90 Minutes in Heaven a Modern Day Lazarus Story
By Chris Carpenter
CBN.com Program Director
CBN.com - ATLANTA -- It seemed like any other Wednesday for Don Piper. He was a young pastor, fresh with a God-ordained idea to start a new church in the community where he lived. As he began his rain-soaked drive home from a regional church conference, Don realized the possibilities were endless for winning souls to Christ.
Driving ever so cautiously, the windshield wipers pumped and pulled rhythmically, fighting off the deluge that had greatly reduced his visibility.
A flash of light. An oncoming tractor-trailer truck. The crunching of metal. Silence.
Don Piper, dead at the age of 38.
Don’s body now lay beneath a tarp as a frenzy of emergency personnel scurried about. But his soul wasn’t there. Don was in Heaven experiencing a peace, love, and joy that he had never felt before.
But unlike so many others who had gone on before him, Don’s stay in heaven was incredibly brief. Declared dead for 90 minutes, he amazingly came back to life. Don Piper became a living miracle.
More than 25 years have passed since that fateful day on a Texas bridge, yet Don remains a living testimony. His long, slow recovery from a myriad of life-threatening injuries was torturous but due to God’s providence, he has shared his life-changing experience more than 3,000 times worldwide. His book, 90 Minutes in Heaven, has sold more than seven million copies. And now, a major motion picture bearing the same name as his New York Times bestseller, will release this weekend in theaters nationwide.
Despite his story being well-known, Piper shared at a recent press event for the film that he was initially cautious about having a movie made about a very painful period in his life.
“We grappled with the idea of a movie, frankly,” Piper explains. “We really had to work our way through this as to whether we really wanted to go this far. We decided that if we were going to do this it was going to be done right. It was going to be an authentic movie about what really happened – not embellished – take nothing away from it and nothing to it – just do it the way it was written, the way it really happened.”
Don’s wife, Eva Piper, faithfully stood by her husband through some very dark and harrowing days following the accident. Yet for all of the seemingly hopeless challenges they faced and overcame, she believes their story is one that must be shared.
“This movie is another way to show people the reality of Heaven and to show people that when bad things happen to you, you don’t need to just stay down and wallow in the mud,” Eva says. “You can get up and you can move forward. You won’t get your life back the way it was. It will be different but in some ways it can be better. You can certainly bless other people by using your hurts to then put your arm around someone else and help them walk through that difficult time.”
Eva Piper’s hopeful resolve in the midst of tragedy is what drew actress Kate Bosworth to take the role of Eva in the movie. As Don’s life hung in the balance, Bosworth saw a woman who held tightly to her faith and was determined to get their family through such a painful ordeal.
“It’s such a compelling story first and foremost,” shares Bosworth, whose film credits include Superman Returns and 21. “What attracted me to play Eva is that she is a regular woman. As Eva always says, she is an ordinary woman thrown into extraordinary circumstances. I related to her on so many different levels as I read both her book and Don’s book. We all go through really hard times. It’s how we handle those hardships and come out the other side.”
Known for his work in several Star Wars movies, actor Hayden Christensen plays the role of Don Piper. He has nothing but the utmost respect for a man who fought his way through 34 different surgeries in the first year following the crash -- all this, after getting a glimpse of the glory of Heaven.
“I was very affected by their story,” says Christensen. “Don has experienced something profound and very rare. And what he went through in his recovery was challenging and to portray it was challenging. It was a real honor to get to play Don. His story is an important one.”
The movie adaptation of 90 Minutes in Heaven will undoubtedly receive some raised eyebrows from both secular audiences and people of faith for its portrayal of Heaven. However, one can certainly not discount the intrigue that Heaven is a real place where loved ones are gathered, waiting for others to join them.
“One thing that appealed to me is that Heaven is one of the greatest family reunions and that was something that was very important to us,” says 90 Minutes in Heaven director Michael Polish. “We are representing God. We are representing Jesus with something that we all discuss but really don’t know a lot about. Our loved ones are the connection between here on earth and Heaven.”
Says Bosworth, “I think for many people it’s somewhat of an unknown. It’s an idea that certainly brings a lot of people hope and comfort. But’s its not a place that many people have been. The few who have been there like Don, who have come back here, everyone wants to know what it’s like. We receive even more hope that way.”
Known far and wide as one of Christian music’s greatest stars, Michael W. Smith returns to the big screen for the first time as an actor in ten years. Playing the part of family friend Cliff McArdle, Smith believes 90 Minutes in Heaven truly reflects the urgency of hope.
“I think this movie just solidifies our faith on a deeper level,” points out Smith, who also composed the musical score with his son Tyler. “I think we get so busy with our lives. We just have stuff going on … career, kids, grandkids, people have problems, and sometimes we just get caught in the rat race. And then you go see a movie like this and it makes you go, ‘Whoa, this is what it’s all about.’ This is what is promised. This is where I am going. I’m destined for heaven.”
Perhaps one of the more intriguing elements of 90 Minutes in Heaven is the fact that all profits from the movie will be given to charity. Atlanta businessman Rick Jackson’s production company, Giving Films, was formed to be a “giving engine” to help charities in the U.S. and around the world. The Christian Alliance for Orphans, Hope International, and Faith Bridge are just a few of the charities that Giving Films supports.
“Personally, I could try to give away a million dollars but I would rather develop a business that is giving away millions of dollars a year forever,” says Jackson, who serves as executive producer on 90 Minutes in Heaven. “So, I wanted to use my talents to try to create that. And that is what we are doing. We are giving it away. We have been looking for about a year and a half for a good book or a good story. We thought Don and Eva’s story would be perfect for our first project.”
The Piper family’s incredible true story of perseverance in the face of tragedy is one that will undoubtedly encourage others who find themselves desperately searching for something to lean on in times of trouble. What began as a seemingly hopeless situation on a country bridge in Texas stands tall today as a shining beacon of hope. 90 Minutes in Heaven aspires to show audiences that God can use the worst of circumstances to create something remarkable.
“I’m hoping people are born into the Kingdom,” reflects Don Piper. “I’m hoping people will stop and think that if this guy can get killed on the way to church I better be ready all the time. The story 90 Minutes in Heaven is about overcoming. You might not be the same on the other side of it but you can be better but not bitter. That’s a decision.”
90 Minutes in Heaven opens in theaters nationwide this weekend. Check your local listings to find a theater near you.
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