Joel J. Niewenhuis
Joel J. Niewenhuis

Yesterday, we posted a book trailer for Gary Schmidt and Elizabeth Stickney’s Acceptable Words: Prayers for the Writer.

Today, we share a moving account by Eerdmans promotions manager Joel J. Niewenhuis describing how another of Gary Schmidt’s books — his retelling of Pilgrim’s Progress — helped him through a dark time more than a decade ago. 

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One of my favorite Eerdmans books is Gary Schmidt’s outstanding retelling of John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress, illustrated by Barry Moser, published in 1994. Here’s why.

You know how a certain book can be especially memorable to you because of when and where you read it? That’s the case for me regarding this book. I read the Schmidt/Moser edition of Pilgrim’s Progress while I was a patient, in July 2001, at Pine Rest Christian Hospital in Grand Rapids.

I’d fallen so far into a deep, suicidal depression that I could hardly function and was unable to cope with my day-to-day family and work responsibilities. Hospitalization was an unfortunate, unenviable necessity. For some strange reason I brought a copy of the large-format Pilgrim’s Progress from home with me to Pine Rest. During that dark time I forced myself to read through the book — piecemeal — even though concentrating was very difficult for me.

Pilgrim's Progress: A Retelling
Pilgrim’s Progress: A Retelling

The protagonist Christian’s journey as recounted and pictured on those 88 pages helped carry me through my own valley, at times lifting me out of my personal misery. The book certainly wasn’t some magical cure-all — but it did help. The 50 watercolor illustrations of such characters as Obstinate, Pliable, Mr. Worldly-Wiseman, Despair, Evangelist — and the burdened Christian throughout — enlivened the contemporized narrative; in fact, so firmly etched are those pictures in my mind’s eye that they fairly leap off the pages for me still today.

By God’s grace, with the support of my loving wife, and through a series of treatments, I did climb out of the pit of my despair. These days, aided by ongoing therapies, I’m grateful to work and function fairly well most of the time.

I remain grateful, also, for Schmidt and Moser’s powerfully told and beautifully illustrated rendering of Bunyan’s classic, which continues to move and inspire me.

Gary Schmidt and Barry Moser’s Pilgrim’s Progress: A Retelling is available in two hardcover formats: a larger 9″ x 12″ edition and a smaller, more portable 5″ x 7 ¼” edition