'I will lead them by a way which they knew not.'
'We have found the Spanish records so useful, and God has evidently blessed them so abundantly, that we long for more. Our deepest concern, however, is for the Mazahua tribe here in Mexico. It is so scattered, and it seems that the only way to reach it adequately with the Gospel is by means of records--but, alas, there are none in the Mazahua language. If we brought some of these tribespeople up to Los Angeles, would you be willing to make records in their tongue also. . .?'
This was, in effect, the request that came to Gospel Recordings from Wycliffe Bible Translators in Mexico early in 1943, and it met with a prompt response. Already the workers in the little studio in the back yard of Witmer Street had known the thrill of recording Gospel messages and songs delivered in a strange language by a bi-lingual member of a remote tribe which had no part of the Scriptures in its own tongue. The desire to do more of this type of work, to reach with the gospel by means of the gramophone those who would otherwise have no opportunity to hear it, was growing. Gladly Joy wrote assuring the Wycliffe missionaries of her eagerness to cooperate, and all was ready to receive the visitors when the news came that the two thousand mile trip to Los Angeles would not be taken after all. The war, though so far from the shores of the United States, was nevertheless affecting life throughout the country, and when application was made to bring two or three members of the Mazahua tribe from Mexico to Los Angeles, permission was refused. The Government would not allow it.
It was this apparent hindrance that ushered in a new era in the short history of Gospel Recordings. Until this time the work had been centered entirely in Los Angeles. To the studio in Witmer Street had come the Spanish, Mexican, Chinese and other national Christians, as well as the occasional tribesman, who had recorded the messages in their own tongues. But Joy had realized that not many isolated bi-lingual members of remote tribes were likely to be found in United States territory, and the thought had come more than once that she might eventually have to go herself to reach them. When, therefore, the news came that Mazahua tribesmen could not come to her, her reaction was, 'Then we will go to them.'
After all, the commission of the Risen Lord which had come with such conviction to her ten years before, in connection with Honduras, remained the same--'Go ye into all the world and preach the Gospel to every creature.' It had come to her with a strong, direct, personal emphasis in the past, and during recent months it had been quietly reviving in her mind.
'Go ye. . . .'
'Go. . . .'
She told Ann about it, and the rest of the team, and they were with her right from the start. Yes, the Mazahua language must be 'captured', and the glorious Gospel of the Living God proclaimed in it to the Mazahua people--on gramophone records! As they prayed together and faced the opportunity, they became increasingly confident that it was the will of God that Joy should go, and Ann with her, to Mexico. Nor was their objective the Mazahua language only. There were other tribes in Mexico, other tongues to 'capture', other sheep to find. The still, small Voice that each member of the Gospel Recordings staff recognized was impressing one thought, one desire, more deeply into their hearts--'other sheep. . . other sheep . . . them also I must bring.' And the direct, immediate focus was undoubtedly on those in Mexico. To Mexico, therefore, they would go!
It was to prove an even bigger undertaking than they realized. The small, portable tape recorder of to-day was practically unknown at that time. Recordings had to be made directly on discs, and the machinery was heavy and cumbersome. Not only would portable disc-making equipment be needed, but a station wagon in which to convey it! Large supplies of record blanks would be required, coupons for extra petrol, and a permit to cross the border. Meanwhile, the work of producing and dispatching records must be continued at headquarters, with all that was involved in correspondence, arranging programmes, filling in forms, visiting factories, and the many other business matters that were always needing prompt attention. The Gospel recordings staff looked at each other and wondered how four could ever manage to do what it now took six, working full speed, to accomplish! But the conviction was so deep that this outgoing was of God that they continued to make preparations, and the date was fixed on which the trip should be commenced--the second Tuesday in March, 1944.
By the Saturday immediately preceding this date the station wagon had not yet been provided, but Joy was confident that from some source it would be forthcoming, in time for her and Ann to commence their journey on the day appointed. Of this she felt certain and since extra petrol rations would be required for the long journey, she went to the Petrol Office, full of faith and expectation to ask for them. And here she received an unforeseen rebuff.
For what purpose were these extra rations required, the official asked? For what purpose was this journey being taken? For what purpose were these recordings in native languages to be used? The official could not see that they were in any way necessary at a time when the country was at war, and refused to give any coupons for a journey that was not a priority. He then proceeded to enquire into the petrol allocation Gospel Recordings Incorporated was already receiving. It was, he said, too large for such an organization, and would have to be reduced. And when Joy emerged from the office, not only was it without the petrol coupons that would have taken her to Mexico, but with the knowledge that there would now be barely sufficient for the needs of the team in Los Angeles.
For once, she was somewhat discouraged. 'Rejoice--in everything give thanks' had been her almost unfailing attitude, but as she returned to headquarters now, her inward prayer was more of a sigh than a song. 'Oh, Thou that hearest prayer, to thee shall all flesh come. . . .' She entered the home in Witmer Street, preparing to spend time in waiting upon God, to enquire of Him concerning this set-back. Then in walked Ann Sherwood.
'Prepare for a shock, Joy,' she said, 'we have been offered a Pontiac station wagon, and petrol coupons to take us to Mexico!'
She had just returned from a medical check up before setting off on the long journey. Then she proceeded to explain, 'Dr. M-----, as by a miracle, has just today arranged to purchase an almost new Pontiac station wagon. He has offered it to us for our trip as long as we need it. He bought it from a man who was moving to Mexico and who at the last minute decided to fly, offering his car for sale with petrol coupons included. God's provision was on time.
Joy never allowed herself to be discouraged after that!
And so, on the day appointed, they set off for Mexico--Mexico with the great Pan American highway twisting, climbing, carving its way through mountain rock, lovely cumulus clouds piling the horizon. Mexico with its staggering contrasts of wealth and poverty, ornate Roman Catholic churches and starved maimed dogs; Mexico with its thousands of miles of impenetrable stubbly woods, thorn bushes and cactii, where vultures fly overhead; and its poor little villages, where the naturally docile Indians are made violent under the influence of drink and the Marijuana drug, where witch doctors exercise their unholy powers, and where epidemics and bloody killings take heavy toll of human life.
Not that Joy and Ann saw much of those primitive huts clustered in faraway places off the beaten track, though it was for the Indian tribes they had gone to Mexico. They went to Mexico City itself where, after several days of trying in vain to find a suitable room for recording, Joy remembered that she had once met a man who told her his brother was interested in recording, and that if ever she was in Mexico City she ought to look him up! Knowing nothing whatever about him, except his name, they looked through a telephone directory, traced him, and put through a 'phone call. On hearing they were looking for a studio, he said,
'Why I have a studio I only use one day a week. You are welcome to use it any other day you wish rent free!' Never before or since have they had such a studio, commodious, with heavy curtains and thick carpets, and in which the sounds from the narrow, crowded streets of the tumultuous city were most effectively shut out. It was here that bare-footed, primitive Indians were brought by the Wycliffe Bible Translators, to make records in their native tongues.
Nevertheless, there were occasions when they went farther afield--not only in Mexico, but to some of the countries of Central America, including Honduras. Perhaps the highlight of the whole ten months in which they were away from Los Angeles, was the visit they paid to Joy's old mountain mission centre in Marcala. Once again she sat astride a mule, going clippity-clop, clippity-clop up the winding narrow path that led to the little town. And as she drew near, she saw a group of people waiting outside--the whole congregation of believers had assembled to greet her, tears of joy standing in their great, dark eyes. In 1936 she had promised them she would return to them, and now her promise was fulfilled. Two weeks later she had to say goodbye again and they bid her farewell and God-speed, conscious that God had called His servant to a wider service, but one to which they would ever be linked.
Meanwhile, back in Los Angeles, the little team that was left behind continued their outward round of practical activity and their inward exercise of faith and prayer. In the very month when Joy and Ann had set out for Mexico, the property next door to Joy's home, on which the little studio was located, had been purchased. Although it had a heavy mortgage on it, by faith they promised to pay it off in full within one year. This bold step involved heavy monthly remittances instead of the small payments which their legal adviser had suggested. And although this financial need was kept strictly confidential, the complete indebtedness was written off within nine months of the purchase date. And the work was prospering too. The Spanish programmes they produced were being used on over forty short and long wave radio stations in Latin America, while the number of records sent out to the mission fields had risen to nearly twenty thousand. Best of all, letters often came from distant places telling of souls saved, and of the Gospel reaching hundreds who would never have heard it but for the little black discs. How well worth while were the long hours of office work that occupied the permanent staff and the bands of voluntary workers who came in from time to time to help.
When Joy and Ann returned, early in 1945, three days were set aside to celebrate the official house-warming of 124 Witmer Street, and the homecoming of the travellers. With what rejoicing and thanks to God were guests shown round the new Gospel Recordings Headquarters, all freshly painted and decorated, resplendent with new curtains, comfortably and adequately equipped with furniture old and new! With what jubilation was the mortgage publicly burned! And with what zest did Joy and Ann recount the way that doors had opened to them in answer to trustful praise--even the door of official censorship which required that all the master records they had collected must be played over to ensure they contained no subversive material before they could be taken out of Mexico! This requirement had faced them with a double problem. One problem was that there were no officials to be found who understood all of the thirty-three languages (twenty-five of them were in Indian tribal languages into which no part of the Scriptures had yet been produced) they had 'captured.' The second problem was that if the master records were played over, they would be rendered useless for reproduction! In the face of such insurmountable difficulties there was only one attitude to adept, Joy asserted. All that could be done was to rejoice in the confidence that since with God nothing was impossible, it was not impossible to get those master records out of Mexico--and with official sanction. Rejoicing in spirit that it would be accomplished, they went from office to office, requesting unsuccessfully that they might be permitted to take the records out uncensored. But finally they went--surely they were led?--to a certain high official who, with great sympathy, listened to the story of the two Protestant women who wished to send Protestant records to the tribes of Indians who had but a meagre knowledge of Christianity and nothing of the Word of God. The outcome of the interview with him was that he put through a long distance call to New York, obtained the necessary permission, and supplied them with the official papers that took them, in a Pontiac station wagon loaded with master records, speeding up the Pan-American highway and across the border into the United States!
So ended the trip which ushered in a new era for the organization--the era of the field recordists.