Chapter 7: The Australian Branch

Chapter 7: The Australian Branch

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'...For all manner of service.'

When Stuart Mill received a request from a friend in Melbourne to meet three women from America who were coming to Australia to prepare material for making Gospel gramophone records, he thought to himself, 'What a waste of time!' and was rather bewildered. 'What do they want to come here to make Gospel records for anyway? We've got plenty already!'

As Sydney representative of the Missionary Fellowship in New South Wales, he was more than willing to help bona-fide missionaries on their way, and did so often. But he had never heard of Joy Ridderhof, nor of Gospel Recordings Incorporated either. He was afraid she and her two colleagues would expect some big meetings arranged for them at which they could tell their stories, and he would have to do all the planning! However, no excuse to avoid meeting them presented itself, so when the time arrived he drove in a utility van to the air terminal, and greeted the three visitors courteously but without much enthusiasm.

They introduced themselves. Joy Ridderhof . . . Ann Sherwood . . . Sanna Barlow . . .

They surely appreciated his kindness in meeting them, they said. Yes, that was their baggage, thirty-four pieces. They checked them over quietly and efficiently, helped to stack them into the van, then piled in themselves, with Stuart in the driver's seat. He switched on the engine, slid in the gear, and, as the car drew away from the pavement, prepared to take a polite, though impersonal interest in his passengers' plans.

They gave no indication at all of expecting to have meetings arranged for them, large or small. What they were wanting was to get away as quickly as possible to New Guinea. He enquired about their gramophone record project. The gramophone records they would produce, they explained, would not be in English at all, but in the languages of the primitive tribes.

Stuart was suddenly interested. Gospel gramophone records for the tribes! His mind flew back to the palm-fringed beaches of the Solomon Islands, and the schooner 'Evangel' chugging its way to remote islands and to the tiny villages hidden away inland. He remembered seeing the fuzzy-haired inhabitants of the islands crouching enthralled around wheezy gramophones that played jazz tunes and crooning love songs, listening avidly to words they could not even understand. What if those wheezy gramophones had been proclaiming the blessed Gospel, in words that the islanders could understand!

He asked questions, briefly, and Joy answered. She explained their method of working through interpreters, using their own prepared messages. She told him this organization, Gospel Recordings Incorporated, had produced four hundred thousand records in four hundred languages; that all the records were sent to the missionaries who could use them, free of charge; and that they had evidence from many quarters that God was using the records, not only to provide spiritual food to illiterate believers in isolated places, but to bring Life to dead souls. She and Ann and Sanna were hoping to get recordings of all the tribes in Australian New Guinea, she explained, while another field recordist, a young man named Vaughn Collins, was working in South-east Asia. Back in Los Angeles was Don Richter, also preparing to come to the field. There were scores of languages in India, then there was Africa . . . Europe. . . . 'The field is the world.'

Within half an hour of meeting the three American visitors, Stuart Mill knew that God was re-directing his life. 'Thine ears shall hear a word behind thee saying, "This is the way, walk ye in it".' He had been waiting for that word. He and his wife had left their missionary work in the Solomon Islands for family reasons, and he was back now in business. But neither of them was satisfied. The call of the regions where Christ was not named could not be silenced. They had even taken steps to return to the Solomons, but an unexpected family responsibility had again closed that path for them, and now that they were free once more the particular need they could have met had been met by others. It was at this crossroads that the advent of Joy Ridderhof began to make clear that the plan God had for their lives was something of which they had never dreamed; and that from their own home base in Sydney they were to send the Gospel to more people and tribes that they could ever have reached had they gone back to the mission field in person.

Seed thoughts of a Gospel Recordings branch in Australia were sown in his mind during the short space of time in which J. Stuart Mill escorted Joy and her companions from the airport terminal to the place where they were to spend the night. They knew nothing about this, however. They went on almost immediately to Melbourne, where lived Mr. J. Robert Story, Director of Unevangelized Fields Mission, whose concern for the aborigines of Australia and tribes of New Guinea had led him to make plans for their recording work. They had not been in Australia more than a few days, however, before they began to pray that God would raise up in this vast land in the southern hemisphere someone who would undertake responsibility for distribution, someone who would give part of his time, at any rate, to the work They had no clear idea of what they were asking; but the Holy Spirit was leading them, as He was leading Stuart Mill, into the plan that was already prepared of God.

On their return to Sydney, en route for New Guinea, they were met by Stuart Mill again, and this time taken to his own home. They learned that he had not only been a missionary, but that he was a trained engineer as well. He told them he was willing to be the Gospel Recordings representative in Sydney. He had a large empty space, some sixteen hundred square feet, on the top floor of his factory. He would gladly place it at the disposal of the organization. And if there was anything else that he could do, he was eager to help.

Joy explained that the outstanding need about which they had been praying for years was for the production of really simple, hand-worked gramophones. . . .

On the top floor of a building Company, not far from St. Andrew's Cathedral, Sydney, therefore, the Gospel Recordings branch in Australia was opened. Its initial furnishings were a desk, a telephone, a telephone directory, and that was all! Here Stuart Mill spent hours working on the model of a new gramophone. And as he worked, his mind roved far, sweeping eastward across the Pacific to the Fiji Isles, north to the New Hebrides, round to the Solomons, New Guinea, the vast island republic of Indonesia and the countries of southeast Asia. The area was shaped like a great fan, with Australia strategically situated as the hub from which the uttermost rim could be reached. With a deepening sense of responsibility he thought of the hundreds of little-known tribes scattered throughout these islands and countries, in whose tongues no voice was heard telling of Christ. The means to convey the basic facts of eternal salvation to them was provided now, through this unique method of gramophone evangelism. The question was whether he had the faith and the courage to launch out completely in connection with an organization which made no financial provision for its members whatsoever. Such 'faith' principles might work in the U.S.A., where about half the population were church-goers, and where 'tithing' of incomes was the accepted custom of many Christians--but what of Australia where it was estimated only five per cent of the population even bothered to go to church? How could he expect anyone to come in with him on the basis that Goapel Recordings Incorporated required of its members, in such a country as his? It was not preachers and evangelists who were needed for this work, but mechanics, secretaries, technicians; and who would think of contributing to their support! Especially since all financial needs were to be kept confidential! It scarcely seemed possible that the miracles of provision, both of men and money, about which Joy spoke, could happen here! And yet. . . .

'Isn't the God in Australia the same as the One in the States?' she asked.

It was not long before Stuart Mill had a clear testimony that He was the same.

One day a Christian woman came to him and said, 'God has been laying this work on my heart. Can I help you as a secretary?' Gladly he accepted her offer. Another morning a young married couple appeared, and announced that they believed God was calling them into the work. This time Stuart's heart sank as he looked at them--so young, so obviously inexperienced. 'Oh that God would send us mature Christians!' he thought.

'Do you understand the conditions?' he asked them. 'No wages, no salary, just looking to God for the supply of all your own needs?' Yes, they understood that. They did not tell him that they had absolutely no resources, that their parents were opposed to them, their church unsympathetic, and that the young husband had been sick for three months! Stuart suggested that they should go home and think and pray about it. 'I shall quite understand if you decide not to come,' he assured them, and said goodbye. He did not really expect to see them again. But the next morning the young man arrived, took off his coat, hung it on the only available nail, and looked round for some work to do. The question of payment never came up, and four years later the young couple were still in Gospel Recordings--alive and well!

Another young man applied. He was a fitter and turner engaged to be married, and his fianc?had said to him, 'You go and work for Gospel Recordings, and I'll earn the living for both of us. After a time, however, someone said to her, 'What about you, too?' The gramophones were not being assembled or dispatched quickly enough, and there was so much to do in the office, and had not their Master promised, 'Seek ye first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added unto you'? So she joined the Gospel Recordings team, too--and together they proved that they prayed not in vain, 'Give us this day our daily bread.'

By the end of the year, the Australian branch was producing its own gramophone and phonettes, and shipping them off to various parts of the world. It was decided to produce records, too, and a small studio was built, and installed with equipment for cutting master records that had been 'picked up' at a fracion of its normal cost. Now it would be easy to cut their own records, they thought, and Stuart Mill went into the studio prepared to do it. But he found there was more to cutting master records than he had realized--and so did the friends who thought they could do it for him. There was nothing for it but to close the studio and pray that God would provide them with someone who could use that equipment.

About that time they received a letter from a young man in Melbourne who had been reading 'Mountains Singing', the book by Sanna Barlow giving the full story of the recordings that were made in the Philippines.

'God has been speaking to me," he wrote. 'I will send a portion of my weekly wage to Gospel Recordings.' Then he came to Sydney himself, for his holiday, and called in at the office. 'I am the young fellow who has been writing you from Melbourne," he announced. 'God has been speaking to me again. I must turn in my job in a Melbourne radio studio, and come up here . . .' He did so, and gave four days a week to the work in the little studio--for he was a professional master cutter!

As others came along to offer for the work and trust God to supply their needs, it became evident that He could touch hearts and provide workers skilled in all manner of service--even in Australia!

The time came, in 1955, when they were not satisfied with the rate of production possible in their limited premises. Fifty gramophones at a time were not sufficient to fulfil their orders. They required much more space. What they needed was land of their own on which could be built a factory and accommodation for the workers, and really get on with the job! They were praying about the matter, wondering whether the desire was born of fleshly enthusiasm or was from the Holy Spirit Himself, when one day the editor of a Christian newspaper called Stuart on the 'phone.

'There are three ladies in Melbourne who have a house they want to give you," he said. 'You can do what you like with it--sell it and use the money if you wish. . . .'

Was this the tangible confirmation for which they were looking that the project was of God? They believed it was. They knew just the piece of land they wanted and it was for sale. There was one apparently insuperable difficulty regarding it, however. It was in the green-belt area, and the Town Planning authorities refused to give permission for a factory to be built on it.

Nevertheless, the conviction persisted that the centre for Gospel Recordings in Australia was to be that particular plot of five and a half acres in Eastwood, seven miles from Sydney, and eventually it was purchased. 'We'll have our Annual Meeting right there on that plot, and dedicate it to the Lord as the site for the future factory--in faith!' they decided. The date was fixed for November 6, 1956, and on the day before the meeting they received word that the Town Planning authorities had reversed their previous decision. 'You can announce at your meeting that permission has been given to build your factory on that plot of land,' they were told.

Building proceeded as funds were available. There were some memorable 'last-minute' provisions, as when an account for about ô00 was nearly due, and the money arrived from Kashmir in the nick of time--a legacy from an old missionary of over ninety who had met Joy Ridderhof there two years previously and had instructed her solicitors to pay that sum to Gospel Recordings in Australia. There was a morning when work would have been held up had it not been for the arrival of three gifts by post which completely covered the amount which must be paid down first. And so, exactly a year after the vacant plot of ground had been publicly dedicated to the Lord, another dedication service was held--this time in the factory which had just been completed.

All this time, between journeys to 'capture' languages in the Solomons, directing the growing work, and speaking at meetings, Stuart Mill was wrestling with the problem with which Joy Ridderhof had so early confronted him--the production of a gramophone that was so simple that the merest child could work it without difficulty. The members of the Australian branch turned out many types of gramophones, each one simpler than the last, it seemed. But still they were not satisfied. How to produce a 'talking box' which turned a record at the required seventy-eight revolutions a minute even when the handle was turned at any irregular speed?

They prayed and experimented, and then prayed again. Sometimes they almost despaired of ever finding the answer. Then an offer of help came from a manufacturer who asked his engineer to work on it. And in 1957, the triumphant moment came when Stuart Mill held in his hands the answer to many prayers and the result of many experiments--a gramophone in a diminutive box, cheap to produce, sturdy, with no motor, light to carry and with a disc which turned at seventy-eight revolutions to the minute and no more, however fast the handle was turned!

Chapter 8: The Task Ahead

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Faith by Hearing - The Story of Gospel Recordings - Originally published in 1960, and republished many times, this book tells of Gospel Recordings spreading into the world.