Chapter 7: What Is a Leader?

Chapter 7: What Is a Leader?


WHAT IS A LEADER? The question has been the subject of innumerable debates and evoked various definitions. Indispensable qualities have been enumerated and characteristics analysed, and the probability is that Joy Ridderhof would have been considered to lack too many of them to lay claim to the title. Certainly she would have said so, had she stopped to think about it.

'Joy never saw herself as being anyone important,' her secretary said of her years after she was acknowledged as the Founder-Director of an organisation of worldwide significance. 'If I want to talk to her about something I don't have to go to her - I just ask her if she'll come along to my office and see me, and she comes! What other boss would act that way?'

If, however, a leader is simply someone going ahead whom others are following, as the word suggests, then she was a leader. She did not go ahead alone, although she was prepared to do so. In fact, she was so set on achieving her goal that she scarcely stopped to look round, figuratively speaking, to see if anyone was following or not! But others were following. They were those who had been stirred to action by her single-mindedness and enthusiasm, and there was also that about her which commanded their loyalty and devotion. She knew and loved them all, keeping in touch with them individually even when she was away. She was a prolific writer of letters and short scribbled notes, which she sent off to all sorts of people, especially those connected with her in her all-absorbing work.

("Mountains Singing" by Sanna Morrison Barlow, the story of the Philippines trip, was compiled almost entirely from the reports Joy sent back, produced on the spot as she and Ann Sherwood moved from one place to another in the archipelago.)

'My soul is fired more and more with the desire to reach the uttermost part of the globe with the simple, clear story of salvation,' she had written two years before going to the Philippines, and the desire had become a consuming passion after the year spent there. She had seen for herself some of the little tribes of whose very existence she had been ignorant, and realised they were representative of far larger numbers in other countries. The Wycliffe Bible Translators who had first assessed them at about 2,000 were already raising the figure as surveys brought more of them to light. The vast unexplored forests of South America, the mountains of south-east Asia, the luxuriant jungles of Indonesia and New Guinea, the grasslands and deserts and forests of Africa - little pockets of humanity were hidden away in all of them. It would take decades to evangelise them by usual missionary methods, but with the unique techniques developed by Gospel Recordings the situation could be transformed.

She and Ann had talked about the possibilities while they were in the Philippines. If two middle-aged women with no experience of the Far East could obtain 92 languages in a year, what could not be done by teams of young men ready to venture for Christ with the same dedication so many of them had shown when battling for liberty during the years of the Second World War? Superficial as the method might seem, providing a gramophone and a few records that ran for three and a half minutes into which the basic truths of the Gospel had been compressed, there was overwhelming evidence that it was effective. Letters were coming in to the office in Witmer Street weekly, sometimes daily, telling of the amazing response as people in Africa, South America, Alaska and now the Philippines, listened to the voice of one of their own speaking in the language they could understand.

'Thank you for the records. It gives us a good feeling down inside our hearts every time we place another one. They play away in saloons where I myself don't enjoy going. When an illiterate buys a Gospel of Mark the tug on my heart is one of pain rather than joy. "Will he find someone to read it to him?" But when an illiterate gets a record, he and dozens of other illiterates can all listen.'

'A good-natured old lady shop-keeper had an electric pick-up and I asked her if she would like to play some of my Hindi records. She consented, but listened with the usual guarded indifference of these Mohammedan people. However, others gathered to listen . . . and drew the attention of a blind beggar going by with his dog leading him. He became so interested that the old lady bought the two records to keep and play them for the sake of the blind beggar.'

'A South American Indian . . . acquired a gramophone and a record set and proceeded on a journey to a remote section of his tribe. Once again the voice in the little box told its story, in still another language, and five families believed. They systematically carried the gramophone from hut to hut urging their neighbours to believe and become as happy as they ...'

'I am keeping a rough note of the approximate number of Buhid Mangyan who have heard the records. To date over 150, and six Bangon who also understood ...'

'I have just returned from a trek into an area ... here in the Sudan. There has never been a ministry in this area before. I wish you could have seen some of these meetings as they listened to the eight records which we had. They were played over and over and over, and the songs learned. Since this is a minority group whose language we do not speak, these records are virtually in themselves building up these believers. Now that we have this wonderful new selection we can hardly wait to get back amongst them ...'

'The first set of records sent to an Eskimo group in November was so popular that it was almost worn out by Christmas. From early morning until late at night the people played them. The children memorised the Scripture they heard so often and happily quoted it the live-long day.'

'By way of these records you are able to send out missionaries that are able to talk but do not need to sleep nor eat!'

So it went on. The steady inflow of such letters and the increasing demand for the records were an encouragement, but also a challenge to faith. There were enough orders to keep the team fully occupied and working overtime, but was that a reason to refrain from obtaining more languages? Was it not rather an incentive to press on, and to pray that God would bring more technicians for the factory, more workers for the despatch department, more secretaries for the administration - and above all, more recordists to go to the field? Joy and Ann were ready to set out again, but if recordings were to be made in every language and dialect, they could not do it alone.

More field recordists. It was the primary need, and perhaps the most difficult one to meet. It required not only technical skill and resourcefulness, but a strong constitution, ability to adapt to extremes of both climate and living conditions, and a faith in God sufficient for every emergency and uncertainty.

'Simultaneous recording in various countries,' said Joy. 'That is the way we do it. And it's a job that in many cases can only be undertaken by men.'

She was in great demand as a speaker, not only at public meetings, but also in colleges and Bible seminaries, and responded readily to invitations to tell what was being accomplished through Gospel Recordings, and what remained to be done. Her speaking itineraries took her far and wide in the U.S.A., then over the border into Canada, to the Prairie Bible Institute in Alberta. One of their graduates, whom Joy met later, was Vaughn Collins, in his early twenties. He was not only willing to respond to the challenging call that came to him as he listened to Joy's message, but he was also ready. The Prairie Bible Institute required a very high degree of renunciation on the part of its students. Discipleship to Jesus Christ demanded that His work must come before everything else, even the satisfaction of legitimate personal desires in the choice of a career or a partner in marriage. The young American, tall, lean, self-disciplined, had already settled these matters in his own heart, and his years in forestry service before entering the Bible Institute had nerved him for hardship and strenuous effort. He applied to Gospel Recordings, and was accepted.

A few months later another young student from the Prairie Bible Institute arrived at Joy's office in Los Angeles. Don Richter of the U.S. Marines had fought in the battle of Okinawa in the Second World War, and it was in the midst of that grim conflict he had made up his mind life was too uncertain to be spent doing anything short of the will of God. What it might be for him he did not know, but a conversation with Vaughn Collins eventually brought him to Gospel Recordings headquarters to apply to become a field recordist. As he listened to Joy telling him of the thrilling prospect of completing the task of getting the Gospel message 'to every creature' in our own generation by means of the recording techniques God had given them, he was inspired afresh, ready to set off on the next boat. He was scarcely prepared, therefore, for her reaction to his offer.

'Don,' she said, 'If you come to Gospel Recordings we don't promise to send you off on field work. You come to join a team, and you must be willing to do anything. Most of our workers stay around here doing mundane jobs - working in the factory, doing carpentry repairs, shipping out boxes of records, building little gramophones. It's all absolutely essential to the job of sending out the Gospel, and it's just as much a work of faith as going to the field. Are you willing for that?'

It was a sobering prospect, as Joy knew it would be, but she knew she must be honest. Plans were already afoot for her to go off on another recording trip, accompanied by Ann, Sanna Barlow and Vaughn Collins. If Don were to go to the field work abroad, it could not be now, and meanwhile, was he willing for this test? He had known the heat of battle and taken his directions from stern-faced men. He had been ready for anything on the beaches under gunfire - was he ready for anything now, even working in a little factory in down-town Los Angeles with an organisation directed by a woman? Only the assurance that it was the will of God would bring him to that point, and she waited for his answer.

She was not worried about it. It was not her responsibility. If God wanted Don Richter in Gospel Recordings He would make it plain, and He'd work out all the details. He always did.

Don Richter accepted the conditions. This was the way God was leading him, and he was prepared to follow. He came to join the team of workers in Witmer Street in June, 1952, without any assurance that he would ever be appointed to field recordings.

Meanwhile, the plans for the recordist team of four to proceed together to Indonesia had gone awry. Vaughn had come in for some teasing about the project, and been asked laughingly, 'What are you going to do with these three women?' to which he had retorted, 'Oh, I'll just walk ahead and leave them to carry my luggage along after me!' But in the event, he had to go alone. They had booked four berths on a liner bound for Singapore, but a few days before they were due to leave, all their luggage packed and ready for bonding, they learned that there was only one berth available. They had omitted to make a down payment, so the other three berths had been taken. The omission had not been due to an oversight, merely to a lack of the money necessary at the time, and now it was too late.

Joy, as always, took an optimistic view of the situation. God must have a different plan for them, and He would lead them into it. It was as simple as that. Arrangements were altered, Vaughn set off across the Pacific on his own while Joy, Ann and Sanna, praising and praying together, looked out for another way of getting to the Far East. They would have to get to Singapore by a circuitous route instead of going there direct, Joy decided, and they would make some recordings on the way. She was already corresponding with Mr. Robert Short in Australia about the scattered tribes of aborigines there, so they would go that way. And that is how it came about that they arrived at the Mascot Airport, Sydney, on July 20, to be met by the local representative of the International Missionary Fellowship. His name was Stuart Mill.

They did not know at the time that his reception of the request to meet three American women had been unfavourably coloured by a previous experience when a similar request had landed him with an American woman who expected him to arrange meetings for her, spend hours on her arrangements, and generally act as her factotum. He was more than willing to help bona-fide missionaries on their way and frequently did so, but enthusiastic free-lances with novel ideas presented a different case. He had never heard of Miss Joy Ridderhof nor of Gospel Recordings. Evidently she was coming with two companions to do something about producing gramophone records, 'We've got plenty of them already,' he thought. Stuart Mill's Christian courtesy impelled him to meet the three strangers, but beyond that he could not commit himself. His wife was in hospital, and he had too much on his hands. He arrived at the air terminal with a utility van into which they helped him pile their thirty-four pieces of baggage, saw them comfortably settled inside, themselves, then took his place at the driver's seat.

Joy sat beside him. Wishing to show a reasonable interest in the visitors he enquired politely what they were hoping to do. He understood it had something to do with gramophone records?

It was the one conversational opening above all others to which Joy always responded with whole-hearted fervour. Yes, gramophone records - telling the Gospel in the languages of primitive tribes! The wonder of it never failed to thrill her and as they sped along the road towards the guest house where they were to spend the night Ann and Sanna exchanged amused glances. Joy could talk a streak when Gospel records were the subject! She referred to some of those they had produced already, explained the process by which they were obtained, the results they were bringing. She only stopped talking long enough for Stuart Mill to ask terse questions, then replying to them went on again. She was always glad to tell anyone what God was doing through Gospel Recordings.

When they arrived at their destination she and her two companions thanked Mr. Mill warmly for all the help he had given them. They were going on to Melbourne the next day to meet Mr. Short of the Unevangelised Fields Mission about getting recordings of aborigines in Australia and New Guinea, they told him. 'Thank you so much, Mr. Mill. Goodbye...'

So that was it. He had fulfilled his obligation to the Interdenominational Missionary Fellowship, and was committed to nothing more. But as he drove back to his home he suspected that the fifteen minutes' conversation in the van was to change the whole course of his life.

The Trio went on to Melbourne. There they learned more about the aborigines of Australia and the tribes of New Guinea. To obtain recordings of some of those peoples was something a woman could not attempt, they were told. Quite apart from the dangers and hardships, carriers and guides would only travel with a man, and without them no stranger could find the way. 'You must have a man to do that sort of work.'

Joy thought of Don Richter. The courage and the resourcefulness that would be required for the peculiarly hazardous task of reaching those out-of-the-way and in some cases fierce tribes were qualities that had already been developed in the ex-Marine. He had offered for field recording, and she knew it was what he wanted to do, or she might have hesitated to suggest an assignment so fraught with danger. But as it was, she had no doubt that he was the one for this job. She wrote back to Los Angeles, 'Tell Don we need him for the aborigine work in this country as soon as possible.'

When Don Richter received the message he only had $30 to his name, but he remembered something one of the Trio had said to him. 'Don't worry about finances. When the Lord's time comes, He will just thrust you out.' Whatever his feelings might be, he'd go ahead and make the necessary arrangements, and see what happened. Passport, visa, inoculations . . . Visits to boat companies to enquire about a passage to Sydney. Here he was brought to a halt. Ships were booked for as much as a couple of years ahead, he was told, with Australian war brides going home for a visit. But eventually he was offered a booking, with just one week in which to put down the first payment. On the morning of the day it was due he was still without the money, but by noon two gifts for him amounting to U.S. $200 had been received in the Gospel Recordings treasurer's office. One was from the Prairie Bible Institute.

He got to the shipping office in time to secure that passage. Less than two months after receiving Joy's message he arrived in Sydney, dressed ready to strike the trail ...

But before that happened, Joy had met Stuart Mill again. With Ann and Sanna she had returned to Sydney, en route for New Guinea where arrangements were being made for them to get recordings from accessible tribes. On this occasion Stuart Mill not only met them, but took them to stay in his own home, and there they heard in detail his story.

He and his wife Molly had been missionaries in the Solomon Islands. They had returned to Australia for family reasons, and he had gone into business, but they had never relinquished the idea of some day going back. They had indeed, taken steps to do so, but another family emergency had held them up, and by the time they were ready to go the special vacancy Stuart was prepared to fill had been occupied by someone else.

It was at this point he had met the Trio at the Mascot Airport. As soon as he heard Joy talk of gramophones playing records in tribal languages his mind had flashed back to the islands he knew so well. He thought of the many times he had watched the fuzzy-haired inhabitants crouching enthralled around wheezy gramophones that played jazz tunes and crooning love songs, listening to words they could not even understand. What would have happened if he could have changed those cracked old records for those that spoke and sang the Gospel in the tongue the listeners understood! He remembered the many little hamlets he had visited when cruising in the Evangel round the islands. He had preached in those hamlets once or twice, then had to move on. What would it have meant to be able to leave Gospel Records behind so that the message was repeated time and time again after he had gone? What could be accomplished if Gospel records in all the great variety of dialects in the Pacific islands could be distributed to them all?

Before he reached home that evening the seed thoughts of a Gospel Recordings Branch in Australia had been sown in his mind. As he talked it over later with Molly the pattern clarified. On the top floor of his factory was a large empty space which could be used for storing records. He could undertake the distribution and promote the work. That was what he wanted to talk to Joy about when she returned from Melbourne.

'Why, that's just what we've been praying for,' was her excited response. 'The three of us saw the potential here in this country, and just prayed and prayed that the Lord would raise up someone to be responsible for distributing the records. And you want to do it! Now, isn't that wonderful!'

They went on to discuss the broad principles on which Gospel Recordings operated.

'Pray about everything - no public or private appeals for money. Look to God to supply your needs. Every worker in G.R. does that, knows personally the way of faith. Records all given away free. And rejoice!' Joy beamed as she proclaimed her favourite theme. 'God is Almighty. He makes everything work for His purpose, even when we make mistakes!'

Once Stuart Mill had an idea and an aim, he lost no time in unnecessary reflection. The thing to do was to publicise this new method of capturing voices to preach in languages not yet even translated. The people most likely to welcome it would be missionaries. They knew where there were unreached tribal groups in their own areas presenting a mute, unconscious appeal to which there was no way to respond. They would be the people to help in providing information and local interpreters. He therefore invited leaders of all the missionary societies he knew to come and meet Miss Joy Ridderhof of Gospel Recordings Inc., from America. That would get things started, and they could move on from there.

The outcome of that meeting was a visit from the director of a Christian radio fellowship. 'I have just this morning received a letter from one of our workers, David Hogan,' he told Joy. 'He had been in Borneo trying to get a permit to establish a Christian radio broadcast, but he finds it can't be obtained. He asked if I would be willing to loan him to Gospel Recordings. Don't know how he heard about you, but there it is. Would it be possible for him to join you for a time?'

Joy thought immediately of Vaughn Collins. She had felt uneasy about him. They seemed to have left him stranded in Singapore, but she hadn't known what to do, except pray for the Lord to make His own way plain. Here was the answer.

'Why, it's just what we've been needing,' she said. 'Someone to team up with Vaughn. Vaughn could go with him to Borneo and make recordings there.' Gospel Recordings was really moving in the Southern Hemisphere! In Stuart Mill Joy had found someone as eager as she. As they looked into the future together, he said, 'If there's anything else I can do - any other way in which we can help.'

He can have had no idea how preposterous a suggestion would be put to him in response to that offer. Joy knew exactly what she wanted, and the fact that there was no known means by which it could be obtained did not disturb her at all. Her mind leapt straight to the end, and when she knew what it was, she prayed that the means would be provided. Now, with this quiet, efficient, experienced Australian engineer before her, she saw the possibility of the means being provided to obtain the end she had in mind.

'We need a gramophone without any mechanism that can go wrong,' she told him. 'Something that the most primitive people, something that even a child can use without breaking it. A hand wind, motorless machine. Even with the very simple machines our factory in Los Angeles is turning out now, things go wrong with the mechanism from time to time. Then, of course, people can't listen to the records any more. They don't know how to mend the machines. Sometimes there are missionaries in the vicinity who can put things right, but not always. A hand wind, motorless gramophone. That's what we need. If God would help you to invent that ... I've been praying about it for years,' she added.

Stuart looked at her. He knew far better than she what a well-nigh impossible thing she was asking. But he knew, as she knew, that without that simple hand wind gramophone much of what was being attempted on behalf of the people in earth's remotest ends would fall far short of what could be accomplished. His mind, too, leapt to the desirable end; then, as it were, started working backwards to discover the means. Nothing was impossible - with God. God had helped these women to develop a technique whereby anyone in the world could, in a single interview, proclaim the simple message of salvation in his own tongue. God could help him, Stuart Mill, to invent something whereby anyone could go on hearing it!

She moved on soon after that. She had not come to Australia for the purpose of opening a new centre, or promoting the work of Gospel Recordings. She had crossed the Pacific to capture languages, to add more tongues and voices to the great multitude that should one day stand together praising Him who sits upon the throne of the universe. God had called Stuart Mill to start a Gospel Recordings centre in Australia, and God would show him how to do it. Now she must go on...

... to New Guinea, to capture some of those languages.

... to Singapore to meet Vaughn and give him the training he needed before he branched out as a recordist with David Hogan.

... back to Australia to help Don in the same way when he arrived. They must both be shown how to get the best out of their recording machines, how to splice the tapes accurately, cut out the stutters, erase clicks. How to keep accurate notes of everything. How to select from the many scripts she and Ann had produced those that would be the most suitable for each different language group. Then they would be ready to launch out on their own, discover as she had discovered that 'He that followeth Me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life.' Young men, given in answer to prayer, going to do a man's work! Simultaneous recording teams, pressing forward.

For herself and Ann and Sanna, India lay waiting, and the surrounding countries. It was not without a sense of urgency that they had set out from Los Angeles, and it was not without a sense of urgency that they left Australia now. The open doors in China that had offered such promise at the conclusion of the Second World War had closed completely, cutting off one fifth of the human race. Other countries were threatened in Asia and Africa, and who could foretell how long the opportunities that existed at present for capturing the voices of earth's hidden people would last?

Joy moved on. Others were following. Don Richter hit the trail among the aborigines in Australia, Vaughn Collins and David Hogan in south-east Asia. Three or four workers had joined Gospel Recordings in Australia, making and sending out gramophones, installing equipment for pressing records, distributing those that came in bulk supplies from Los Angeles. And Stuart Mill, between taking trips to the Solomon Islands to capture voices, speaking at meetings, promoting the work, was applying his ingenious mind to the problem of inventing a motorless gramophone that a child could work, and that would not go wrong.

Chapter 8: To Africa


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.