Packing an auditorium ceases to fear former pastor Don Piper. At UMHB, he did just that.
Piper, a guest speaker for chapel, spoke on a dramatic life-changing experience as told in the book, 90 Minutes In Heaven. His story places an emphasis on decision making and begins like any other day, which turns ugly but ends in a miracle.
On Wednesday morning, Jan. 18, 1989, the cold east Texas wind blew as the rain trickled down. Piper, leaving a pastors’ retreat, chose to drive a different way home.
“I pulled out of the gates and made a big decision. I decided to go right for no other reason than curiosity,” he said.
With thoughts only on the night’s prayer meeting, he came to the two-lane Trinity River Bridge over Lake Livingston and proceeded to cross.
About to enter the bridge, an 18-wheeler in the oncoming lane swerved across the yellow line.
“He rolled over me like a speed bump,” Piper said.
Then the driver side-swiped the two cars in front of him before coming to a halt near the other end of the bridge.
Emergency assistance arrived, found no one else hurt but received no pulse from Piper’s lifeless body.
“They were unsuccessful in reviving me, declared me dead on the spot and covered me up so no one could see me.”
Unable to move the body until he was officially pronounced dead, officers stood by as the last EMT vehicle prepared to leave.
Meanwhile, traffic piled up on the two-lane road leading to the accident site. Dick and Anita Onerecker, speakers from the pastors’ retreat, were among the people caught in the stand still. They tried to piece together what happened.
Dick Onerecker walked to the site and asked an officer if he could pray for anyone. The officer replied that everyone involved was fine except for the man in the red car, who died. Piper, the man in the red car, said Onerecker heard God telling him to pray for the dead man.
Against his better judgment, Onerecker asked the officer if he could get in the red car and pray for the man. The astonished officer told him no, but after watching him a few moments said ok.
The officer said, “Sir you seem very sincere, but the reason we covered him up is because he is torn up.”
Piper said the sight in the car was horrible with blood everywhere and dismembered limbs scattered around the car.
Onerecker crawled through the back window and sat in the back seat, touched Piper’s right arm and began to pray. He then began to sing the hymn “What a Friend We have in Jesus.”
Piper said, “Suddenly, in the dark under the tarp, I started singing along with the man. He got out real fast.”
Onerecker fled the car and tried to reason with the EMTs, but only after threatening to lie in front of the vehicle did the man go agree to check Piper’s pulse.
Finding a pulse, the EMT shot into action. The clock was ticking.
The medics took Piper to the nearest hospital, but it could not treat him. So, they drove for hours to Houston.
Meanwhile, Piper said, “Every time my heart beat, it felt like it was hitting every one of those broken bones. I didn’t know you could hurt that bad.”
As the ambulance raced to the hospitals, Piper said he could hear a person screaming. When he asked the medic who the other person was, the medic replied he was the only patient.
Piper said, “I was 38 years old on my way to church, and now, I was in an ambulance. I was screaming, and I didn’t even know it was me. I knew at that moment I would never be the same.”
While doctors and medical specialists rushed to save his life, Piper’s wife and church had been contacted and were told to pray. At that point, everyone grabbed a phonebook and called every church in the area and asked them to pray.
Piper continues to meet people for the first time who prayed for him.
“This year I have met five new people that prayed for me that day…19 years later,” he said.
When the doctors looked for the expected brain damage and internal injuries, they found nothing.
This indicated to Piper two things: God answers prayers, and He is still in the healing business.
Piper said, “Anyone would have bled out in five minutes, but I am still here.”
He also encouraged students in the chapel to think about a world where we pray, like people did that day, everyday and with everything.
He said after the accident, the rehab and the disheartening doctors’ predictions began. But through it all, it was not hard to find the blessing.
“I had to find a way to take my test and turn it into a testimony, my mess into a message,” Piper said.
Although Piper did not elaborate in chapel about his experience in heaven, he does write about it.
Piper writes that the transition to heaven happened in a brilliance of light.
“I was standing in heaven. Joy pulsated through me as I looked around, and at that moment I became aware of a large crowd of people. They stood in front of a brilliant, ornate gate,” he writes.
Piper goes on to describe the people as those he had known in life and who had died before him.
“Everything I experienced was like a first-class buffet for the senses,” he said.
After briefly telling his experience in heaven, Piper brought chapel to a close by stressing the reality of heaven and the effects of not being prepared when it’s time to go.
“I went to heaven because I knew the way. Heaven is real, and Jesus is the way….Life passes fast—better be ready for what happens next,” he said.
After Piper’s presentation, many students filed out of the chapel thinking about what they should do next in their lives to make lasting decisions.
Sophomore Lexie Flemming said, “I really did like him. I thought it was very inspirational. It made me really treasure my life now and realize that it only takes a second for a person’s life to end.”
University Chaplain Dr. George Loutherback said because of students’ positive response to Piper, the author will be asked back again.