No one seems more qualified to tell the story of Don Piper’s death than Don Piper.
The author of the best-selling book “90 Minutes in Heaven: A True Story of Death and Life” and LSU grad has been sharing the story of the horrific head-on collision in 1989 that changed his life forever. Piper was declared dead by paramedics and was being prayed over by a minister when he came through.
His story, Piper says, is a story of hope.
“People are looking for hope,” he said from his home in Pasadena, Texas, near Houston. “They want to know if there’s a better place after this life. And there is; I’ve seen it. They want to hear from somebody who’s been there.”
Piper, 65, returns to Baton Rouge to share his story during a presentation from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday at Broadmoor United Methodist Church, 10230 Mollylea Drive.
“We will talk about miracles because God is still in the miracle business today,” Piper said. “We will talk about answered prayers because I am an answered prayer. The reason I lived is because a lot of people prayed for me — I didn’t have anything to do with my survival. And we’ll talk about a new way to live even though there’s something tragic that has happened in your life.”
During the event, Piper will take questions as well as discuss production and show clips from the movie based on the book. The film, “90 Minutes in Heaven: Hope Lives,” was released nationwide in theaters in September and will be released Tuesday on DVD.
Piper’s presentation is free, but any donations will benefit Christ in the City, a nondenominational ministry geared to meet the needs of workers in downtown Baton Rouge during the week.
Piper’s story is well-chronicled. He was headed home from a pastors’ conference when he was stuck by an 18-wheeler in east Texas and “killed instantly.” He returned from the “gates of heaven” to a broken body that required 34 surgeries, 13 months in the hospital and two more years of intense therapy and rehab.
“I was told I’d never walk again,” he said. “I broke everything except my right arm. I was facing a dismal future,” said Piper, who grew up in Bossier City, earned a radio/television degree from LSU and attended New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary.
In 2004, Piper penned “90 Minutes in Heaven,” which spent four years on the New York Times’ best-seller list. It has sold more than 8 million copies in various forms in nearly 50 languages.
“I tell crowds that maybe my mother would buy one,” he said of the book. “And maybe some friends and church members would buy one. Then I’d have a garage full of books for the rest of my life. … It has really resonated with people in a way we could not possibly conceive.”
Having the book made into a movie is surreal, Piper said.
“You’re watching people be you,” he said. “They are acting your life. They are saying your words. They are living your experiences. … Watching it on the big screen, it’s just overwhelming. It’s difficult for us; it was a painful and difficult time for us. But it seems to have a wonderful effect on people, which was what we were looking for.”
It comes with a message.
“I want them to realize that you’re going to take your last breath here one day, and you’re going to take your next breath somewhere else,” he said. “So you need to be ready for that. … It’s a hopeful story. Hope is what people need.”
The movie stars “Star Wars” actor Hayden Christensen as Piper and Kate Bosworth as Piper’s wife, Eva. Musicians Dwight Yoakam and Michael W. Smith appear in the movie.
Piper said he’s happy to do the presentation to benefit Christ in the City. The facility, 320 Third St., is directed by the Rev. David Melville, who was a classmate of Piper’s in high school in Bossier City and at LSU.
“I’m primarily there to see that David Melville and his great ministry in the downtown area of Baton Rouge is truly funded and continue to make an impact in the lives of people who work there in the downtown area and its high calling,” Piper said.
Get back up
One of the main ways Satan attacks believers is getting them to blame God for any disappointment in their lives, a guest speaker shared with a Baton Rouge congregation.
“He gets us off track by making us think God isn’t there for us,” said Pastor Darriel Hoy, of Wichita, Kansas. “The devil knows that if he can keep us discouraged, he will ultimately break our fellowship with God.”
Hoy, a former Baton Rouge resident, was the guest speaker recently for Berean Seventh-day Adventist Church’s 79th church anniversary. The anniversary theme was “Thanks Be to Thee.” Hoy’s message was titled “Don’t Let the Devil Steal Your Joy.”
The joy of the Lord is our strength, Hoy said.
“When Satan steals our joy, he’s trying to steal our strength in God,” she said. “So he’s trying to break us down and he’s trying to make you depressed and down that you have no strength left to fight. He’s there to kill, steal and destroy.”
Hoy’s message was taken from I Samuel 1:1-19. The passage tells the story of Hannah, one of the two wives of a man named Elkanah. Hannah was unable to bear any children and was constantly reminded of that by the other wife Peninnah, who had several children.
“Because the Lord had closed Hannah’s womb, her adversary (Peninnah) kept provoking her in order to irritate her,” Hoy said.
Hannah prayed constantly for God to give her a son, but even in a place of worship, she wasn’t shielded from Peninnah’s taunts.
“Can you all imagine that you’re going to worship the Lord and there’s somebody there provoking you to the point to where you don’t even want to have fellowship with the Lord?” Hoy asked.
She then asked listeners if they had ever been in a similar situation.
“People are provoking you and situations are getting you down? And you get angry and don’t even want to read your Bible. You don’t even want to pray,” Hoy said. “You don’t want nobody from the church calling your house or coming over to see you. You want to keep your distance and wallow in pity.”
Hannah stopped wallowing in her pity. She eventually arose from her depressed state and put her trust in God, who answered her prayer with a son.
“Hannah’s circumstances knocked her down, but she refused to let them knock her out,” Hoy said. “Circumstances in life may knock you down; don’t stay there. Get back up. The way to get back up is to get down on your knees and allow God to lift you back up.”
Hoy, the pastor of Highland Crest Seventh-day Adventist Church Church in Wichita, is also director of youth ministries for the Central States Conference. She also serves as a consultant for churches and nonprofits across the United States. She graduated from Duke University with a degree in public policy and earned a master’s degree in divinity from the Seventh-day Adventist Theological Seminary at Andrews University.
The Showers, the Hammond family who made the gospel music charts this year with its hit “Better,” is on the final ballot for the 2016 Stellar Awards for traditional gospel/duo of the year.
The 31st annual Stellar Awards, which honors top gospel writers and industry professionals, is set for Feb. 20 in Las Vegas. To vote, go to thestellarawards.com
Faith Matters runs every other Saturday in The Advocate. Terry Robinson can be reached at (225) 388-0238 or email email@example.com.