Chapter 8: To Africa

Chapter 8: To Africa

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Joy had not planned to return to Los Angeles in 1954, neither did she particularly want to go, although she reacted in the usual way. 'Rejoice! The Lord is going to work out something real good!' But the opportunities for obtaining recordings in the Far East had proved more numerous than she had expected. With Ann and Sanna she had traveled in Assam, where Ben Wati, first encountered when he was a student in Wheaton, introduced them to his own people of Nagaland; to Nepal, a closed land for centuries but now opening as the result of the overthrow of the influential Ranas; to Pakistan, Kashmir, Burma. And India. India had burdened her mind to an unusual degree, made her conscious not only of the little remote tribes that never failed to challenge her, but also of the surging masses of people whose poverty and illiteracy made their own piteous appeal. Here in India with its hundreds of millions of people, the most populous nation in the free world now that China had fallen to Communism, were countless multitudes who were accessible geographically, but hemmed in by the stranglehold of Hinduism and their own inability to read. The introduction into village homes or crowded city tenements of a little gramophone with records that proclaimed the Gospel of Jesus Christ in terms they could understand could be a means of reaching them that normal missionary methods and the distribution of tracts and books often failed to achieve. The opportunities for using the peculiar techniques God had enabled Gospel Recordings to develop were pressing in on her, and she knew much waited to be done in India, even though plans were already on foot for her to go with Ann and Sanna to Africa.

In the light of those opportunities, the administrative claims of the Headquarters of G.R. in Los Angeles seemed weak indeed, and she did not return of her own choice. But an urgent request had come, a crisis had developed in the work that could not be ignored. Joy was the Director, and she must leave the other two to fulfil the recording programmes arranged while she went back to deal with the sort of situation for which she felt little suited. Already it was becoming evident that she was a pioneer rather than an administrator.

As often happened, what appeared to be a hindrance in her activities eventually proved to be an extension of them. Her arrival in Los Angeles coincided with the visit there on business of an electronics consultant from England named Livingston Hogg. He had heard something about Gospel Recordings by way of a missionary in Iceland who told a friend of his of it, and since he was in the vicinity he decided to visit the headquarters of the little organisation. Joy, delighted at his interest, not only took him all over the factory and offices, but obligingly chauffeured him to some of the places he had to go to in the course of his business, offering to show him some of the sights into the bargain. The problem in the work that had brought her back demanded her decisions more than her time, and she always enjoyed driving around her own city and showing it off to visitors. As a guide, she was easily diverted. She usually became so absorbed in telling her passengers of the wonderful way in which God was opening things up for the Gospel records, the amazing stories of conversions that were constantly being received, the answers to prayer and the provisions God made, that she forgot all about the sights she had brought her friends to see. Time could always be profitably occupied when sitting in a car, she felt. On one occasion she took a party out to see the famous Millionaires' Mile in Hollywood, and on the way suggested that they should have a prayer meeting as they drove along. Prayer came to her as naturally as talking, and as they cruised along the broad boulevards she reminded the Lord of the recordists out on the field and their needs, the ill-health of this one, the family problems of that one, the particular piece of machinery they were needing in the factory ... 'And we praise Thee, Lord, that Thou wilt work it all out ...'

Her passengers closed their eyes and followed her prayer sincerely enough, but when it was finished one of them asked, 'Joy, when do we come to the Millionaires' Mile?' to which she answered with dismay, 'Oh! We've passed that long ago!'

What experiences Livingston Hogg may have had along this line he did not relate publicly, but he had evidently appreciated what she had done to make his visit enjoyable, and warmly invited her to stay with him and his wife when she came to England. He was very interested in her work, he intimated, and thought others would be, too. So some time later, on her way to re-join Ann and Sanna, now in Kenya, she unsuspectingly accepted the offer, little knowing what was in store for her. She arrived at the comfortable, spacious home of the Livingston Hoggs in Hampstead to learn that a reception had been arranged at which she was to be the guest of honour. It was to be held in a hotel in the West End, and a number of well-known Christian leaders had been invited to meet her. Representatives of the Christian press would also be present.

Joy was really alarmed. It sounded so very, very formal, so very, very English. To church banquets in her own country she was accustomed, but what might not be required of her at a reception in a hotel in London, England? That it was merely a buffet tea did little to allay her apprehensions, for how out of place could an American from Los Angeles be at a function so typically English. And what did one wear for a buffet tea?

A hat. She had a little black hat, suitable for almost any occasion, and thought that would be all right. Gloves, too, that went with it. But what about a suit, or a dress? Standing in her bedroom, she suddenly remembered the frock a friend in Chicago whom she had visited on her way over, had given to her. 'Whatever will I do with it?' she had thought at the time. 'It's too fancy. I shan't want to be dressed up in Africa. We'll be working there all the time!' But now, the frock came into its own. It was surely just the thing for an elegant, formal English reception and buffet tea in a hotel in the West End!

'So there we were, and I was the speaker,' she reported privately later, 'Little I! It wasn't big I, I can tell you that! I was really glad that I had the right clothes. I was really glad that friend in Chicago took the trouble to give it to me, when I had no idea how I would use it. So I think I was quite properly dressed. Oh yes, she gave me a brooch, too, and it was the kind that you'd need for England. It wasn't a gaudy one at all. It was made of silver, and had a stone in the middle of it. So I knew I was fixed up just right. So there I was, and the whole programme after they had the refreshments and went around one to the other was Joy Ridderhof. You can't imagine how scared I was! I didn't dream of any such thing.' However uneasy she may have felt at the outset, her fears vanished as she started on her favourite theme. The masculine faces, many of them emerging from clerical collars, quickened with interest or relaxed into smiles as she told her story, and the reporters' pencils flew across their notebooks. But for one, at least, of the invited guests, something more than interest was aroused.

Gilbert Vinden had gone to China in 1920, so when in 1950 the Communist Government made it impossible for missionaries to remain, he might have been considered due for retirement anyway. However, he did not take to the idea. 'I'm not ready for the shelf yet!' he said. There must be something he could still do to further the missionary cause. This new way of evangelising through gramophones and records captured his imagination immediately. If only he had had something like it in China! 'If there's any way in which my wife and I can help, we'll be ready,' he intimated after he had heard Joy speak. There was something to work on here! This was an organisation people ought to know about. And why not a distribution centre for records in England, where missionaries from Africa, Europe, the Near East, India, were constantly coming and going?

The seeds of the English branch of Gospel Recordings were sown at that buffet tea.

Meanwhile Joy went on to Africa to rejoin Ann and Sanna. The three of them had lived together, travelled together, worked together, prayed together and faced emergencies together in such close proximity and in such a variety of situations that they fitted together like pieces of a jigsaw puzzle. Joy was the leader and shouldered the responsibility, making the arrangements, interviewing officials, dealing with the correspondence, keeping in touch with the work at Los Angeles, besides speaking frequently in church or chapel services. Ann, strongest of the three physically, cheerfully bore the burdens, crouching hour after hour over the tape recorder, patiently reading the scripts, waiting as each sentence passed through the interpreter, then indenting the right key of the tape recorder at the right moment to capture the tribal voice; editing and splicing the tapes when the recording process was over; going off to find a technician when the machine went wrong. Sanna the youngest, although unaccustomed by upbringing to roughing it, was game for every situation, doing the work of a recordist and watching all the time to see when she could quietly step in and give her aid in other ways. She had learned to recognise the danger signals that appeared when pain or weariness were taking their toll, especially of Joy. Joy was always likely to be beset by attacks of dysentery or malaria, legacy of the years in Marcala, but she insisted on ignoring them, making plans and taking journeys as though they did not exist until in the end they got the better of her.

'Joy just doesn't think of herself,' said Sanna. It was a simple statement of fact, and the fact faced her daily. Joy didn't consider herself when making her plans so she, Sanna, must do it for her, remembering what medicines might be needed, which clothes, secreting little items in the baggage to make food or drink more tasty, to be produced at appropriate moments to tempt jaded appetites.

So they travelled through Africa, the three of them, usually staying with missionaries, sometimes in such hotels as they could find, on occasions sleeping in the jeep. Sleeping in the jeep was somewhat precarious, as Joy discovered one night when the plank on which she was balancing slipped, and she found herself reclining at a most uncomfortable angle. However, she decided to stick it out rather than wake the others by moving. 'You were both fast asleep, and you needed to be,' she explained when they remonstrated on learning what had happened. 'You were tired out. I was, too,' she added with a grin, 'but it gave me some G.R.P.!' They knew what that meant. When things went well, Joy rejoiced. When they didn't go well, she asserted it was Good Rejoicing Practice. So whichever way things went, you rejoiced.

She had her greatest opportunity to rejoice in the face of difficulties, however, in connection with Ethiopia. Ethiopia, the country to which she had always been so drawn, to which in her youth she had been sure she would go, still drew her. 'We must go to Ethiopia,' she said eagerly, and wrote off to the missionaries in Addis Ababa hoping that arrangements could be made, as in other places, to make recordings. 'We couldn't have got on without the missionaries,' she often said. 'They've been the ones to help us, advise us, get us in touch with informants.' But on this occasion, to her surprise, she received no replies.

'Things are very touchy in Ethiopia,' she was told. 'The missionaries there have to walk very carefully. The Emperor is surrounded by people who are very antagonistic. His hands are tied. It wouldn't be at all a good time to go. Very dangerous indeed even to suggest getting in touch with tribes people and making recordings in their languages. You'd be under suspicion straight away, and so would the people you tried to work with.'

It would be foolhardy to go in the face of such reports, she knew. She would not only endanger her own project, but jeopardise the well-established work of others. Yet the urge to go persisted, and with it the most preposterous idea that had yet come to her. Not only did she want to go to Ethiopia. She wanted to gain an audience with the Emperor himself, and ask permission to make recordings in his country. She could not dismiss the conviction that it would happen.

Without an invitation from so much as one person in Ethiopia, however, how could she go? If the Lord wanted her to go, then she was sure He would see to it that she received an invitation.

An invitation came. It was from a missionary couple she had known in north India. They had recently transferred to Ethiopia, and having only just arrived, not knowing the sensitive political situation, replied to her letter giving her a cordial invitation to come.

Joy was in Nairobi when their letter arrived. She had been ill, on and off, for some time, but that could not be allowed to hinder her now. If a door opened in Ethiopia she was intended to go through it. Ann and Sanna, whose confidence in her spiritual discernment had increased during the years they were together, were prepared to back her up in this decision. Funds were very low, but they pooled their resources and had just enough to pay for the air ticket to Addis Ababa. None of them had much left in their purses after that, but their faith was high. Experience had proved that God's provision came from very unexpected quarters, but it always arrived on time. So Joy set off to go at last to the country that had first drawn out her desire to become a missionary.

The short time she spent in Addis Ababa on that occasion was one of the most memorable of her life. She never forgot it. Some of the details were etched on her memory with such clarity that she could relate them vividly twenty years later.

First there was the arrival at the airport. To her amazement, instead of only one missionary to meet her, there were representatives of about five different missions. They had come to welcome her. They knew of her work, had actually received Gospel Recordings records in Amharic and several of the larger tribal languages, made outside the country and then sent in. The records had been an immediate success, evoking an unprecedented response, until the Minister of Education had banned them. Things were rather tense at present, the missionaries intimated. They had been told to destroy all the records. It was better not to talk too freely. But they were delighted to meet her, and hoped she would speak at their united prayer meeting, which happened to fall due that very afternoon.

Cautiously she outlined her desire - to make recordings in the tribal languages of Ethiopia. As things stood, they knew it was undesirable even to make the attempt, though no one said so, but after the meeting one of the men came up to speak to her. He had something else on his mind.

'Miss Ridderhof, I'm so glad to meet you,' he said. 'We take an offering each week at this meeting, and some time ago took one for you and your two friends. I'm the treasurer, as it happens, but I didn't know whereabouts in Africa you were, so I couldn't send it to you. Would you mind taking it now?'

Joy, whose mind had flashed more than once to the emptiness of her purse, and the embarrassment it could be in a strange city, assured him that she would not mind in the least taking it now. Thank you, Lord, she breathed inwardly. Now I'll be able to pay for my board. It was a relief, and she could turn her attention to the main purpose of her visit. She wanted to obtain permission from the Emperor himself to make recordings in his country. She wanted to meet the Emperor himself.

The missionaries shook their heads dubiously. It could not be done. Missionaries do not usually move in such exalted circles. But one man at the prayer meeting that afternoon had an idea.

'Your own Ambassador could help you,' he said. 'If you can meet Dr. Simonson and present your case, he might be able to obtain an audience for you with His Majesty.' So the necessary arrangements were made, and after visiting the United States Ambassador a time was fixed when he would accompany her to the palace of his Imperial Majesty, Haile Selassie, Lion of the Tribe of Judah, Emperor of Ethiopia.

Joy left the Embassy that day with her heart singing. 'Ethiopia shall soon stretch out her hands unto God,' she had read in Psalm 68 a short time before, and it took on an intimate meaning. It did not refer to something remote, allegorical, far away, but to living Ethiopians - now. The pagan tribes would soon be hearing in their own tongues the wonderful works of God. She wanted to be alone, so went into the little chapel on the mission compound where she was staying. But she was too excited to pray. She could do nothing else but praise, and sitting down at the little organ played and sang hymns with all her might until she had no breath left.

But there were practical things to attend to. If she had taken trouble to be correctly attired for a buffet tea and reception in a hotel in London, how much more attention should be paid to appearing before an Emperor. She hadn't the right clothes! What she lacked, however, others readily supplied, bag, gloves, shoes, and finally a most suitable wrap which she saw someone wearing at the missionary prayer meeting, and asked outright if she might borrow, since she was to have an audience with the Emperor the next day. The owner took it off then and there, and handed it to her.

So the day came when, sitting beside the United States Ambassador, grave and dignified in his formal suit with swallow-tail coat, she was driven in the Embassy car to the palace. As they passed smoothly through the gates she saw the lions pacing to and fro in their ornamental cages. She had heard them roaring night after night, and the sight of them increased her sense of awe. She shuddered.

But now they were at the palace, alighting from the car, mounting the steps where tall, dark-skinned Ethiopians stood on guard. They were greeted by an official in western clothes, the Minister of Pen, who would act as interpreter. Now she must remember exactly what to do. Bow low, walk slowly towards the Emperor, never turn your face away from him for a moment, bow again . . . She saw him at the end of the long, vast hall, an erect, dignified little figure in his kingly gown. He stood to receive them out of respect for the Ambassador walking beside her. She was conscious of two or three other men with him, dressed in western clothes, but kept her eyes on the Emperor. After the Ambassador had presented his gifts and made a few preliminary remarks, he came to the purpose of the visit, and Joy had her opportunity. The Emperor looked at her and nodded, waiting for her to speak.

'Your Majesty,' she said, 'We have made records based on the Bible in other countries, so that people who cannot read can hear and understand. Now we would like to make them with nationals in your country, in tribal languages as well as in Amharic ...' Everything she said was interpreted to him, and although it was well known that having spent years of exile in England he understood and spoke English, his replies were made in Amharic and translated back to her. Yes, he believed in the Bible. He had arranged for the Bible to be translated into intelligible Amharic, which the people could understand. Yes, he was pleased to have recordings made in languages of people who could not read. He not only nodded his approval, he spoke it to her in English. When the interview concluded, conscious of the spoken word of the Emperor granting her request, she backed slowly away with the Ambassador, bowing carefully, all down the great hall until eventually she reached the entrance and turned round. The Minister of Pen was there, and she asked,

'Will you please implement this permission.'

He looked at her coldly, 'What permission?'

She knew then that the door which seemed to be opening was still fast closed. There would be no written permission and no recordings. The spoken word within the palace meant nothing without the written word of confirmation, and the men standing silently round the Emperor would support the powerful Minister of Education.

There was nothing more she could do. Yes, there was one thing. She could still rejoice! 'Let's just rejoice! It seems disappointing, but in my heart there's real hope that this thing will work out for good. The Lord's given me Psalm 68, and I know He's going to do some marvelous things. I trust Him, and I'll just rejoice!'

She went back to Nairobi, and with Ann and Sanna continued their journeyings through Africa. If the year 1955 had contained the perplexity of the Ethiopian denial of access, it ended with some very significant statistics in the Gospel Recordings records. The one million mark in the number of records sent out since the inception of the work was passed, and new languages captured were coming in from the field recordists in Africa and Asia at the rate of nearly one a day. The grand total of languages and dialects recorded had risen to 1,401 by the end of the year.

One thousand, four hundred and one. It would have been a round figure of one thousand and four hundred had it not been that the Trio in Africa, while in Tanganyika heard quite accidentally of a little tribe of pygmies that was dying out.

'The Wakindiga - oh, you'll never get them. They live in the Yaida Swamps, and roam from place to place, you never know where they'll turn up next. They're very elusive, and afraid of white people. Very few of them anyway - maybe only about 500. No-one will ever learn their language, of course ...'

The basic facts which would have been sufficient to deter most people from interrupting a carefully planned itinerary to attempt to reach so small, so insignificant a little branch of the human family were precisely the type that would have the opposite effect on Joy. She always had a special compassion for the by-passed. Back in Marcala her visiting often took her to one home where a deformed, mentally deficient child was the first person for whom she looked and with whom she spent time before going to teach the other members. As a teen-ager she stayed away from a picnic she would have loved to join in, because she knew a lonely woman was dying of cancer in a hospital, and might need her. The thought of that shy, timid pygmy race, quietly dying out with no knowledge of the Shepherd who leaves the ninety and nine in the fold to go seeking that which is lost, was too much for her. As she and Ann and Sanna worked away making recordings of the nine other language groups in the area, their most persistent urgent prayer to God, and their most consistent oft-repeated request to man was concerning the Wakindiga.

'We must get this language. It's small, isolated people like this that can be missed entirely unless they have the Gospel presented to them in their very own tongue. They are our priority for records, because none of the usual means of evangelism can reach them. Do you know anyone who is in touch with them? Anyone who can help us reach them?'

Finally information came through and contact was made with a missionary living on the western border of the Yaida Swamp. He was the one in the best position to get in contact with the Wakindiga, and he was the one who a short time later sent a runner with the message that on Monday morning next three Wakindiga from the forest would be at his mission station, ready to help in making recordings. To ensure that they arrived he went and fetched them himself - three little brown men in tattered shirts and pants, carrying bows and arrows. Communication was slow, but after two and a half days the recordings had been made.

Then followed one of the outstanding experiences of the Trio's years in Africa. Carrying the recorder the missionary living by the Yaida Swamp led Joy and her two companions up to the pygmy encampment on a rock-strewn hillside where the Wakindiga were to hear the message from God that came out of the 'talking box'. There, under the starlit African sky, the diminutive bush-dwellers heard for the first time that Jesus, from Heaven, had died to open for them the gate of everlasting life. And it was the voice of their own tribal chief who proclaimed it.

When the tape was sent back to Los Angeles for the processes that would eventually transform it into little round discs for the Wakindiga, it was marked as Top Priority. 'These sort of people must come first - they mustn't be missed out.'

Throughout the year that followed her trip to Addis Ababa, working through Congo, Kenya, Tanganyika, Joy turned again and again to Psalm 68. God had spoken to her through that Psalm. 'Ethiopia shall soon stretch out her hands unto God.' She couldn't and she wouldn't let that promise go. There were other verses in the Psalm that impressed her, too. 'God shall wound the head of his enemies, and the hairy scalp of such an one as goeth on still in his trespasses.' She didn't know what it might mean, but it impressed her. Most of all, however, she noticed the calls to praise. 'Sing unto God, sing praises to His name . . . rejoice before Him ... rejoice before God; yea, let them exceedingly rejoice.' On the face of it, there seemed little to rejoice in over the Ethiopian episode, but rejoice she would, and see what God would do.

Then she went down with sciatica. It was excruciatingly painful, and she had only partially recovered when they set off back across Congo. Their visas had nearly expired, and they dared not wait any longer to make for the border. Sanna was ill by this time, lying in the back of the jeep, but there was nothing for it - they must go on. There was another reason. News had arrived from Ethiopia, and it was cautiously hopeful. There might be an opportunity now for recordings to be made in the country.

It was enough for Joy. Ethiopia was the target now. But before they got to the border they stopped at an African Inland Mission hospital, where Dr. Carl Becker after two days of untiring efforts to bring about Sanna's recovery, announced 'She is dismissed! She can go on.' What a relief! Instead of having to take her back to the States, they could all go on to Ethiopia. So over they went through Uganda into Kenya, to Nairobi and the Ethiopian Consulate.

They had made their application for visas ahead of time, but wondered whether they would be allowed into the country. Their reception at the Consulate did little to reassure them. It was grudging, to say the least, but they were told,

'Your passports are out there on the table.' So out they went, and looking at their passports they saw they had permission to go into Ethiopia and remain there for three months. They could scarcely believe it was true, for the time usually granted was a matter of days.

They took the plane to Addis Ababa. When they left, three months later, they had obtained recordings in over thirty languages.

There had undoubtedly been some changes, Joy observed, and enquired what had happened to bring them about.

It had to do with the Minister of Education, she was told. He had been the one who had most rigidly obstructed things. And it had been at his order that the records already in the country had been banned. A mental condition had developed which made it necessary for him to go abroad for treatment. Now that he was out of the country restrictions were being removed.

Joy looked reflectively at Psalm 68, verse 21, 'God shall wound the head of his enemies, and the hairy scalp of such an one as goeth on still in his trespasses.' A mental condition was certainly something in the head, she thought, and under a hairy scalp. It seemed to fit the case.

Chapter 9: Sealed Orders

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Count it all Joy! / Capturing Voices - First published in 1978, this is a down-to-earth biography of Joy Ridderhof and the beginnings of Gospel Recordings.