Landon Whitley was eight years old when he hopped into his parents’ Pontiac and took the very first of three trips to heaven.
It started on a Sunday morning in 1997 – Julie Kemp, her husband Andy, and young Landon were driving home from church when an ambulance returning to its station broadsided their car in an intersection. Andy died instantly. Rescuers stabilized Julie but did not initially realize there was a third passenger in the car.
“They couldn’t see his body because of the damage that was done to the driver’s side of the car and Landon was sitting behind his dad,” Julie says. “And when they saw Landon’s shoe, it took a deeper search for his body. When they pulled Landon out from the back of the car, he was not breathing. And they all started working on him right away to bring him back.”
Landon was resuscitated and life-flighted to Carolina’s Medical Center. He died two more times that day and both times he was brought back to life. Doctors didn’t give Julie much hope for his survival.
“They told me that if he lived, which did not look good, but that if he lived, that he would be like an 8-year-old baby… that he would not know how to walk or talk or to eat because of all the brain damage,” says Julie. “I was so desperate that that was okay. I would take that just to have him. He was all that I had.”
At her husband’s funeral, Julie remembers feeling abandoned by God.
She says, “I was very disappointed, heartbroken. And when I’m sitting at the funeral I’m fussing at God. I don’t understand why this happened. I don’t understand why He didn’t send angels to protect us. But in the very next breath I’m praying as hard to Him as I’ve ever prayed in my life for Landon to live.”
Landon had suffered massive head trauma during the accident and remained in a coma.
“He’s hooked up to all kinds of machines to keep him alive,” says Julie. “And there are no signs. There’s nothing good or bad. They see nothing happening. I kept praying that he would open his eyes.”
After two weeks in a coma, Landon opened his eyes. To everyone’s amazement, he had no brain damage. But in the midst of her joy, Julie knew she had to tell Landon that his dad had died in the accident.
Julie remembers, “He had scars on his face. And his head was just full of hurt. And I didn’t want to hurt him anymore. So I asked Landon, I said, ‘Landon, do you know where your dad is at?’ And he told me, ‘Yes, I know where he’s at. I saw him in heaven’.”
Decades have passed since the accident but Landon still clearly remembers his amazing experiences in Heaven.
He says, “I remember being able to see my dad and his friend Olan Palmer who had passed away less than a month before he did, also in a car accident, and Olan’s son Neil Palmer who had died on a 4-wheeler years before. And it was funny because I remember us all like standing in a square. Never one of us said a word to each other, but we were just all standing there.”
Julie says, “He looked over to me and he says, ‘Oh mom, by the way, I forgot to tell you. I saw your other two kids.’ And I just looked at him because I wasn’t sure what he was talking about. But I had two miscarriages before Landon was born. And he saw them in heaven. We had never shared that with Landon. He did not know that we had lost two children before him.”
Landon remembers, “I knew that they were my siblings even though no one had ever told me about them. Just being in Heaven, I guess you know—you know your own or you know who everyone is.”
BELOW: Watch Julie and Landon’s testimony from The 700 Club.
He says each time he died he had a different experience in heaven. During the third time, he says he met Jesus and was given a mission.
He says, “It was almost as if like a preview of a movie to where you only get to see certain bits and pieces of things. Jesus came to me and told me that I have to go back to earth and be a good Christian and tell others about Him.”
Today through GriefShare, Landon and Julie share their story with others who are struggling with loss and in need of hope.
Julie says, “I didn’t understand in 1997, you know, why God didn’t send an angel. But I know that there were angels there. And I know that we were protected and we are living out what His plan is for us. Instead of staying stuck in grief or instead of staying mad at Him, I was able to use this story to help others not to give up and to keep their faith on their grief journey.”
Landon says, “I just want people to realize that Jesus is real, there is a heaven, there are angels. And to follow His word and the Bible, and life does get better at the end.”
In her book Faith Has Its Reasons, Julie says God has used their experience to bring others to Him and has brought new blessings to their lives in the process.
Julie says, “It is a huge blessing that I get to watch my child tell others about Jesus. He is always willing to let others know that there is a heaven. Cause he’s been there.”
“I know I’m doing it for Jesus,” says Landon. “I know that He’s real. I know that angels are there. I know that there’s a heaven. I’ve seen Jesus. I know He’s there. He’s asked me to do this and this is what I’m doing.”