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'My sheep wandered upon every high hill . . .'
ALASKA! Areas icebound for months on end; vast stretches of desolate wilderness; bitter winds howling across the snow; packs of wolves roaming; drunkenness rife in the scattered towns and lumber camps; and even if there were petrol stations every hundred or so miles along the newly opened Alaska Highway, what if a car broke down midway along those lonely stretches? It simply was not safe for two women to travel alone up through the Rocky Mountains foothills and into that remote part of United States territory that straddles the Arctic Circle!
'If only you had a young man with you,' said one anxious friend who heard that Joy and Ann proposed to make the journey. 'Then perhaps it would be safer. But for you two girls to go alone. . . .!'
'Even the youths shall faint and be weary, and the young men shall utterly fail, but they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength. . . .' Joy smiled as she read those words in the course of her Bible reading shortly afterwards. 'The young men shall utterly fail. . . .' Certainly she knew of no young men who had heard God's call to take the recording trip to Alaska. '. . .but they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength.'
There was a promise which could be claimed by women as well as men, provided they fulfilled the condition. If she had needed any re-assurance regarding the tests of endurance that the journey to Alaska might hold, these words would have provided it. But she was already convinced that the journey north was in God's plan for her. The needs in Alaska were so great--not only through the degradation brought by drink in the towns and lumber camps, but also because of the isolation of so many of the tribes of Indian aboriginals and Eskimos whose languages few missionaries could speak. Through the long, dark winter months, huddled in their little underground homes or heavy felt wigwams, with no books to read, no radio programmes in their own tongue to listen to, how could they ever be reached, scattered as they were in forests and icy plains?
The gramophone, with Gospel records in their own languages was so obviously the answer, that to withhold this one means whereby they could know of the love of God in Christ for them would surely bring blood-guiltiness upon her head. To Alaska, therefore, she and Ann would go, and whatever the problems, the Living Lord, Who was leading them, would overcome.
Once again, therefore, the two of them made their plans without seeing how they could be fulfilled. And once again they set out with no more money in hand than would supply immediate personal needs. Their chief requirement had already been supplied in the shape of a new 4-door Pontiac sedan. The front and back seats were to serve as beds at night. It was laden with luggage of various kinds, including thick sleeping bags, some camping utensils, and the cumbersome recording equipment.
They were not altogether easy about that recording equipment. It would only be suitable where transportation was easy, and they knew that many of the tribes they wanted to reach lived in areas difficult of access. How would they convey a machine weighing over a hundred pounds on light canoes shooting rapids, or on dog sleighs skimming over the snow? Light tape recorders had been invented by this time, and a friend in the Middle West had written offering to obtain one for them at wholesale price, if they were interested. They were very interested, but not having the money in hand to pay they had not responded to the suggestion. On the very day when they left Los Angeles, however, June 7, 1947, the need for that neat, easily transported tape recorder was deeply impressed on Joy's mind. The fulfilment of the task that lay before them might well depend upon it. Did not the promise, 'My God shall supply all your need' also include the requisite tools?
Her heart was light and her faith was strong, and she suddenly said to Ann, 'Ann, let's order a tape recorder!'
Ann knew as well as she did they had not the money for it--but her heart also was light and her faith strong! 'All right!' she said.
'. . . always a good pal!' thought joy gratefully. What a strength it was to have a companion who was one at heart with her! 'We won't tell anyone about it--not a soul,' she said. 'We'll just pray the Lord to give us the money in time. . . .' So they put through a 'phone call to their friend in the Middle West, asking for the tape recorder to be sent to the Canadian border, where they would pick it up and pay for it. Then they continued on their way. They had planned to stay at a few places enroute, and speak at some meetings, and although not a word was said about the tape recorder awaiting payment at the border, by the time they got there and counted up the money that had been given them by various people who were enthusiastic about this novel gramophone record project, they had sufficient to pay for the recorder, even to the penny!
Over the border into Canada, through Alberta they sped, winding their way through the fir-clad foothills of the Rocky Mountains, right up through Yukon and into Alaska itself. They made the whole trip of over four thousand miles without any engine trouble, or even so much as a punctured tire, and arrived at the Copper River Indian Valley to find it fertile and green, dreaming under a cloudless sky. Like a rich carpet the grass spread over the ground, dotted with brilliantly-coloured wild flowers, while the sun shone brightly overhead. It seemed impossible that in a few months' time the temperature would drop to ninety degrees below zero, and the whole area be snowbound! But the young American missionary couple to whom they had arranged to go were already storing in supplies of wood and meat, and their little log cabin was small and compact, built to withstand the bitter cold of the Alaskan winter.
Very gladly they received their guests, and bringing out maps of the area started to make plans for bringing in bilingual members of different tribes to make recordings. In some cases, young Clark explained, it would be necessary to go to where the tribal people lived if they were to 'capture' their languages. These people were timid and suspicious, loth to come to the towns and lumber camps, preferring to live in isolation. The only way to contact them was to go and meet them on their own ground. And then, quite casually, in the midst of their discussion, he remarked,
'You know, Miss Ridderhof, there are scores of different languages in the Philippine Islands.' He had been to that eastern archipelago as a soldier during World War Two, and had seen some of the native tribes there, and the primitive conditions in which they were living. 'The majority of them have nothing of the Gospel in their own dialects,' he said.
They did not spend long in discussing the needs of those far-off, palm-fringed islands where winter never really comes, however. If the sun was shining in Alaska now, the snow-covered mountains at the north of the Copper River Valley was a constant reminder that summer was short here, and the days of opportunity few. They turned back to the task that lay close at hand, carefully planning how best the next four or five months could be employed before the night of the northern winter came. But when Joy crept into her sleeping bag on the front seat of the Pontiac late in the evening, glad of shelter from the little icy breezes that were drifting down the valley, the memory of that brief interlude in the discussion stirred.
The Philippines. Some thousands of islands, mountains rising out of a turquoise sea; forests with scores of different tribes hidden away in them. And 'the majority of them have nothing of the Gospel in their own dialects.'
This was no time to be thinking of the isles of the eastern seas, Joy told herself. The task at hand required the concentration of every faculty, and she wanted to perform it without distraction. There were the Eskimo Indian dialects of Alaska to be 'captured'--the Hooper Bay and the Fish River, the Kotzebue and the Kuskokiwin, the Diomede and the Malemute, and a dozen more besides. To find them all, to persuade the bi-lingual members to make recordings in their native tongues, to fit each of the six or eight programmes to be prepared for each tribe into the three-and-a-half-minutes limit for one side of a gramophone record, would demand all the mental and physical energy that she and Ann possessed. And she knew there would be that inexplicable conflict in the spiritual realm which is inseparable from any penetration into the territory of the prince of darkness. Delays, frustrations, perplexities; deception on the part of suspicious natives; sudden, unaccountable illness; difficulty in obtaining clear guidance; she was prepared for these, but she wanted to meet them with undivided mind and spirit. Why contemplate another trip, therefore, when this one had scarcely begun?
But the call of the little people of the Philippines would not be silenced. Throughout the months in Alaska it persisted, and after the triumphant return to Los Angeles with tape recordings in nearly twenty dialects. In the year that followed opportunities were revealed for the 'capturing' of other languages--it was startling to discover how many smaller tribal groups there were in the North American continent! But the more they came to light, the more insistent became the claims of the peoples of the Philippines. If there were largely unevangelized ethnological groups in North America, with its three hundred years of Christian heritage, what of the Philippines which had only been opened to Protestant missionaries for about half a century? Enquiry elicited information about some of the known needs, and surmises about many more that were still unknown. Meanwhile, the forest dwellers on the scattered mountains that rose out of the waters where the Pacific meets the China seas, were living in fear of the demons, and dying without hope, and not so much as a voice they could understand to cry, 'Look unto Me and be ye saved ye ends of the earth. . . .'
The call could be resisted no longer. The workers in Gospel Recordings headquarters in Los Angeles were constantly being encouraged by letters from missionaries telling of the effectiveness of the 'gramophone evangelists.'
'Hour by hour the gramophone tirelessly grinds out the Good News to sick souls, while we minister to sick bodies. . .'
'I knew the words were true,' one man told his missionary, 'for each time I listened, the little box said the same thing. . . .'
'These proud people entrenched in age-old religions scorned to listen to my preaching, but the records in their own tongue never fail to catch their attention--and you can't argue with a record....'
'We are in a government-restricted area; but the natives, though untrained, can take the Gospel records out to the places we are not allowed to visit.'
If this was a method for the rapid spread of the Gospel that God Himself had placed in their hands, and they were convinced it was so, then it was their responsibility to use it. And if He was leading Joy and Ann to the Philippines, then to the Philippines they must go.
They had no money in hand for such a project, but they started to plan as though they had. On the morning of the day they were to get their passports, neither of them had the nine dollars apiece necessary--but by the afternoon they went off to the office with eighteen dollars in hand. Two months later, when twenty dollars had to be paid for visas, the money was received just in time.
But $484 apiece was needed for their passage money, and the weeks were slipping by. It has been said that the secret of obtaining great things from God is being able to hold on for the last half hour! This test of faith was one they faced time and time again in connection with the outgoing to the Philippines. It was a test for a purpose, to prepare them for the untrodden path ahead, they knew. 'If thou hast run with the footmen and they have wearied thee, how canst thou contend with horses? And if in the land of peace wherein thou trustedst, they wearied thee, how wilt thou do in the swelling of Jordan?'
If Joy and Ann were tempted to feel at times that they might have to cancel their passages to Manila, they gave no indication of it. And one day, when Joy was in Seattle, a letter came to her from Los Angeles, 'Mrs. S. has told us that she desires to pay the passage to the Philippines for both you and Ann.' They received the money about a week before they sailed!
Even on the ship steaming across the Pacific, the shadows of uncertainty fell across their conversations. 'Will anyone meet us?' 'Where shall we stay in Manila?' 'Where shall we go from there?' They were stepping out into what seemed like a void--and Joy praised the Lord. 'Now shalt thou see what I will do....' Out of sight, overhead, an aeroplane was speeding towards Manila, and in one of its mail-bags was a letter addressed to the Far Eastern Bible School, announcing the arrival of Miss Joy Ridderhof of Gospel Recordings Incorporated and her companion Miss Ann Sherwood. It was delivered as the S.S. MacKinley was steaming between the hulks of Japanese warships towards the dock near the bombed pier, and it came into the hands of Bob Bowman, of the Far East Broadcasting company. 'Joy Ridderhof! . . . due to arrive in Manila approximately November 15 . . . Why, they'll be here to-day! . . .' A telephone call was promptly put through to the President Lines Steamship Company of Manila, and when he put down the receiver and glanced at his watch, he muttered,
'I think I'll be able to make the boat!' He was able! As the boat docked, Joy and Ann, leaning over the rails to scan the wharf, saw a cheerful, smiling face looking up at them while a hat was lifted high in the air and reassuringly waved to greet their arrival in the Philippines.