Through her joy-filled faith and and passion for souls, thousands of people groups have a record of the Gospel.
What could God do with a woman full of faith and love for Him? What could He do with a woman too weak in body to be a long-term field missionary? What could He do with her if her joy was unquenchable?
Joy Ridderhof, founder of Gospel Recordings, proved the answer. With a tangible impact in over 4,000 people groups and a ministry that has remained on the leading edge of mission strategy for half a century, there is no doubting that God has done a marvelous thing through His humble daughter.
Joy's journey began in earnest in her twentieth year when she joined the first class of the Columbia Bible School in 1923. Since the school had no dormitory (she was one of three students), she lived with the McQuilkin family. It was during this season that God planted the seeds of joy in abundant measure. In Robert C. McQuilkin's home, worry was sin; rejoicing was God's will in any circumstance. Throughout her life, Joy shared freely the fruits of a rejoicing spirit with all.
Under Joy's leadership, Gospel Recordings constantly pushed the bounds of recording technology– from inexpensive record players made of cardboard to portable
tape recorders that predated cassettes.
In 1930, Joy went with the Friends Mission Board to Honduras, her proving ground for the next six years. She based her ministry around the outlying town of Marcala and its neighboring villages. She endured many sacrifices of material goods and physical illness. Debilitating bouts with the flu, malaria, and small pox took their toll:
"In 1936, I returned from Honduras ill in body," recounted Joy, "disqualified for future missionary service and without financial support. It was a dark picture indeed....Then God's Word spoke to my heart, 'Rejoice, Joy, Rejoice.'...And I answered, 'Lord, I will believe....' "1
The disappointment allowed God to birth a new idea in her heart. Longing to encourage her brothers and sisters in Honduras, she recorded some Gospel messages and songs to send them. That first recording was a tremendous blessing, but the American accent limited its effectiveness. She quickly realized that future recordings would have to employ native speakers. There in Los Angeles, in 1941, Gospel Recordings began telling and retelling the sweet story of salvation.
Requests from missionaries took her to the Navajo, the Eskimos of Alaska and Mazahua Indians of Mexico. Others joined her in this exciting work; among the first were Ann Sherwood and Sanna Barlow, two women who faithfully worked alongside her throughout her ministry.
Joy, Ann, and Sanna: friends and colaborers for Christ
Sanna described the amazing response they evoked time after time, this one along a Congo road, "We played the messages, one after another, as they shook their heads silently listening breathlessly with wonder.... This interruption in travel had become a gift from eternity's treasure house, unforgettably significant."2
Remote tribes were not, however, the sole benefactors of Joy's tenacious passion to go where the Gospel had not yet gone; mission leaders, as well, were often spurred on by her enthusiasm.
Dr. George Cowan of Wycliffe said, "It was Joy, specifically Joy who coming back from her trip to the Philippines, challenged us--the Wycliffe Bible Translators--to go to the Pacific part of the world....She was a very true instrument of God to pass the vision on...."3
When Joy died in 1984, Gospel Recordings had already captured the Good News in over 4,000 languages. They expect to top 5,000 languages this year. And their influence is spread out well across the globe. They have been able to record some of the languages in every political country. Particularly notable is their "Tail-enders" project, named for its focus on groups of less than 10,000 which are overlooked by many lists of unreached peoples. Since many of these smaller peoples are preliterate, recording is an appropriate strategy.
They currently have sixty recordists. Thirty distribution centers are scattered across the globe in places such as Mexico, India, and Nigeria. Finally, if you include the 20 more serving in their Los Angeles home office, you've got about 100-150 people on task. They appear to be a Gideon-sized army up against 3,000 languages they hope to record.
"The need of those lost millions breaks my heart, but we don't have to stand and weep," Joy once said, "but believe that God has put in our hand that which when blessed and used by Him can 'thresh the mountains and beat them small...' For what period of history is God referring to when he speaks of the great things He will accomplish in the earth? If it is not for now, for when is it?"4
With the legacy of faith that Joy has left ever-ringing in our ears, we can taste the victory...
And we are rejoicing!