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'This Gospel of the Kingdom shall be preached in all the world for a witness unto all nations; and then shall the end come.'
During the years in which the Australian branch was developing, Joy Ridderhof was traversing four continents on an enterprise greater than any she had undertaken before. Enquiries and research had elicited sufficient information about tribes and people without the Gospel to impose an inescapable responsibility on her. Scores of languages in the newly-formed Republic of Indonesia; dozens in the Solomons and other Pacific isles; hundreds scattered over Asia, hundreds more in Africa, still more in South America. She had the names of many of them, unpronounceable, strange names that meant nothing to her in themselves. But they represented groups of people, fragments of the great human race for whom the Son of God had come to die that He might redeem them from the power of death and the evil one. They had no messengers to proclaim this amazing news to them in their own tongue, they were dying without ever once having heard it, and into her hands had been placed the key whereby it could be released for them all.
To the task of 'capturing' these languages, therefore, she and her little team of field recordists had gone. In 1952, with Ann Sherwood and Sanna Barlow, she sailed for Australia, while Vaughn Collins went to Indonesia. A few months later Don Richter set out for the southern hemisphere, and as the months rolled by little parcels marked 'Urgent', and bearing strange, fascinating stamps of countries scarcely known were delivered in a steady stream to the Gospel Recordings offices in Los Angeles.
'More tapes,' someone would exclaim, and then, after scrutiny, the information would be conveyed.
'From Vaughn, in Borneo. . . .'
'From the girls, in Australia. . . .'
'From Don, in the Solomons. . . .'
By the end of 1952, a further 125 languages had been added to the stocks of Gospel records in Los Angeles, and the recordists were moving on. In 1953, the year when Mount Everest was conquered, saw them in Malaya, Thailand, India, Pakistan, New Guinea. . . . Before the end of 1954 French power in Indo-China was broken, and young Vaughn Collins was striking the trail for the hitherto unreached tribes in the mountains of Laos and Cambodia, while the Trio were on their first safari in Kenya, through the Mau-Mau areas.
The year 1955 was a particularly significant one, for it saw the passing of the one million mark in the number of records sent out to over 140 countries since the inception of the work in 1939, and a grand total of 1,401 languages and dialects recorded.
Fourteen hundred and one. There was something very touching about that minute figure at the tail end of the fourteen hundred. One. The total might so easily have been just fourteen hundred by the end of 1955, had it not been that the Trio, on a recording trip in Tanganyika, heard quite accidentally of a little tribe of pygmies that was dying out. The Wakindiga they were called, and there were said to be less than 2,000 of them--probably not more than 500. No-one would ever learn their language, of course. They lived in the Yaida Swamps, roaming from place to place quite unpredictably, and they were said to be afraid of white people. They were very elusive. It seemed unreasonable to contemplate upsetting a carefully planned schedule to other tribes and areas more accessible, in order to reach such a scattered people, so few in number.
But--'What man of you, having an hundred sheep, if he lose one of them, doth not leave the ninety and nine in the wilderness, and go after that which is lost, until he find it?'
A Divine insistence refused to pass over the Wakindiga tribe. The more the Trio heard of their timidity, their remoteness, the difficulty of communicating with them, the more convinced they were that apart from a gramophone and records, these little people would never have the opportunity of hearing of the Good Shepherd. To be so near to them, to have the means in their hands to convey to them the good tidings, and to fail to use it, was something their consciences would not allow. Joy put into emphatic words what each was feeling.
'We must get this language, by all means. We may have to take a long trip to find them. But we must. It is small, isolated peoples like this who can be missed entirely unless they have the Gospel presented to them in their very own tongue. No group can be too small, for our concern is to reach the few, even the one. . . . These bush people are a priority for records because none of the usual avenues of evangelism can reach them. We must get this language. We cannot leave these parts until we do.'
No one who knew Joy Ridderhof was surprised to learn that the carefully-planned schedule was regarded as a matter of entirely secondary importance, and that the most urgent, consistent prayer of the days that followed, when recordings were being made in nine other languages in the district, was that the Wakindiga must be contacted.
The Wakindiga were contacted. A runner took a message to a missionary living on the western border of the Yaida Swamp. He in turn set wheels in motion that resulted eventually in the news reaching Joy that on Monday morning next, three Wakindiga would be at his mission station, ready to help in making recordings. He went himself to fetch them, and at the time appointed they were there--three little men, bronze brown, shy but not unfriendly, wearing tattered shirts and pants, complete with their bows and arrows. What was even more surprising than that they came at all, was that they stayed! For two and a half days they remained, despite the strangeness of the proceedings in which they took so important a part, and when at last they sped back to their encampment on a rock-strewn hillside, it was to announce that the white people were following with their mysterious box that spoke the words the Wakindiga could understand! And that night, under a starlit African sky, the little bush-dwellers listened in breathless silence to the voice of their own chief telling them of one Jesus, from Heaven, who loved them and promised them peace and joy in their hearts, if they trusted Him.
If the Trio, quietly playing over the tape recordings by the red embers of the little camp fires were conscious of a Holy Presence and the hush of eternity enfolding the scene in a way they could never forget, so was the missionary without whose help and co-operation they could never have been giving the Gospel to the Wakindiga. 'This experience has been the greatest thing that has happened to me since my coming to Africa,' he told them. There was no doubt as to whether there would be a distributor when the little black discs for the Wakindiga eventually arrived from America. The missionary stationed on the western border of the Yaida Swamp would accept that responsibility!
It was this same year, 1955, that saw the uprooting of Elvie Nicoll from her comfortable home and busy round of Christian activity in Melbourne to become the first full-time distributor in the Far East. She little thought, when she said to Joy Ridderhof one day, 'If there is anything that I can do to help Gospel Recordings in a special way, let me know,' that it would lead her to India. And it saw the beginning of a Gospel Recordings Branch in London, brought into being through the enthusiasm of an electronics expert and the desire of a missionary forced out of China to avoid 'being left on the shelf'! If they could not speak the many languages of Europe themselves, they could send out the records that did.
Still the recordists were moving on, travelling, they sometimes felt, under sealed orders. There were times when the way that they were taking would be suddenly blocked, and on other occasions they would find themselves impelled forward by an irresistible conviction towards doors that seemed fast closed, and which almost miraculously opened.
Joy always refused to be perturbed by apparent frustrations. She had something better than a set of clearly defined directions. It was the unshakeable conviction that God Himself was in this work, that He was with her, that it was He who was in control. 'Praise the Lord,' she said when plans apparently miscarried, or when sickness laid her low. 'Rejoice! The Lord is working out a better plan.' The promise He had given her that 'The doors shall not be shut' was fulfilled again and again as they passed from country to country, and saw repeatedly the provision of visas, interpreters, transportation, money, often just in the nick of time.
The provision of another recordist, for the Congo, in 1957 certainly came into the 'nick of time' category. Arrangements had been made with several missionaries thoughout that vast area to obtain recordings, and a man was preparing to proceed there when sudden illness prevented him. There was no one to take his place, and it seemed an impossibility that an able-bodied man, experience in electronics, with faith and a readiness to launch out alone into Africa jungles, and one who was free to do it, would be forthcoming at a few weeks' notice. 'But, Lord,' Joy had prayed, 'when we need money we ask Thee for it, when we need equipment we look to Thee, and visas too. We ask for what we need, and Thou seest we need a man, with all those qualifications, to go to the Congo--so we ask Thee to meet that need, too.'
Is there anything too hard for the Lord?
A few days later she spoke at the Wednesday Club of All Souls Church, Langham Place, in the heart of London's west end, and when she had finished Bob Wayte came to her. 'I've booked to enter a theological college in 1960,' he told her. 'I had expected to be doing my National Service until then. But I've just heard I shan't be required--so I've got two years to fill in. I believe God wants me to do this recording work in that time.' Joy looked at him, and then asked a few questions. Yes, he replied, he was prepared to go to the Congo immediately. Yes, he had experience in electronics. Yes, he was strong and able bodied. Furthermore, it transpired that he had another qualification Joy had not thought of mentioning, though its value for a worker in the Congo was inestimable--he had a good working knowledge of the French language!
It was not until late in 1957 and early in 1958 that the recordists, physically and mentally weary after their five years and more of continual travel, returned to the headquarters in Los Angeles. This was the place that had been 'home' to them as they had travelled the continents, and to which their thoughts and their letters and their tapes had speeded continually. How it had grown! The new factory, the new warehouses, the enlarged premises. . . . They exclaimed with delight as they went into the pressing rooms, and saw the crews of voluntary workers standing by the machines, deftly handling soft black 'biscuits' which seconds later were removed as round black discs which sounded out the glorious news of salvation in languages unknown. They looked through the records of the shipments that had been sent--and they saw the files of letters that told of some of the fruit God had given.
During most of 1958 Gospel Recordings had only one full-time recordist on the field--Bob Wayte, the first from the British Isles to do this work went out from London to continue the recordings in the Belgian Congo.
'Fifty were won through the testimony of one man who was saved through hearing the records,' came a report from Mexico.
'Some have definitely been brought to the Lord through the messages on the discs,' reported missionaries visiting Angola.
'Three hundred people threw away their fetishes as they heard the gospel of Christ in their own tongue . . .' came news from Dutch New Guinea.
'About three hundred were added to the Lord, mainly through gramophone evangelism,' wrote some Indian Christians. An illiterate Christian in Brazil took gramophone and records to a desert region where no missionary ever visited, and at least five souls were won to Christ. . . . An Arab in French Equatorial Africa testified openly to having received forgiveness of sins after listening to the records. . . . a young Muslim in Algeria. . . . Six people in Ethiopia. . . . A man in the Philippines rode on horseback for twelve hours to hear more about the Lord Jesus, of whom he had heard from 'a big box talking. . . .' Isolated tribespeople sat through the night, listening to the records. . . . Letter after letter citing specific cases were filed away to provide adequate testimoney that the Spirit of God had been working through those little black messengers which spoke in so many tongues the wonderful works of God. As the incoming mail daily brought requests for more records, one phrase recurred constantly--'they are reaching those who might otherwise never hear.'
'Those who might otherwise never hear.' For this purpose more than for any other Gospel Recordings existed. In some hundreds of tongues throughout the world now the only voices proclaiming the message of eternal salvation were those that sounded forth from the whirling gramophone records. According to the lists carefully compiled from many sources in the Gospel Recordings office, there were some 5,000 languages in the world to-day. But the number of languages in which the gospel could be clearly heard from gramophone records was already 1,800--1,400 of which had been obtained in five and a half years by Joy and the four recordists. What could not be accomplished if more gave themselves to this work? With such a key as they now possessed, the good news of salvation could be proclaimed in every tongue in this generation.