Colton Burpo was just four years old when he visited Heaven, met Jesus, saw angels, and watched Mary kneel before the throne of God after slipping from consciousness while having his appendix removed in an emergency operation.
The little boy's extraordinary experience was later re-told in a 2010 book his by his parents, Rev. Todd and Sonja Burpo, titled "Heaven is for Real." The book quickly garnered international attention, spending 52 weeks on the New York Times bestseller list and 44 weeks at number one.
In 2014, "Heaven is for Real" was turned into a movie by Joe Roth and Bishop TD Jakes, making a staggering $101.3 million at the Box Office.
Fourteen years after Colton's miraculous encounter, The Gospel Herald caught up with Todd Burpo to get an update on the little boy whose story continues to move millions.
GH) It's nearly been a decade since you wrote "Heaven is for Real." What's Colton up to today?
TB: He's 18 and he's started his freshman years of college. He's really gifted in music and he sure didn't get that from me, we're pretty convinced God gave him a special gifting. He's really pursuing a worship ministry and wanting to grow in that, and we're really proud of that. That's what he's working on now.
GH) How has your life changed since the success of "Heaven is for Real"?
TB: There's nothing that hasn't changed. If anything, we have moments where we try to be normal as a family, we do our work, I'm still doing my job, my wife still works with children, but there are moments where you just have to stop. You write, you stop, you speak, you stop, you go home and we try to be mom and dad just like any other family. My youngest son last week had surgery, he broke his arm in football and now we're helping to nurse him and we're praying for God to heal that arm.
In some ways, I went from being unknown by most people -- you don't live in a town of 2,000 people and preach there for 20 years if you're seeking attention -- and so, "Heaven is for Real" thrust us into a spotlight we never anticipated. We knew God wanted us to write the book, but we never saw the success of the book coming, that surprised us. Yet at the same time, we said, "God, this is your plan, and we're going to make the best of it." But, we really fight for our normal time. My wife, she's the keeper of the calendar, and her nickname is Mama Bear. She tries to protect the family time and does a great job at it. So, most people when they need us would never guess we're different, because we're really not.
GH) Do you still deal with skeptics who doubt your family's story? What do you say to them?
TB: We always will have skeptics, there's no way to get around that. Colton's response is the best: I remember when he was 12, he was asked by someone who was interviewing him about Stephen Hawking's book "There is No Heaven." This person on a major news channel said, "Colton, what do you have to say about that? He doesn't agree with you." Here's my 12-year-old talking about a well-known scientist. He said, "He can believe what he wants to, but it doesn't' change what I saw. I know what I saw." And that's where we stand. People have their right to make their own decision, God gave us all that right. But we know what we saw and heard and our experience.
Praise God; we never thought our story would help and encourage so many people, but God has given us the chance to do that, and and as long as He keeps giving us the chance to keep encouraging people and point them to Him, we're just going to keep right down that road. He sent my son back to me from Heaven, He talked to me about my daughter in Heaven (we had a miscarriage) and that kind of hope -- it just isn't right to keep it to yourself, you have to share it with other people. And as long as we get to do that, we're grateful.