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Faith in the Hearing: Gospel Recordings and the World Mission of Joy Ridderhof (1903–84)

  • Darin D. Lenz (a1)


In the mid-1930s Joy Ridderhof, a Quaker missionary, returned from her missionary work in Honduras a physically broken woman. In the process of recovering from malaria and the other illnesses that had not allowed her to remain on the mission field she began a new project that would transform how the gospel message was disseminated around the world. Ridderhof imagined the possibilities associated with proclaiming the message of Jesus through the use of phonograph records for Spanish listeners. The benefit of making sound recordings was quickly recognized by missionaries who were trying to reach largely illiterate and, in some cases, pre-literate populations. Ridderhof was soon asked to expand from her initial foray into Spanish language records to make recordings in other North American indigenous languages and, eventually, languages from around the world. This article analyses how Ridderhof managed this endeavour while embracing new media technologies to bring the sound of the gospel to the people of the world in their native tongue.


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1 This article first appeared in Sunday School Times and was reprinted as ‘“Buenas Nuevas” Records’, Pentecostal Holiness Advocate 24/32 (5 December 1940), 6.

2 Tucker, Ruth, ‘Female Mission Strategists: A Historical and Contemporary Perspective’, Missiology 15 (1987), 7389, at 86; cf. eadem and Liefeld, Walter L., Daughters of the Church: Women and Ministry from New Testament Times to the Present (Grand Rapids, MI, 1987), 324.

3 Global Recordings Network describes the work today as part of ‘orality missions’ intended to reach ‘the 70% of the world who are oral learners, and to be a catalyst for the Church to see this need for a missions movement among the non-readers of the world’: ‘Celebrating 75 Years of God's Faithfulness!’, Sounds (October 2014), 1; see also Johnstone, Patrick, Mandryk, Jason and Johnstone, Robyn, Operation World: 21st Century Edition, 6th edn (Carlisle, 2001), 693, 736–7.

4 Ruth Tucker, Harold Lindsell and J. Herbert Kane have all taken Ridderhof's innovative contribution to missions seriously: see their works referenced in nn. 2, 14 and 17.

5 ‘“Buenas Nuevas” Records’.

6 Ridderhof, Joy, Rejoice Always (Temecula, CA, 2009), 14; cf. Thompson, Phyllis, Capturing Voices: The Story of Joy Ridderhof (Sydney, 1978), 46.

7 Thompson, Phyllis, Faith by Hearing: The Story of Gospel Recordings (Los Angeles, CA, 1993), 9; see also Mill, Stuart, ‘How it all Began’, in Starling, Allan, ed., Amazing Stories from Global Recordings Network (Temecula, CA, 2014), 1114, at 12.

8 Temecula, CA, Global Recordings Network, Gospel Recordings Archive [hereafter: GRA], Joy Ridderhof, ‘Newsletter’, Spanish Gospel Recordings, February 1942.

9 Starling, Allan, ‘Milestones: What's in a Name?’ in idem, ed., Amazing Stories from Global Recordings Network (Temecula, CA, 2014), 1516, at 16; see also Thompson, Faith by Hearing, 26.

10 Anon, ., Just 3½ Minutes: The Picture Story of a Gospel Recording's Record (Los Angeles, CA, n.d.), 1516.

11 Tucker has argued that this placed Ridderhof among a select group of women who were ‘at the forefront of developing new mission specializations’: Tucker, ‘Female Mission Strategists’, 86.

12 Ridderhof, Rejoice Always, 52, 55.

13 Dorothy C. Haskin, ‘Kitchen Kathedral: The Unexpected Way’, Pentecostal Evangel, 28 June 1953, 13.

14 Lindsell, Harold designated Gospel Recordings a ‘lesser’ agency ‘engaged in missionary activity’ secondary to that of ‘denominational mission boards and faith mission boards’: Missionary Principles and Practice (Westwood, NJ, 1955), 98.

15 Ibid. 250.

16 Lindsell went on to note: ‘Since the program does involve literary problems in the preparation of the thoughts to be conveyed by the language specialists, it is closely tied into this fourth general means [i.e. literary communication] for the promotion of the gospel of Christ’: ibid. 251.

17 Kane, J. Herbert, Faith, Mighty Faith (New York, 1956), 73.

18 Tucker, Ruth A., Guardians of the Great Commission: The Story of Women in Modern Missions (Grand Rapids, MI, 1988), 193.

19 Thompson, Capturing Voices, 52; cf. Tucker, Guardians, 192.

20 Anon., Just 3½ Minutes, 7–8.

21 Lewis, M. Paul, Simons, Gary F. and Fennig, Charles D., eds, Ethnologue: Languages of the World, 18th edn (Dallas, TX, 2015), online at: <>, accessed 15 July 2015.

22 GRA, ‘The Lost Sheep (10–49)’.

23 Thomas, Alexcenah and Ogden, W. A., ‘Bring Them In’, in Hoffman, Elisha A., ed., Best Hymns (Chicago, IL, 1894), no. 99.

24 The modified version of this script has been used to record a similar story in eighty-five different languages over the past sixty years. ‘The Lost Sheep’, GRN Scripts in English, online at: <>, accessed 14 July 2015.

25 Barlow, Sanna Morrison, Mountains Singing: The Story of Gospel Recordings in the Philippines (Chicago, IL, 1952), 317; cf. Just 3½ Minutes, 7–8.

26 Mill, ‘How it all Began’, 12–13.

27 GRA, Ann Sherwood to ‘Dearly Beloved’, 16 June 1950; Barlow, Mountains Singing, 168.

28 The field recordist had the challenge of trying to persuade individuals who knew the target tribal language and a second language such as English, but were not necessarily Christians, to participate in the recording venture: Barlow, Mountains Singing, 168–71; cf. GRA, Joy Ridderhof to Muriel Hogg, 3 October 1955.

29 Kane, Faith, Mighty Faith, 72–3; cf. Thompson, Faith By Hearing, 41.

30 GRA, Ann Sherwood to ‘My Dear, Darling Family & People’, 17 June 1950.

31 GRA, Joy Ridderhof to Gospel Recordings staff, January 1950 (?).

33 GRA, Joy Ridderhof to Gospel Recordings staff, 3 July 1950.

34 Jane G. Osgood, ‘That All Might Hear’, Tidings, no. 3 (1962), 22.

35 GRA, Joy Ridderhof to Muriel Hogg, 6 September 1955; cf. Thompson, Faith By Hearing, 57.

36 Ridderhof's letters from recording trips in the 1950s constantly bemoan the technical problems caused in the field when the recording equipment failed to work: see, e.g., GRA, Joy Ridderhof to ‘Ed, Ray, and Stuart’, 20 October 1955.

37 Barlow, Mountains Singing, 157.

38 Allan Starling, ‘Milestones: The Nagra Story’, in idem, ed., Amazing Stories, 60–2.

39 By 1959 Gospel Recordings, Inc., twenty years after its founding, could report it had recorded 1,904 languages and produced some ‘two million gospel phonograph records’ in its record plant: ‘The Present World’, Pentecostal Evangel, 9 August 1959, 10.

40 Quoted in Smith, Jacob, Eco-Sonic Media (Berkeley, CA, 2015), 149.

41 Smith, Eco-Sonic Media, 145–54.

42 GRA, Ann Sherwood to Jeanie Gibson, 21 May 1950.

43 GRA, Joy Ridderhof to Muriel Hogg, undated [1950s]. Speaking at a service in the student chapel at George Fox College in Newberg, Oregon, in January 1956, Ridderhof explained how she had begun her work ‘with just a vision and $15 capital’, and that she was only ‘supported by faith’: ‘Joy Ridderhof urges “Supernatural” Living,’ The Crescent 77/7 (1 February 1965): 1; cf. Thompson, Faith by Hearing, 10.

44 In one example Ridderhof described a co-worker who had returned from the field and raised issues about the lack of funds and the faith mission commitment of the organization. Ridderhof complained to Muriel Hogg: ‘[he] has such a negative attitude, wants to make dramatic changes in our policies against our faith principles, talks to the board and tries to influence them out of meetings.’ A blue ball-point pen has been used to redact the words ‘dramatic’ and ‘against our faith principles’ from the letter. Ridderhof often scribbled handwritten notes on her typewritten letters, but there is no certainty as to who attempted to remove the words from this one: GRA, Joy Ridderhof to Muriel Hogg, 19 August 1955.

45 Robert C. McQuilkin, Foreword to Barlow, Mountains Singing, 7.

46 Thompson, Faith by Hearing, 19–21.

47 Although American Evangelicals were divided in their views about the role of women in church leadership at the end of the nineteenth and the beginning of the twentieth centuries, women were encouraged to minister to women or serve overseas as missionaries. Mission historian Dana Robert notes: ‘with the passage of woman's right to vote, the advent of Freudianism, and the seeming liberation of American women to social equality with men, an optimistic younger generation of women began to question gender-based thinking. The very things that had made the woman's missionary movement attractive to mothers and grandmothers – the separate women's societies, the narrow focus on woman's special obligations to work for other women, “Woman's Work for Woman” – began to seem old-fashioned’: Robert, Dana L., American Women in Mission: A Social History of their Thought and Practice (Macon, GA, 1997), 313. Between the First World War and the 1960s the place of women in American life changed dramatically. Yet, as women gained status in American society, especially in the workplace, their place in official church leadership diminished among Evangelicals, especially after 1940. The areas where women were able to make substantial progress in leadership over the course of the twentieth century were in lay ministries with educational, medical, social and evangelistic emphases. Ridderhof's service under the auspices of the female-friendly Friends’ Mission Board, her family's background in the Swedish Baptist Church, and her Bible college studies at Columbia Bible School in South Carolina reflect an immersion in the social and theological milieu of American Evangelicalism that embraced female piety and activism, though not necessarily female power over men. See, for example, Bendroth, Margaret Lamberts, Fundamentalism and Gender, 1875 to the Present (New Haven, CT, 1993), 1430; Scanzoni, Letha Dawson and Setta, Susan, ‘Women in Evangelical, Holiness, and Pentecostal Traditions’, in Ruether, Rosemary Radford and Keller, Rosemary Skinner, eds, Women and Religion in America, 3: 1900–1968 (San Francisco, CA, 1986), 223–65, at 223–34; Rosemary Skinner Keller, ‘Patterns of Laywomen's Leadership in Twentieth-Century Protestantism’, ibid. 266–309, at 266–7; ‘Ridderhof, N. L.’, in Gates, W. Francis, ed., Who's Who in Music in California (Los Angeles, CA, 1920), 115; Ridderhof, Joy, Rejoice Always: Devotions with Joy Ridderhof (Temecula, CA, 2009), 15.

48 Robert, American Women in Mission, 254.

49 Thompson, Faith by Hearing, 24; cf. eadem, Capturing Voices, 110–13.

50 Ridderhof also followed in the path of late nineteenth-century Evangelical faith missions that had proved so beneficial to women who lacked formal education, came from ‘modest backgrounds’, yet still desired to serve as missionaries: Robert, American Women in Mission, 253.

51 Kane, J. Herbert, Understanding Christian Missions, 4th edn (Grand Rapids, MI, 1986), 171.

52 Sanneh, Lamin, Translating the Message: The Missionary Impact on Culture (Maryknoll, NY, 1989), 208.

53 Virginia Heffernan, reflecting on the role of technology in the modern world, has observed: ‘I thought of the Global Recordings Network, an evangelical organization in Los Angeles with 70 years of experience introducing technology to underserved populations. In the process of recording Bible stories in every known language, Global Recordings has created a variety of hand-cranked machines, which it delivers to remote places, where Christian parables can be played without a power source. In “Tailenders”, a 2005 documentary about the organization, the alien-looking contraptions can be seen making converts. But not necessarily to Christianity. Rather, people who hear the recordings come to desire, somehow, simply to share in the supernaturalism of disembodied audio. Whoever controls these animistic effects, it seems, must be worth listening to. When missionaries approach, these people are vulnerable, having just witnessed a small miracle’: Virginia Heffernan, ‘Children's Crusade’, New York Times Magazine, 27 January 2008, online at: <>, accessed 7 July 2014; cf. Jackson, John L. Jr, ‘The Tailenders’, Journal of Linguistic Anthropology 17 (2007), 287–8.

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Faith in the Hearing: Gospel Recordings and the World Mission of Joy Ridderhof (1903–84)

  • Darin D. Lenz (a1)


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