TRAVERSE CITY-- Don Piper's testimony of glimpsing eternal life after a terrible car crash launched a ministry that has reached millions.
The author of the bestselling book "90 Minutes in Heaven" will appear at Bay Pointe Community Church in Traverse City on Sunday, Oct. 17. The event required advanced registration, which is now closed because seating is at capacity.
In 1989, Piper, a pastor from Houston, Texas, was in a car crash in which he said emergency responders pronounced him dead. He said he was later revived, but during that in-between time, Piper asserts he saw heaven. His lengthy physical recovery and the vivid, "life altering" memories of what he believes was a heavenly experience formed the basis of his ministry's message.
"I often say if God can resuscitate a dead man he can help you overcome a tragedy," he said.
Piper said it's difficult to describe his experience.
"It's very frustrating to try to describe a heavenly place with earthly words," he said.
But the question of what heaven is like is among the most asked queries when they hear his story. Piper paints "word pictures" of what he said he saw.
"An enormous gate made of pearl — if you've seen the inside of an oyster ... you know what that looks like — you know what a dazzling gate this must be. There are simply colors there that don't exist here," he said.
Piper said he encountered Christian believers he knew in heaven, and that those people "were there to greet me at the gate."
As for skeptics, Piper said he would have been among those who questioned the story if it hadn't happened to him personally.
"I believed in heaven," he said. "I didn't think you could go there and come back and talk about it."
Ultimately, his experience is "a faith thing. So you are either going to believe it, or not believe it," Piper said.
His new book "Getting to Heaven: Departing Instructions for Your Life Now" is scheduled to be released in March and deals with how to live a meaningful life on earth. Meanwhile, a film project is underway to make a movie based on Piper, who continues to travel and speak internationally.
Piper, who was 38 when the crash occurred, is married with three children.
"It was really a traumatic experience, because I have said many times, when the truck hit me, it hit them. It hit my church. None of us were going to be the same after this," he said.
He brings a message of hope for those who he ministers to.
"You just never know how people are going to respond. I am continually amazed even after all these years that the message still resonates with people," Piper said.
The Bay Pointe event is a fundraiser for Big Life, an international Christian ministry.