If I think back to my recent visit to the set of the movie 90 Minutes in Heaven, those are the words that have stayed with me. As we begin our journey through Holy Week, I wanted to share this amazing story with you and invite you into a consideration of what this movie can mean to people who don’t yet believe in heaven or in God’s love for them.
In mid-February, I found myself in an uncomfortably “brisk” Atlanta suburb on the set to view a portion of the filming of this movie, which is based upon the best-selling book 90 Minutes in Heaven: A True Story of Death and Life. Somehow, the book (which has sold over 7 million copies in multiple languages) was not one I’d read or even heard of. But when I received the invitation to travel to the set, I jumped at the chance. As our readers know, I love supporting faith-based and family-friendly films and seeing them thrive.
As it turned out, the people we spent the most time with on set were Don and Eva Piper themselves. If you don’t know their story, here’s a brief synopsis of their “real life” story as shared in Don’s book:
As he is driving home from a minister’s conference, Baptist minister Don Piper collides with a semi-truck that crosses into his lane. He is pronounced dead at the scene. For the next 90 minutes, Piper experiences heaven where he is greeted by those who had influenced him spiritually. He hears beautiful music and feels true peace. Back on earth, a passing minister who had also been at the conference is led to pray for Don even though he knows the man is dead. Piper miraculously comes back to life and the bliss of heaven is replaced by a long and painful recovery. For years Piper kept his heavenly experience to himself. Finally, however, friends and family convinced him to share his remarkable story.
Our visit began with a welcome dinner the first night and an orientation to the film. It was a great blessing to pray in the company of other journalists who had come from around the country to learn about and to share the project. That night, we heard from the film’s producer, Rick Jackson, about his company’s commitment to moving into the entertainment business. Family Christian Stores’ new sister company, Family Christian Entertainment committed not only to making this movie, but also to ensuring that it remained true to Don Piper’s real story.
Also joining us at the dinner was popular Christian recording artist Michael W. Smith, who plays the role of Pastor Chris McArdle in the movie. Many people will look at this story and think that the entire film should deal with Don and his struggles. But as Michael shared with us, the film–and the real story of what happened in Don’s life–is as much related to Eva, the Pipers’ children, and their church community as it was to Don.
The highlight of our set visit was the great amount of time we were able to spend personally with Don and Eva Piper. Their personal commitment to the authenticity of the movie shone through. But the true thing I learned from spending time with Don and Eva was the enormity of their commitment to sharing this story because of the hearts and souls that could be touched and saved in the process.
Both Don and Eva travel tirelessly to churches around the world retelling Don’s story. Both are firmly committed to supporting one another. Their love for each other shines through in the easy way in which they finish each other’s sentences or simply in the way they look at each other when the other is speaking. And lest you think that this is something that’s happening just for the cameras, let me assure you that after having the pleasure of sitting across the dinner table from Don Piper for a few hours that his esteem for his lovely wife is both real and profound. As for Eva, she is the type of woman you’d love to have as your best friend: strong, honest, hilarious, and courageous.
I don’t know what the end product will look like, but having spent time learning about this story and the mission of this film, I feel confident that 90 Minutes in Heaven is going to be another amazing opportunity to share the beauty of what a personal relationship with Jesus Christ can bring into our lives. The film will provide us with a special way to share a message with our loved ones, both the churched and the un-churched, about a powerful truth:
“Heaven is a real place, and you can go there…”
Copyright 2015 Lisa M. Hendey
Images copyright Lisa M. Hendey