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'Woe is unto me if I preach not the Gospel-- for the responsibility is already committed unto me.'
The little negrito, naked but for a bright red loin cloth, sat on a low stool, his brown eyes sparkling with amazement and suppressed excitement. Ann Sherwood crouched by the tape recorder, waiting for the signal from Joy to switch it on. Their neat, cultured little Filipina hostess, immaculate in her starched white blouse and full loose skirt, sat beside her, and with them a little old man, toothless but alert. All was ready.
Joy took the microphone in her hand, and said clearly, 'God, the Creator of earth and sky and everything in them, has sent a message to all men that dwell upon the earth . . .' Then she passed the microphone to Mrs. Maggay.
In the Ibanog language Mrs. Maggay spoke the same sentence, the alert little man, whose knowledge of English was limited, now listening intently. When she passed the microphone to him, he took it confidently and spoke the same sentence--and this time it was the negrito who listened intently, for the language spoken was that which he understood--Palanan Negrito. Then the microphone was handed to him. His corkscrew curls quivering, his dark brown body tense, he took the strange little instrument into his hands, and spoke the sentence he had heard--loudly, in his own language, right into the microphone.
'Play it back!' whispered Joy, and Ann switched the controls to reverse the tape, then played it back. Clearly came the American voice--and the little negrito sat stiff and motionless. Then came the calm, matter-of-fact voice of the Filipina woman--the negrito did not move. Then came the jerky, eager voice of the alert little old man. Still the negrito sat like a statue. And the the voice changed again--and the negrito heard himself proclaiming loudly.
'Chief of Sky, He who made sky and earth and all in it, He send already message to all people of world....'
This was too much. Never, in all his eighteen-odd summers, had the negrito heard or seen such marvels. His own voice was speaking to him out of that box. . . . His own voice! He threw himself back and laughed until the whole of him, four feet in length, seemed to twitch with convulsions. Not until he had subsided could Joy speak the next sentence, which travelled via the Filipina woman, the little old man, and on to the negrito himself. And each time the sentence was played back, the amazement, the surprise, the incredulity, the variety of strange new emotions came out in the only means he had of expressing them--that exuberance of laughter!
It took hours to get the whole message recorded. Each sentence was not only played back to the negrito himself, but everything he said was translated back to Joy and Ann, to ensure that he had understood correctly what he had been told. Later on, when Ann edited the recording, preparing the negrito's own language for a finished record, she had to make one hundred and fifty splices in it! But although she did not understand the negrito language, she knew what that record contained. It told of the Son of the Chief of Sky, who came to earth to die on a tree tied crosswise, to bear the punishment of the sins of all people on earth, to save them from the wicked village down below, place of fire. It told that whoever believed in Yesu, Son of chief of Sky, would himself become a child of Chief of Sky, and when death came would enter immediately into the good village above, everything pretty and happy there. It told of the Holy spirit (spirit shadow good belong Chief of Sky), Who would come to dwell in the heart of the one who believed in Yesu. And she knew that over and over again the record would say in the language the negrito could understand, "Words Chief of Sky say: 'Whoever receive Yesu, He give power become child Chief of Sky, whoever believe name His'."
This was the first time that Joy and Ann had obtained recordings in this manner, and it opened up to them a vista of unbounded opportunity. If they could thus 'capture' the language of this one group of aboriginal pygmies, a language never reduced to writing, and which no missionary could speak, then it was possible to do it again--and again--and again! The little peoples of the world, the previously unknown tribes of whose very existence the Church of Christ was only now becoming aware, at last might hear a voice in their own 'heart language' telling them of the Chief of Sky, He who is good, and mightier than the mightiest of the demons that they dreaded. 'Go ye into all the world, and preach the Gospel to every creature. . . .' Every creature. Almost with awe they read the familiar words in Revelation, Chapter Seven, 'After this I beheld, and, lo, a great multitude, which no man could number, of all nations and kindreds and people and tongues, stood before the Lamb.'
'Of all . . . tongues.' There it was, plain to be read in the Scripture of truth, and it meant what it said. From amongst not only every nation, every people, every kindred, but from amongst every tongue should be those who would stand before the Lamb. And in the world there were hundreds, even thousands of tongues into which no Word of God had come. 'Whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.' Thank God for the simplicity of the way of salvation, but . . .'how shall they call on him in whom they have not believed? and how shall they believe on him of whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear. . . .' How shall they hear?
It seemed almost presumptuous, fantastic, to claim that gramophone records were the answer. And yet, what other answer was there? Wycliffe Bible Translators say that at the present rate of progress it would take over one hundred years to bring the Gospel to every tribe in existence in the world to-day. That the messages repeated over and over again on gramophone records had been the means whereby salvation had come to some who heard, they now had ample evidence. The files of letters from various sources at Gospel Recordings headquarters in Los Angeles bore testimony to that. And now they were proving it was possible to get the fundamental truths concerning God's way of salvation proclaimed in the languages of the remotest people, by means of this simple method of interpreters and tapes!
Joy and Ann were nearly a year in the Philippines. They obtained recordings in ninety-two languages and dialects, including about ten for the island of Palawan, where had lived the young man who had years before seen the possibilities of gramophone evangelism. Most of their work was accomplished through the help and co-operation of missionaries, without whose knowledge and experience it would have been impossible. But there were times when they had to launch out into areas where no missionaries were working, finding their way along hot, dusty roads, crossing stormy waters in cockle-shell boats, living and sleeping in bamboo houses built on stilts, concentrating for hours on end in conveying simple Gospel truths to wide-eyed, primitive tribesmen through interpreters, in a temperature of over a hundred in the shade. More hours were spent in editing each tape, noting the timing, for those who would receive it at Los Angeles. And there the team was rejoicing in its first 'factory'--a room provided in a friend's shop in Beverley Hills, the place where famous film stars build their fabulous houses! In this room was installed their first pressing plant. No longer would they be entirely dependent on commercial firms for production. Once the 'master records', and stampers were made they could be fixed on the press, and with a Gospel Recordings operator to work it, thousands of rcords could be produced each month, and the 'priority' languages could jump the queue! The priorities were always those that had no other portion of the Scriptures produced in any form, and that is why, even before Joy and Ann had completed their eleven months in the Philippines, the black discs were whirring out the Gospel there in tongues that had never before proclaimed it.
By the end of 1949 it was reported that the total number of languages and dialects recorded was 230. By the end of 1950, the number had increased to 350. Sanna Barlow, who had joined Gospel Recordings in 1948, had made recording trips to various parts of America, and obtained several. Others had come from Pennsylvania, where a studio had been established. Missionaries in many fields who had caught the vision of gramophone evangelism had contributed the remainder. But by far the largest contribution had come from the Philippines, and it was here that the vastness of the task committed to her dawned afresh upon Joy. She had reached the point of no return now. If there were just on a hundred languages and dialects in this one little archipelago of the east, how many were there still untracked, unknown in the great continents themselves? How many little peoples were hidden away in the mighty forests and the mountain ranges, with no voice to proclaim to them that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners? And had He not said Himself that ere He return to the earth to be crowned where He was crucified, 'This Gospel of the Kingdom shall be preached in all the world for a witness unto all nations; and then shall the end come'?
The life-giving message of the love of God in Christ must be made known to every last tribe and people on the earth to-day. Where Gospel records could be used to help forward the work amongst people who already had a knowledge of the Word of God, those records would gladly be supplied. But the primary task now of Gospel Recordings was to send the message to those who had no other means of hearing it. She had met too many missionaries who were concerned, but helpless, in the face of the spiritual needs of tribes-people they saw but could not speak to, to doubt whether there would be ready distribution of the records. 'If only we could give them so much as a tract in their own language,' she had heard them say longingly. 'But they couldn't read it, even if we had it! There seems nothing we can do for them but pray for them.' With the provision of 'talking tracts', how readily would they devise means of distributing them, along with gramophones if necessary! It was the duty and privilege of Gospel Recordings to put these 'talking tracts' into the hands of those who were in the strategic, front-line positions on the foreign mission field.
But to do it, more field recordists would be needed, and a greatly increased staff at home. It was while they were still in the Philippines that Joy and Ann started to pray for this increase. It was there also that another need was faced. It was a very practical, down-to-earth need, entirely concerned with mechanics, and from many directions it was making itself felt. The manner in which the gramophone had penetrated beyond the confines of modern civilization was remarkable. Like the Singer sewing machine, it was to be found in the most outlandish places! Nevertheless, when something went wrong with the works, there was no one who could put it right. Time and time again word came through that the records were silent because the 'talking box' refused to work any more. And as Joy saw for herself some of the primitive, under-developed people whose need of the Gospel of Christ was so evident, and realized that the ordinary gramophone was an instrument too delicate and intricate for them, she wrote back to the staff at Los Angeles something that really appeared to be asking the impossible.
'Please pray until God helps,' she urged, ' . . . to work out a hand-turned gramophone--cheap and motorless, one that can be operated by anyone, and that has no mechanical feature that can get out of fix.'