'Who despised the day of small things?'
The warm Pacific sunshine filtered in through the windows of the attic bedroom in 122 Witmer Street, Los Angeles, and fell softly on the recumbent figure of a young missionary on furlough as she lay on her bed, thinking. It was 1937, and Joy Ridderhof had but recently returned from Honduras. Although her body, weakened by dysentery and malaria, was back in the home of her childhood, her mind was far away among the wave- like mountains of the familiar little country on the Caribbean Sea. She could see the little markets on fiesta days, with their grass-roofed stalls and their crowds of dark-eyed, lank- haired country folk, amongst whom mangy dogs, squealing pigs, chickens, and cattle wandered at will. She was on her little mule once more, clippity-clop, clippity-clop up the narrow paths that led to remote mountain villages where native huts clustered around large, drab Roman Catholic Churches, and the sound of maize paste being slapped into pancakes between bare hands was heard as the women prepared their staple food.
Many journeys she had made out from the little town where she was the only missionary, urged on by a Divine restlessness to find sheep that were lost. And she had found some. She thought of them now, turning her thoughts into prayers as one by one they came to her mind; but she lingered, as she had often lingered before, at the memory of the poor widow with a large family whom she had only been able to visit twice.
The first time Joy had visited her in her little home in the mountains, she had listened eagerly to the message of salvation through faith in Christ alone, and had believed. And not only she, but her daughter-in-law as well. Joy had walked the seven or eight miles home that night in pouring rain, slipping and stumbling along the muddy path in the darkness, but with her heart singing at the assurance of two more souls led to the Saviour. Some time later, however, news had come that the little widow was being persecuted; and that she was in deep poverty; and that although she had not weakened in her faith she longed to hear more about the Way of Life.
Joy was nearing the end of her first six years on the mission field by this time, and her health was already failing. Nevertheless, she knew she must make the effort to go to the little woman once more. 'To whom much has been given, of him shall be much required'. Her own privileges had been so many--a Christian home, years at Bible School, innumerable opportunities to store the Word of God in her heart, and to prove its power in her experience. But this lonely, hard-pressed little widow in the mountains had not so much as one verse of Scripture to feed on. And she could not even read.
'If I can only teach her one verse of Scripture so that she really knows it,' thought Joy, 'it will at least be one weapon against sin and temptation'. So she went and spent a day with her, to comfort and strengthen her, and above all to impart at least one treasure from the Word of God. For several hours the two sat together, the young missionary slowly, carefully repeating a verse of Scripture phrase by phrase, and the woman stumblingly, confusedly, saying it after her. When she tried saying two phrases together, the woman got muddled. Sometimes even the simplest words were put in the wrong order. And as Joy left when evening began to fall, she was not at all sure that the poor little woman, her mind weakened by poverty and sorrow and anxiety, had really learned even that one verse properly. Lying now in her old home, she still remembered her feelings as she had departed from that mountain village.
If only she could have left her voice behind, to repeat that verse again and again, until by sheer force of repetition it was lodged at last in the poor little head! Just a voice . . . that was all that was needed. Just a voice to keep on saying the same thing. . . . But the only voice she had was encased in her own body, and could not be used apart from it!
Joy often had to lie on her bed during the autumn and winter of 1937. In spite of medical attention and earnest prayer, her condition showed on sign of improvement, and as the months passed, and the prospect of returning to Honduras grew more and more remote, there were times when the sense of disappointment threatened to overwhelm her. Had it not been for a certain truth that had been ingrained in her at Bible School and which had caused her to triumph again and again over frustration and disappointment on the mission field, she might have been submerged now. But it had become almost a habit of the will to face everything with the conviction that 'all things work together for good to them that love God'; and therefore to rejoice! The power of praise to lift an oppressed spirit had been proved many a time when the irate priest of the area, who dominated the mountain town where she lived had openly opposed, and sometimes even plotted to kill her. 'The Lord is going to do something wonderful in the future if these fiery trials are any indication!' she had told herself when tension and pain of different sorts had been almost excruciating. So now, as she received adverse medical reports which were amply confirmed by her own conscious physical weakness, she thought:
'Here, too, I can, and must, rejoice. I believe God is going to do something wonderful!' And she thanked Him until, through that deliberate act of faith, joy and expectation took the place of disappointment.
Whether God's plan could have been perfected through her without that attitude of trust on her part is doubtful, for pain that leads to despondency is not creative. The pain was there--the painful yearning over those lonely, ignorant people in the scattered little villages and hamlets of mountainous Honduras, and the longing prayer that some way might be found to reach them all with the message of life. But faith was there, too. And as in the beginning the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters, so the Spirit of God now moved upon her memories.
She remembered the raucous sound of gramophone records being played in the saloons and shops of Honduras. She remembered how she had been playing hymns in English on the gramophone, and a fellow missionary had observed wistfully, 'If we only had gospel records in Spanish'. And far back in her recollections of childish experiences was that of the time when her father had delighted his family by buying a second-hand cylindrical gramophone, along with a miscellaneous assortment of records. The children had had great fun playing them, and amongst them were two or three comic songs with gay dance tunes, which particularly attracted attention. They had been listened to time and time again until the day when the religious and intensely musical Professor Ridderhof discovered their existence--and they were promptly destroyed! But Joy continued to hear them--they were impressed indelibly on her memory, child as she was then, and she could still remember them now, nearly a quarter of a century later. The constant, unchanging repetition had imprinted them where they could not be removed, however strong was the desire to do so.
Slowly, imperceptibly almost, from her store of memories, a thought crystallised.
Gramophone records reproduced one voice a hundred, a thousand times.
Gramophone records kept on saying the same thing over and over again, without getting tired. . . .
If only someone would produce Spanish gramophone records to sing and preach the Gospel!
It was not until after a chance meeting with a man who had some knowledge of technical matters, who approved of her desire to use some mechanical means for spreading the Gospel, that she began to realize that she could do something about it herself. The matter became a subject for definite prayer, and she shared her dream with a few others. She also took a practical step which proved to be a vital link in the fulfilment of her aim. She started to learn to play the guitar.
'It's something I can do while I'm inactive,' she said, 'and it may come in useful for accompanying singing when I make Gospel records in Spanish some day'. This was the reason she gave in reply to her instructor's casual enquiry as to why she was learning this instrument.
The instructor looked interested. He told her that he knew of a man who had formerly been a missionary in Central America himself and who was now building up a professional recording equipment in his home. 'I am sure he could help you,' he said.
He could. When Joy called on him she found he was not only willing to co-operate with her, but to produce the records on a non-profit-making basis. Step by step she was being led, and confidently she went forward, making her plans. On the last day of 1938, she went along to the studio, to make the recording for her first Gospel record in Spanish, with no visible audience but the technician. Hymns and verses of Scripture in Spanish were recorded, words that were to be reproduced hundreds of times, to be repeated over and over again in remote little towns and hamlets in Honduras, a voice crying over the mountains, to prepare the way of the Lord!
It was all very simple, and the process for which she had prepared so carefully was over in a very short time. The payment of U.S. $15 at the desk took but a minute although it was made up of small sums that had been given to her over a period of eight months by friends who knew of her plan to make a Gospel record in Spanish. There was nothing to indicate anything of great import had taken place in the studio that day. But the springs from which flow waters that become mighty rivers are likewise very small and from the insignificant beginning issued forth a little stream of Life which was to increase and multiply and reach to the uttermost parts of the earth.
* * * * *
When Joy listened back to that first recording and realized how faithfully it had reproduced the emotion and modulation of the voice that proclaimed the Gospel, how clear and convincing it sounded, something seemed to happen to her. Men may dig long in dry and hard ground and find nothing--but when they strike oil the precious liquid springs up unquenchably. It was as though something like that had happened in her heart--as though a well of joy had opened, and now it started to surge up in an exuberance of thanksgiving and inexplainable relief. This was God's answer to her prayer for some means of spreading the Gospel and the Word of God rapidly through the scattered villages of Honduras. This was the way whereby ignorant, illiterate people could learn to store that treasure in their hearts, even when no human being was at hand to teach them. Now she knew what she had to do--produce Gospel records in Spanish.
This was the task allotted to her, and she lost no time in reflection, or in considering ways and means. With typical decisiveness, she began to act.
She could scarcely have started with less than she had, on the human plane. She was in poor health and she had no money; nothing, it seemed, but a good grasp of Spanish. But she had long since been deeply influenced by reading George Muller's writings, and as a young woman entering Bible School had embarked on a life of faith in God for the supply of material as well as her spiritual needs. It had been like stepping out into a void to enrol as a member of the Columbia Bible School when she had no visible means of income, and indeed had not even money to pay for the railway ticket to travel the three thousand miles there from her home. But through those years she had learned how safe it is to trust God when following the course He directs. There had been times when her finances had given right out, but a fresh supply had always come to hand when real need arose. And when in Honduras she had taken under her care a young boy, and sometimes other children or needy people, and her own small salary had been eaten up weeks before the next quarter's remittance was due, she had learned even to rejoice in the extremity and to enjoy watching to see how the Lord would meet this situation with His supply. He never failed to send it. So now, confident that He was leading into this new work, she embarked on it.
The beginnings were so small! Her attic bedroom at home was also her office, and there she wrote her letters to missionaries in Honduras, telling of the records that were being made. She found out methods of packing and posting, and meanwhile contacted Mexican singers who could help her with the musical items which she planned all future records should contain, as well as short messages and verses of Scripture. She knew the power of a catchy tune to fasten itself on the memory--and with it the words that were sung! And very early she had decided that the best method of conveying the Gospel was not tu use her own voice, but the voices of those who themselves spoke the same tongue as the people she was trying to reach. Let those who from birth had spoken Spanish with the peculiar inflexions of the mixed Indian populations of Central America speak out from the records--not she whose clear, clipped pronunciation must always brand her as a 'foreigner'. But she must prepare the script for them, she must ensure that they were word perfect before they went to the studio, she must time the messages to fit exactly into the three and a half minutes measure for one side of a record. There was so much to plan and organize, even in the production of one little gramophone record, and it involved a surprising amount of time and attention to detail.
Perhaps it was because she was so absorbed in the technical problems that she found herself on one occasion in an embarrassing financial situation from which she could not extricate herself. She had made an appointment for an evening at the studio, and arranged with Spanish-speaking singers and speakers to make some recordings. The script was all in order, and she was preparing to leave the house when, on counting over the money she had in hand, she discovered it was not half enough to pay for an evening's work. She was momentarily dismayed, for she had already arranged to pay cash, in full, each time she used the studio, having affirmed openly to the technician there that she believed God would supply all that was necessary to do so. Now she was to be tested on that expression of faith, for it was too late to cancel the appointments that had been made.
Surely God would supply? she thought. Confident that provision would be forthcoming, perhaps miraculously, she went to the studio, but the evening passed uneventfully except that the work of recording was done unusually well. Eventually the last programme was recorded, the singers and speakers prepared to depart, and Joy turned reluctantly to go to the desk. Slowly she walked across the room, still inwardly hoping for a miracle. An ornate chandelier hung from the ceiling, and she almost expected to see some dollar bills fluttering down before her as she passed under it. But her expectation was not fulfilled, and now she stood before the desk while the technician, pencil in hand, bent over the books, apparently working out some account which puzzled him.
When he told her the charge for the evening what could she say? She knew she only had less than half of the sum required in her purse. There seemed no possibility of the necessary provision being made now, and all she could do was to stand there, quietly waiting, a wordless prayer in her heart.
The technician drew his pencil under the sum over which he had been puzzling with a flourish of finality, and looked up.
'Miss Ridderhof,' he said, 'I find I've made a mistake in your account. I owe you some money', Then he told her the amount, and she found that the provision had been made, that her God knew with intimate accuracy the extent of her need; for the sum owing to her was enough to make up the amount required to pay for the evening's work.
This was the first financial test she faced in connection with the new work to which she firmly believed God had called her. Coming, as it did, on an evening when she was particularly conscious that the Holy Spirit Himself had been speaking through the words spoken and sung, it served to strengthen still further the conviction that this project was of God. Only as faith is exercised and tested will it be strengthened and grow, and without a growing faith there could not be a growing work. Heartened by the experience, she applied herself to the task of producing and dispatching more records with the Life-giving message of salvation through faith in Christ.