90 Minutes in Heaven: Hope Lives

Don Piper says it with a soft smile, “I’m just a guy who got run over by a truck.”

On a rainy January 25, 1989, paramedics responding to the head-on collision between Don’s red Ford Escort and a semi-tractor trailer assessed Don’s broken body and declared him dead. No efforts were made to resuscitate or remove him from the crushed and twisted metal.

Ninety minutes later, a minister crawled through the trunk, stretched out a hand and prayed over Don. He began singing to him. Everyone was shocked when Don Piper began singing in response.

The story of Don’s long road to recovery, one of despondency, a strong yearning to return to heaven, and the power of prayer that saved him, has been published in 46 languages, sold more than 7 million copies, and spent over five years on the New York Times bestseller list. On Friday, September 11, 2015, his story will be available on the big screen as a feature-length motion picture.

It’s an emotional story that Heaven Exists, Prayer Works, and Hope Lives.

Last month, Lisa and I were invited by Carmel Communications to preview the movie so we might tell you about it. Don Piper spoke to the audience after the movie.

The movie immediately captures your attention, with a smash you might say. After a few scenes that introduce a young (38 at the time of the accident) minister, his wife, and three children we’re led to the moment of the accident and death. Heaven isn’t really addressed at this point, as we maintain the point of view of the living. Emotions run high as Dick Onerecker prays over Don’s lifeless body and Don suddenly begins singing. Now begins the long journey of Don’s surprising lack of will to live, his wife’s lonely walk, and some particularly touching poignant moments. 

The movie is flat in places and personally, it’s irritating to watch a movie “set” in Houston that wasn’t filmed in Houston. Anyone who has ever been to Hermann Memorial or St. Luke’s hospital will roll their eyes at the hospital exterior scenes. Just take a deep breath and pretend you’ve never seen one of the largest medical centers in the nation.

One of my favorite movie moments is when Don refuses to see or accept help from anyone, distancing himself from those who would care for him. He doesn’t want to live; he wishes he would have died so he could stay in heaven, so he wouldn’t burden his family with his physical suffering.  The interim pastor from his church drops by for a visit, which turns into a moment of admonishment, and calls him out as a hypocrite. How could Don be called to minister to all those in need, and yet deny those who love him the opportunity to serve him by caring for him during his own suffering?

My favorite moment in the book didn’t translate as powerfully to the big screen as it did when I read the book, but is still emotional. Although we haven’t been told the reason for his despondency, Don wants to die, to return “home” to Heaven, and tells a friend and fellow minister, that he can’t – won’t – fight to live anymore. That’s okay, the friend says, you don’t have to. We will fight for you – we will pray you through this night. And they do.

When I read his book ten years ago, the power of Don’s words resonated with me. My mother-in-law died just a few years earlier and the idea of this beautiful heaven as told by one who actually experienced it kindled such a glorious feeling of Hope that it began to quench our sorrow.

Don Piper says over and over his message that “Hope Lives” is meant to help people get to heaven and have a better trip on the way.

He stresses that he is not a hero, he is just a survivor. His wife, Eva, is the hero for her Walk thru the Dark during his initial despondency and recovery.  When speaking about his life since the accident, he notes, “I tried to put it behind me and God kept putting it in front of me.”  Since his recovery, Don Piper continues to spread the Gospel through his testimony in ministry work that supports local, state, national, and international charity/faith-based organizations.

I won’t give the big reveal away, but when Don finally speaks about heaven, my thoughts went to my own loved ones waiting for me: my cousin, my beloved grandparents, my mother-in-law and her family, my godson, Nick, and tears flowed in anticipation of our own glorious reunion.

The story is powerful. See the movie. Bring your teenagers to the movie. Bring your Life Teen group to the movie. Read the book and bring your book club to the movie. We all need Hope and Hope Lives.

After meeting Don Piper that night, I can tell you…

Heaven is Real.

Don Piper experienced Heaven and we can too.

I will see Don Piper again – he will be standing with all the others in my life when I go to Heaven.

* All of Giving Films’ profits for 90 Minutes in Heaven will be donated to charities in the U.S. and around the world.


Shelly Henley Kelly