Chapter 3: In the Beginning

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Memory has an unpredictable way of high-lighting the unimportant. In the months that followed Joy's return to Los Angeles, when she spent more time on her bed than on her feet, plagued with a physical condition which did not respond either to the doctor's medicines or the prescribed rest, the things she remembered about Honduras were not the tensions and the dramas and the spiritual triumphs so much as the simple, everyday happenings, the ordinary people. The grass-roofed stalls in the markets, the lank-haired country people, the sudden fear of the mangy, snarling dogs - 'I was much more frightened of the dogs than of the priest,' she often said - the sound of maize paste being slapped in the hands of women preparing their bread, and the clippity-clop clippity-clop of her little mule carrying her up the mountain paths to remote hamlets and villages. Even there the raucous screeching of worn gramophone records played with blunt needles struck a discordant note. The gramophone, like Singer's sewing machine, had penetrated to the most unexpected places, and sometimes proved as formidable an opponent as jeering on-lookers, with the incessant noise drowning the voice of the speaker.

'I wish there were Gospel records in Spanish,' she had once heard a missionary in Honduras say wistfully while listening to hymn-singing in English on her own gramophone. 'If only they could hear this in their own language, what an impact it would make!' She thought of that remark often while lying in her attic bedroom in the Ridderhof home in Witmer Street. One such record would have proved more effective than the special visit she had made to a poor little widow with several children living about eight miles out of Marcala. She had spent a whole day with her, just before leaving for furlough. It had cost her much physical effort, and had apparently been fruitless. The little widow, her mind weakened by poverty and sorrow and anxiety only got confused when she tried to concentrate, and Joy, returning to Marcala at the end of the day, knew she had not memorised one sentence correctly. When would she again hear a human voice speaking to her the words of God?

The inactivity of those months in Los Angeles gave Joy more time than she desired for solitude and reflection. All her life she had had so many interests, so much to do, that to lie idle day after day tested her faith and cheerfulness in a new way. The habit of rejoicing in everything was well engrained, however, and stood her in good stead when boredom and depression assailed, but there were times when it required a deliberate effort of the will to be maintained. The most insidious encroachment on her confidence in God's sovereignty and love came through the inexplicable nature of her illness. Neither the prayers of her friends nor the advice of her doctor appeared to have any effect. Her hope of returning to Honduras began to fade, for even after a long spell in Columbia, at the Bible College where she enjoyed to the full attending some of the lectures, she still had little energy for anything else, and got back to Los Angeles scarcely any better than when she had left. And the question was being asked covertly,

'What is the matter with Joy? Is she just imagining she's ill? Is it something in her mind?'

She would have been more - or less - than human if the possibility that her condition was in some measure a matter of the mind left her unaffected. Was she indeed a hypochondriac? No amount of rejoicing seemed to be making any difference, so if God did not heal her, then she'd rejoice in that, too. God must have a purpose in it.

All the same, it was a tremendous relief to her when she eventually met a missionary doctor home from China who assured her that she was no hypochondriac. When she confided in him, telling him her symptoms, he knew immediately what was the cause. He had treated others with the same complaint in China, he told her. Her trouble was caused not only by dysentery and malaria, but by an amoeba very rare in the United States. Doctors in California could not be expected to recognise it. But with his experience he had no doubt but that she was suffering from amoebic hystolytica and that he could give her the necessary treatment.

Joy did not mind in the least what it was she had, so long as it was something medically explicable. She had an amoeba, not a phobia! She could not have been more delighted. There was a physical, not a psychological explanation for her condition, and the knowledge was such a comfort she began to feel better immediately. Although full health returned but slowly she was no longer in the state of uncertainty that had tested her for so many months. And now the purpose of it all began to become clearer. It was during this very time of inactivity that the thought of Gospel gramophone records in Spanish had come to mind again and again, although she had not felt she could do anything about them herself. But a chance meeting with a man with some knowledge of technical matters made her realize that there might be something she could do - although she often said in later years that if she had known all that was involved she would probably never have embarked on the scheme. As it was, the idea was now in her mind, and she could not keep an idea like that to herself. A Gospel gramophone record in Spanish! She talked about it to her friends at home, and wrote about it to her friends in Honduras. 'Let's pray about it,' she urged, and confident that God would do something, she decided she would be prepared as best she could. The records ought to contain some music so it would be useful if she could learn to play the guitar. 'It's something I can do while I'm inactive,' she thought. She was getting into line now, although she did not know it, approaching the highway of God's plan for her life work that had been hidden from her until now, and for which the years in Marcala had been a preparation. Just as the chance meeting with the missionary doctor from China had revealed the basic cause of her mystifying illness, just as another chance meeting had opened her eyes to the possibility of producing records, now the decision to learn to play the guitar led to the final step which was to bring her right on track.

'Why are you learning to play the guitar?' her instructor enquired casually one day.

'I'm hoping to make gramophone records of Gospel messages and songs in Spanish, and I'll need music,' Joy explained. 'I don't know anything about the mechanical side of things, so I'm waiting for the Lord to lead about that.'

The instructor was interested. 'I know a missionary in Pasadena who's back from Central America,' he said, 'And he's installing professional recording equipment in his home. He plans to start up in the business. I'm sure he'd help you. I'll put you in touch with him...'

The missionary from Central America was not only able, but willing, to help her. He would produce the records on a non profit making basis for her. The studio he was fixing up was draped with blankets and muffled with quilts, a thoroughly home-made affair, but he was confident the result would be perfectly satisfactory. Arrangements were made, and a time fixed for Miss Ridderhof to come along and make her first recording. The date arranged was the last day of December, 1938.

'I have enough money in hand for four master records (two discs). They are $7.50 each, just half the regular cost. The recording work . . . is about to be launched!' she wrote.

She made her plans. Play some background music of the type the people of Honduras liked, read selected Bible verses interspersed with a few explanatory comments, perhaps a little singing . . . A friend who was an accomplished pianist responded enthusiastically to the invitation to come and play.

'And I'm sure Virginia would drive us out to Pasadena if she's free,' she added. So Virginia Miller took the wheel and drove along the highway to Pasadena on that memorable night, knowing next to nothing of what was to be recorded, having no foreknowledge at all as to how it would all affect the course of her own life. From her point of view she was merely obliging a friend by giving her a lift. She wasn't in the least interested in what went on in the studio.

For Joy, however, it was the culmination of hours of planning and praying during the misty period in which the only hope she had of doing anything for the people of Honduras was to produce a Christian gramophone record in Spanish. Now at last she had done it, and when she heard it played back, observed how accurately the modulation and emotion in her voice had been reproduced, knew that the message of God's love had come over in a way Spanish-speaking people could understand, an inexpressible sense of relief and joy flooded her being. She could not have explained it. She had no conscious revelation that a key was being placed in her hands that would open the door for people in thousands of different languages to hear the news about the Son of God in their mother tongue. What happened to her when she listened to her first Spanish record can best be likened to the welling up of a hidden spring of oil that has at last been struck, and now gushes out unquenchably. The ecstasy of that fleeting experience was out of all proportion to the immediate cause, the production of one gramophone record. For one mystical moment it was as though a curtain veiling the future was drawn back that she might sense the accumulated joy of many hearts. Whatever it was, it resulted in an unchangeable, deep seated conviction that this was an appointed task - the production of Gospel records. At that time she had no thought of producing them in any other language than Spanish.

She had no more than two dozen records made of that first programme, and having found out the way they should be packed and mailed, she got them ready and posted them off - some to Don Pedro in Marcala, some to Mrs. Cammack in the capital, some to the Schnasses in La Esperanza, some to members of the Central American Mission in Honduras. Then she started planning the next record, while waiting eagerly for reactions from those who listened to the first one.

The letters she received exceeded her highest hopes in their enthusiasm. She was almost sick with excitement. The record was wonderful! People had listened to it wide-eyed, wanted to hear it again and again, and not only the believers, either. Some who had been utterly indifferent or even strongly opposed were strangely moved by it. Their attitudes were completely changed, they were showing interest as never before. The songs and the verses had been heard so often people knew them by heart, could repeat them just as they had heard them - American accent and all!

'American accent and all!' Joy laughed, but she shook her head. Though her Spanish was fluent enough, she knew she didn't speak it as a native. From now on she would prepare the scripts, but the voices that spoke the words must be those to whom Spanish was their mother tongue. There were plenty of Mexicans and Latin Americans in Los Angeles, and she had little difficulty in finding those who would help to make Gospel records. So she prepared scripts and arranged visits to the studios, and the more records she sent to Honduras the greater was the demand for them.

'They work longer hours than we can!' was the gist of the messages she had from the missionaries. 'We can hear them being played at night as we go off to sleep. They stay around when we have to leave, and we can depend on them always saying the same thing, and not being put off by hecklers! They preach to a crowd of onlookers at a fiesta while we talk to enquirers.' There was a group of Spanish speaking Indians who had become Christians but had no pastor, or anyone to teach them - the records were just what they needed. So the reports came in, and there were times when Joy was so excited that she could not trust herself to open the letters herself. 'You read it to me,' she would say to whoever happened to be with her.

As the months rolled on, Joy's bedroom looked more and more like an office-cum-packing-room, less and less like a bedroom. She wrote letters, compiled programmes, stacked records and packed them for dispatching, and there were times when she stood bewildered, looking for somewhere to put the things that were strewn over her bed because she couldn't get into it while they were there, and there was no more space even on the floor. It was a pity one had to sleep when there was so much to be done, with orders coming from as far away as the Canary Isles. Health was returning unnoticed until it occurred to her that she was feeling as well and working as energetically as when she was in Honduras. Why, she was fit enough to go back now! First she must reach her goal of producing fifty record programmes, then she would make tracks for Marcala again! The hope provided an added incentive to complete the work that remained to be done.

Perhaps that is why, when she received a letter asking if she would produce records in the language of the Navajo Indians, she hesitated. The missionaries who had approached her assured her that they knew a fine Navajo Christian whose voice could be used, and that they would personally accompany him to Los Angeles, to do the translating and tell him exactly what to say. They would meet all financial outlay, if only Miss Ridderhof would undertake to produce the records.

To respond to this request would not entail a great deal of extra work on her part, nor need it unduly delay her return to Honduras. She knew that. The question was, what would it lead to? If she once moved on from Spanish to any other language, where would the thing stop? She already had extended far beyond her original aim of providing something for the people of Honduras, especially those in the area where she had worked. The records were being sent far and wide now, among the 300 million Spanish speaking people of the world. She did not want to extend her activities to the Navajo Indians, because it might lead on to something else, and hinder her return to Honduras.

But she knew she had to do it. 'I have other sheep that are not of this fold; I must being them also, and they will heed My voice . . .' the Good Shepherd had said, and was He not still saying it? The impulse of His own yearning compassion for those sheep still beyond the sound of His voice seemed to reach her, and even the longing she felt for her own mountain folk was subdued.

'Lord,' she said, 'I'll make recordings in as many languages as you want me to.'

It was the same sort of step she had taken when she had relinquished her determination that Ethiopia was the mission field to which she should go, and had said to the Lord, 'Anywhere . . .' So she told the missionaries to the Navajo Indians that she would produce records for them.

Then Ann Sherwood joined her. It all came about in such a natural and unpremeditated way that it would have been difficult to define exactly when Ann became a member of Gospel Recordings. Joy had given up her church work in Miami because of home circumstances, and now Ann gave up her teaching post in Seattle for a similar reason. Her mother was seriously ill, and Ann returned home to nurse her until she died.

The two friends had not met for ten years, but slipped back into the old relationship as though time meant nothing. Joy enthusiastically told of what she was doing, and Ann went to see for herself. After a few visits to the bedroom with the typewriter, the packing cardboard, the piles of records and the accumulating stack of letters waiting to be answered she asked,

'Joy, would it be any help if I came along a couple of afternoons each week to do some letters for you? I can be typing them while you get on with something else.'

Joy never refused an offer of help, and this one was too good to be missed. Her response was immediate.

'Why, Ann, it would be just wonderful!' And when Ann discovered that the desk drawer into which letters were slipped contained all Joy's accounts as well, scribbled on the backs of used envelopes, and eventually showed Joy a little account book into which they had all been neatly entered, Joy beamed her delight, 'Ann, that's just fine!' and looking at the tidy drawer observed, 'That drawer was bound to get filled up sometime.' It was always a relief to find an empty space. Then other things claimed her attention. 'What do you think is the best musical setting for this song? We need something to help fix the words in the mind . . .' And since Ann had musical training and experience she invariably helped at rehearsals of the score she had selected, until eventually most of her time was spent on the work. One day Joy mentioned it.

'I don't know how I'd ever manage without you, Ann,' she said. 'You're giving all your time to this project, and I've no capital and no regular income. I'll never be able to give you any money, any sort of a salary . . .'

Ann looked at her and asked simply,

'How do you manage yourself?'

Just as simply Joy told her.

'I just look to the Lord. It's His work I'm doing. I know that. So I trust Him to give me what I need, and He does.'

'Well', said Ann. 'I can trust Him to do the same for me.' So that matter was settled, once for all. The brief conversation revealed the foundation upon which they were building, and which was to be the foundation for which Joy always looked in later years when people applied for membership in Gospel Recordings. Unless they gave convincing evidence that God had called them into this particular branch of His work, and unless they were prepared to trust Him to supply them with what they needed for the task assigned to them she could not accept them. Faith was the primary requirement. Without it every other quality lost its value.

Back there in the beginning of things, however, in 1941, no thought of receiving members crossed her mind, nor even of forming an organization at all. She and Ann exclaimed rather delightedly at some of the letters that came addressed to 'Spanish Gospel Recordings', and commenced, 'Dear Sir, Can your organization supply us with 100 Spanish records...?'

Your organization! They looked around the crowded little attic bedroom and chuckled. The idea of being an organization had not seriously occurred to them until those letters began to arrive. Eventually they realized that it would clarify things legally if they were duly registered, so Joy took the necessary step. There was nothing much to it, she affirmed. It wasn't nearly so important as getting their own studio and doing their own recording. This was a step she was deciding must be taken, and it was demanding both faith and mental effort. She did not know where the money was coming from to build a studio, and at the age of nearly forty it was not so easy to master the techniques connected with successful recording. Ann was better at it than she was. But it had to be done. The synchronizing of the arrival of performers with the booking of commercial studios was proving too difficult. Time and opportunities were being lost as tribespeople were brought to Los Angeles especially for the purpose of recording, only to be met with constant frustration because commercial studios were not always available when needed.

'Rejoice!' said Joy when it happened time and time again. 'Rejoice - the Lord has a purpose for good in it all.' The decision to ask Him to give them a studio proved to be the purpose in this case, and once she had made it the confirming evidence was provided.

The first thing was the building. Where could they find it? The nearer to her attic the better, of course, but even she was surprised to find it lying patiently waiting to be recognized so to speak, in the back garden. She was looking across the familiar stretch of lawn one day, and her glance fell on the battered shed that was partly hidden by an old gnarled tree. It had been there for as long as she could remember. Its days of usefulness as a stable over, it had become the junk shed. Dilapidated and full of rubbish it nevertheless had a good roof, and once cleared out and cleaned up there was no reason why it should not be made into a studio. Joy and Ann with some cheerful volunteers set to work.

During the course of this clearing out and cleaning up process Joy received the first official offer to join the staff of Spanish Gospel Recordings. It was from Virginia Miller, who had continued to take her friend, the recording pianist to studios when a driver was needed, but otherwise had shown no interest in the work. She was an efficient, well-paid secretary to a group of doctors, and Joy had no idea she had been feeling God wanted her to leave that job and work in a missionary organization. It was a time when spiritual movements were starting which were attracting much interest in evangelical circles in Los Angeles. Virginia had heard about Wycliffe Bible Translators, Missionary Aviation Fellowship, Far East Broadcasting Company . . . She wondered if she would receive a Divine intimation that she should apply to one of them and offer her services as a secretary. She was quite willing to leave her comfortable position with its secure salary, well-appointed office, interesting conventions in luxurious hotels, to throw in her lot with one of them. But that little set-up of Joy Ridderhof's had not crossed her mind, neither had it occurred to Joy that Virginia might join her. So when the two happened to meet at a wedding reception, and Virginia enquired cheerfully, 'How's it going?' Joy's reply was spontaneous and quite unpremeditated.

'Getting on fine,' she said with a smile. 'But we sure need you!'

That night Virginia went home with the words echoing in her mind. 'We sure need you.' Spoken so laughingly, they were charged with an authority of which Joy herself was quite unaware. 'We need you . . . need you . . . you.'

Before going to bed that night Virginia prayed very directly. 'Lord, do you want me to go and help Joy?' She expected an answer, though she did not know how it would come. It came through her daily Bible reading the very next morning, as she came to the words in Isaiah 12.3, Therefore with joy shall ye draw waters out of the wells of salvation.

'With joy . . .' Virginia looked at the words comprehendingly. 'With Joy.' There was God's answer. It was so simple, so direct, so convincing that she had no doubt as to Who had spoken to her. She acted promptly. She gave in her notice and wrote to Joy.

She had to wait a fortnight before she received a reply. Joy wasn't accustomed to having a full-time secretary, let alone one with such qualifications as Virginia's. She wondered what she would give her to do, as she realised there would not be enough office work to keep her busy. Strictly speaking, there wasn't even an office at all - it was being fitted into a corner of the studio they were making from the old stable, and was still unfinished. Virginia knew nothing of the earnest conversations Joy had with Ann about the unexpected offer, whether she was justified in accepting it since there was really not enough for an experienced secretary to do. But there was the evidence that Virginia's call had come from God, and eventually she received a letter from Joy, arranging that she should turn up for work on the first of April. She mounted the steps leading up to 122 Witmer Street promptly on time, like the reliable secretary she was, ready for a day at the typewriter.

Marie answered the door. Joy was in bed, she said, she'd had a very late night. When Joy appeared she led Virginia over to the studio and gave her a paint pot and brush. Would she mind painting the window frame of what was to be her office?

So commenced the first day of the first person to leave a well-paid job to become an unsalaried member of Gospel Recordings. Virginia was quite happy about it. Thirty-five years later she had no doubt as to why she was still a member. God had called her into Gospel Recordings, and God had kept her there.

Chapter 4: Always a Step Ahead

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