From heaven’s streets to the streets of Tulsa, Oklahoma, the widely known little boy from the bright yellow book titled Heaven is for Real is now a first-year student at Victory Bible College, directly across the street from ORU. Well known for his unique story, Colton Burpo still finds passion in sharing his experience with anyone ready to hear.
Born and raised in Imperial, Nebraska, Burpo lived an hour’s drive away from the closest Walmart. Cows outnumbered the town’s small population of 2,000, according to Burpo. At the time, his father was the local pastor of a church called Crossroads Wesleyan Church.
Burpo’s slow rise to the public eye began at the age of three when he became sick with appendicitis and required surgery after five days of a ruptured appendix. The boy’s vitals plummeted during the surgery, causing him to slip from consciousness and enter heaven, according to Burpo. Young Burpo survived the surgery and drew unusual attention from his family when he began talking about his visit to heaven.
“I was lifted out of my body, and I could see my body. Then I was sitting in Jesus’ lap,” said Burpo, remembering his experience.
Burpo’s parents noticed the strange things said by their three-year-old son, and they questioned him until they became convinced of a heaven encounter. Todd Burpo, Colton’s father, recorded the things he heard and felt God telling him to write about his son’s story. The book records the boy’s comments on unknowable things, including his great-grandfather who died 30 years before his birth, his miscarried sister and details of heaven.
Heaven is for Real was published Nov. 2, 2010, when Colton was entering sixth grade. Burpo started traveling as the book gained attention, and in 2011, the book was put on the New York Times bestseller list for paperback nonfiction.
The gospel story told throughout the book is simple, because it is told through the eyes of a toddler, according to Burpo. Today, the Burpos lead Heaven is for Real Ministries and offer the book in children’s versions for children struggling with loss.
“People are hurting and looking for something authentic,” said Burpo. “They can turn to a child’s testimony because it’s simple. Adults make things complicated, which is something I’ve learned, and I’m barely an adult yet.”
The massive success of the book created many opportunities for the Burpo family, including the multiple offers to create a film based on Burpo’s heavenly experience. Todd Burpo was hesitant to partner with anyone from Hollywood for a film, but said he heard God tell him that He is bigger than Hollywood.
In May 2011, Sony Pictures acquired the film rights of Burpo’s story and partnered with Joe Roth and T.D. Jakes as the film’s producers. Greg Kinnear was announced to star as Todd Burpo in 2013, after his wife read the script and insisted he take the part. The film was released during Burpo’s freshman year of high school, which brought newfound chaos. Burpo admitted that he lost 40 days of school his freshman year due to the whirlwind brought with the film.
“Back when the book came out, people didn’t know what I looked like. When the movie came out, people knew what I looked like,” said Burpo.
The past three years have been a time of laying low, resting and growing for his family according to Burpo. Currently his dad, Todd Burpo, is in the process of releasing a new book titled God is for Real, where he shares about his testimony and life prior to starting his family. Networks have reached out to the family with interests in a television show, which is something snowballing into the making, according to Burpo.
Burpo, now a first-year student at VBC, is studying worship arts. He enjoys the perfect balance between musical-based classes and ministry-based classes, and said he is following the calling God placed upon his life in worship. Burpo said he grew his musical talents when he would travel countrywide to share his story.
“How I view my life down here now… it’s like the apostle Paul said— if I die, I get to be with Jesus, if I live, I get to tell people about Jesus— so while I’m down here, let’s share.”
Burpo has encountered other people with similar heaven encounter stories and said he loves to connect similarities with those who have. He is a leader at Victory Youth where he openly talks about his story to help those struggling in their faith. Burpo said he cannot help but tell others about it, because he would have many questions if he was in their shoes.