‘90 Minutes in Heaven’ producer has own inspiring story

In the summer of 2004, the book “90 Minutes in Heaven” was released with a modest first printing of 7,500 copies. The author, Don Piper, was at that time an unknown pastor with a bold story. In the book, Piper shares the true story of the accident that claimed his life for 90 minutes, his near-heaven experience and the horrific months that followed, as he recovered from the devastating injuries. The publisher was unsure what to expect in response to the book release. Would Piper’s message be rejected, criticized or, worse yet, ignored by the public? What they certainly didn’t expect was the actual response to the story: The book eventually became a New York Times best-seller, with more than 7 million copies sold, and it has since been translated to 40 different languages. Its message of the hope of heaven and the restoration of a broken life through the devotion of loved ones continues to touch lives.

The movie “90 Minutes in Heaven” was released in theaters nationwide last week. It was largely filmed in metro Atlanta, and produced by local entrepreneur and philanthropist Rick Jackson, founder of Giving Films. I attended the world premiere red carpet event at the Fox Theater on Sept. 1, and was impressed to find out that Jackson’s company has committed to give 100 percent of the movie’s profits to Georgia charities dedicated to help children in the foster care system, victims of sex trafficking and other social issues. The theater’s balcony was filled with foster families who seemed excited to support the venture of one of their biggest cheerleaders.

Hope. That’s a theme the world can’t get enough of. The hope of heaven. Hope on earth. And that is the theme that kept pounding in my heart as I talked to Jackson last week. It’s no wonder he finds inspiration in stories of faith, such as the one told in “90 Minutes in Heaven.” Jackson is hope, restoration and determination personified. A foster child himself, Jackson became a successful businessman by allowing his failures to shape his future, closed doors to become opportunities to grow in determination and strength, while facing his fears with the daring attitude of a heart that trusts in God. He has no reservations in sharing that his faith has been the cornerstone of his life’s story. He sees his extensive philanthropic endeavors as exercising the gifts that God has given him. He intends to give, and give some more, because he understands that while his story is unique, there are several small children out there who have the potential to shape America’s future. If only we believe and invest in them, extending our arms and sharing our time, resources, and God’s message of love and redemption.

Don Piper’s story has brought solace to many people all over the world who have lost loved ones. I read the book to my husband following his brother’s tragic death three years ago. It’s a book worth reading, and now, a movie worth watching. Not only because of its story of faith and selfless love, but because the fruit of this endeavor will bring hope to children on this side of eternity.

In a world often permeated with darkness, greed and selfishness, it is a joy to hear the stories and shake the hands of real-life overcomers, who rise from the shadows of death of their circumstances stronger than ever, choosing to bless others with their resources, gifts and talents. Now, I’m sure God smiles at that.