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The People Along the Path to Heaven

Don did not know that January 18, 1989 would be his last day on Earth. He was on his way home from the Trinity Pines Conference Center eighty miles north of Houston. Don was preaching at his church that evening. Ten minutes after he left the conference center, he drove on a bridge across Lake Livingston. An 18-wheel truck came from the opposite direction, smashed into his Ford Escort and killed him instantly. Don was pronounced dead by four sets of EMTs. Shortly after the accident, a pastor, Dick Onerecker, arrived on the scene and asked if he could pray for the man in the accident. The officer told Dick that the man under the tarp was deceased. Dick insisted on praying for the man anyway, but he was warned that the body was badly mangled. The Lord impressed upon Don to pray specifically for no head or internal injuries. While Dick prayed fervently, Don was experiencing the glories of heaven. Just as suddenly as Don had arrived at the gates of heaven, he left them. In his first moment of consciousness back on Earth, Don recalls singing along with Dick, “What A Friend We Have in Jesus.”  Unfortunately, Don’s time in heaven did not take away from his earthly suffering. He had a long road back to health.  “Pain became my constant companion. For a long time, I would not know what it was like not to hurt all over my body,” recalls Don. Miraculously he had no head or internal injuries. He spent more than 100 days in the hospital with painful treatments and physical disabilities. To date, Don has had 34 surgical procedures. His ability to walk was nothing short of a miracle. “Sometimes I still ask God why I wasn’t allowed to stay in heaven. I have no answer to that question. I have learned, however, that God brings people into my life that need me or need to hear my message,” says Don.

Don, 68, remembers driving on the bridge and the next moment he recalls standing in heaven. “It (heaven) was perfect, and I knew I had no needs and never would again,” says Don. The light, texture, beauty and tones surpassed anything he had ever seen. From the celestial greeting committee to the myriad of sounds, Don says heaven was like a first-class buffet for the senses. It felt more real than anything he had ever experienced before. Since his brief trip to heaven, Don says a single day has not passed in which he hasn’t felt an intense longing to go back.

After his accident, Don says his perspective changed on many things including heaven. Although he had read about heaven in the Bible and heard sermons on it, everything changed when he experienced it. “Heaven ceased to be a possibility for me and became a reality. Heaven is now my reality, not the life I now live on Earth,” shares Don.  He loves his life here with family and friends, but since the accident he now lives closer to the heavenly reality. “I am truly blessed to have had the opportunity to be at the gates of heaven. It was an incredible gift that profoundly impacted my life then and continues to impact me just as strongly today,” says Don.

Don recalls his first conscious moment after the crash. “I was enveloped by a pure, intense, brilliant light,” he says.  “The luminescence wasn’t from a sun or moon.  Heaven has no need for either.”  He says through it was powerful, Don says he was able to gaze at the brilliance without having to look away.  There was a welcoming committee, people who helped Don get to heaven or encouraged him to pursue the Christian life, were at the gates of heaven.  “Although I didn’t see Him, I knew that once inside, I would be with Him.”  Don says angels were everywhere.  “All are magnificent beings,” he says.  “Some have multiple wings; others only have two wings; still others appear without wings.”  Don says his soul was flooded with music.  “Despite what seemed to be thousands of songs being offered up simultaneously, there was no chaos,” he says.  As he was getting ready to enter the gates, everything stopped.  Instantly, Don was in utter darkness and complete silence.  Out of the void he heard a voice. The voice was singing, “What a Friend We Have in Jesus,” and Don later found out it was the preacher who stopped to pray for him.  Immediately Don says he was back on earth, his body shattered and unrecognizable.  Why didn’t God let me stay? Why did I have to return to earth? Don asked himself before the pain set in.  For the last 30 years, Don believes God brought him back to earth so that he would confirm to all who will listen that heaven is real and to tell the world Jesus is the way to heaven.

While Don was hospitalized for 105 days and undergoing numerous surgeries, the family was under stress. “Many of my problems stemmed from my feeling completely helpless,” says Don.  “For a long time, I couldn’t even get myself a glass of water.”  Today Don urges believers to share their stories with others.  “You need to turn your test into a testimony,” he says.  “Turn your pain into purpose and your mess into a message. Who will be in heaven because of you?”

Mentioned in the Video

Guest Info


NY Times Best-selling author: Ninety minutes IN heaven, Revel, movie edition 2015

More than 8 million copies in 46 languages

2015 movie, 90 Minutes in Heaven, Giving Films

Baptist Minister known as “The Minister of Hope”

Featured on The Today Show, TBN, etc.

Serves on the Board of Directors for the Far East Broadcasting Company, which sends the Gospel via radio to approximately 20 countries in the Eastern Hemisphere

Graduate: Louisiana State University

Radio and Television Broadcasting

Wife: Eva

3 children


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