In April 2014, Jim Woodford, a retired Canadian pilot who had flown all over the world, went on an astounding journey that profoundly changed his life.
He says he visited heaven and met Jesus.
During an estimated 11 hours, after overdosing on pain medication and ending up brain dead and on life support, Woodford, who was not a religious man, says he ascended into a celestial realm, was nearly snatched into the depths of hell and then experienced a breathtakingly beautiful paradise.
Woodford, 70, knows that many people will skeptically dismiss this tale, told in his book, “Heaven, an Unexpected Journey,” co-written with Thom Gardner and published last year. But he tells his story anyway.
“I believe with all my heart that this was a real event,” he says.
Woodford has traveled around North and South America, having spoken to about 20,000 people so far. At 2 p.m. Sunday afternoon, he will share his experience at Covenant United Methodist Church.
By his account, Woodford has lived a charmed life: flying for different airlines, investing in businesses and riding horses. He was ambivalent about God and faith. While he “hoped someone was in charge of the chaos,” he never sought out religion, even considering it a crutch.
Several years ago, Woodford contracted Guillain-Barre syndrome, which left him temporarily paralyzed and unable to speak. He recovered but suffered persistent pain. One day, while in his truck surveying property he wanted to sell, he took more pain medication. Before losing consciousness, he was overwhelmed with the feeling that he had wasted his life, and cried out, “God, forgive me!”
In recounting his out-of-body experience, Woodford says he was whisked upward through a golden tunnel of light. Upon stopping, to his right, he viewed a vivid, colorful vista of trees, meadows and flowers. To his left, was a barren landscape leading to a steep crevasse.
After he peered into this black divide, a huge, foul-smelling monstrous being with glowing red eyes shambled up toward him. “Hollywood could not have produced anything as horrible as this,” he recalls.
From within the beast, he heard his name being called. Then, as he felt a claw raking his back, he cried out, “God, save me!”
Saved by angels
Immediately, three magnificent angels, incredibly tall and beautiful with violet eyes, sped to his rescue, vanquishing the horrid creature. They embraced him, easing his fear. Being hugged by an angel, Woodford says, is “like being hugged by 50 grandmothers at once.”
Woodford describes how these angels escorted him to paradise and into the loving and forgiving presence of Christ. Woodford did not want to leave, but recalls what Christ said to him: “James, my son, this is not yet your time. Go back and tell your brothers and sisters of the wonders we have shown you.”
Woodford then awoke in the hospital, to the astonished relief of his wife and family. Yet as he recovered (he is now pain- and symptom-free), he had no desire to share his story. He became depressed, missing the paradise he had glimpsed.
One day, he told his story to a pastor friend of his family. The pastor said, “Jim, I believe you.”
This pastor, Luke Weaver Jr., brother of Mel Weaver, pastor of Elizabethtown's Grace Chapel, asked him to speak to his New Brunswick congregation.
A nervous Woodford felt a change within as he spoke. He realized his despair came from ignoring what Jesus told him.
At first, Woodford resisted writing a book, not wanting to appear to profit. But he changed his mind and directed that royalties go to a nonprofit, Partnership for Revival, Elizabethtown.
While he now attends church, Woodford doesn't affiliate with any denomination, eschewing labels. “Labels do not matter to God. He knows your heart better than you do,” he states.
For Woodford, it boils down to living a life of kindness and service. “That's how simple the love of God is. It requires nothing more of you other than a dedication to doing good for others.”