Chapter 9: Sealed Orders

Chapter 9: Sealed Orders


Those who believe God has a plan for the life of everyone who receives Christ Jesus as Saviour and Lord have ample evidence to support their claim in the apparently unpredictable travels of Joy Ridderhof. Particularly during the formative years of Gospel Recordings so many incidents occurred which led to people whose talents and achievements were to have a vital effect on the work that it would be difficult to doubt that a Master Mind had prepared the sealed orders under which she travelled.

The Nagra story is a case in point. The Nagra, a highly sensitive, light yet remarkably strong tape recorder came on the market in 1958, but it came too slowly to supply the immediate need. It was so light in weight, so sensitive in reception, yet would stand up to such rough treatment that reporters and television newsmen were falling over each other to obtain models. The price was high, but they were undeterred. The Nagra was worth it. They made their applications early, badgered the distributors, waited impatiently for months before eventually holding their own Nagra in their own hands. Yet at this time Gospel Recordings, an inconspicuous little organisation the national mass media had never heard of, was receiving a steady supply of the coveted machines just as they were needed.

This is how it came about. On Joy's first visit to England she was talking to Livingston Hogg one day and in the course of conversation he said, 'If you want a really good battery-operated recording machine, the best in the world will be coming on the Market soon. It's just the thing you need. It's called the Nagra. The inventor is a man named Kudelsky. He lives in Switzerland.

Immediately she fastened on the information. Right from the start the recording machine had been the mechanical key to her work. Upon it everything depended. All the careful preparation of scripts, all the arrangements with interpreters, all the arduous travel produced no recordings if the machine went wrong. She was always on the alert to learn of new and improved methods, of models that were lighter to carry, easier to work, less liable to breakdowns. She made a note of the Nagra, therefore, and the name of the inventor, but apart from that could do nothing else except pray, as she frequently prayed, for better machines.

It so happened that she had arranged to stay in Switzerland for a few days on her way to Africa. The Nagra was on her mind and its name on her tongue, and the name of its inventor, too. She did not know where he lived, but the Divine Secret Service was at work again. She found she had come to stay in a home where her host not only knew where the inventor lived, but was personally acquainted with him. Since he lived not very far away an interview with him could be arranged if Miss Ridderhof would like to meet him, he said.

Of all the wonderful things! There was no-one in the whole of Switzerland, or in Europe, or, for that matter, in the whole world, that Miss Ridderhof more desired to meet just then than the inventor of the Nagra! A short time later she found herself sitting and talking to him.

'It isn't completed yet,' she was told. 'It must be foolproof, able to stand up to very hard wear - it's tested by being dropped from the air by parachute. It'll be mainly used by reporters.' The matter of distributors came up, and Joy suggested Livingston Hogg for England. 'Oh, I've got twenty people who would take it on,' observed the inventor. There would be no lack of people eager to dispose of the machine. Then he asked, quite casually, 'How many machines would you be wanting?'

She had not expected the question. With her intimate and varied experience of recording machines she knew that this new one could have a transforming effect on the work of the field recordists. But she also knew how much each machine was to cost. Its price would be approximately that of a new saloon car.

'How many machines would you be wanting?' the question remained suspended in air, waiting for an answer, and she knew she must say something.

'Twenty-four,' she replied. She had no reason for giving that number. On the strength of her bank balance she was in no position to order even one, yet here she was talking in terms of the equivalent of a fleet of twenty-four new saloon cars! The words were out before she had time to think, based on no wise assessments of her own, but in the months and years to come she was to realise how accurate and significant they were. When the precious and rare Nagras appeared one by one, with eager buyers clamouring to obtain them, those two words 'twenty-four' formed the basis on which Gospel Recordings Inc. could claim to have placed an order which put it high on the priority list of customers to be supplied. And since Livingston Hogg was, after all, appointed distributor of the Nagra in England, he was in a good position to ensure that the order was fulfilled when required.

The first of the twenty-four Nagras was bought by Sanna Barlow, for her forthcoming trip to South Africa. It had been arranged that she should go there to do some recording and on her way to England to pick it up she was asked by a wealthy businessman in Florida if she could meet him in New York. He was on the Board of the Columbia Bible College, had become interested in Gospel Recordings, and having heard her speak about it had something he wanted to ask her.

Sanna was somewhat alarmed at the prospect of dining with him. He was very knowledgeable about machines, and she was afraid he wanted to ask her about the Phonette which Stuart Mill had just produced. Everyone was very excited about the Phonette, and it was wonderful to have a motorless, hand wind gramophone that couldn't go wrong. When it came to explaining how it worked, however, Sanna knew she wouldn't have the right answers. She was not mechanically minded. She had lived with tape recorders for years and she knew how to work them when they were in order, but when they weren't and had to be taken to pieces to discover where the fault lay, Sanna was admittedly at a loss. True, there had been one occasion in India, when she had discovered what had baffled even the technician, but it was so unusual none of the Trio ever forgot it. It was the highlight of her experience along that line, 'The time Sanna found what was wrong'. What especially appealed to her about the Nagra, she said with her slow smile, was that it claimed to be foolproof.

'I do hope Mr. Rossi won't ask me anything about mechanism,' she thought apprehensively. It would be so much easier if his questions had to do with her visit to South Africa, or the book she was writing, or G.R. policies.

As it turned out, however, the only question to which he really wanted an answer had nothing to do with machines, books, travels or policies. It took her completely by surprise and she did not reply in a hurry. The time came, however, when she had to let Joy know that when she had completed her assignment in South Africa she would be getting married, as she had accepted Anthony Rossi's proposal.

There were times in Joy's experience when she found it very difficult to rejoice, and this was one of them. Sanna to marry Anthony Rossi! Not only did that mean the loss of a fellow worker who had become unusually dear to her, but it meant also that so far from the number of field recordists being increased, it was being reduced. But if one rejoiced only when things went well, where was the evidence of faith? Real trust was proved by rejoicing that God's plan was best, even when it went contrary to what one had expected.

The period since returning from the five and a half years of recording with Ann and Sanna had not been easy. After the first glow of delight at being back at the heart of Gospel Recordings, where her own home was, she became conscious of an indefinable change in the atmosphere. Marie's affection was unchanged, but she was now the mother of a teen-age daughter, Professor Ridderhof had died, so home was not quite the same. This had not disturbed her so much as the realisation that her own position in the organisation that had grown up around her was not quite the same, either. Everything ran very smoothly and efficiently, requests for records were flooding in and the orders being executed promptly. There was no cause for anxiety along that line, and she would have found it difficult to explain why it was that instead of being happy as before in the heart of her Gospel Recordings family, she felt uneasy. She was still the Director, but she was no longer needed, and there were occasions when she wondered if she was even wanted, whether some, at any rate, would not be better pleased if she were away. She was oppressed.

Ann and Sanna had felt equally disquieted, but for them the situation had been different. Ann's home was with her sisters in the rambling old family home at Inglewood, miles away from Witmer Street, while Sanna's mother lived far away in Tennessee. When the work of recording or speaking at meetings did not claim them they could gravitate naturally to their own families, away from the place that somehow was not the 'home' they had so often talked about when on their travels. Joy had no other place to go to. Eventually she purchased an old caravan which was placed in the garden of a friend, on a hilltop in South Pasadena. Here she would retire to read and write and pray. It was a relief to be there, away from the feeling of tension that so strangely gripped her now when she was at Witmer Street. Another matter was constantly on her mind, too.

The most vital part of the work was not progressing. The output of records was steadily increasing, the Australian and English branches were growing, there was encouraging news of the possibility of another branch being established in India. Gospel Recordings was being consolidated, but there was an ominous slowing down in the addition of new languages. The primary purpose of conveying the Gospel to those who would otherwise have no way of hearing it in the tongue they could understand was not being achieved. The outstanding need was for new recordists. Vaughn Collins, after a brief furlough, was preparing to go to South America to capture the voices of its innumerable Indian tribes hidden in vast primeval forests and dry deserts, but the hope that a team of young men would be forthcoming to join him had not been realised. By March 1958, John van Kampen alone had come forward with his offer to give one year to the recording work before returning to his own field with The Evangelical Alliance Mission. There were no more full-time recordists for G.R.

Then had come the evidence that physically she was ill. Visits to the doctor and hospital confirmed that she had cancer, and must undergo major surgery.

If the news alarmed others, it disturbed her very little. She almost welcomed it. Here was an opportunity to rejoice in the face of something tangible, very much easier and more straightforward than rejoicing when opposition was invisible, imperceptible, and could not be given a name. She went into hospital quite cheerfully, and when it was all over, reviewing her experiences, the one that had probably impressed her most was the telephone call she received from Herman Dyk just about the time she had decided she would refuse to have any more radium treatment. Herman had something on his mind that he must pass on.

'Joy,' he said firmly. 'I want to tell you that I don't believe you ought to have any more radium treatment. I feel the Lord has given me the assurance He'll complete your cure without it.'

'Oh, Herman, I'm so glad you've called,' she replied. 'Because that's just what the Lord has been telling me!' If the doctors shook their heads dubiously at the time, there was nothing they could say against the decision eighteen years later, when she had travelled round the world three or four times, and was even now rarely at home for more than two weeks at a time.

'God has proven again that our "light affliction" is but our servant to bring about an eternal weight of glory,' she wrote to her friends when she was out of hospital. 'Only Eternity will reveal all the blessings which resulted from it, but I carry many of them in my heart. My thanksgivings are many, For the splendid hospital care; for the free professional services of doctors; for two special nurses who watched beside me the first night after surgery . . . I am now resting in the home of friends in La Mesa, California, situated in an avocado grove on a beautiful hill top site. I am able to be up a good part of every day, even to take short walks. My hostess, who is a nurse, is amazed at my progress.' She was planning to go on a light speaking tour next month, she announced, and concluded her latter with the words, 'Truly I believe my best days lie ahead. Promises, hopes and expectations for the future abound. I feel as though God had given me a new commission, and I eagerly look forward to its fulfilment.'

She did not specify precisely what she believed the new commission to be, or whether it was, in fact, a renewal of the one she had already received. To proclaim the simple message of salvation in every tongue under heaven was still her absorbing desire. This was the purpose above all for which she lived.

It could not be achieved, however, without the addition of more field recordists. Twenty years had passed since the making of the first simple Spanish record, and in that time nearly two thousand languages had been captured. But the deeper the recordists penetrated, the more strange tongues and voices were being discovered, fresh seams of humanity like silver waiting to be mined from the dark earth. If she and Ann and the others could continue for another twenty years with the same physical and mental strength they had already brought to the task they could not hope to reach them all. The whole process must be speeded up, and as she thought and prayed about it the idea was conceived in her mind that was to prove more effective than any other in recruiting young men and women whose health, dedication and freedom from family ties would fit them for the demanding work of field recording.

The idea was simple enough. During the long summer vacation many university and college students, eager young Christians among them, had time on their hands. Why not provide them with the opportunity to take a practical share in the day to day work at Gospel Recordings in Los Angeles? Let them learn some of the skills of recording and editing in the studio, take a share in the work in factory, offices, packing department. Their help would boost areas where a backlog had to be made up, and fill the gaps left by the regular workers going on holiday. And what might not result in the way of vision being given of the world-wide task still to be completed, and guidance at the most crucial time in young lives which are waiting a call from the Master?

Joy was full of enthusiasm for the idea. She visited a number of colleges, ardently presenting the possibility inherent in the unique techniques of Gospel Recordings - that of proclaiming the Gospel to every man in his own tongue. Was not the Apocalyptic vision of the praising multitudes gathered from all nations and kindreds and peoples and tongues to have its fulfilment? Yet how could they be there without faith in Christ, and how could they have faith in Him they had never heard of? And how could they hear without a preacher? Now, in these very days, the means had been supplied whereby they could hear. Little black discs spinning on hand wind gramophones could be the preachers. The return of the Lord from heaven could be hastened, for He Himself had said, 'This gospel of the Kingdom shall be preached in all the world for a witness to all nations; and then shall the end come'. It was all very practical, and the positive proof she could produce of the effectiveness of the records added to the inspirational value of what she had to say.

A man in Mexico was saved through hearing the records - now he had led fifty others to Christ.

About three hundred people in one area in India were converted, mainly through gramophone evangelism. Missionaries visiting Angola reported having met people who had been brought to the Lord through the records. An illiterate Brazilian Christian took Gospel records and went where no missionary had ever been. Five souls were won to Christ there. A man in the Philippines travelled for twelve hours to hear more about the Lord Jesus, of whom he had heard from 'a big box that talked'. Tribespeople sat through the night listening to the records that spoke their own language. Day after day letters were being received asking for more records because 'they are reaching those who might otherwise never hear'.

Beaming as she reiterated her favourite theme of rejoicing in everything, Joy held her audiences breathlessly attentive, and now that she had something positive to suggest she was even more enthusiastic. There was something really worthwhile that young people could do in their summer vacation. Come to Gospel Recordings as an Interim Co-Labourer! See things from the inside, attend the staff discussions and prayer meetings, take part in the work, speed up the output of records to the uttermost ends of the earth!

The I.C.L. project was launched in the summer of 1959. Most of the young people who attended that session eventually became field recordists.

Meanwhile, Joy set out on a trip that was to take her round the world. The main purpose was to discover where were the greatest needs and opportunities for making recordings, and also to visit the flourishing branch in Australia where a factory had been built on a five and a half acre plot of land outside Sydney. Not only records, but 'talking boxes' were being produced. They were called Phonettes. The idea of a motorless gramophone Joy had implanted in Stuart Mill's mind had become a reality, and no matter how irregularly the handle was turned the record rotated at the required seventy-eight revolutions per minutes. Not that Stuart Mill was completely satisfied something even simpler couldn't be invented, something cheaper to produce and easier to pack. But nearly ten years were to pass before the combined experiments of Gospel Recordings inventors eventually produced a record player consisting of three pieces of cardboard and a needle, so easily worked that even the most primitive jungle dweller was not baffled.

From Australia Joy moved on through Papua New Guinea, countries of south-east Asia - to India.

In some ways the fortnight she spent there was the most memorable of the whole nine-months trip. India - the country had never been far from her mind for six years, and now she was there again hoping to see the culmination of many prayers. Even before leaving Australia she had been encouraged by the response of one young man to her suggestion that he should go to India to set up a Gospel Recordings factory. David Macnaughtan had been aware that the call of God lay behind her request, and was prepared to obey when the time was ripe. The fortnight she would spend with Elvie Nicoll in India was to pave the way for him.

It was in 1954, during her first visit to Australia, that Joy first met the hospitable Elvie Nicoll, well-known in Melbourne for her varied Christian activities in the city. The two women, immediately became friendly, and on her second visit to Melbourne Joy stayed with her. The visit lasted several days, and their routine always commenced in the same way - early morning devotions in their adjoining rooms. Their relationship was very informal, so when Joy, one morning, called, 'Elvie!' Elvie responded immediately, 'Hello, Joy! What is it?' The reply she received was so startling that she could not believe she had understood aright.

'Elvie, would you consider working overseas with Gospel Recordings?'

Elvie gasped.

'I beg your pardon?' she said, although she knew she had heard perfectly. Joy repeated the question, and Elvie walked into her room to continue the discussion face to face.

'But Joy,' she protested, 'the Lord has given me all this work here in Melbourne!' She didn't mention that she was over fifty, had given up the idea of being a missionary thirty years ago when, after training to be one, ill health had closed the door, and that she was now thoroughly established in her life in Melbourne. Those were not, after all, primary considerations, but the work she was doing for God was. 'How could I leave it to go overseas?'

'I'm not asking you to do it.' Said Joy. 'I'm only asking you to pray about it. Will you do that? Because I'm going to!' Rather light-heartedly Elvie agreed to do so, and to her surprise what had seemed like an exciting but most unlikely suggestion deepened into a conviction that this was, in fact, the very thing she should do - sell up her home, relinquish her various commitments in Melbourne, and launch out as a Gospel Recordings field worker with the aim of establishing bases in Asian countries and then move on. Once assured that the call of God had come to her she did not hesitate and in June 1956 set off to represent Gospel Recordings in the Far East.

'How do I go about it?' she had asked Joy, and the answer she had received was simply, 'Oh, gossip Gospel Recordings, take meetings ... ' with an airy wave of the hand. 'The Lord will tell you what to do!'

As a Director Joy did not hamper people with a superfluity of instructions, but she made it very clear to Whom they must look for their guidance.

The experiences of Elvie along this line would be sufficient to fill a book. Before she started out from Australia she had taken as her personal promise the words, originally spoken to Moses, 'Behold I send an angel before thee, to keep thee in the way, and to bring thee into the place which I have prepared'. The assurance had proved as reliable to her as it had proved to Joy and Ann years before, when they set off for Mindoro in the Philippines. First she went to Singapore and established a records distribution centre there, making the Overseas Missionary Fellowship her headquarters. J. Oswald Sanders, the General Director, had been a fellow student of hers in Bible School days and he and his wife were like brother and sister to her as she launched out in her new work.

Then she moved on to India. A year or two later, in January, 1960, she was in Calcutta, waiting to meet Joy off the plane and start looking for a site for a Gospel Recordings factory somewhere in India. Preparations were complete. She had been in Delhi to try and find out how to get a factory started, and had been promised help by Small Scale Industries once she had obtained Government permission to do this in India. Then she had gained an interview with a Member of Parliament who had instructed her to put in writing what Gospel Recordings was and what it wanted to do. This she had done, and now all that remained was to find a suitable site in whatever city Joy believed was the right one.

So Joy arrived for the second time in India. Six years previously she had stood with Ann and Sanna and their mountain of baggage, bewildered by the noise and the dark-skinned porters whose instructions they could not understand, and who disappeared into the throng of people with their precious suitcases and recorders balanced precariously on turbaned heads. The panic-stricken rush to follow those suitcases bobbing up and down above the sea of heads was something she never forgot, nor the oppressive sense of the enormity of the task to which the three of them had come. Ever since that time she had been praying that God would open effective doors for Gospel Recordings in India and now here was Elvie, smilingly welcoming her, efficiently seeing her through Customs, dealing with all the business, and ready to show her the lists of missionaries and Indian Christians who were distributing the records being imported from Los Angeles and players from Australia. The demand was so great, and the duty charged on the records so high, that it had been decided the records for India must be pressed in the country itself. That was why Elvie had urged Joy to come at this time. She wanted Joy, as Director, to take the responsibility for choosing the location of the factory. Should it be in Delhi or Bombay, or Calcutta or Madras - or where?

'Bangalore,' said Joy. She had asked God to guide her, and the more she prayed about it the more deeply Bangalore was imprinted on her mind, so to Bangalore they went to look for property.

Elvie was not without experience regarding the purchase of property, but she had never met anyone who set about it in quite the same way as Joy, whose mind leapt ahead with a fine disregard for legal restrictions and municipal laws to fasten enthusiastically on a variety of properties, all of which proved to be unsuitable. Elvie never doubted the wisdom of Joy's choice of Bangalore, and later events confirmed the Divine direction she had received. After a fortnight of seeking property with her, however, Elvie came to the quiet conclusion that God did not always work through flashes of inspiration and that her own more normal methods, though slower, might move more surely than Joy's when it came to matters of real estate. Joy left for Africa before anything was settled, and eventually Elvie heard of the Ebenezer Church Compound in a residential area near the old British barracks and race-course. Here she met John and Lillian Gray from Canada.

John Gray had accepted the invitation to become pastor of the old British military church named Ebenezer when it was at its lowest ebb, with less than a dozen members. The congregation could offer him no salary, only somewhere to live - an old colonial-type bungalow with large dark rooms and deep balconies, situated in three acres of ground that looked like a jungle. Fellow missionaries had warned him he was taking on a white elephant, and that he would end up broken-hearted with his life's goals crushed. But since all his inner convictions led him to the conclusion that God wanted him in the Ebenezer Church he accepted the invitation, and by the time Elvie Nicoll appeared on the scene the congregation was steadily increasing, although he hadn't had time to do much about the jungle. When Elvie expressed her need for property on which to build a factory and studio for Gospel Recordings he saw a way of subduing part of the jungle, and negotiations with the Church's Board of Trustees resulted in Gospel Recordings obtaining a fifty years' lease of land on which to build. And as there was far more room in the parsonage than the Grays needed, part of it could be loaned to the G.R. staff.

So was established the Gospel Recordings branch in India.

Chapter 10: The Peak Years


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.