Even though the Burpo family has been on a wild ride for the past few years, they still live their life as “normally” as possible. Todd loves fixing things, grilling in the back yard, speaking to audiences all over the world, and a solid afternoon nap. Sonja finds her joy in loving and teaching kids of all ages, raising her own kids and managing their busy schedule, and being the backbone of Heaven is for Real Ministries.
Colton, 21, is busy every day working as an apprentice to an electrician, along with keeping up with speaking events, podcast interviews, and other media opportunities all over the world.
The Burpo Family is deeply committed to their faith in Jesus, and their experiences through the Heaven is for Real journey has only solidified their love of the Lord and their love of the local church. They are passionate about working tirelessly to keep Heaven is for Real Ministries alive and well through the creation of new books and resources as well as through speaking to audiences all over the world.
John Shegerian: This edition of the Impact Podcast is brought to you by ERI. ERI has a mission to protect people, the planet, and your privacy and is the largest fully-integrated IT and electronics asset disposition provider and cybersecurity-focused hardware destruction company in the United States and maybe even the world. For more information on how ERI can help your business properly dispose of outdated electronic hardware devices, please visit eridirect.com.
John: Welcome to another edition of the Impact Podcast. This is a very special Christmas edition of the Impact Podcast. I’m John Shegerian, and today we have with us a very special young man. His name is Colton Burpo a book was written on his life, it’s called Heaven is For Real. Colton, I just want to say it’s an honor and I’m really grateful for you to be on the Impact with us on this special Christmas edition.
Colton Burpo: Well, thank you for having me.
John: You know, you and I were talking about it a little bit off the air. For you, this is, I guess, 18 years in the making, for me, this is 10 years. I was blessed 10 years ago to be introduced to your family by a common family friend, Lynn Vincent, who wrote the original book, Heaven is For Real and you were such a gracious young man. When I ordered a bunch of your books, a couple of cases from your mom and dad and I asked for you to sign the books. I have one of the original copies right here, given out many dozens of copies, and people have been just moved by your story. But you were so nice to sign these books. Not only did you just sign your name, but under the words, Heaven is For Real and inside the cover, you actually wrote, “And you’re going to like it!” With an exclamation point and that just, man, that just moves everyone. When people see what you did at 10 years old by signing these books and signing it that way, that just is a huge exclamation point on faith and the reality of heaven and we’re all hopefully all going and things of that such and I just want to say thank you again. I love this copy. It sits on my desk. People ask me about it all the time and I get to retell that story and I get to show them that page that you signed. So, thank you for that. Thank you for that.
Colton: You’re welcome.
John: You know, Colton, it’s been quite a journey and I don’t want to tell your story. I want you to share with our listeners from three years old what really happened and what transpired since then in terms of the book, the movie, and everything else you’re doing with your wonderful ministry.
Colton: Yeah. So Heaven is For Real, kind of, how it started or the real-life experience that happened was when I was three years old about ready to turn four, I had appendicitis or my appendix ruptured and it was ruptured for about five days before doctors caught it. So when the doctors did finally catch that I had a ruptured appendix, I went into emergency surgery right away. And during that first surgery, I got to go to heaven and heaven is for real, kind of, stems off of that experience where then I came back from heaven and just started talking about it with my dad, my mom, my family friends, and they just started kind of saying like, “How does Colton know this?” Or my dad always told me now that I’m older, he said, “Yeah, when you were younger, people would always just come up and say, ‘Did you hear what your son just told us?'” He said, “No, what did he say this time?”
So it’s been a very big part of my life just being able to talk about having with people, give people hope, and that’s kind of been a big thing about my life and above all else, what I love to do is to give people hope but also to point them to Jesus because that’s how I got to heaven. I mean, it was really cool but how I got to have it is during that surgery, I was lifting out of my body. I could see the doctors working on me and I could see my mom and dad in separate rooms, but I was then sitting on Jesus’ lap and at the time I was freaking out I had no idea what was going on. And then Jesus had some angels sing to me to calm me down and it was just really cool because, at the time, they sang some of my favorite songs. Some of my favorite songs at the time were like Joshua fought Jericho, Jesus Loves Me. I did ask them to sing, We Will Rock You by Queen but they did say no.
John: Oh my gosh. That’s so cute at three years old.
Colton: That actually happened. Well, the thing is my dad, like my family’s a wrestling family. So my dad was a wrestling coach. I did wrestling basically my whole life. My little brother, Colby, he does wrestling. So wrestling tournaments, I remember all my Saturdays being there and that was one of the songs that played at a wrestling tournament.
Colton: Yeah. When it comes to like music people like to kind of poke fun at me because they’re like, “Colton, you don’t really have like an actual genre you listen to. You just listen to a bunch of things here and there,” and I’m like, “Yeah. Well, if it’s an 80s song, I can probably recognize it because my parents loved the 80s.” Newer stuff, good luck. My brother makes fun of me for being an old man since I don’t understand a lot of the current trends and I’m just like, “Why?” But, yeah, it’s cool.
John: So you on Jesus’ lap, the angels were singing to you. Is that a memory, 18 years removed, you’re now 21. Is that still vivid? As vivid as it was when you were retelling the story after?
John: Wow. That’s fantastic. How was heaven? Can you explain what heaven felt like? Is there a feeling that you could explain verbally? Is there a verbal way of actually explaining the whole feeling around you while you were there?
Colton: So how I would describe heaven is I would say the feeling is heaven feels like home because we get to finally be with God. Like in heaven– another way that I like to describe it for people is to have three pictures in your head. The first one is – have a perspective of a kid because how I remember heaven was very simple as a kid. As I’ve been growing up learning more, I’d start to make things complicated because adults love to make things complicated. I’ve come to find out. So I try to view heaven through the perspective of a kid because it keeps it simple. The second is – think of heaven as a city that never stops growing. So, heaven is constantly growing for all the people that are coming in all the time. And with heaven, there is room for everyone but not everyone does make it to heaven. And then the third one and this is kind of the one that I used to kind of describe having to people so that they can get an idea is think of heaven as a perfect version of earth. Like heaven isn’t like those old Tom and Jerry cartoons where you just kind of sit on a cloud, play a harp, and sing the whole time.
In heaven, there are actually things to do. There are people, there are animals, there are angels, there’s also grass, there are trees, there’s water, there are buildings. There are more colors in heaven than there are down here on earth. There’s also food in heaven. Yeah, in heaven, I remember eating a lot of pizza and mac and cheese. And that might still be some of my favorite food today.
John: Listen. It was good for heaven, why not here on earth as well? You gave me hope now.
Colton: You got me there. Yeah. That’s some of the things I like to just talk with people about like because in heaven, it’s perfect. In heaven, there is no sin which for us, we don’t know what that’s like because here on earth, in all honesty, there’s not really anything that’s perfect.
John: That’s true. That’s true.
Colton: So it’s cool because like even in heaven, like when I was in heaven, I was a little kid. But it was weird because, for me, I met my sister who has miscarried before I was born so she was my older sister. She was in between my oldest sister Cassie who’s now 24 and me. And when I met her in heaven, she was actually the first person I met. So when I was brought up to heaven, after Jesus had the angels sing to me to calm me down, he had one of the angels fly me to heaven and when the angels sat me down, it was like on this road that led through these gates into heaven. There was a little girl that came running out of heaven and just gave me this giant old bear hug.
John: Did you know who she was when she did that?
Colton: At first, no. I was your typical three-year-old, four-year-old boy who still believed in cooties. I kind of just went, “Who are you? Why are you hugging me? What’s going on?” And after she let go she told me who she was that she was my sister and she was just so happy someone from her family was finally in heaven. And with my sister in heaven, she looks a lot like my older sister Cassie, but when I saw her she was a little bit smaller, but she was bigger than me and she had brown hair like my mom instead of blond hair. So, yeah, for kids like if kids are miscarried, if they’re aborted, or if they died at a young age, they go straight to heaven and they grow up in heaven. It’s really cool. And another cool thing is in heaven, for the adults, we get new bodies. So another person I met in heaven was my great-grandpa. My dad’s grandpa, Pop, and I actually met him when I was in the throne room of heaven, and Pop just kind of walked up to me and he said, “Are you Todd’s son?” I went, “Yeah, well, I’m his grandpa.”
It was cool because in heaven if I wasn’t with Jesus, I was with Pop and he was taking care of me. So it’s really cool because family is still a really big thing in heaven. But with Pop, when I saw him, he was in his prime like his late 20s. Because he wasn’t old in heaven, nobody’s old, nobody needs glasses or anything to help them walk around. Everybody’s young and healthy and the really cool thing is that in heaven, everybody has wings. What I remember is everybody was wearing white robes, they had different colors sashes. I don’t really know what they stood for. I just remember I had a red one, Pop had a blue one, Jesus had a purple one. Another thing is in heaven, we also have lights above our heads. They’re not really like halos, they’re more like flags. And then, yeah, everybody in heaven except for Jesus and the Holy Spirit, have wings, so you’re able to walk or fly everywhere. And, yeah, it’s really cool.
John: No kidding. Wow, that is powerful stuff. For our listeners who just joined us, this is the Christmas edition, a very special edition of the Impact Podcast. We’ve got Colton Burpo who was the subject matter star of Heaven Is For Real, the best-selling book and movie. And you could find Colton, his family, their books, and all the ministry that they’re doing to give hope and healing to people around the world at www.heavenlive.org, heavenlive.org.
You know, Colton, from three years old to now, a lot has happened and a book was written by best-selling author Lynn Vincent, Christian writer, Lynn Vincent who’s a common friend of mine and your families obviously, and that’s how we met originally. Talk a little bit about the book coming out and all that hubbub around the book and the movie and how you dealt with all of the attention that Hollywood and book writing and fame and fortune can thrust upon a wonderful family like yours.
Colton: Well, I’m not sure if you’ve ever gotten the chance to talk with my parents in detail.
Colton: But part of the reason why from when I had my experience, was it 2003? Yeah. So the book didn’t come out until 2010. So there was a good seven-year span before we even wrote a book, and the only reason we wrote a book is because God said, “Do it.” So we were like, “Okay.” My family, we never wanted to be famous. We were from Imperial, Nebraska. It’s a tiny town of 2,000 people. In the corner of Nebraska where Colorado and Kansas meet Farm Town. And just kind of living there, I grew up there my whole life, and we never really expected all this to happen. But, yeah, when God said, “Do it,” we did it.
John: Colton, you guys just didn’t do it. I mean this book has sold– the last I saw, over two million copies. You might have even a better number now, but I mean the millions of lives that you’ve helped, I just know from just my little self, handing out your book to people. People have written to me the most heartwarming and thankful and faithful emails. I can’t even imagine how you guys were inundated with millions of copies and then a movie being made on the book. I mean, how do you deal with it?
Colton: In all honesty– so when we originally wrote the book we definitely did not expect it to become what it was. My dad was kind of planning for having just big boxes of books in our garage because we weren’t able to sell it. Like that’s where we were with it. We just kind of went we have no idea what’s happening, God. We don’t know what’s gonna go. And it was funny because we actually didn’t go through the hoops or try and seek out like, “Oh, we want to make this into a book.” How it goes is my dad when God finally said, “I want you to write a book.” My dad said, “No.” But then God just kind of reminded him, he’s like, “You know that piece you felt when you heard about your daughter in heaven.” “Oh, yeah, God, I wouldn’t trade that for anything.” Why would you keep that to yourself?
So then my dad describes it as a Gideon moment or a Gideon prayer where he said, “Okay, God, if this is you, the publishing world has to come to find me in Imperial, Nebraska. I don’t know how to write a book. I don’t know what to do. I don’t know how to do it. You got to bring it to me and I will do it.” So my dad was like, “Okay, done deal.” So when my dad got a phone call, it was from our book agent. His name was Joel Mugler, and he was on the phone with my dad and basically called him and said, “Mr. Burpo, I heard about your son’s story and I would like to help you make a book out of it.” My dad is kind of sitting there and he kind of describes it as he felt like it was Joel on his phone in one ear talking with them about making a book out of our experience and then he felt like God in the other ear saying, “Now, you made me a promise. Are you going to keep it?”
Thankfully, we did get some help from our mutual friend, Lynn, because we had no idea what we were doing. It kind of came down to what’s going on, I have no clue. Okay. That’s kind of been the story of our lives with Heaven is Real Ministries. We have just been stepping in faith like, “Okay, God, are you sure?” And he’s been able to lead us every step of the way thus far and especially when Heaven is Real became what it was where it became super well known. It was selling millions of copies. I’m one of the first people that told my dad, “Dad, you’re not that great of an author. That has to be God.” And it’s actually really funny because back in 2017, my dad wrote another book, you know, God is for Real. With that book, we wrote it because when we’ve been doing ministry, we’ve been getting a lot of hard questions from people. Like, “If God is a good God, why do bad things still happen to good people?” And, “I don’t like church people? Is that okay?” Like just these questions that people have and God challenged my dad to write that book and said, “All right. I want you to explain me to people.” “Okay, any more ideas? Cool.” And that one was cool because I did read that one and oh, trust me, that gets me to read Heaven is For Real. You got to meet me. And yes, I was a kid. But when I was 10, 11, the only books that I was wanting to read were comic books.
John: I don’t blame you. You’re a kid, yeah.
Colton: When my dad told me, “Colton, you need to read the book.” I said, “Why? I lived it.” That didn’t go over too well. So I ended up reading the book because my dad was like, “No, people are going to be asking questions based on what is in the book? So like you need to know what people are gonna ask you?” I’m like, “Okay.” So when my dad wrote this other book, he had me read it. He was like, “Colton, what do you think?” I’m like, “Well, in the past seven years, you became a better writer.”
John: Only a son can say that to his father. Colton, that’s funny. That is good.
Colton: That’s the other thing that I find interesting or some people just don’t realize but my family were normal people. You think we’re normal kind of. And it’s just really cool because yeah, even with Heaven is For Real, when it was in its heyday. I would say from probably like 2011 to 2014, when it was really big in the news. I was interviewing on The Today’s Show, Kathie Lee and Hoda, Fox & Friends like doing all that, I’m doing events like once a month. I remember, I think my freshman year of high school, which was 2014 like 2013-2014. I missed about 60 days of school just because I was gone for Heaven is For Real. And that was also the year our movie came out so very busy. I got to experience what a press junket was. It was terrible.
John: It wasn’t that much fun?
Colton: No. It was awful. Just to sit there and it’s like five-minute increments. You have a four-minute interview and then a one-minute break to swap out the interviewer. So they were actually like the people running the show, they were starting to get irritated with my family because we were like, “We got to go use the bathroom. We got to go stretch our legs for a little bit.” They were like, “No, no, we got to do this.” And it’s like, “We’re not really cut out for this.” It is kind of funny, some people might laugh about this or not. But back in 2014, there was originally going to be a movie that was going to be releasing like the same weekend of Heaven is For Real, and at this moment, I had already seen the screen test of the movie, so I was like, “Okay. I’ve already seen the movie like three to four times before it’s in theaters, and me and then the actor that played me, Connor – Connor Corum, he’s the little kid that played me. We kind of came to a general consensus because the movie was Captain America the Winter Soldier, and he and I both agreed that if that movie did come out on the same day of Heaven is For Real, we are skipping the red carpet of Heaven is For Real and going to see the other movie.
John: That’s awesome.
Colton: Because hey, I’ve already seen this movie.
John: Did you go to a Hollywood-esque opening in LA or New York when Heaven is For Real came out?
Colton: No. When Heaven is For Real came out, it was sort of red carpet hexes, I think. Again, I don’t really know anything about that whole world. It was like, “Oh, okay, make sure I’m dressed up super nice. Got it.” And it’s kind of funny but my friends always give me a hard time whenever I like almost nonchalantly or just say, “Oh, yeah, I’ve done this,” or, “Oh, yeah, I’ve met that person.” “Wait, you do White House Press junket or like the presidential press thing but you got to go do that?” Yeah, that’s cool. It’s kind of crazy because I’m able to just say random things like that and people are just like who is this kid?
John: How was New York when you did Hoda and Kathie Lee and Fox & Friends, did you enjoy New York when you were young and went there with your parents?
Colton: I did. We went to New York quite a few times. I was also able to catch like for me, I’m a super huge music guy. So one thing my mom and I did, one of the times we were there it was her and I went to go see The Lion King Musical, which for me like when I was born or around that time, that’s when the original Lion King came out. So I remember watching that thing on VHS over time, it is one of my favorite movies growing up so when it was like, all right.
John: That’s wonderful.
Colton: So, that was a lot of fun and even being able to just be in New York City was kind of cool. Like I’ve been able to travel all around the United States. I’ve been able to travel out of the country as well.
John: Really? Where did you go out of the country? Where’d you go out?
Colton: So I’ve been able to go to Canada, Mexico, Spain, Singapore, Brazil, and then I was also able to go to Kenya.
John: Kenya. Wow. How was it like Singapore is far and Kenya is far– listen, I’m talking to a young man who’s been to heaven, so it’s everything is relative in life Singapore and Kenya, I guess, are not that far but how did you enjoy those trips?
Colton: Well, being there. Awesome. Traveling there, terrible.
John: Yeah, I agree.
Colton: The flight that we hopped on from the United States to Singapore, we had– what was it? It was like a 13-hour, it was either an 11-hour or 13 hours flight from Minneapolis to Japan and then it was either 11 or 13 from Japan to Singapore. So we really spent almost a full day just on a plane. It was like, you know, when you go to sleep on a plane, which is already super difficult, you wake up and you still see water, it takes–
John: You’re right. A little bit disappointed.
Colton: But it was really cool because and like if I get the opportunity to travel outside of the country more, I would, because I really love just being able to see what God is doing. Like, for me, I don’t think there’s anything special about me or my family like yeah, we got to experience this really cool thing but at the end of the day, we’re just normal people.
John: That’s so nice.
Colton: A lot of people give me a hard time because now when people figure out who I am because I work in construction now. And people are like, “Wait, you’re the kid from Heaven is For Real, like the book and the movie, why are you working?” “Because I still need to make money and make a living.” “What’s going on with that?” “What do you mean?” It’s kind of interesting that some people, they assume certain things where it’s like, “Oh, you guys, must be super-rich.” It’s like, “No.” I mean at the end of the day, for us, we just live our lives and we try and help people as much as we can along the way.
John: You are a special guy, it’s a special family. For our listeners who just joined us, it’s Colton Burpo. He was the young little boy once when he’s told the story Heaven is For Real. The little boy’s astounding story was his trip to heaven and back. He’s now 21, he’s with us today. This is our Christmas special. You can find Colton, his wonderful family, and their great ministry at www.heavenlive.org. I’m going to correct myself because I have one of your original copies where it says over two million copies in print when I looked it up Colton during the show on your website it actually, I stand corrected over 12 million copies have been sold of Heaven is For Real. The ministry that your family is done and how wonderfully humble, you are at 21, where 21-year-olds who are far less successful and made such a far less impact than you’ve made, and your mom, and your dad and your siblings. It’s just incredible how level-headed you are and it’s just a joy to have you here tonight with us. Let me ask you a question – what do you want to do from here on out? I mean, you have this ministry and for our listeners also, the book is, it’s not only Heaven is For Real anymore on the ministry. But Heaven is For Real, Heaven Changes Everything, Heaven is For Real For Kids, Colton has done, Heaven is For Real For Little Ones, Colton has done.
Your family and you, Colton, and like you said Dad wrote God Is For Real, you’ve become a prolific family with a fantastic ministry. Tonight, I know I’m in Fresno speaking with you, you’re in Colorado. You’re 21 and the world is still in front of you. What’s your goal as far as you could see, I mean, and sometimes, at 21 and it’s hard at 21, you’ve got so much in front of you. What do you really want to do as of today? I know this can change tomorrow. I’ve had 21 year olds before that are now older, but what are you thinking of today?
John: Well, it’s been interesting especially I would say this last year for me because I would say the plan that I had for my life has changed drastically.
John: Talk about that. How did it change like what do you want to do? You know, there’s an old saying – man plans and God laughs. And I think that affects all of us. I think if we just open ourselves to that. Talk a little bit about that, what you wanted to do and where you’ve gone now and where it’s taking you?
Colton: So for me, it’s been interesting because since I’ve been able to kind of experience I guess the same side of everything, the one thing I always tell people is being famous is overrated. It sucks. I don’t sugarcoat that. Being famous isn’t fun. And I don’t see myself as famous, people call me famous and I’m like, “Nah,” but when it comes to what I used to want to do or kind of what I was kind of setting my life to do is when I graduated high school around– I graduated high school in 2017, and I ended up going to a 2-year Bible school down in Tulsa, Oklahoma. It’s a little school called Victory College. It’s based out of Omega church down there in Tulsa, Oklahoma, Victory. I went to that college because God said, “Go here.” So I’m like, “Okay, looks like I’m going here.” So, I did two years there where I did their Worship Arts Ministry. So I was spending two years there studying to be like a worship pastor and it was really cool because even at that school, I would kind of describe it as like a trade school for ministry because we had people who are actively doing ministry teaching us, “All right, like if you are in other countries, this is how you can share the gospel to people of different religions and it’ll make sense to them,” or people just giving us tips and tricks of like, “Hey, this is what we have done that has worked for us, here you go.”
It was really cool because they even taught us different things of like how not only to run a church, but at the same time how to properly read the Bible, how to study the scripture. So it was a very good two years for me but I finished that two-year school in 2019 of May. And my family at the time, they were living here in Colorado, as well, so I moved up here for the summer trying to figure out what I was doing next. If I was going to continue my education. I was looking at a few schools in the area, but it almost felt like there was just something in me saying, “No. No, it’s not for you. No, no.” And like I was looking at possibly getting on staff at a few churches, trying to stay in Oklahoma, doing like an apprenticeship at a church, just going to school. My original “plan” was to go to college, get a business accounting degree, or something. I was trying to figure it out, but it was almost as if God just kept saying, “No, that’s not for you.”
I finally got to a point where it almost felt like God stranded me up here in Colorado, which there are worse places to be stranded. But it was kind of cool because, during that time, I had no idea what I was really doing with my life. Like I had a general perception of, “All right, I want to continue doing ministry, God, what did that look like?” it’s been interesting because since I’ve been up here, I just kind of went, “Okay, God, if you’re keeping me up here, I need a job. If you’re keeping me here, I need to be doing something. I don’t want to just be living at home, doing nothing. Come on. We got to move. We got to do something.” I can really only describe it as like God moving. I was able to get a job as an apprentice electrician up here in the Vail Valley of Colorado or Eagle County or whatever actually called and I’ve been up here for about a year just learning how to be an electrician, residential and commercial. And it’s been really cool because it was something that I never expected I would enjoy but I’m able to find like a bunch of some real-life applications.
I’ve been able to, in all honesty, see a bunch of illustrations of what it’s like when God comes and fixes up like different things in me where it’s like, “Oh, so this thing isn’t wired properly. So that’s why it’s not working. All right. I just have to rewire it. So that is wired correctly. Okay.” So there’s like little things like that that I see where it’s like, “Well, that’s cool.” I’m also learning a really useful trade, so I’m grateful for that. And the thing for me is I mean, I’ve been able to still do ministry here and there. My family isn’t super busy with Heaven is Real as we used to be. We kind of took a hit to our ministry back in 2015.
John: Why is that? What happened?
Colton: Well, back in 2015, I think I was 16 years old. I was a sophomore in high school. What happened was there was another family or another Heaven story that recanted, saying I made it all up. And one of the bigger news agencies here in the United States, they put a picture of my dad and I on the front page saying boy from heaven recants story.
John: Oh my gosh, I didn’t even know that.
Colton: In the actual article, it says, now it really wasn’t the Burpol family, it was this other family.
John: The write facts, but the wrong photo.
Colton: The image was done. So that did kind of hurt our ministry for a bit because it’s interesting but our family, we just tried to kind of live our lives and we were like, “Hey, this is our testimony. This is what happened to us. This is what we know.” And our family has experienced a decent amount of hostility just because we dare to say that miracles still happen and that Jesus is Lord. So it’s been interesting just seeing that side of it because, I mean, since the time I was about eleven to now, some people view me as a liar, I made it all up.
John: That’s horrific.
Colton: I kind of had to grow up with that or be kind of more guarded whenever I talk with people or make friends because if anybody can, they will try to twist my words or try to do things with it. I just have to be aware of it. It kind of sucks, but it’s how I’ve known life.
John: It does suck. There’s nothing wrong about saying it sucks. But as an outsider, being me, I’ve been to Billy Graham Crusades, I really used to enjoy when he was alive going to his crusades and I felt like just what you said, I think he lived a life of hope, faith, truth. But I think he also, like you said, you have experience with your family, he had his detractors that tried to trip him up and disparage their fear of miracles, fear of the truth, fear of faith. And I think that kind of behavior really stems from other’s insecurities and fear with what the truth is and what faith in God really represents. So it’s a very sad state of affairs that you had to be subjected to that as such a young person, but because your ministry was so important and was received so well, only then the detractors come out. And when I talk to other ministers and pastors that are friends of mine they say, “The devil really doesn’t care about those who don’t live in faith. It’s only when you’re making a big difference that they really come out and try to do their work.” So it’s obvious. It’s obvious that your work was working and that the detractors represented the other side trying to get in your way. But look at how, I would assume, how you evolved. You can’t be this wonderful human being at 21, in this level-headed and humble without those experiences making you better. Making you better. Right?
Colton: I will say, I did go through like I felt like almost a year or two of my life where I honestly wanted to just give up ministry entirely. Just everything that was happening all the just mean and nasty things that were happening to my family like whenever we go and do ministry events, we have to have like security because we’ve had threats on our life and just kind of all the pressures that come with being recognized and known by a lot of people. Now there is a good two to three, well, not really three but more like two years that I consider just saying, “You know what? Is this even worth it?”
John: I don’t blame you.
Colton: And I will say one thing that I am really grateful for is the fact that God is very patient because for me, now, like most people if they met me they wouldn’t think, “Oh, he’s a bad kid. Colton is a good kid.” I mean, I grew up a pastor’s kid, so a lot of people just assume things about me, and then I had the Heaven kid thing on top of it. So some people when they ever say, “Oh, you must be an angel.” I’m like, “No. I’m still human like you.” But I had to get to almost a breaking point where what used to work no longer did work. Like, I literally, just basically get down on my knees and just go, “God, where are you? God, what’s going on? I need you.” I had to get to a point where I needed to grow in my relationship with God because for a while it almost felt like I was just coasting off of the fact, I’m like, “I’ve been to heaven. I’m good.”
John: Which I can’t blame you. I think I would’ve felt the same way, “Hey, I’ve been there. I’m going back one day. This is what’s in-between.” That’s interesting, though. That’s fascinating what you just said. I really appreciate what you just said. None of us are immune to being brought back to our knees and to being humble. Humbled.
Colton: Yeah. For me, the one thing, like, I’ve had some people ask me like, what’s the one thing you miss most from heaven? And as I’ve kind of grown-up, my answer is kind of changed and matured as it does when you get older, you start to either understand a few more things or your different seasons of life, different moments of life. And for a while, I was like, “Well, I really miss my sister.” For a bit, I was like, “I really miss playing with lions in heaven.”
John: Wow, that’s really cool.
Colton: There are animals in heaven. So we get to play with them. But the one thing that I’ve kind of come back to and it’s been my answer for a while now is in all honesty, just being in God’s presence all the time. In heaven, you get to experience what it’s like to be in the presence of God, the father, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit all at once and there are no distractions. Because here, since we do live in a fallen world or in an imperfect world, we have to almost like fight to get God’s presence, there are so many things that can just distract us and pulls away from spending time with God. Whereas in heaven those don’t exist. That’s the thing that for me, I do miss the most just being that close and in constant fellowship with God and that’s kind of been one of the things driving me recently just I’ve been coming to realize that I really need God. I joke with my friends all the time, I’m like, “Yeah. Without God, I suck. With God, I think I’m gonna be okay.”
John: That’s wonderful.
Colton: And for me, the one thing that I try to do, and a lot of people, they kind of look at me, like, “Wait. What? What’s going on? Are you super solid in your faith?” And I’m like, “No, honestly, I’ve had to work on it. Just because I got to experience the super amazing thing like you can encounter God. You can have a miracle happen, but at the end of the day, you may never know him.” And that’s what God wants us to do. He wants us to know him. And in the last few years were, in all honesty, it just felt like I’ve taken my walk with God more seriously, or at least, I recognize it more as, “Okay, God, I need you today. Can you help me out?” Since I’ve been able to live with that mindset, it’s been really cool to see what God’s been doing with that. The idea is God’s given me what he’s wanting me to do because for me like in all honesty, when people see the world getting super crazy around us and all the division in our country, with the election, with politics, everything happened in all around the world. A lot of people are freaking out they’re like, “What’s going on? Why is it so crazy? For me, I don’t know. I’m viewing it a little differently because I’m like, “You know what? The world is getting crazier. That means Jesus is coming back soon. All right, let’s go.”
It’s changed my perspective and I was like, “Okay. What am I doing today to be a light for Jesus?” What can I do to help someone? What am I able to do with the resources I currently have? And it’s cool because whenever I’m brainstorming or trying to figure out like, “Okay, God, what are you going to have me do?” In all honesty, most of the time it’s like I don’t know what I’m doing, but I have these few things in front of you right now that I just need to steward or take care of. I have these few super huge dreams in the future and I have no idea how I’m getting there. But I know God’s taking me there. For me, there are a few things that I want to do like I’m a little bummed that I never got to meet or talk with Billy Graham because he’s a man that I’ve heard so much about, I’ve been able to read about just like hear stories about him, and like one goal that I have in my life and I don’t know if it’s a good goal to have or not but it’s kind of one of these God dreams that there’s no way I can accomplish it myself so it’s gonna have to be God doing it, but I don’t know what it’s going to look, I don’t know how it’s going to happen, but I want to be involved with the largest revival in human history like bigger than anything that has ever been done before and at the end of the revival, Jesus comes back. Like that is what drives me right now and I’m like, “Okay, how am I going to get there? Who’s gonna go with me? How am I going to be doing this?”
Because right now, yeah, I’m 21. I’m single. I’m trying to figure out what I’m doing with my life, but that’s kind of the goal where I’m going with like, “Lord, I want to help lead a revival. I want you to be known. How do I do that?” And it’s been cool because right now it’s felt as if God’s kind of taken me out of the spotlight or taking me kind of out of the view of most people to kind of help work on me privately. So that the time when God says, “All right, it’s time to go.” I’m able to have the character to uphold what God has called me to because if God was going to give me what he was wanting me to do now, I would get crushed by it. Like the analogy that I would use is similar to just working out at a gym. Like if all you are able to do is let’s say, for me, I weigh about 140. If I’m only able to only bench, let’s say, a hundred twenty pounds because I do not hit the gym regularly. My job is very physical but I do not work out regularly. It’s kind of a habit that I started off the beginning of Corona and then when work started picking back up, I drop it.
If all I can handle is a hundred twenty pounds, I won’t go and put 50 pound plates on both sides just so that I can do 220 pounds like, no, that would crush me. That would probably kill me. Right now, God has been kind of helping me just grow gradually into what he’s putting in front of me. To me, I see the process and I’m like, “All right, so it’s gonna suck for a bit. I’m going to be sore. I’m probably gonna be super tired and kind of like a meh-mood but right now, God, you’re doing something cool. Okay, let’s go.” And the thing for me is right now, what I’m learning is, in all honesty, how to be a man who stands for something because when you met me as a little kid, I was able to go, “Hey, this is what I saw. This is heaven. You can believe me if you want to but this is what I saw.” And having to kind of grow up and figure out, “Okay, who am I? Because I could fall into the trap of almost the pedestal lifestyle of everybody was looking up to me, seeing me or seeing an image of me or the thing I found that has been more almost just fulfilling, more life-giving is being able to rely on who God says I am.” And it has been something that I had to learn like it’s not easy. I’ve had to take time to be able to spend time reading my Bible, spend time praying, spend time with God, like acknowledging, “God, you’re here, what do you want to say to me? Holy Spirit, you’re here, you live in me, you’re with me at all times. What are you trying to do right now?” And just living with that mindset because that’s been in all honesty, the thing that’s helped keep me sane.
Because I’ve already come to the conclusion of I have no idea what is going to happen. And like I don’t know if I’m gonna still be living in like five years. I don’t know if I’m still going to be working as an electrician in the next three years. Like, I honestly have no clue what life holds for me but I know who holds my life in his hands and because my God works things for good, I can trust his plan.
John: I love that.
Colton: And I just have to remind myself of that.
John: You know, Colton, you’re so brutally honest, and the challenges that you faced are good to hear because I don’t think anyone gets through this journey without difficulties and challenges and losses and pain. Even Jesus didn’t get through this thing unscathed, why should we as mere mortals get through this unscathed. Since this is our Christmas edition, a very very special edition and you’re here and it’s just a blessing to have you with us today, a couple of things. One, do you have a message that you want to share, a message of hope, faith, that you can share with us as we enjoy this holiday after a very very difficult year with the tragic Covid-19 blanketing the earth, a very tough year socially and politically in this country and also, is because of your unique experience with Heaven is For Real and going to heaven and coming back, though you don’t know what tomorrow holds which is such an honest comment, because so many of us want to feel like we’re in control, and as you said we are not in control, do you feel safer and more comfort that even though you don’t know what tomorrow holds that you do know because of your relationship in your walk that when time is up here, whenever that is, you do know where you’re going to be going? Does that give you comfort every day?
Colton: It does. For me, it’s crazy if I look at the statistics of my job because it’s one of the most dangerous jobs to have.
John: Wow. I didn’t realize that.
Colton: Yeah. Easily at my job if let’s say I’m working on some electrical circuit and someone decides to turn it on, I could fry and die very easily. That’s my job. There’s also a lot of sketchy things that happen in construction that are probably best not mention in public.
John: I got it. You don’t have to mention but I get what you are saying and the danger is real. I get it.
Colton: Oh, yeah. Not only that but just kind of living with that mindset of, you know, I have no idea what’s going on, but I’m okay with that because, at the end of the day, I know the ending. Jesus wins. And because I put my hope and trust in him, not in anything else, I put my hope and trust in Jesus and God and the Holy Spirit. Because I put my trust in them, I’m able to live my life in a way where I still have my moments where I’m scared out of my mind, I have moments where I do kind of struggle with being very hard on myself or getting lost in my own thoughts in my head, but I always have to bring myself back to, “All right, it’s gonna be okay. God’s still in control. He’s gonna work it out.” And that’s been a thing that’s just helped me, in all honesty, stay sane, and for me, there are I would say two things that I’d want to kind of, close-out. Two things that I talked about with people a lot and they’re two conversations I remember having with Jesus. They stick with me just because they’re really important.
The first conversation I do remember having with Jesus is Jesus told me, “Colton, this is how you get to heaven.” And Jesus said, “If you love me and follow me, my dad’s okay with that.”
John: That’s awesome.
Colton: That’s one thing that I would say, it’s super simple, but it is very hard because the tension that I would say most people face and especially Christians, is the tension of truth and love. For us to live our lives where we just you’re speaking the truth all the time, “This is how it is. This is the law. This is what is supposed to happen. This is how it goes,” like that will not turn anyone or that will not change anyone’s opinion or anybody’s mind by just telling them how they are very wrong and going about it that way doesn’t work. But at the same time, if you take the only love approach where, “Oh, it’s okay. Whatever you’re doing is fine. It’s all okay, at the end of the day everyone makes it to heaven and it’s all sunshine and rainbows,” but that’s not true love’s. Because we have to balance the tension right in the middle or we have to balance between the two and the only way that I’ve learned and like I said, this is something I’ve been learning, I’m still learning, is how to find that middle ground of – to speak truth in love. It’s both, not one or the other. To be able to know what is right. To stand for something.
However, to still have that viewpoint or that aspect of love because I know for myself, I’m not a perfect man. The thing that separated us from God and us deserving to go to hell, I’ll be one of the first people to say, “I deserve it.” Just personal mistakes I’ve made in my life, the things that I’ve screwed up with. It’s like, “Oh, I do not deserve to have a relationship with God. I should not have that opportunity.” But because God loved us so much, he sent Jesus as a sacrifice so that he could die and come back to life so that we can have a relationship with his dad and we can only do that through believing in him. We can only do that by following him and by having a relationship with him.
The second conversation, I remember having with Jesus, I remember I was looking around heaven and I noticed that everybody was young, they were healthy and like everybody was happy. And I noticed that with Jesus, he still had his markers or the wounds that he had from when he hung on the cross in his hands and his feet. And I remember asking Jesus, I’m like, “Jesus, how come you’re the only one in heaven with markers?” Now, I remember Jesus got down on a knee. He looked me right in the eyes and said, “Colton, it’s to remind me how much I love you.” And one thing that God uses to kind of speak with me at times is I kind of call him like mini-movies, more Church-y term is like visions, but I remember there was a period of my life where I was having like a really rough time – mentally, emotionally, just in the dumps all the time. And it almost felt as if life sucked. Nothing would ever work out. I’m the worst person to ever exist. Like it got pretty bad. But what happened is I remember in this kind of like mini-movie in my head.
In this story, there was a man who did something really bad but instead of trying to fix it or trying to get help right away, he ends up just picking up a shovel and start digging a hole. So he starts digging, digging, digging. And this man ends up digging a hole so deep that you can’t even see the top of the hole anymore. And whenever people would come up and just ask like, “How are you doing?” The man felt like he had to put on a mask just saying, “Oh, I’m doing great. How are you doing?” When on the inside, he felt just broken, messed up, an outcast, nobody would ever understand, and just felt alone. But in the story, something finally clicks for the man. He realizes he’s not alone. Jesus, he’s there but Jesus isn’t at the top of the hole reaching down screaming, “Give it to me. I can save you.” Jesus is in the hole with the man, he’s reaching out his arm, saying, “Give it to me,” almost whispering. And the man stops away Jesus and say, “Nah, Jesus, I got this,” and starts digging deeper. Finally, the man just throws down the shovel and just collapses. He’s exhausted, mentally, physically, emotionally. Everything is, he’s out. And Jesus reaches back out his hand and says, “Give it to me.” So the man finally goes, “Okay.” So reaches out and grabs Jesus’ hand. And I remember in the story, Jesus flips over his hand and through the hole in his hand, through the markers, he sees the hand of the man. He sees me. And one of the things that I don’t know what people’s experiences are with church, Christians, I don’t know.
But the one thing I do know is God made us like it says that he knit us together in our mother’s wombs. God designed us, he made us special. And God loves us so much that he wants to have a relationship with us. And the thing is I don’t believe anyone is ever too far gone because the God that I serve, the God who created heaven and earth, he’s a lot bigger than everything. Like God the Father, he’s massive and he was the creator of everything. Literally, anything is possible and just to kind of give hope to either your listeners, anyone who ever gets to listen to this, God does love you and wants a relationship with you. All we have to do is humble ourselves. We have to say, “God, I’m sorry. I’ve been trying to do it my way and it hasn’t been working out. God, I need you.” And just being able to come to that point where we recognize our need for God because God wants to be in our lives. He wants to be involved, but he can only do it if we let him.
John: I love it. On that, we’re going to leave it. We got to leave ourselves open for God. Colton, you wrap this thing up better than any person on the planet. For our listeners out there, this has been a very, very, very special Christmas edition with ColtonBurpo. He is the subject matter, he is the person who was the focus of the best-selling book 12 million or more copies, Heaven Is For Real, a little boy’s astounding story of his trip to heaven and back. Today, we have the man, the young man who’s now grown up, Colton Burpo. And to find his great ministry that he is part of with his mom, his dad, his siblings, please go to www.heavenlive.org, heavenlive.org. Not only Heaven is For Real there, but also all of the great books that the Burpos have written including Colton’s follow-on books – Heaven is For Real For Kids and Heaven is For Real For Little Ones. And, of course, Heaven Changes Everything and his dad’s book, God is For Real.
Colton Burpo as a human being, I’m just so grateful for you personally and for your ministry. As a Christian, God bless you and your family, your message is so important. I’m so lucky and blessed to have been able to host you today and get to share your experience and your word with our listeners. Continued success. I look forward to the day that I get to meet you finally in person and shake your hand, give you a hug, and thank you for all that you’ve done and faith and hope for people around the world. God bless you. Again, Colton Burpo and thank you for joining us on the Impact Podcast.
Colton: Thank you for having me.