Nearly 12 years ago, a series of challenges stretched and tested Pastor Todd Burpo, his wife Sonja, and their two children; Cassie and Colton. While undergoing an emergency appendectomy, a barely 4-year-old Colton had a near-death experience. During this “out-of- body” time, Colton shared with his parents and loved ones of visiting Heaven. His recollections were so vivid, and matter-of-fact, that Todd knew his son had neither learned this information in Sunday school: nor was the preschooler making imaginary statements. Colton’s miraculous visit to Heaven and how his account rocked their small Nebraska town is depicted in the New York Times best-selling book and now TriStar Pictures film, Heaven Is For Real.
I had a chance to sit down with the family. Todd, Sonja and Colton Burpo (14), reveal insightful details about their family’s vulnerable experiences since the book’s success and film adaptation. They also explore how their small Nebraska town remains affected by Colton’s extraordinary, afterlife experiences during the mommy blogger Q&A. Interestingly, Colton’s near-death memories remain sharp, although it’s been over 11 years since he went unconscious at age 3.
Todd Burpo = TB, Sonja Burpo = SB, Colton Burpo = CB
Nowadays, you’ll find the Burpo family touring the country offering their “Heaven Is For Real Live” Events (www.heavenlive.org), where Colton leads Praise and Worship, Todd leads a fiery message and helps with special prayer. Colton Burpo is hip and soul-stirring. Expect him to receive the type of attention that Colton Dixon from American Idol is now garnering as a Christian Contemporary Artist. This is one of Colton Burpo’s calling, as many who attend these
events often are moved by his music. I asked if he felt called to become a pastor.
CB: I’m not too sure. I know that God wants me to keep doing what I’m doing and that’s helping people out. Because I know I enjoy it. I know I enjoy being able to help people through things that have been challenging them their entire lives. So, I’m not too sure if I’m going to be called into ministry, like pastoral work or anything. But, I do know whatever I’m going to end up doing
On the other hand, Sonja was very adamant about believing that God gives everyone job to fulfill in life.
SB: I think that every one of us is called into the ministry, whether it’s just parenting our kiddos: Whether it’s with our groups. Right now, I’m coming off my daughter (Cassie) year as a senior. I was very involved with softball. I was “Momma Sonja.” There were three of us. We were the three that kind of ran the team. But, I think that we are all called to a ministry. And, some of us are more in the public. And, we need to use it. We have all been given a gift, and God wants us to use it.
One of the most remarkable “gifts” that Colton uses is his gift of public speaking, especially to those that are terminally-ill. Todd spoke proudly of his son, who began using this gift once he returned from Heaven.
TB: Colton Skypes to private and public schools and groups all the time. And also, he Skypes especially with kids terminally-ill kids. That’s his true calling. And, he’ll give them hope, because they’re getting ready to see Heaven, they wanna talk to Colton. He’ll give them peace and reassurance. Those are some of the things that he does now, too!
Prior to shooting the film, initially Greg Kinnear and Todd did Skype, while Kelly Reilly also had an opportunity to meet with the Burpo family. Todd says most of their discussions took place with director and co-writer Randall Wallace. “Oh, they nailed me,” Colton says after meeting Connor Corum, who portrays him in the film.
I wanted to know how the small town (pop. About 2,200) of Imperial, Neb, was reacting to the book, film and sudden fame? It seems like they would be rocked? Can you kind of explain?
TB: Well, they weren’t so much rocked right at the moment because things in real-life came slower. In the movie, you have a shorter amount of time. So, things come at you faster in the movie. But right now, I would probably say, we still have more unrest now than we did back then! Because in a small town, people hate change. They HATE change, and HATE who brings Todd says that while he did initially struggle with speaking about Colton’s experiences, he knew that he couldn’t deny what had occurred.
Todd says that while he did initially struggle with speaking about Colton’s experiences, he knew that he couldn’t deny what had occurred.
TB: Colton is just going to talk about it anyway. I wasn’t going to tell my son, “You can’t tell people what Jesus did for you.” That was never going to happen. But, you have to understand that a small town is a safe place. In my town, people don’t lock their doors. They keep their keys in their cars. But now, when we started really wrestling with the issue: I’m not an author anyway. I didn’t ever think I was going to be. I didn’t think I was going to write a book. Those became real issues then. But, we knew we had to protect our son. Because in a small town, even though some people didn’t agree with what Colton said he saw, they knew it happened. They knew what he said he was talking about. They knew he almost died. Those things: they couldn’t deny.
Yes, that’s true. So, how has the town reacted to the movie now?
TB: We’re waiting to see. I think it’ll be black-and-white. People will love it, and people will hate it. We’re just ready for that.
Heaven Is For Real is in theaters nationwide now.
Visit www.heavenisforreal.net or www.heavenlive.org
Rated: PG for certain medical situations
* Penny Scott was not paid to endorse this film. She attended a screening and junket for editorial purposes. The review is in our own words and is our opinion. Your results and opinions may differ.