Mike McKinsey, of LaFayette, said that during a near death experience in 2004, he saw Jesus and heaven firsthand.
After becoming sick in the days before his son's wedding, he learned his appendix had ruptured. Surgery began — and then, he said, there was Jesus Christ, the Son and very incarnation of God himself, right beside him.
With dark skin and blueish-green eyes, Jesus did not look like the man often depicted in the U.S., McKinsey said. Still, McKinsey said he knew exactly who he was looking at.
"When Jesus stands in front of you, you'll know," McKinsey said in a phone interview Wednesday. "There was just something about who he was and the way he was looking at me. He looked in my eyes, like into my soul. It was just the weirdest thing — and weird in just a really great way."
What McKinsey said happened next is an experience that, nearly two decades later, he is still trying to tell as many people about as possible in an effort to bring hope to the world.
He self-published a lightly autobiographical work of fiction called "Accidental Heaven" that he said has sold copies around the world, and he also said he posted his story on the website of the Chattanooga-based "John Ankerberg Show." The Christian nonprofit Guidepost publishes a book series on eyewitness accounts of heaven — and it recently published McKinsey's story in its 11th installment, "Glimpse of Eternity."
McKinsey said the story begins nearly two decades ago, in the lead-up to his son's wedding in Ventura, California. The family arrived a few days early to make a little vacation of it, McKinsey said.
"The first day, I started feeling sick," he said, "and I thought, 'Oh, shoot, I'm getting the flu — great timing,' right?"
The next day, he got sicker and figured he would take some Tylenol to push through. But by the Friday before the ceremony, he said, he felt totally miserable and that night didn't sleep at all. He went to the wedding, but at a gathering afterward could bear the discomfort no longer.
By the time he got to the hospital, a ruptured appendix had for days been leaking poison into the rest of his body, he said.
McKinsey said he prepared for surgery and assured his then-wife that all would be fine. He got wheeled into an operating room, he said, and does not recall anesthesia being applied with the standard count-back-from-10 maneuver he had experienced in other medical situations.
"I go into surgery thinking everything's gonna be fine," he said, "and next thing I know there's Jesus standing next to me."
McKinsey said this was no dream or ghostly affair: Jesus was a physical, embodied presence, he said, adding that the Son of God held out his hand and said, "I want to answer your prayer."
McKinsey said he felt confused.
"And I thought, 'Oh shoot, I was at the wedding — wait, I think I was having surgery by now, right?' — and trying to put it all together. And then I thought, 'Oh my gosh, I think I'm dead.'
"And it just kind of hit me: 'Wow, Jesus is taking me to heaven.'"
McKinsey said he took Jesus's hand and then immediately the two of them were standing on top of a mountain. McKinsey said he felt grass under his so feet; his senses were so heightened he could count every blade.
He said he looked up and everything was white, and off to the right in the distance was a bright light source that started shooting out beams of light 3 or 4 feet long and a couple inches in diameter.
The fluorescent tube-like objects were flying across the bright white expanse, McKinsey said, when one of them hit him on the head. He said it made a buzzing sound and warmed his entire body.
"And I kept thinking, 'What the heck is going on,'" he said.
He said he kept holding Jesus's hand and returned his attention to the white expanse before him, which, as though a white curtain was being pulled open, promptly swept from right to left to reveal a valley below — and another mountain in the distance.
He said there were neon colors with a brightness he had never before seen in the intervening sky. And he said on the distant mountain sat trees, almost like pines, but shaped as perfect cones.
These trees, McKinsey said, had tips of diamonds. He said the tubes of light shooting about the valley began to move quicker, and one of these hit one such diamond — which in turn sent hundreds of additional lights bursting all over, as more light beams hit many more diamonds tree tips.
There was an ensuing burst of light all around, and down in the valley, McKinsey said, a white fog that was previously in front of him settled over a city with gold and white spires and domes protruding through.
McKinsey said he returned his gaze to the distant light source.
"I just thought 'Man, this is just incredible,'" he recalled. "And when I did, Jesus says to me, 'It's the glory of the Lord.' And when he said that, I just couldn't stand."
He said he fell to his knees.
Back in Ventura
McKinsey said when he was shocked awake, a doctor asked his name, and it took a minute for him to get an answer out.
He was thinking about what happened and where Jesus went and what a gorgeous city he had seen.
McKinsey said he stayed in the hospital for several days, weak and barely able lift his hands.
In the first couple of those fever-stricken days, he recalled, he could not he even tell his then-wife he had seen heaven because he would become overwhelmed with emotion.
Eventually, medical staff let him have real food, and he recalled peeling a banana, feeling voracious in anticipation. Then, he said, he started to cry.
"I'm eating a banana that was grown in probably another country, out of the earth — and it's healing me," he said. "I mean, what kind of a creation is that? It's just amazing. And I thought, 'What else am I taking for granted?'"
Within days, he was strolling about the hospital with tubes connecting him to a pole on wheels, enjoying the pictures of California: a forest, the ocean. He considered how his life charged along — with marriage, children, a stressful, if high-paying, job.
"And I thought, 'What am I missing?'" McKinsey recalled. "'I'm just barreling through life way too fast. I need to slow down.'"
Later, he got divorced and about seven years ago with a new wife came to Tennessee, where property was cheaper than in California.
Out of Hixson, they worked flipping houses, he said, and about a year ago, they bought a 12-acre property near LaFayette.
The land, according to McKinsey, had garbage all over it; there was no trash service, and he said the previous owner had tried, apparently unsuccessfully, to burn everything off.
The McKinseys initially thought they could clean up the property for yet another flip but then realized it was not realistic and they would be better off just keeping the place, which McKinsey said is perfect and surrounded by National Forest land.
In recent months, he has started to attend his new local-ish Crosspointe Church in Dalton with verve. And now he walks the meadows of his new property and seeks to enact his life mission — to spread the good news of Jesus Christ.
He said skeptics do not surprise him. One time, he said, an elderly woman asked him if during the near-death experience he felt the scars on the hands of Jesus. McKinsey said no; he reckoned Jesus was nailed to the cross through the wrist. But the woman, McKinsey recalled, said the lack of scars on the hand undermined the credibility of his story.
Yet McKinsey said he believes every word of the Bible and feels the book actually substantiates his own account. He cited, for example, Chapter 21 in the Book of Revelation: Heaven, it said, has no need for the sun, because it is lit by the glory of the Lord.