On January 18, 1989, Donald Piper was driving on a bridge on his return home from a Bible conference. Before he cleared the bridge a tractor-trailer driven by an inmate from the Texas Department of Corrections crossed into his lane and collided with his small Ford Escort head on. He claims paramedics twice pronounced him dead at the scene. (Piper remembers being immediately transported to heaven, where he was reunited with loved ones. He did not, however, meet Jesus Christ there, because he was on the outside of the gates. While there, he claims he saw people who had died that were believers. In addition, he asserts that he heard people singing songs that are not known on earth but were in perfect harmony with each other. He could not think bad thoughts nor sad things. The gates of Heaven, he says, have a glossy look, like mother-of-pearl.
Within an hour after the accident another Baptist minister, Dick Onerecker, arrived on the scene. Onerecker states he was prompted by God to pray for Piper and did, even getting permission from the authorities to sit in the back of the vehicle with Don's body. After praying for a long time, Onerecker began to sing the hymn "What a Friend We Have in Jesus" and was startled when Piper suddenly began to sing along. Piper began a long, grueling recovery, which he attributes to both modern medicine and a miraculous act of God. He based a ministry upon his near death experience and 90 Minutes in Heaven.
Both in the book and through his ministry, Piper interprets his experience of heaven as an exclusive place for Christians. In the book, Piper says that “I don’t want to see others die without Christ,” and on the Don Piper Ministry website in the section on “How to go to Heaven,” Piper says that “those who die without Christ will sadly go to Hell.” Since Piper did not meet Jesus and admits in the book that he "did not see God" in heaven, he uses John 14:6, which says, “No man comes unto the Father but through me”, to support this claim, and he seems to rely on his meeting with fellow Christians and the hearing of songs praising Christ in heaven.
In Behind 90 Minutes in Heaven, researcher of near death experiences Rene Jorgensen argues against this claim and Piper’s interpretation of his near death experience. Jorgensen points out that within the research of near death experiences it is common for people to meet loved ones or people that have been of great significance in the life of each individual. As Piper has been a Christian most of his life it is therefore natural for him to meet fellow Christians in his personal experience of heaven, but this does, however, not mean that heaven is a place only for Christians.
Jorgensen explains that “heaven-like” experiences are found in most religions and cross-cultural research of near death experiences reveals that the content of these experiences differ according to culture and religious conditioning. E.g. in Buddhist near death experiences people meet the Lord Buddha or the Buddhist Lord of Death, Yama, in heaven and people also experience multiple heavens according to Buddhist belief together with hearing Buddhist chanting.
Don Piper and his wife, Eva, live near Houston, TX. They have a daughter, Nicole, and twin sons, Chris and Joe. In addition to speaking and writing, he serves on the Board of Directors for the Far East Broadcasting Company, which sends the Gospel via radio to approximately 20 countries in the Eastern Hemisphere.