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Video: ‘Pops’ had ‘huge wings’ in heaven, boy says

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    >>> what's your idea of heaven ? a little boy from nebraska thinks he has a good idea because he said he's been there. we'll talk to him in a moment. first, his story.

    >> reporter: some people have called this god's country. with crimson sunrises and rolling farmlands. imperial, nebraska, population 1,982, is the heartland. it's also where the burpo, todd , the local pastor, sonja and their three kids live. normal in all respects it shaexcept one.

    >> a few angels came to pick me up and i was looking at jesus .

    >> reporter: that's right. their 11-year-old colton has been to jesus .

    >> then he says the thing that gets their attention. that's when the angels sang to me, mom . wow.

    >> reporter: it all started when colton was 4 with a near tragedy.

    >> we hit a low. we looked at each other.

    >> reporter: what they thought was the flu was a burst appendix.

    >> he had it for four days.

    >> reporter: they were given little hope.

    >> i remember the doctor not saying anything. you know that was a nightmare.

    >> reporter: after 17 days in the hospital colton emerged but he was different. he began speaking about things he couldn't possibly know about. his mother's miscarriage. his father's prayers and a visit with his great-grandfather pop.

    >> i was just sitting by the holy spirit . then this guy comes up to me and says, are you todd 's son? i said, yes. he said, well, i'm his grand-father.

    >> reporter: it led to this book " heaven is forle real." good morning to all of you.

    >> good morning.

    >> colton , i will talk to you in a second, but todd , first they will say this is a pastor, a believer, a man of the cloth. he wants desperately to believe this and he wants others to believe it. that's why this story is out there. how do you respond to people like that?

    >> at first, we were surprised. we doubted ourselves. we never anticipated to talk to our son about these things. what grabbed my attention is he could tell me where i was while he was in surgery. the surgeon couldn't, my wife couldn't. he could tell me.

    >> you asked how he knew. he said, i was sitting in jesus ' lap as you were doing all these things.

    >> yes.

    >> you were both cynical until you started to hear these things.

    >> exactly.

    >> some of the other things he said. okay, i'm sitting in jesus ' lap. everyone in heaven has wings. mine for smaller than most people's. nobody is old in heaven .

    >> i like that part.

    >> a lot of people like that.

    >> did you start to share these stories with other people and did anyone say, you folks are crazy? you have been through a traumatic experience. sonja ?

    >> we didn't share at first. once we started sharing, people were amazed and encouraged by what we were sharing with them.

    >> colton , today you're 11. this happened when you were 4. how vivid are your memories today? can you close your eyes and remember exactly what you think heaven looked like? exactly what jesus looked like? all those things?

    >> well, i remember most of it. but since time has come by, you forget.

    >> when you say nobody in heaven is old, they all -- you saw nobody like in their 60s, 70s, 80s up there?

    >> no. saw them in their 20s, 30s at oldest.

    >> i think a question a lot of people would like to ask is what did heaven itself look like? is it the way i talk about it to my kids? is it above the clouds? is everybody floating? what's it like?

    >> well, there was a lot of colors. there are a lot of people. and a lot of animals.

    >> you know, i think the story that's going to get people's attention, sonja and todd , is the story that he met the child that you had miscarried. that was a couple years earlier. had you ever told him about that incident?

    >> not at all. not at all.

    >> how would you explain it to a 3-year-old that a baby died in your tummy? no. it was something we didn't even share with our friends.

    >> can you describe the moment he said that to you?

    >> shocking, but then a relief which she's okay. we didn't know she was a she.

    >> tell me about pop, colton .

    >> well, pop, he was very big, huge wings. he had curly hair , big smile and he was really nice.

    >> you know, what's amazing is this has become a "new york times" bestseller for nonfiction. is simple explanation is a lot of people want to believe or want to question.

    >> i think for us, he told us about his sister in heaven and we hadn't told him. another one of those holy cow moments. he can't invent this. no memory was planted, but the pie peace that came other us and the healing that, wow, i have a daughter waiting for me. a lot of people need that hope and healing, too. i think that's what a lot of people are finding when they hear colton 's testimony.

    >> tell us what you want people to take from this -- a sense of peace prap peace prerhaps?

    >> hope, healing.

    >> the book is called " heaven is for real." they will be back in the fourth hour to talk to kathie lee and hoda. we'll be right back after your local news.

TODAY contributor
updated 3/21/2011 10:59:28 AM ET 2011-03-21T14:59:28

After a burst appendix nearly cost 4-year-old Colton Burpo his life in 2003, his parents were thankful just to have him alive and well. But when he opened up about his brush with death a few months later, they were shocked when he described a very vivid trip to heaven, and spoke of matters about which he had no apparent way of knowing.

During an automobile trip, when Sonja Burpo asked him about his memories of being in the hospital, little Colton replied: “Yes, Mommy, I remember — that’s where the angels sang to me.” A sweet answer, to be sure — but then Colton made his parents’ jaws drop when he told them about sitting in Jesus’ lap, watching his parents while he lay seemingly near death, and meeting his great-grandfather.

But most poignantly, Colton described meeting a sibling in heaven — even though he had no way of knowing that his mother had miscarried two years before he was born, since his parents had never told him.

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Jesus and John the Baptist
Todd Burpo began telling of his son’s heaven-sent visions from the pulpit of the Crossroads Wesleyan Church in Imperial, Neb., where he serves as pastor. Word of mouth spread, and the family landed a book deal. The book — “Heaven Is for Real,” written by Todd with co-writer Lynn Vincent — has become a best-seller, with some 1.5 million copies in print since its release in November.

Read an excerpt from ‘Heaven Is for Real’

Appearing live on TODAY Monday with Sonja and Colton, who’s now 11, Todd told Matt Lauer he understands that naysayers may believe Colton’s story is a little too heavenly to be true — initially, so did he and Sonja. “At first we were surprised; we never anticipated to talk to our son about these things,” Todd told Matt Lauer.

“We didn’t share at first, and then once we started sharing, people were amazed,” Sonja Burpo added. “They were encouraged by what we were sharing with them.”

Colton was stricken with appendicitis shortly before his fourth birthday. Family guilt was heavy — for five days he lay getting sicker and sicker with what the family believed was stomach flu, which had previously hit Colton’s older sister Cassie.

Little Colton nearly didn’t make it: He lay in a hospital bed for 17 days. When he finally rallied, the family rejoiced — but they were floored when, months later, the boy began matter-of-factly describing what he had experienced when he was in between life and death: seeing Jesus dressed in royal purple, meeting John the Baptist, having angels sing to him to ease his anxiety.

Video: ‘Pops’ had ‘huge wings’ in heaven, boy says (on this page)

The Burpos believed these were things Colton could have gleaned from his Bible studies. But he also told his mother he saw her talking on the phone in another room while he was having surgery, and saw his father praying in a small room, all while he was seated in Jesus’ lap.

“What caught my attention was he could tell me where I was while he was in surgery,” Todd told Lauer. “The surgeon couldn’t tell me that, the nurses couldn’t, my wife couldn’t tell me where I was praying. But he could tell me.”

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Shocking revelation
Colton also spoke of meeting a long-departed relative in heaven, telling NBC News: “I was just sitting by the Holy Spirit and then this guy comes up to me and says, ‘Are you Todd’s son?’ I say yes, and he says, ‘Well, I’m his grandfather.’ ”

Colton said that everyone in heaven has wings. On Monday, he described his great-grandfather “Pops” as being “very big, huge wings, curly hair, a big smile, and he was very nice.”

But the real shocker came when Colton told his mother, “Mommy, I have two sisters.” Sonja told her son that he had to be referring to his oldest sister, Cassie, and his cousin Traci, but he responded: “No — I have two sisters. You had a baby die in your tummy, didn’t you?”

Sonja told Lauer the family had never uttered a word about the miscarriage to Colton — and what’s more, they never even learned the sex of their miscarried child. “It was a private hurt that we didn’t even share with our friends,” Sonja said, adding Colton’s revelation was at first “shocking, but then a relief that she’s OK, which we didn’t know she was a she.”

In a subsequent TODAY segment Monday, Sonja filled in Colton’s description of his meeting with his sister: “He told us what she looked like, and she wouldn’t stop hugging him. And she doesn’t have a name.”

“When he told us about his sister in heaven, that we hadn’t told him about, [it was] another one of those ‘holy cow’ moments — OK, he can’t make this stuff up, he can’t invent this; no memory was planted,” Todd told Lauer. “But the peace that came over us, and the healing, like, ‘Wow, I have a daughter in heaven waiting for me’ — I think a lot of people need that type of hope and healing, too. And I think that’s what a lot of people are finding when they hear Colton’s testimony, to know what they have to look forward to.”

When Lauer asked Colton what heaven looked like, the 11-year-old replied, “Well, there’s a lot of color. There are a lot of people and a lot of angels.”

In his second segment later on Monday, Colton gave Kathie Lee Gifford and Hoda Kotb some additional details — such as the fact that there are no old people in heaven. “Nobody wears glasses, [and] you’re in like your 20s, 30s.”

Video: Don’t believe boy saw heaven? Parents talk proof (on this page)

Todd Burpo told The New York Times that the family is donating much of the money they make from the book sales. As for Colton, he’s mostly happy his story is helping people.

“People are getting blessed, and they’re going to have healing from their hurts,” the boy told the New York Times. “I’m happy for that.”

© 2013 NBCNews.com  Reprints

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