Editor's Note: Our apologies to all of our Custer County Chief readers. This story starts on the front page of this week's Chief, but the jump does not appear. Included here for the on-line edition is the entire story. The entire story will also appear in next week's Chief.
Just before his fourth birthday, Colton Burpo was rushed into emergency surgery with a burst appendix. The little boy spent 17 days in a hospital bed before he finally started to recover. Colton’s parents were very thankful to have their son live through the experience. It wouldn’t be until months later that they would receive an even bigger shock.
As the months went by, Colton would slowly begin talking about his experience that day. An experience that included dying and going to heaven. His memories were very vivid but his parents dismissed him at first. Colton’s father, Todd, is the minister of a church in Imperial, Nebraska and they believed the stories were just part of his bible school studies. The young boy, however, spoke about things that he couldn’t possible of had knowledge about.
Colton told how he watched his father praying in a small room and his mom talking on the phone in another room. “No one knew where I was praying,” said his father, “not the nurses or the surgeon, not even my wife. But Colton knew exactly where I was during that time.” Colton related to his parents how he met his great-grandfather in heaven, a man called ‘Pops’. He describes him as a very nice man with curly hair, a big smile, and huge wings. Everyone in heaven has wings according to Colton. No one had ever talked to Colton about his great-grandfather before.
Most moving of all, however, is when Colton tells of meeting his sister in heaven. Colton asked his parents if he had another sister, but they said no. The only sister he has is the one, older sister Cassie. But Colton asks his mother, “Didn’t you have a baby that died in your tummy?” Years earlier, Colton’s mother Sonja had had a miscarriage. They had never told anyone about the lost and didn’t even know the sex of the baby. Colton described his other sister as a lot like Cassie, and that she wouldn’t stop hugging him. Colton, now 12 years old, says he’s not much of a ‘hugger’. His parents were shocked at first but then felt relief that their daughter was okay and waiting for them in heaven.
The tale is much larger, of course, and Colton talks about meeting many of the important figures of the bible including Samson and John the Baptist. He spends a lot of time with Jesus, who he describes as have eyes colored sea-blue. Todd Burpo explains most people think Jesus’s eyes are brown. “But his father was God not Joseph so who knows? It’s entirely possible they were blue.” Jesus tells Colton that he doesn’t want him to leave but he’s answering his father’s prayer and returning him to earth. Jesus had a message for Todd, too. “Teach the children. Don’t forget about the children.”
Colton’s story unfolded over months, then years. Colton’s father, Todd Burpo, began sharing his son’s tale with his congregation at the Crossroads Wesleyan Church in Imperial. Word of the story spread and the Burpo’s were approached about a book deal. A number one book on the New York Times Bestseller list, “Heaven is for Real,” written by Todd has sold 1.5 million copies since its release. The book went back to press 22 times. Thomas Nelson, the book’s publisher, said it has broken company sales records.
Since then, the Burpo family has traveled all over the country talking about Colton’s experience and promoting the book. They have appeared on several talk shows including “The Today Show,” “Fox & Friends,” “The 700 Club” and CNN. They charge a very hefty price for speaking engagements, the book remains at the top of the bestseller list, and a movie about the book is scheduled to be released in 2012. Many have condemned the family about its apparent profiting off of their son’s near death experience. But Todd dismisses the criticism, “Going into it, I never thought the book would be profitable. I had hoped that we would break even.” He says he will donate some of the money and use some on home improvements.
Colton Burpo, now 12, spends a lot of time away from home but is still a normal young boy. He takes his homework with him wherever he goes. He loves Nebraska Husker Football, listens to Christian rock, and plays the piano and trumpet.