Eva Piper's Walk Through the Dark
The 700 Club
It seemed like a typical day on Wednesday, January 18, 1989. Eva Piper went to work at Stevenson Primary School where she had been teaching first grade for a year. She was supposed to attend a Baptist retreat with her husband, Don. However, because some new students were enrolled in her class she decided not to go. That afternoon her colleague told her she needed to go to the school’s office right away. There were usually only two reasons why she would be called there – there was either a problem with a student or one of her sons (who were students at the same school). When she went to the office she was told by the assistant principal, Mary Nell Douglas, that Eva’s church called with the news that Don was in a car accident. Then, Eva says God spoke to her and said, “This will be difficult, but it’s going to be okay. Don has two broken legs and a broken arm.” Eva believes God spoke to her to give her the perfect peace the Bible talks about to prepare her for the times ahead. Mary Nell didn’t know any details of the accident, so that is all she could tell Eva. Eva says the next moments were a blur. Two of her best friends from church rushed to the school as soon as they heard the news. Before long, about twenty church members came to the school office to comfort her. Eva says she seemed calmer than her comforters, because she had known some information about Don’s condition before they received a report. After a few phone calls, they found out what hospital Don was in and Eva was finally able to have a brief conversation with him. She eventually found out that Don was going to be assessed and stabilized in that hospital before he would be transported to another one. Eva was at peace and knew everything would be alright, but Eva didn’t know what was involved to get to that point.
Later, the details of Don’s accident were known. He was on his way home from the Trinity Pines Conference Center 80 miles north of Houston. He was going to preach at his church that evening. Ten minutes after he left the conference center he drove on a bridge across Lake Livingston. An 18- wheel truck came from the opposite direction, smashed into his Ford Escort, and killed him. Don was pronounced dead by four sets of EMTs. Shortly after the accident, Dick Onerecker, a pastor, arrived on the scene and asked if he could pray for the man in the accident. The officer told Dick no – the man under the tarp is deceased. But Dick continued to insist on praying for the man. Finally Dick was given permission, but warned that the body was badly mangled. The Lord impressed upon Dick to pray specifically for no head or internal injuries. While Dick prayed fervently, Don was experiencing the glories of Heaven. It seemed like he was in Heaven for just a few moments - he had arrived at the gates of Heaven then he left them. In his first moment of consciousness back on Earth, Don recalls singing along with Dick, “What a Friend We Have in Jesus.”
But his time in Heaven did not take away from his earthly suffering. He had a long road back to health that lay ahead of him. “Pain became my constant companion. For a long time I would not know what it was like not to hurt all over my body,” recalls Don. Miraculously he had no head or internal injuries. He spent more than 100 days in the hospital with painful treatments and physical disabilities. To date, Don has had 34 surgical procedures. His ability to walk is nothing short of a miracle.
WALKING THROUGH THE DARK
Eva says what helped her get through was that she had a good support system and a good prayer life.She felt like God was saying it would be difficult but He would be with her. Her support system showed up right away. They hugged her, offered her encouraging words, and were there to help with whatever was needed. Nothing could replace that face-to-face contact. When Eva had to fill out insurance forms, hospital paperwork, etc., she says that is when she felt overwhelmed and alone. Don usually handled those things. Eva says she felt like she was “in the deep end and really plunged into a dark place.” When she first saw Don in the hospital, he didn’t respond to her. One of the most frustrating things was when they were told in the hospital that the doctor would see them “soon” and they wouldn’t be seen or contacted by hospital staff for hours.
EVA’S TURNING POINT
The full weight of reality hit Eva, she says, when she sat by Don in the hospital. She really opened herself to God at that point. Before then Eva says she had a surface relationship with God even though she had been in church all her life. This was a turning point. She had to let God know how she really felt and she felt the closeness of God.
There were a lot of ups and downs. One time when Don was on the mend, he had a minor surgery and then contracted double pneumonia. No one could reach out to Don and tell him to breathe. He was frustrated and angry. David, Don’s best friend, came and said he would pray him through it. Don and Eva’s twin sons had to live with Eva’s parents for some stability. Don didn’t want the boys to live with them because he felt out of control at this time. Having the whole family together was the only thing that he felt he could keep in control. No matter what happened, God would send Eva and the family just the right person at just the right time with just the right thing needed (word, hug, help, etc.). Eva says our God is a God of details. God knows just what you need (songs, verses, personal details, etc.). Things don’t always happen the way we want but God is with us and provides through it all.
THE PIPERS TODAY
It’s been almost 10 years since Don wrote his best-selling book, 90 Minutes in Heaven, and almost 25 years since the accident. Eva never planned to write a book and never saw herself as an author but when she went to speaking events with Don, people would always ask her about her story. The Pipers heard the people and did what was needed. Someone close to them says, “It’s a God thing,” and saw the book as a ministry tool. She wants her book to help and minister to people. Three things she would like to share through her story are: 1) To talk about caregiving – the lonely/isolated feelings and feeling like you’re in it by yourself 2) How to help a caregiver – knowing how and when to help and that sometimes not helping is helping 3) Tips for people to be ready if tragedy happens – you need to have a good support system in place -Eva says thankfully she was more prepared than she realized.
Today, Don still has physical infirmities - he still can’t turn one of his elbows, one leg is shorter than the other, and he is still fighting constant pain. Eva says to see him one would never know this. However, God sees the whole picture and Don can minister to people who are going through this. God is here with them and He has used this. With the physical limitations, God gives the grace to deal with them and they serve as a reminder of how far God has brought them. Though Don's life is an answer to prayer and a miracle, he’s not the only miracle. Eva says their family is a miracle. This type of event would have torn most families apart. The children came through the trial well and are very close. They turn to each other when there is a problem and are sensitive to other people’s problems. Eva wants people to know that, “You can make it.” If they can make it, anyone can. Eva says God wants us to endure things and trust Him. God can bring good out of everything – He turns a mess into a message. A favorite Bible verse for Eva is the favorite verse of co-writer Cecil Murphy’s late wife: Nahum 1:7 “The LORD [is] good, A stronghold in the day of trouble; And He knows those who trust in Him. (NKJV). For Eva, that verse says it all.
Don still travels and speaks. He is working on two books. Their daughter Nicole is a mother of two and is a junior high choir instructor. The oldest of the twins, Chris, is working with his father’s ministry, is preparing to go to law school, and is active in church. The younger twin, Joe, works for the city of Deerpark as a media specialist.
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