Revive Our Hearts Podcast

Dannah Gresh: Jim Elliot sometimes signed his letters to Elisabeth, “Devotedly, Jim.” Years later his daughter Valerie realized something about that word. 

Valerie Elliot Shepard: In the Old Testament, the sacrifices that were “devoted” to God had to be killed. We “devote” ourselves to God in order that we’re ready to die when He takes us.

Dannah: This is Revive Our Hearts with Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth, author of Choosing Forgiveness, for February 14, 2020. I’m Dannah Gresh.

Who would you look to as a hero of the faith? Think about that for a moment. Who would you look at and say, “That is someone I want to be like!” or “His or her life challenged me in so many ways, so many good ways!” In fact, how about you, Nancy? Who would you consider to be a hero of the faith?

Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth: Wow! So many of them, because I grew up reading the biographies of great Christian men and women, servants of the Lord. I think about George Mueller, the man in Britain whose faith and prayers God used to feed thousands of orphans over the years. 

I just remember being so inspired by reading stories like his as I was growing up, and thinking, Wow, if God did that with him, what could God do if I would believe Him? How about you, Dannah?

Dannah: Well, you know I, too, have loved biographies. Amy Carmichael was one of my favorites! She had an excruciating, painful physical condition, but believed that God wanted her to serve on the mission field in spite of it. She was faithful and she did, and the Lord used her to rescue hundreds of girls from human trafficking in India . . . before “human trafficking” was even the buzzword of the Christian culture.

Nancy: Yes, she’s another one who has been such a great inspiration to me and to many others. You know, this thing of heroes of the faith? I think it really is a biblical concept. I’m thinking of that passage in Hebrews 13:7 where the writer says, “Remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the word of God. Consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith.” 

And when we read and talk about these who have gone before us, we’re saying, “What is there in their life that is admirable, is worthy of respect?” Their faith and their lives are worthy of us following their example today.

Dannah: And surely, Nancy, two of the individuals high on the list of people whose lives are worth imitating and following have to be Jim Elliot—who was martyred in the jungles of Ecuador in 1956—and his wife, Elisabeth Elliot Gren—who spent so much of her life encouraging others and challenging us to live in wholehearted devotion to God, despite whatever we might face!

Nancy: Yes, I still meet people all over this country whose lives and faith have been inspired by the story and the ministry of Elisabeth Elliot. And this week’s conversation with Jim and Elisabeth Elliot’s daughter, Valerie Shepard, has helped bring this couple to the forefront of our minds again.

Dannah: We’re going to listen to the conclusion of that conversation that you had with Valerie in just a moment. But first, we’re going to hear how one friend remembered the life of Elisabeth Elliot.

Nancy: Yes, this is Donna Otto, who in 2015 shared at a memorial service for Elisabeth that was held at Wheaton College. Robert and I had the privilege of being in that service, sitting close to the front. I still remember hearing Donna, along with others, express the impact that Elisabeth Elliot had had in their lives. So here’s Donna Otto sharing at Elisabeth Elliot’s memorial service.

Donna Otto: I know this is a solemn occasion, but I feel like I could burst with joy after hearing all of you and the things you’ve said. Thank you! I am Donna Otto, and I loved Elisabeth very much! She was the mother of my heart. She pointed me to Him always, and always away from her. 

When I met her I was so young! All I wanted was someone to tell me how to do it! I would go at the same question with her a dozen different ways. “Well, just tell me what your morning looks like in prayer. What do you do first? Well, what do you do in the middle? Well, what do you do at the end? Do you do it all seven days?”

And she would raise her hands. She once said to me, “Murderous. Murderous!” 

And I said, “Pardon me?” 

And she said, “It’s murderous! You are so slow to get these simple concepts!” (laughter) But of course, she was absolutely right. I was! 

But one of the great gifts that this mother of my heart gave me was her enduring patience with me. My life was to be changed at her hand! She always pointed me to Him; she never answered those questions.

And it wasn’t until I was in my early sixties that a young daughter of my heart asked me much the same variety of questions, and the big lightbulb went on, “Oh, that’s what she was doing!” 

Well, I always have a prop when I speak. It’s a velvet-covered brick. Can you see it? I carried it all the way from Arizona, where I live, and wrapped it in this black velvet—because Elisabeth was a velvet-covered brick to me (laughter and applause) 

She and I both valued the words of Howard Butt, who wrote in the early ’70s about this concept of being a velvet-covered brick, that Jesus was like that, a brick with velvet around it. She was gracious and compassionate to me when—I daresay—I was a nuisance!

She always stood for the same truth, the core of who she was. How she loved her only daughter and her son-in-law and these eight “granny’s grands” and their spouses. She loved them fiercely! Nothing could separate her from those things.

Peter Kreeft, too, was one of the authors that Elisabeth introduced me to. He said these powerful words and I know it’s a concept you’ve heard before. . .but Peter the apostle tells us in the book of 1 Peter, “Let me remind you of what you already know.” 

And Peter Kreeft’s words are like that: “We are dwarfs standing on the shoulders of giants. We see further than the ancients, not because we are taller than they, but because we stand on their shoulders.” And I know for myself, I stand on Elisabeth’s shoulders . . . and I believe all of us in this room do.

The psalmist reminds us that “one generation shall praise thy works, and shall declare thy mighty deeds to the next generation.” (see Ps. 145:4) Elisabeth did that to me. Yes, o’er and o’er, because I wasn’t as fast a student as she was. She loved and cared for me. She scolded me. She kissed me. She plumped a pillow and poured me a cup of tea in her bedroom rocker.

She never gave up what I might learn next, even though my slowness was “murderous!” She asked my advice. She wrote introductions to my books. She placed one of my books on her small shelf in her private study. I don’t think she ever knew that I noticed that, but there it was! An act of a gracious mother of one’s heart. Whether the book was good or not, it wouldn’t have mattered, because there it was on her shelf. 

She reminded me that I should not carry a Bible unless I’d “swept under the bed.” And long before Eugene Peterson wrote the message, she was quoting J.B. Phillips translation: “And do not be conformed to your world . . .” and not just the big world. She was challenging me to know what my world was. 

On Mother’s Day this last year, I sat next to the mother of my heart. I wondered, as I have often in these last ten years, if this would be the last time that I would see her. And it was. I saw at the end of her life, full acceptance—a peacefulness that I understood more clearly because of Amy Carmichael’s quote. Amy said in her great book called If

If I refuse to allow one who is dear to me to suffer for the sake of Christ, if I do not see suffering as the greatest honor that can be offered to any follower of the crucified Christ, then I know nothing of Calvary love.

The mother of my heart had accepted suffering in a true and deep way, aided by those who loved her. I know you, too, have read the tributes and salutes and remembrances that have filled the pages of magazines, and the Internet, and newspapers the last four weeks. All of these words of success and accomplishment, determination, discipline, unapologetic boldness.

John Piper said, “The blunt woman with blunt words.” He was right. Compassion and real grace were hers. Her writing is high-quality, her content fit to change your life! Her voice and antics with accents would make you howl, but none can compare to the choices she made to surrender to Jesus Christ beneath the cross.

And she showed me that; she modeled that, she encouraged it. She stayed with me until the end. Elisabeth was a “brick” she was tough and tender. I was forever changed by the presence of God in her, in my life. And thank you, Val.

Dannah: Those are the words of a dear friend of Elisabeth Elliot’s. Donna Otto shared that at Elisabeth’s memorial service in 2015. And we’ve provided a link to the entire service at our website, ReviveOurHearts.com.

Nancy: And it really is worth listening to. In fact, another high point of that service was when Joni Eareckson Tada shared—just a few minutes, but so beautifully—how God had used Elisabeth in her life. As Donna mentioned just a moment ago, a key theme in the lives of both Jim and Elisabeth Elliot was that of suffering. Elisabeth understood suffering on a really personal level.

As we heard earlier this week, her first husband was violently murdered by the very people he was trying to reach in Ecuador. Elisabeth and Jim had been married just over two years. Her second husband, Ad Leitch, died of cancer after only four years of marriage.

Dannah: And this week we’ve been listening to a conversation you had with Elisabeth’s daughter Valerie Shepard. If you missed any of that conversation, you’ve got to go back and listen to it! It is so rich with encouragement and truth. The podcast and the transcript are at ReviveOurHearts.com, or you can access them through the Revive Our Hearts app.

Nancy: And now we’re picking up the conversation where Val was saying that the concept of loss and hardship was already a part of her parents’ lives, even during their long-distance courtship.

Valerie: Their biggest lesson their first year before they got married—their first year of mission work—my mother lost everything that she’d worked on for eight or nine months.

Nancy: Just tell a little bit of that story. It’s been written in a book that used to be called These Strange Ashes; now it’s called Made for the Journey. Just give us a glimpse of that.

Valerie: Her first year of missionary life was among the Colorado Indians. She was with another woman working on writing down this language that had never been written down before. The one interpreter that they had who knew both Spanish and Colorado was murdered, after about six or seven months of working with him.

Nancy: Ahuge loss! Irreplaceable! 

Valerie: Yes, the only interpreter they could have had, that they needed so badly, was murdered. And then the language materials were all stolen on a bus as they had sent them up to Quito for safekeeping.

Nancy: They were not backed-up on a laptop somewhere; they weren’t in the Cloud! This was handwritten.

Valerie: Yes, all of it was gone. So there was my mother’s work of that first almost-year—it was gone! And she had to ask herself, “Will I trust God, or will I turn bitter?” I’m sure you’ve heard people say you either get bitter or better from experiences that are losses. She knew she had to trust God.

And the same thing happened to my father: The year’s work (almost a year) with Pete Fleming was building a mission station with a chapel and a school and a house. At the time, they thought they were building it for Ed and Marilou McCully to come and work in that station. And as the rains and the floods came, everything was washed away that they had built!

They’d spent eight or nine months working on it—hard, physical labor—as well as they were witnessing to the Indians and some of them were coming to Christ. But everything they had planned for this mission station was washed away.

So both my parents had that unusual experience of losing all that they’d worked on for almost a year. And it was that flood that my father had somehow through a premonition about a month before said in his journal, “I think there has to be some catastrophe to happen before I know that God is going to give me Betty [“Bets” was my mother’s nickname] as a wife.” 

Nancy: Wow.

Valerie: And then that happened. He knew instantly God had allowed it, but that was obviously where he recognized God was saying, “You do need a wife in the jungle. She is strong.” She was very, very strong and healthy.

Nancy: And not afraid of scorpions and spiders!

Valerie: Right, they were something to be careful about, but she was not an alarmist, where she would scream. She just never showed that kind of typical female behavior around spiders and scorpions. 

Nancy: I know, it always amazes me when I read that about her!

Valerie: Yes, she was very calm inside.

Nancy: But God used catastrophes and losses—those huge losses. Here are two young people in their early twenties who could have really decided, “This serving God bit is . . .”

Valerie: “. . . forget it!” But they trusted God, so it’s amazing. The circumstance was God-ordained. And, yes, we don’t want to say that God causes tragedy and evil, but He certainly allowed it and used it in their lives to build their trust in Him; to build that foundation of, “No matter what, I will trust Him. I will follow Him.”

Nancy: And those qualities of your parents—your biological dad and wife Elisabeth Elliot—though you were only ten months old when your dad was taken, those marked your life. And even more over the years as you were able to know your mom, but then soak in your dad’s and mom’s journals and letters.

It makes me think what a gift it is to the next generation to leave records of your journey with Christ. And not just the easy parts or the glowing, Instagram-worthy parts, but the hard things. Because you see wrestling with the will of God in these letters. Sometimes there’s just confusion, like, “I don’t know what to think!”

Nancy: Nancy: We think of your mother as being a very certain person, but as I was reading a lot of this, I thought, “You know, she wasn’t always that certain. Sometimes the will of God was a cloud or a ‘fog,’” as Hudson Taylor said.

Valerie:  Yes, she didn’t know where she was supposed to go. She kept thinking, “Where does the Lord want me?” But He finally made it clear in 1952 that she was to go to Ecuador.

Nancy: But she waited for that, and then she left a record of all of this—which might have been lost to you, to your children, and to the rest of us who are blessed to be able to see that as well. But it makes me want to ask women—whether you’re single or married—“What kind of record are you leaving?”

What kind of testimony are your letters (if you write letters), your emails, your texts, your journals, your Instagram posts, your social media . . . Actually that stuff does last a lot longer than most people realize when we’re writing those?

I’m not talking about putting something on, because your parents didn’t write these things to be published or to be read by future generations. They were just being real and true to what their experience was with God to that point. But what a treasure they left that we’ve received by those long-hidden, now-discovered, and now-published letters. 

What will the record of my life be? Not just my messages I gave and the books I wrote, but the private correspondence, the FaceBook posts, the tweets. What’s going to be the record?

I don’t have biological children, but there’s a next generation coming, and some of them may happen onto those things. You have eight children; you have grandchildren; you have great-grandchildren you may never meet, but they may read. They will read some record of our lives that will be left.

And how will it lead them? What will it make them think of God? How will it inspire them to trust God and to take the hard path, when it is hard, and to be obedient and to trust and obey? This is not just something for people like Jim and Elisabeth Elliot.

Valerie: Yes, it’s for any Christian.

Nancy: And I think, if we would get eternity stamped on our eyeballs, how different might our posts be, and our correspondence. . .how much more seasoned with grace might our exchanges be, on texts, and how much more Christ-centered? These things are a reflection of our hearts. . .and where’s your heart? 

And what are your children and your grandchildren and those who outlive you, what are they going to pick up from that? Those are important questions! I’m so thankful for the life and the legacy of Jim and Elisabeth Elliot and their daughter, Val Shepard. 

The book that you’ve put together is called Devotedly: The Personal Letters and Love Story of Jim and Elisabeth Elliot. It’s mesmerizing at points, especially for those of us who knew and loved your mother’s writings and the story of your dad’s sacrifice, his martyrdom.

But even for those who aren’t familiar with it, this is a story that a new generation needs to know. I’m curious to know how you came to the title of the book, “Devotedly”?

Valerie: Hmm. It was really the publisher, the editor and the team that decided on that. I had several different ideas for titles, but they were all a little obscure. They said because he ended a couple of his letters to her with, “Devotedly, Jim,” they said, “That’s the word that pictures his love for God as well as his love for her.”

Nancy: Yes.

Valerie: So that says it all, just, “devotedly.” Also, another woman, Arlita Winston, reminded me that in the Old Testament the sacrifices that were “devoted” to God had to be killed. We have to kill our feelings in order to obey sometimes. 

Nancy: Our flesh. 

Valerie: So we devote ourselves to God . . .

Nancy: . . . as a living sacrifice. 

Valerie: Right, in order for Him to be glorified, not for ourselves to be glorified. So we’re not trying to hold onto our lives and save them; we’re trying to be so devoted to the Lord that we’re ready to die when He takes us. So I’m thankful that the editor and the team thought that was the best title!

Nancy: Well, for what it’s worth, I love the title! I’m sitting here looking at the cover of this work of art, beautiful book, and thinking, Devotedly! That’s a call to you; it’s a call to me; it’s a call to every listener in every season of life to live a life that is devoted to Christ first. 

And then for those who are married—mothers, grandmothers—to be appropriately devoted to those that God has called us to love and serve. That may be your neighbor, it may be the person next to you in the cube at work, but to be devoted—first and foremost, above all others loves—to Christ!

I mean, can I say, “I am the devoted servant of the Lord”? But am I devoted appropriately to my husband, to his children who are now part of my family and my life? And am I living this life of sacrificial love and devotion? Does it show up in my communications: my verbal communications, my written communications, my digital communications?

There aren’t many of us today who are going to write the kind of letters we see in this book, but maybe they call us in our modern era to a more careful and thoughtful and meaningful exchange, communication with the Lord and with each other. 

And if this book does that and inspires fresh devotion in hearts, then I think you will feel that this work has been really worth it!

Valerie: I think if everybody could get an understanding of the value of words: good words, biblical words, as well as kindness in our words, as well as wisdom in our words, words that are worth using, instead of just the way our language is kind of dumbing down—slowly but surely—by not using great words.

Nancy: Or just throwing words around meaninglessly.

Valerie: For example, the word, “noble.” I read George MacDonald books when I was in high school, and I remember thinking, They make me want to be more noble. Because he talked of noble characters. I think of my parents as noble people because they were committed to bringing God the honor due His Name.

And so we really have to think about what words we use and how they affect other people. I’m sure that in your Bible studies that you have taught, you have talked about kind words. 

Nancy: Proverbs 31:26: “She opens her mouth with wisdom, and on her tongue is the law of kindness” (NKJV). Wow. Yes.

Valerie: Yes.

Nancy: Well, this is the life of devotion, the life that your mother and your dad demonstrated—never thinking that their lives would be read by the multitudes or celebrated by the multitudes. It was never about them.

In fact, years ago we tried to give your mother aTrue Woman award, and she and Lars, they didn’t want that kind of recognition for her. But I think, now, and her being gone, that it’s appropriate for us to honor her memory and her life, because it points us to Christ, and that’s what we want our lives to do!

Valerie: That’s the main thing. That’s the most important thing!

Nancy: We want our listeners to have a copy of the book Devotedly. We have previously offered the book Suffering Is Never for Nothing, which is—until fairly recently—unpublished teaching that your mother did on suffering. That’s very rich; it’s a shorter book. It’s available in our Resource Center at ReviveOurHearts.com.

This week we’re offering a copy of this book Devotedly: The Personal Letters and Love Story of Jim and Elisabeth Elliot, by their daughter, Valerie Elliot Shepard. It would be our joy to send that to you, to bless you with a copy of that book, as our way of saying “thank” you when you make a donation of any amount to the ministry of Revive Our Hearts.

Of course, you can buy this book at an online supplier or maybe at a retail store near you. But when you support the ministry of Revive Our Hearts, you’re continuing the legacy and the ministry of people like Elisabeth Elliot, on whose shoulders we stand—Revive Our Hearts being a successor ministry to Gateway to Joy.

So you’re supporting this message going out into the hearts of women—not only in the United States, but around the world—as this message is being translated and multiplied and going into the hearts of women in far-flung places. You partner with us in that when you support this ministry.

When you do that this week, be sure and let us know that you’d like a copy of the book of the love letters of Jim and Elisabeth Elliot; it’s called Devotedly. We’d love to make that available to you!

Dannah: If you’d like to contact us online, our website is ReviveOurHearts.com, but if you prefer calling, there are people ready to talk to you. Our number is 1-800-569-5959.

Nancy: Thank you, Val Shepard, for what has been--for me--a really sweet and fun and thought-provoking conversation.

Valerie: Thank you, Nancy.

Nancy: I feel like we’ve been down memory’s lane for you and for me. There have been some smiles—and a few tears. Thank you for keeping that story, and the qualities of your mother’s and your dad’s lives, alive for us, so our lives can be challenged and inspired to be more like Jesus!

Valerie: Thank you for the opportunity. It’s a privilege for me; it really is.

Dannah: Well, have a wonderful Valentine’s Day today! Maybe you can make someone’s day special as you express love to those around you. And speaking of those around you, next week Nancy will begin a series from Ecclesiastes chapter 4, called “The Power of Relationships.” I hope you’ll join us for that! 

I’m Dannah Gresh inviting you back for Revive Our Hearts.

Revive Our Hearts with Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth wants to help you be more devoted to God. It’s an outreach of Life Action Ministries.

*Offers available only during the broadcast of the podcast season.