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90 Minutes in Heaven: A True Story of Death and Life, 10th Anniversary Edition

Publisher’s Preface to the 10th Anniversary Edition

In the summer of 2004 Baker Publishing Group released 90 Minutes in Heaven with a modest first printing of 7500 copies. At the time, Don Piper was an unknown pastor with a bold claim. His book could have generated any type of reaction, including rejection or, more likely, indifference. Few people anticipated a bestseller, at least not openly.

Interest in Don’s story developed slowly through word of mouth, until a tipping point arrived one year later. Bookstores sold out and reordered in larger quantities. The title appeared on major bestseller lists and began climbing. As interest grew for 90 Minutes in Heaven, readers spoke of the impact of Don’s story on their lives. They offered their own testimonies about pain,

faith, and hope. It seemed that heaven was again on our minds.

From this process one lesson appeared swiftly: Don’s experience was extraordinary, but it was not unique. Other people reported similar experiences, but these most recent stories were yet untold. At the time when 90 Minutes in Heaven appeared, bookstores had not observed much current interest in afterlife stories, or much eagerness in readers for hearing and sharing those stories.

In the publishing offices, editors have been understandably hesitant about repeating fantastic reports. The reception of 90 Minutes in Heaven led our profession to revisit that caution. In accepting the risk and responsibility for speaking out, Don Piper created a path for others. His rising profile generated a space—not merely for one book and one story, but for other amazing accounts of near-death experiences. These stories might have remained obscure had not 90 Minutes in Heaven initiated a wide conversation, and the appearance of all these testimonies is thrilling to witness.

Reporting on near-heaven experiences in Christianity Today, editor Mark Galli wrote:

One reason this writer is disposed to believe many of these stories, at least initially, is because they fit with what I as a historian have come to trust as real and true. I was asked a few years ago to moderate a panel in which Don “90 Minutes in Heaven” Piper was to participate. After speaking with him before and after the session, and hearing him explain his near-heaven experience during the panel, I was struck with this thought: Piper is a reliable, trustworthy witness. . . . As a Christian who believes there is more to this existence than the material, I do not dismiss out of hand the possibility of someone having an extraordinary heavenly experience. All manner of miracles have happened and continue to happen in our world. But a lot depends on the trustworthiness of the individual involved. And Piper simply had the look and sound of sanity, of someone who was telling the truth, whose word was his bond.1

A second lesson concerns hope. The popularity of Don’s story reflects the urgency of hope, and that this hope comes from God and his promises. “Be not afraid,” the Bible tells us over and over.

The promise of heavenly hope does not ignore the weight of our burdens here on earthly ground. Readers of 90 Minutes in Heaven have observed that Don describes his physical suffering as vividly as he does his heavenly encounter. This mingling of pain, joy, and hope mimics our own experiences and observations, and 90 Minutes in Heaven would be easier to dismiss if not for this balance. An encouragement to “be not afraid” carries more influence when it comes from a person who has faced trauma as frightful as any human might experience. There is nothing flippant about Don’s hope in heaven and in the injuries he endured to obtain that vision. This opportunity killed him. Literally.

Both celestial and messy, Don’s testimony is widely accepted because it reflects the gospel promise for us today. At Lake Livingston, Texas, in January 1989, God performed a miracle. This story connects us to God’s mysterious activity in our own lives and stories. It offers a promise of what is to come. As the publisher and a companion of Don Piper, participating in this conversation is our greatest privilege. We place this story in your hands as an invitation to hope.

Dwight Baker
Baker Publishing Group



I died on January 18, 1989.

Paramedics reached the scene of the accident within minutes. They found no pulse and declared me dead. They covered me with a tarp so that onlookers wouldn’t stare at me while they attended to the injuries of the others. I was completely unaware of the paramedics or anyone else around me.

Immediately after I died, I went straight to heaven.

While I was in heaven, a Baptist preacher came on the accident scene. Even though he knew I was dead, he rushed to my lifeless body and prayed for me. Despite the scoffng of the Emergency Medical Technicians (EMTs), he refused to stop praying.

At least ninety minutes after the EMTs pronounced me dead, God answered that man’s prayers.

I returned to earth.

This is my story.


Chapter 1
The Accident

That is why we can say with confidence,
“The Lord is my helper,
so I will not be afraid.
What can mere mortals do to me?”

Hebrews 13:6

The Baptist General Convention of Texas (BGCT) holds annual statewide conferences. In January 1989, they chose the north shore of Lake Livingston where the Union Baptist Association, composed of all Baptist churches in the greater Houston area, operates a large conference center called Trinity Pines. The conference focused on church growth, and I went because I was seriously considering starting a new church.

The conference started on Monday and was scheduled to end with lunch on Wednesday. On Tuesday night, I joined a BGCT executive and friend named J. V. Thomas for a long walk. J. V. had become a walker after his heart attack, so we exercised together the last night of the conference.

Months earlier, I had begun thinking that it was time for me to start a new congregation. Before embarking on such a venture, I wanted as much information as I could get. I knew that J. V. had as much experience and knowledge about new church development as anyone in the BGCT. Because he had started many successful churches in the state, most of us recognized him as the expert. As we walked together that night, we talked about my starting a new church, when to do it, and where to plant it. I wanted to know the hardships as well as the pitfalls to avoid. He answered my seemingly endless questions and raised issues I hadn’t thought about.

We walked and talked for about an hour. Despite the cold, rainy weather, we had a wonderful time together. J. V. remembers that time well.

So do I, but for a different reason: It would be the last time I would ever walk normally.


On Wednesday morning the weather worsened. A steady rain fell. Had the temperature been only a few degrees colder, we couldn’t have traveled, because everything would have been frozen.

The morning meetings started on time. The final speaker did something Baptist preachers almost never do—he finished early. Instead of lunch, the staff at Trinity Pines served us brunch at about ten thirty. I had packed the night before, so everything was stowed in my red 1986 Ford Escort.

As soon as we finished brunch, I said good-bye to all my friends and got into my car to drive back to the church where I was on staff, South Park Baptist Church in Alvin, a Houston bedroom community.

When I started the engine, I remembered that only three weeks earlier I had received a traffic ticket for not wearing a seat belt. I had been on my way to preach for a pastor friend who was going to have throat surgery. A Texas trooper had caught me. That ticket still lay on the passenger seat, reminding me to pay it as soon as I returned to Alvin. Until I received the ticket, I had not usually worn a seat belt, but after that I changed my ways.

When I looked at that ticket I thought, I don’t want to be stopped again. So I carefully fastened my seat belt. That small act would be a crucial decision.

There were two ways to get back to Houston and on to Alvin. As soon as I reached the gates of Trinity Pines, I had to choose either to drive through Livingston and down Highway 59 or to head west to Huntsville and hit I-45, often called the Gulf Freeway. Each choice is probably about the same distance. Every other time to and from Trinity Pines I had driven Highway 59. That morning I decided to take the Gulf Freeway.

I was relieved that we had been able to leave early. It was only a few minutes after 11:00, so I could get back to the church by 2:00. The senior minister had led a group to the Holy Land and left me responsible for our midweek service at South Park Church. He had also asked me to preach for the next two Sundays. That night was a prayer meeting, which required little preparation, but I needed to work on my sermon for the following Sunday morning.

Before I left Alvin, I had written a draft for the first sermon titled “I Believe in a Great God.” As I drove, I planned to glance over the sermon and evaluate what I had written so far.

Many times since then I’ve thought about my decision to take the Gulf Freeway. It’s amazing how we pay no attention to simple decisions at the time they’re made. Yet I would remind myself that even the smallest decisions often hold significant consequences. This was one of those choices.

I pulled out of Trinity Pines, turned right, and headed down Texas Highway 19. That would take me to Huntsville and intersect with I-45, leading to Houston. I didn’t have to drive far before I reached Lake Livingston, a man-made lake, created by damming the Trinity River. What was once a riverbed is now a large, beautiful lake. Spanning Lake Livingston is a two-lane highway whose roadbed has been built up above the level of the lake. The road has no shoulders, making it extremely narrow. I would have to drive across a long expanse of water on that narrow road until I reached the other side. I had no premonitions about the trip, although I was aware of the road’s lack of shoulders.

At the end of the highway across the lake is the original bridge over the Trinity River. Immediately after the bridge, the road rises sharply, climbing the blu$ above the Trinity’s riverbed. This sharp upturn makes visibility a problem for drivers in both directions.

This was my first time to see the bridge, and it looked curiously out of place. I have no idea of the span, but the bridge is quite long. It’s an old bridge with a massive, rusty steel superstructure. Other than the immediate road ahead, I could see little, and I certainly didn’t glimpse any other traffic. It was a dangerous bridge, and as I would learn later, several accidents had occurred on it. (Although no longer used, the bridge is still there. The state built another one beside it.)

I drove at about fifty miles an hour because it was, for me, uncharted territory. I braced my shoulders against the chill inside the car. The wind made the morning seem even colder than it was. The steady rain had turned into a cloudburst. I would be happy to finally reach Alvin again. About 11:45 a.m., just before I cleared the east end of the bridge, an eighteen-wheeler driven by an inmate, a trusty at the Texas Department of Corrections, weaved across the center line and hit my car head-on. The truck sandwiched my small car between the bridge railing and the driver’s side of the truck. All those wheels went right on top of my car and smashed it.

I remember parts of the accident, but most of my information came from the accident report and people at the scene.

From the description I’ve received from witnesses, the truck then veered off to the other side of the narrow bridge and sideswiped two other cars. They were in front of the truck and had already passed me going in the opposite direction. The police record says that the truck was driving fast—at least sixty miles an hour—when it struck my car. The inexperienced driver finally brought the truck to a stop almost at the end of the bridge.

A young Vietnamese man was in one vehicle that was hit, and an elderly Caucasian man was in the other. Although shaken up, both drivers suffered only minor cuts and bruises. They refused help, so the paramedics transported neither man to the hospital.

Because of the truck’s speed, the accident report states that the impact was about 110 miles an hour. That is, the truck struck me while going sixty miles an hour, and I was carefully cruising along at fifty. The inmate received a citation for failure to control his vehicle and speeding. Information later came out that the inmate wasn’t licensed to drive the truck. At the prison, supervisors had asked for volunteers to drive their truck to pick up food items and bring them back. Because he was the only volunteer, they let him drive their supply truck. Two guards followed close behind him in another state-owned pickup.


After the accident, the truck driver didn’t have a scratch on him. The prison truck received little damage. However, the heavy vehicle had crushed my Ford and pushed it from the narrow road. Only the bridge railing stopped my car from going into the lake.

According to those who were at the scene, the guards called for medical backup from the prison, and they arrived a few minutes later. Someone examined me, found no pulse, and declared that I had been killed instantly.

I have no recollection of the impact or anything that happened afterward.

In one powerful, overwhelming second, I died.

90 Minutes in Heaven: A True Story of Death and Life, 10th Anniversary Edition
by by Don Piper and Cecil Murphey