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By Sanna Morrison Barlow (Rossi)
Recording experiences in Africa in the early and mid 1950s.
It is a habit among missionaries to leave something behind. This is not due to any lapse of memory, it is simply part of the missionary method. A brightly colored Gospel portion, a simple booklet, a single leaflet is placed in someone's hands that they might know the way of life more perfectly. Many of us have found our proffered literature sadly refused; with the shake of the head, a shrug of the shoulders, the reply has come: "I can't read." Thank God, illiteracy is shrinking, but literate and illiterate alike are agog with excitement when the missionary produces "talking tracts" in the form of gramophone records. These are the fruitful products of Gospel Recordings Incorporated.
In her earlier book: "Mountains Singing," Miss Sanna Barlow unfolded the fascinating story of the team's God-guided adventures while recording in the Philippines. Readers come to the final page rejoicing in this testimony of God's faithfulness, yet reluctant that the story has ended. But it has not ended.
"Light is Sown" is part of the continuing story of the Church. It is also another great chapter in the saga of a work for God which began with the making of one record for one small group of people, but since He was in that living beginning, it has grown with divine life and fruitfulness. These further experiences of the team (Joy Ridderhof, Sanna Barlow, and Ann Sherwood), are retold against a background of a wakening, restive, spiritually hungry Africa, and this latest story of the capture of rare and varied African dialects throbs with the note of urgency: "I must work the works of him that sent me while it is day" - while it is day.
The night of finished toil and vanished opportunity has not yet come, and out to Africa, to Asia, to the peoples of more than a thousand tongues go the "talking tracts."
It is my privilege and joy to commend, not only Miss Barlow's story to you, but the widening work of Gospel Recordings. If ever one needed proof of the strategic value of the Gospel records, it is daily evident in the work of the Mission with which I am associated. Letters come to my desk from such places as Thailand, Malaya, the Philippines, Formosa (Taiwan), and elsewhere in Southeast Asia, referring to the indispensable records which tell the story of the love of God in Christ. In some Malayan villages, for example, six or seven languages and dialects are spoken. Rarely can one missionary converse in all of them, but the "talking tracts" provide the needed voices to meet these varied conditions. This is only one of the many ways in which the records fulfill their ministry. We know they speak God's message where no human messenger has yet penetrated, and daily, in headmen's huts and temple courtyards; in homes and inns, in the bush and in the bazaar, the old cry is heard, "How hear we every man in our own tongue, wherein we were born . . . the wonderful works of God."
Those who have dedicated this book to God and His glory know that in sharing this story with you they will gain your interest. But it is only as readers become partners in prayer, that the glory of God will be increasingly manifest wherever the records, in a thousand voices, speak their message of hope in a world of need.
George A. Scott (Home Director)
China Inland Mission
Chairman, British Branch of Gospel Recordings Inc
It is December in Nyasaland. A well-educated African teacher introducing us (Miss Joy Ridderhof, Miss Ann Sherwood, Miss Sanna Barlow) to a gathering of fellow Christians remarked: "When I first learned that these ladies were here to make records in our languages for the spread of the Gospel, I must confess that I first thought, 'Is this right? Can it be that a record and gramophone can be used for God?' Then as I prayed about it, these thoughts came to my mind. Perhaps the people who first invented motorcars, trains, and airplanes never thought that these machines would facilitate missionary work. Yet they do. And because of the aid of faster transport, the Gospel is spreading more rapidly and widely. Then I thought, the gramophone also is a machine which can facilitate the preaching of the Gospel because it can go into many places where we ourselves cannot travel. Today we have recorded the message in our languages. When the records return, our voices will be multiplied so that we shall be talking in many different places at the same time - our voices will be witnessing even in our own home villages which some of us have not seen for sixteen or twenty years. I believe God is using gramophones to spread abroad His Gospel to many who have never heard. We will pray for this work, and for these records."
Almost a century ago, the world woke up to the miracle of the phonograph invented by Thomas A. Edison in 1877. In those days it was a wonder that such a mechanical means could so perfectly reproduce the human voice, the identical sound with not only the speech, but the breathing presence of the speaker.
At that time, however, no one ever dreamed that one day, in the plan of God, the phonograph would become a vital force in world-wide evangelism; or that such a machine could ever be thought of as a potential missionary - versatile in its choice of arms and legs, and of speech and language - a messenger able to run unhindered by bound feet and narrow paths.
Seventeen years ago when a few "converted" phonographs in Latin America began to sing Christian hymns and to talk the Words of God for Spanish-speaking mountain villagers, another miracle came to pass. The village listener complained, "These words have stuck in my heart and I cannot get them out!" The message impressed upon the black disco had reprinted itself upon the listening heart; and next, the reproduction of it appeared in the living message - a singing believer, a child of God!
In 1939 Joy Ridderhof began the venture of faith which brought into existence the first Gospel records in Spanish. It had been a step of faith prompted by her concern for the Honduranian people of her own missionary service to which she could not return because of illness. Her faith in God at this time refused to see defeat in this disappointment, and in accepting this trial, she used it to lay claim upon God for the salvation of the unreached villages in Latin America. Joy did not know then that a new ministry to world missions had been born.
From its beginning, the work of making Gospel records had become a covenant of faith in God to obey as He showed the need, and to trust Him alone to supply all things - knowledge, equipment, money, and workers required to carry out His purpose.
Through the years others, one by one, under the hand of God's direct personal guidance, have come and joined themselves to the mission known now as Gospel Recordings Incorporated. In the plant that originated on the premises of Joy Ridderhof's home at Witmer Street in Los Angeles, Ann Sherwood, a university classmate, was one of the first to come "to help Joy answer orders for Spanish records." And in those days (before the existence of a Board of Directors) was the invaluable spiritual counsel of Mother Seiber who well knew how to talk both to God and to Joy about the infant work of Gospel Recordings. (Mrs. L. M. Seiber, of Bell, California, is now a member of the present Board in Los Angeles.)
A year or two later a young stenographer, holding a fine position as private secretary to a Los Angeles physician of prominence, was firmly directed of God to give up her salaried job, and to pour her life and talents into this humble effort then known only to a handful of missions in Spanish-speaking countries. When Virginia Miller (secretary-treasurer in Los Angeles) came to offer herself to the budding work, Joy Ridderhof spoke to her frankly. "You have much to give us! But we have nothing to give back to you except the opportunity to work hard full days (and nights too, sometimes)! But if you believe that God is calling you, He will take care of every need." For more than twelve years, Virginia Miller has joyously proved the truth (on both its sides!) of these words. The story of all the others who have come - hand picked and brought on special priority order! - is all a part of the divine method behind the task of sowing Gospel records throughout the earth. The total number of full-time workers is now forty-seven. This includes staff and workers in Los Angeles under the leadership of Marguerite Carter, executive secretary and assistant to Joy Ridderhof; workers in Sydney, Australia, under Mr. J. Stuart Mill, director for Australia and New Zealand; Mr. And Mrs. Chalmers Cree, representatives of Gospel Recordings Incorporated, in the eastern United States, and in London, where Mr. Gilbert Vinden is secretary-treasurer.
From its beginnings in the Spanish language, the seventeen years tell a story of growth which can only be attributed to the God of Abraham whose covenant of faith pledged a blessing for the purpose that "thou shalt be a blessing."
And God said to Abraham: "Look now toward heaven, and tell the stars, if thou be able to number them. So shall thy seed be"!
"And he believed in the Lord . . . ."
After almost four years of recording abroad, the three of us, now entering our second year of work in Africa, have decided to select only a few materials to bind between the covers of one short book in order to let you see the world somewhat as it begins to appear to us. Our map of experiences sees the earth like a dark field sprayed with stars. The stars are widely scattered although the sowing of them is not yet the sky of Abraham, nor sown in the whitening depths of the Milky Way. But we believe there is time to sow the light into all the unreached and darkest spaces.
In this writing we are trying to speak also for Vaughn Collins in Burma now, and for Don Richter, staff recordist in Dutch New Guinea. We want to share with you the joy of seeing how the Light Is Sown around the whole world!
There is just one more word we want to spell out to those who have eyes to read between the lines. It is the one we are so often forced to mark on the cartons of tape recordings en route for home shores. The word is - Urgent.