a gate made of pearl. There is a brilliance there that would blind us with the eyes we have here on earth. ... There was music, thousands of songs as the same time with chaos. Here on earth two songs at the same time is chaos, but I heard thousands there and I could distinguish each one of them. I saw colors there I certainly haven’t seen here. ... It was a buffet for the senses,” Piper said.

After being in heaven, the question Piper is asked the most is not if there really are streets of gold and angels, but rather if he saw any pets there.

“I am stunned by that. You’d think over the years, it would be something profound,” Piper said.

Although he did not see any animals in heaven, he thinks they are there.

 Piper said he was disappointed he was not able to stay in heaven, but he now feels he has a calling to help others. His wife of 40 years and three children were also glad to have him back.

After Piper started talking about his experience, people wanted to know more. He wrote three papers about it, but that was not enough, so in 2004, he co-authored the book “90 Minutes in Heaven” with Cecil Murphey. The book has sold 6.5 million copies in 46 languages and is a New York Times best-seller. Piper said he wrote the book in self defense.

“The first line of the book is, ‘I wrote this book in self defense.’ The book really came out of me recording the story, so if people were interested they could read the book, so I could get on with my life and pastoring, but it didn’t work out that way at all,” he said.

To date, Piper has done more than 3,000 speaking engagements. He doesn’t like all of the traveling involved, but he said he does like meeting people and trying to steer them toward Christ and heaven.

“I am honored to do it,” he said.

At the Mayor’s Prayer Breakfast in East Peoria, Piper is going to talk about prayer, miracles and heaven.

“I am (a miracle). Not only did I survive, but I am going to walk into that room and walk out when I’m finished. I was told very frankly that I would never walk again,” he said.

Piper said he wants to leave people with a message of “hope for a better place after this life and hope for a better life on the way there.”

“I believe that hope is Christ,” he said.

In addition to “90 Minutes in Heaven,” Piper has written three more books: “Heaven is Real,” “Daily Devotions” and his latest book, “Getting to Heaven.”

For more information about Piper’s books and ministry, visit www.donpiperministries.com. To register for the Mayor’s Prayer Breakfast, call 699-6212 or online at epcc.org. Tickets are $35.