When people pass on, their loved ones or legacy holders sometimes sift through old papers and discover a stash of love letters or a forgotten stock certificate. Once in a while, that good fortune is a gift to the public.
Last year, Kathy Reeg, the president of the Elisabeth Elliot Foundation, reached out to Back to the Bible, the producers of Elliot’s long-running radio show, Gateway to Joy, in search of some information about Elliot’s past work.
In the process of looking for that other project, the team made an extraordinary discovery: A long-buried computer file contained an unpublished devotional by Elliot called Heart of God: 31 Days to Discover God’s Love for You. The book is scheduled for release this September by DaySpring.
“We ran across it strictly by accident,” said Reeg. “But nothing is accidental. Everything is providential.”
She knew there were a few unpublished materials in the archives, but the discovery of Heart of God was a complete surprise. A staffer at Back to the Bible told her how sorry they were they hadn’t found it earlier.
“No,” Reeg replied. “This is all God’s timing.”
The story of the manuscript’s discovery is also the story of a relationship between Reeg and Elliot.
“I got to know Elisabeth through her writing and later her daily Gateway to Joy broadcast, just as so many others have,” said Reeg. “I’d heard her speak in person at a seminar and had even exchanged letters with her after her book The Shaping of a Christian Family released.”
After Elliot was diagnosed with dementia in 2001, Reeg began corresponding with Elliot’s husband, Lars Gren, first as she was looking for some recordings of Elliot’s messages, and then as Reeg and her husband hosted Elisabeth and Lars at their home. The couples became dear friends.
Gren was diagnosed with dementia in 2016, and Reeg now manages Gren’s care at an assisted living facility located near her home.
In June of 2020, her desire to honor her longtime mentor’s life and work led her to create the Elisabeth Elliot Foundation. The foundation exists to steward the work of Elisabeth Elliot; her first husband, missionary Jim Elliot; and their only child, author Valerie Elliot Shepherd.
In addition to providing a home for the family’s writing, the foundation is also involved with other Elliot-related projects, including a planned retrospective of Elliot’s life at The Museum of the Bible in Washington, DC, in spring 2023.
Although Reeg hoped the foundation would play a role in introducing Elliot’s work to a new generation, she never imagined bringing a new book to that younger audience and also offering a fresh resource to the scores of others who cherished Elliot’s ministry.
“Elisabeth was a true spiritual mentor to me throughout my adult years, just as she was for countless others,” said Reeg. “And though we live in different times now, her example of grace, mercy, and love, without compromising belief, still speaks today.”
Based on the dates of the files in which Heart of God was found, Reeg and the Back to the Bible team suspect Elliot wrote the bulk of the manuscript in the late 1990s. Elliot appears to have revisited the manuscript in 2004, around the time Mel Gibson’s movie The Passion of the Christ was in theaters. She references the film briefly in her introduction to the devotional.
The rest of the volume focuses on the character of God—his sovereignty, generosity, and justice—through short daily devotionals, prayers, and relevant quotes from other writers and thinkers. This devotional, like her others, exposes the same impulse she had as a young missionary: to share the gospel with those who don’t yet know it.
In one of the devotional entries, Elliot writes,
Our loving heavenly Father is a compassionate God who seeks the very best for us. Because of this, however, our Creator is also a jealous God who intends that we worship Him and only Him.
God’s jealousy, however, should not be interpreted as a sign that God is uncaring or sinister. God’s jealousy is a righteous jealousy for His people. God wants what is best for us, and what is best is this: nothing other than God.
While Elliot’s unflinching approach to faith has inspired many over the years, it has also stirred controversy.
After the deaths of her first husband, Jim Elliot, on the mission field in Ecuador, and her second husband, theology professor Addison Leitch, Christianity Today interviewed her in 1978, shortly after she married Lars Gren.
She recognized even then that her unflinching views about missions, gender roles, and personal holiness were a lightning rod for some.
“Whenever I’m attacked, I am emotionally affected,” she said at the time. “I’m not at all thick-skinned. However, I try not to allow people’s opinions to dictate my behavior or color my doctrine. Instead, I try to get my beliefs directly from the Bible. And if I feel that what I believe is biblical, I can’t pay a lot of attention to people’s feelings.”
Reeg wishes Elliot’s critics were able to see beyond the legalism her detractors accuse her of and instead see the generosity of spirit she expressed in person, on the air, and in her voluminous correspondence.
“She took Scripture seriously, while reflecting the time in which she lived,” said Reeg. “She shared the message God put on her heart for that time and season. We need to read her through that perspective. She communicated with the many who reached out to her in tender ways. She said hard things, but she lived a life of great compassion, service, and humility.”
Reeg believes that faithfulness can be seen afresh is this posthumous publication.
As Elliot’s years of public ministry were drawing to a close, she wrote in Heart of God:
When we welcome Jesus into our hearts, an old life ends and a new life begins. God transforms our lives and gives us a completely new view of the world. Let us, then, live out that transformed life. Each morning offers a fresh opportunity to invite Christ to rule over our hearts and our days. Each new day presents yet another opportunity to take up our cross and follow in His footsteps.
If the late author were still alive to see the publication of her last manuscript, she would likely take the excitement in stride and insist that the devotional isn’t the treasure—only Jesus is.
Michelle Van Loon is the author of seven books, including Translating Your Past: Finding Meaning in Family Ancestry, Genetic Clues, and Generational Trauma (Herald Press, 2022).