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"Heaven is for Real's" First Family: The Burpos

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Colton was 4 years old in 2003 when his appendix burst.  For 5 days, infection spread throughout Colton’s body before doctors diagnosed him and performed emergency surgery.  Four months after the surgery, Colton began to describe his experiences during surgery.  Colton said Jesus and some angels flew him to heaven.  Todd asked Colton what Jesus looked like and he said He was wearing a robe with a purple sash.  Colton also described Jesus as having “markers.”  Todd asked Colton what markers were and Colton pointed to the palms of his hands and feet.  Colton also said he was brought into the throne room of God but, because he didn’t know what was going on, Colton was upset.  Then God showed him people or things that he liked in order to calm him down.  One person was Todd’s great-grandfather, “Pop,” who Colton never met because he passed away when Todd was young.  Colton also saw the sister that his mother, Sonja, had miscarried before Colton was born.  Todd and Sonja were amazed when Colton shared these details with them about people he knew nothing of. 

When Todd asked his son if he wanted to come back from heaven, Colton said he didn’t want to, but Jesus said he had to because He was answering his dad’s prayer. 

Todd and Sonja detailed Colton’s near-death experience in the New York Times best-selling book, Heaven is for Real.  The book has sold more than 10 million copies.  It has been translated into several languages.  Todd believes the book has been successful because it comes from the innocence and reliability of a child.  The Burpo family has been able to minister to many people at Heaven is for Real events held in churches and schools. 
Colton, now 14, is still in public school.  Todd says he is a normal kid with an unshakable faith in God.  Colton would like to be a musician and plays the trumpet, piano and sings.  He is on the wrestling team, sings in the choir and plays in a jazz band.  The biggest thing happening in Colton’s life right now is driver’s ed. His sister, Cassie is 17 and younger brother Colby is 9.  Todd is still a full-time pastor at their church.  “We just travel more,” says Todd. 

In the beginning, many people in Hollywood approached Todd about making a movie.  Todd was reluctant to allow someone he didn’t know to produce Colton’s powerful story.  One day, Todd was at a pastor’s conference where Bishop Jakes was speaking.  He was talking about one of the movies he was working on so Todd communicated his desire for Bishop Jakes to be involved in making the book into a movie. Then Hollywood producer Joe Roth wanted to be a part of the production and connected with Bishop Jakes. 

“We have to redefine a new normal in our lives,” says Todd.  Though they still have strong boundaries at home, they are on the road more.  “You can complain about it or accept it.  We know this is God,” he says. “We have to trust Him and keep moving forward.”  The Burpos hope the audience realizes that Colton is not a special child and that Jesus wants to do for them what He did for Colton.


Bishop T.D. Jakes and movie producer Joe Roth (Snow White and the Huntsman, Alice in Wonderland and Oz the Great and Powerful) produced the movie.  Randall Wallace (Braveheart, We Were Soldiers and Pearl Harbor) and Christopher Parker wrote the screenplay.  Academy award and Emmy winner Greg Kinnear (As Good As It Gets, Little Miss Sunshine, We Were Soldiers) stars as Todd Burpo.  Kelly Reilly (Sherlock Holmes, Flight) stars as Colton’s mom, Sonja.  Connor Corum stars as Colton.  The movie opens in theaters on April 16, the Wednesday before Easter.

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