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‘Heaven is for Real Live’ to raise funds for homeless

A ‘Heaven is for Real: LIVE’ event is held June 22, 2012, at Sioux Falls Arena in Sioux Falls, S.D. Photo courtesy of Jenny Marlowe Marvin

A dozen or so local businesspeople think the widely publicized story of a boy’s glimpse of heaven deserves an even bigger audience.

They’ve secured a performance of “Heaven is for Real: LIVE” at the Fargodome in July and want to raise money for the area’s growing homeless population in the process.

The boy’s experience is told in the 2010 best-selling book “Heaven is for Real” and movie of the same name, released nationwide by Sony Pictures just before Easter weekend.

Then-4-year-old Colton Burpo of Imperial, Neb., nearly dies during emergency surgery.

After he recovers, Colton tells his pastor father and his mother about his “trip to heaven,” sharing vivid details and knowledge about his family history and religious teachings he would not otherwise have known.

In his heavenly travels, Colton talks with a great-grandfather he never met and an older sister lost to miscarriage, about whom neither parent had spoken.

The experiences are revisited in the LIVE show through stories and music from the now 14-year-old Colton, his parents, Todd and Sonja Burpo, and the Read You and Me band.

The people planning the show at the Fargodome think the message will resonate with just about everyone.

“Not a single one of us doesn’t wonder about heaven,” said Wayne Sanders, president of apparel company Coaches Choice.

The effort has galvanized business owners, company presidents, design and marketing people, and those in faith-based fields of different denominations.

“This is not a Lutheran event, not Catholic, not a religious event,” Sanders said.

“It happens to deal with the subject of heaven,” he said.

“I think it helps no matter what people believe, even if they believe there is no God,” said Brad Williams, president of Goldmark Property Management.

The group aims to secure up to $80,000 in corporate sponsorships to cover show expenses, including rental of the Fargodome and a professional sound system, as well as promotion of the event.

The setup for “Heaven is for Real: LIVE” will fill half of the dome, with seating for about 11,000 people.

The same show in Sioux Falls, S.D., in June 2012 drew about 8,000 people.

The group thinks the Fargo show will draw more than that, fueled by the recent release of the movie.

Through ticket sales, it aims to raise $100,000 with every dollar going to the FM Homeless & Hungry project.

That project supports 15 organizations that feed, shelter and care for the homeless, including Churches United, Great Plains Food Bank, New Life Center, Salvation Army, ShareHouse and the YWCA.

“We’re very grateful they came to us,” said Graham Sibley, director of both Homeless & Hungry and Youth Ministry at First Lutheran Church in Fargo.

People may be familiar with a Homeless & Hungry event held every year in October, where students spend 24 hours in the shoes of a homeless person – fasting and sleeping outside in cardboard boxes.

The Fargodome show will be in addition to that event.

Sibley hopes to run a food drive at the Fargodome, with youth from First Lutheran serving as volunteers, in conjunction with the LIVE show.

“Heaven is for Real: LIVE” is set for 7 p.m. July 31.

Seating is reserved, with tickets going for $15, $20 and $30. They can be purchased at the Fargodome box office and online at

The group hasn’t done any advertising yet, except for a 30-second “Save the Date” spot running in movie theaters.

They’re lining up sponsors first and trying to take advantage of the movie buzz.

“We wanted to kind of ride on the coattails of that, to be honest,” said Michelle Kraft of Serenity Ink, who’s helping put together the marketing message.

Another person working on the promotional side says she’s drawn to the project through faith.

“I believe there is a heaven,” said Shannon Charpentier of Charpentier Creative, “and I love the idea of opening up the possibility to nonbelievers.”

“It gives people a ray of hope,” Williams said.

His goal is to have 10,000 people turn out at the dome on July 31.

“We think the Fargo community will give their support and make that happen,” Williams said.