There’s no doubt that life has profoundly changed for Todd and Sonja Burpo since their son, Colton, underwent emergency appendectomy surgery back in 2003 and had a near-death experience that subsequently captivated the world.
The boy, who was just 3 at the time, says he met Jesus, ascended to heaven and interacted with dead relatives — all while doctors were working to save his life.
Flash forward 10 years later and Todd Burpo, a Christian pastor who regularly shares his son’s story, has authored two books — “Heaven Is for Real” and “Heaven Changes Everything” — and the family is preparing for Colton’s story to hit movie theaters next year in a film starring Greg Kinnear.
In a recent interview with TheBlaze, Burpo spoke about what Colton, now 13, says he saw in heaven and how these visions and experiences have shaped the young man’s life.
In particular, he detailed some of the most shocking things his son shared in the months following his brush with death.
“The moments you remember the most are the ones that shock you the most,” Burpo said.
The first of these moments was one in which the father was in the hospital’s chapel, voicing his anger toward God over his son’s illness.
“When I was in there yelling at God, I was alone I thought,” he said.
But months later, Colton told his father that he saw him speaking to God in the chapel that day. Burpo said his son didn’t miss a single detail about what was said and what unfolded in the room — revelations that really “freaked (him) out.”
“That violated everything,” Burpo said. “I was like how do you know that? Nobody … I thought, besides God, could ever bring that moment back to me.”
The second incident was one in which Colton was able to recount events that happened early on in his father’s life. Burpo said he hadn’t shared the information from his childhood with his son and was stunned that Colton knew of it. Burpo didn’t divulge to TheBlaze what it was Colton said.
Of course there’s also one of the more famous examples — Colton’s claim that he met a sister he never knew he had while he was in heaven. Sonja Burpo had a miscarriage when she was just two months pregnant — something that Colton was not aware of at his young age.
Colton recalled a girl meeting him in heaven and said she hugged him and told him she was his sister — and that she was excited that someone was in heaven for her. Todd Burpo said it was “a huge moment of that peace that surpasses understanding” for him and his wife. He had struggled for understanding after the miscarriage.
“As a pastor, I remember when we had that miscarriage looking through the Bible (and wondering what) does happen to miscarried babies … but there’s no verse that explicitly addresses that,” he said.
What Colton told them put the family at ease.
Watch the trailer for ‘Heaven Is for Real’
Still, Todd Burpo admitted that it took him and his wife some time to comprehend and acknowledge what their son said he experienced.
It wasn’t until about four months after his appendix burst and he nearly died that the Burpos started to put the pieces together.
“We had to heal. A lot of people don’t understand that part of it. They know my son was sick, they know he almost died,” he said. “What they don’t read into the story is what it did to his mom and I. You can’t go to sleep if you don’t know if your kids going to be alive.”
Of the 17 days Colton was in the hospital, his father remembers only getting five nights of rest. Afterward, the family simply wanted to forget the entire ordeal, even though Colton was continuously dropping hints that he had a heavenly experience.
But four months later when the boy told his parents that angels sang to him in the hospital, something changed. To that point the family had avoided talking or focusing much on what had happened, but they were finally ready to hear it — and to share the experience with the world.
For the Burpos, life has certainly become more chaotic, but they try to keep things as normal as possible in their home. Sonja keeps the family calendar, which includes a busy public speaking schedule for Todd and normal school and sports activities for the kids.
Overall, despite the attention, Todd Burpo, who is the pastor of Crossroads Wesleyan Church in Imperial, Neb., said the aim is to foster a normal life for Colton.
“I’m still a fireman, I’m still the state volunteer chaplain for the state of Nebraska … my kids are still involved in the sports they were before,” he said. “The same rules we had before. Colton still has to do his own laundry. At home, nothing’s changed.”