Guppy Fest youths inspired by teen’s tale
By Julie Filby
Photo by Julie Filby/DCR
At the annual Guppy Fest youth rally June 8, a capacity crowd at St. Thomas More Church in Centennial received the message that “nobody here is an accident” from featured speaker Todd Burpo, author of The New York Times best-seller “Heaven Is for Real: A Little Boy’s Astounding Story of His Trip to Heaven and Back.”
More than 400 youths, sixth through 12th grades, joined by hundreds of parents, parishioners and community members gathered in the church that afternoon to hear from Burpo, wife Sonja and son Colton.
“God is the person you can have the most special relationship with because you can be absolutely completely honest with him,” Burpo said during the two-hour presentation that included high-energy praise and worship music from the Denver band, Read You and Me. “You just don’t know how much (God) loves you. … He wants you to know that he loves you.
“He’s got the last word … (and) you’re going to spend eternity with him in heaven.”
Colton has been to heaven and “he longs for it because it’s that much better than here.”
In the 2010 book, Burpo shared the details of how 4-year-old Colton slipped from consciousness during emergency surgery for a ruptured appendix in 2003 and visited heaven before returning—an answer to loved ones’ desperate prayers. The book relays the boy’s message that heaven is a real place and Jesus “really really” loves children.
Burpo, who is pastor of Crossroads Wesleyan Church in Imperial, Neb., and his wife responded to questions during a Q-and-A session moderated by Deacon Steve Stemper of St. Thomas More. It was the couple’s first talk at a Catholic church.
“We didn’t want to write a book,” Sonja said. “We didn’t expect all this.”
Both parents came to tears several times when reliving the pain of nearly losing their son, and sharing how Colton met his sister in heaven: a baby Sonja had miscarried years before he was born.
“We have that hope,” Sonja Burpo said, speaking of the peace she felt when she found out their daughter was OK. “I think there are going to be more babies and more people in our families in heaven than we ever realized.”
When asked what she would say to a woman in an unexpected pregnancy, she replied: “God doesn’t make mistakes, every precious soul is important. … We do stuff we regret, but God can take that and make something beautiful from it.”
When asked what he hoped attendees would take away from the talk, the pastor said: “(That) there is nothing that (Satan) can do that God can’t fix.
“God already knows your ‘everything’ and he loves you anyway.”
Colton then left his seat in the pew to sing “Amazing Grace (My Chains Are Gone)” accompanied by the band. As the crowd expressed their appreciation with a standing ovation, the reserved 13-year-old quietly returned to his seat.
Several attendees said the Burpos’ presentation was the highlight of Guppy Fest.
“I liked how they told the story … how much detail (they) put into it,” said Clare Weisinger, 12, a parishioner at St. Thomas More.
Austin Hartman, 14, a freshman at Regis Jesuit High School described the talk as “eye-opening.”
“To know Jesus is always there,” he said. “It made me think … I’m really lucky to have all my family.”
Emily Langenderfer, 13, also a freshman at Regis Jesuit, was amazed by the story.
“It’s so amazing how he went to heaven and experienced all that,” she said. “And that he’s sharing it with everybody.”
Following the “Heaven Is For Real” presentation, youth attended breakout sessions on heaven, hell and purgatory. Morning activities included games, skits and Mass.
The annual rally originated when Denver hosted World Youth Day in 1993.
“The very first event was called Fish Dance … fish being a Christian symbol,” said David Tschumper, event coordinator and director of youth ministry at the parish. “It was a pre-World Youth Day event, with a couple thousand people. Guppy Fest is a smaller version of Fish Dance.”