Gary Wood did not have a near-death experience.
“It’s a real-death experience,” he said.
It might be surprising to hear a dead man talking, but Wood is still alive and well despite being killed in a car crash nearly five decades ago. He went to heaven, got a tour, and was sent back — his time on Earth wasn’t finished just yet.
“I saw heaven with all its beauty. I saw the mansion that I’ll inhabit and spend eternity there,” he said in a phone interview with The Garden Island.
At least, that’s what the Texas man has been telling people all these years.
Believe him or not. It’s up to you, Wood said.
“The only thing I’m responsible for is to tell the story, not to prove it,” the 66-year-old said. “Jesus told me to do this.”
And he’ll be on Kauai to share this miraculous tale this weekend. Wood will speak at Aloha Church in Lihue at 7 p.m. Sunday. He’ll share a shorter version of his story during the 9:30 a.m. Sunday service at the church.
The full-time evangelist has started several churches and travels the country and overseas talking about his 60 minutes in heaven that started with an accident on Dec. 23, 1966.
Wood and his younger sister were returning home to Farmington, New Mexico from Wayland Baptist University in Plainview, Texas, where he was on a music scholarship.
Wood was driving when he crashed into 10-ton truck illegally parked on the edge of the highway. He said his neck was broken in three places, his vocal cords were severed and he died at the scene.
“I was killed instantly,” he said.
The next thing he knew, he was being escorted to heaven by an angel. There, he saw relatives and friends who had previously passed on. One gave him a tour of his new celestial home.
Heaven, he said, was as beautiful as advertised, with pearl gates. There were foundations of solid diamonds. There were different levels, each decorated by a different jewel. It was shaped like a cube.
“I saw grass and flowers that were alive. Trees would clap,” he said. “The music was indescribable, beautiful beyond words.”
But most important, he said, he saw Jesus.
“He commissioned me to come back to this earth and prepare people for heaven,” Wood said. “So, I say I’m a man on a mission with a message to make heaven real to his generation.”
Which, of course, begs the question: Why him? Why was he chosen out of so many who have died?
Wood said after he was killed, his little sister started crying and praying in the name of Jesus. In the midst of that heavenly tour, his friend told Wood, “You’ve got to go back.”
Not that he wanted to. He would have preferred to stay put. After all, he figured he was returning to a human body shattered in that wreck and that didn’t sound too appealing.
“I didn’t want to come back to that suffering and pain,” he said.
But he did.
“I’m only back because he sent me back,” Wood said.
After returning to Earth, he recovered, devoted his life to his Christian faith and carrying out his marching orders from above.
He wrote a book, “A place called heaven,” about his experience. He estimated millions have heard his message and he believes he is having an impact.
“My mission is to help people know Jesus loves them, has a place for them for all eternity and he wants them healed,” Wood said.
He said he’s seen people raised from the dead and seen people cured of illness.
“Almost everything you can think of, I’ve witnessed,” said Wood, who today lives in Sugar Land, Texas, with his wife, Deena.They have been married 47 years and have two children and a grandson.
Vill Galiza, pastor of Aloha Church, said he believes Wood has a life-changing message and believes his story is true.
“I believe there is life after death and it is of great importance where we spend eternity,” he said. “My desire is for people to spend eternity in heaven”
Not that everyone wanted to hear what Wood had to say.
His early doubters included his Baptist parents.
When he told them his story of going to heaven, they told him to keep quiet. It was just not something people went around talking about, his parents said
“They believed me, but they thought people would make fun of me, Wood said.
One person hired a private detective to investigate Wood. The FBI checked him out, too, he said. Medical doctors have reviewed X-rays from the injuries he sustained in the crash.
To his skeptics, he simply says, that’s unfortunate.
“I’m steadfast and fixed on what I was told to do,” he said. “I have to tell the story.”