Tale of Colton Burpo, 'the boy who visited heaven', captivates America
April 30, 2014
(Translation of this article appears in Arabic section)
A preacher's son who was close to death from a burst appendix recovered to surprise his parents with tales of the delights of heaven.
Colton Burpo told his father Todd that he saw angels and rainbows while unconscious on the operating table at the age of four. He said that while visiting heaven he met John the Baptist and the Virgin Mary and sat at Jesus's knee.
His extraordinary claims have been turned into a film, Heaven is for Real, which has become a hit across America. (The film will not have a general release in Australia, but is available for group bookings.)
Mr Burpo said he began to believe the heavenly tales when his son described watching him shouting in despair at God in a hotel anteroom. The boy could not have known about his howls of anguish.
Colton went on to recognise a photograph of a great-grandfather he had never met and talked about meeting a sister who, he said, told him she had "died in their mother's tummy".
The family had never discussed the baby his mother Sonja lost to a miscarriage a year before Colton's birth. These details helped to convince them that Colton's claims were more than drug-induced hallucinations. Mr Burpo went on to write about his experiences.
The book, also called Heaven is for Real, became a bestseller, spending three years at the top of the charts. Now, 10 years after Colton's brush with death, it has been made into a film starring Greg Kinnear, who appeared in Little Miss Sunshine, as Todd Burpo.
Opening on Easter weekend, the movie was an instant hit, taking $US22.5 million ($24 million) in its first three days, overshadowing Transcendence, a blockbuster starring Johnny Depp that had been expected to dominate the box offices. Not surprisingly, the film appears to have struck a particular chord in the Bible Belt of the American Mid-West, where it has played to rapturous crowds who seem to view Colton's claims as gospel.
But critics have warned against accepting too literally the boy's childlike visions of riding a rainbow-coloured horse.
They are also wary of his description of Jesus as having "a bright smile" and eyes that were "beautiful sea blue".
Even some members of Mr Burpo's Baptist congregation in their home town of Imperial, Nebraska, were initially wary of his claims, But the family denies that they or anyone else coached Colton to come up with his extraordinary story.
Mr Burpo told the Huffington Post: "It's not fiction at all, this is real and I want people to know that and be given hope".
Colton, now 14 and an aspiring musician, continues to believe fervently that he died and went briefly to heaven.
Though he likes the film, he says it hasn't captured the glories he saw.
"They do a good job but they haven't experienced it like I have," he said. "Heaven is so much better than that."