This Small Team Is Tackling the Immense Task of Providing the Gospel on Tape for Every People
by Rick Wood
It started as the dream of a sick missionary living in Los Angeles. With great faith and few resources and staff, they have succeeded in reaching to the ends of the earth--providing a simple gospel message in audio form to millions of people in over 4,662 ethnic groups around the world. With faith in an all sufficient God who can defeat all of their enemies and supply all their needs, they like David of old have defeated many giants to become one of the world's leading providers of audio gospel messages to the most remote and forgotten of the unreached peoples. This is the remarkable story of Gospel Recordings and its ongoing efforts to provide every people in the world, no matter how small, with a simple gospel message that is understandable and culturally relevant.
A lot happened in 1939. The Spanish Civil War ended. World War II began. Fluorescent lighting was introduced as were potato chips. An earthquake in Turkey killed 30,000 people and research began that led to the discovery of penicillin and atomic power.
There was another thing of significance that happened that year too. A new mission began that would eventually have an impact to the ends of the earth. Gospel Recordings started that year from a very humble beginning--a sick missionary named Joy Ridderhof. In her tiny apartment, she prayed for the people she had left behind in Honduras. Though she was forced to return to Los Angeles because of illness, her missionary heart was still with the mountain peoples of Honduras. They were poor, illiterate and lived a rugged lifestyle. Still they had responded to the gospel and were delighted to hear God's Word. As she prayed, an idea came to her.
Joy remembered how gramophone records had played in the villages, blaring out songs in English and Spanish. If she could make a record with a gospel message and Christian songs in Spanish, then it could stay with the people to repeat over and over the words that she could no longer say to them in person.
In 1939 the first record was made and sent to missionaries who would take it into the mountain areas. The response was terrific and soon requests were coming from many parts of the Spanish-speaking world. Then one day a request came from missionaries to the Navajo Indians. A bilingual Navajo was willing to travel to Los Angeles to record the messages if Joy was willing to help. Joy realized that to begin recording in even one new language would be the start of something bigger than she had ever dreamed.
Soon Joy was convinced that this was from God. "Lord, I'll make recordings in as many languages as you want me to," she responded. In the years that followed, the Lord's provision and faithfulness abounded. He took the adversity of one missionary and turned it into a worldwide outreach.
From its humble beginnings Gospel Recordings has grown into a worldwide mission with over 200 staff members who share a fervent passion to make the salvation message available on cassette in everyone's language--no matter how small the group. They believe that all peoples should be able to hear of Christ in their own languages. This is an incredible goal since there are now over 8,000 languages spoken around the world. Gospel Recordings gives priority to unreached people groups that are without ANY Christian witness-- especially those beyond the current scope of other outreaches and spiritual resources.
By preparing gospel messages on cassette for all of the unreached and Bibleless peoples, Gospel Recordings is able to overcome several barriers to the spread of the gospel. These are the barriers of illiteracy, language, geography, prejudice, politics and manpower shortages.
The Illiteracy Barrier includes two billion non-readers. Many groups are almost completely illiterate. Others, like the North American Blackfoot Indians, are literate in English, but have little interest in reading their traditional language, which is used only orally. This barrier swings aside when non-readers hear the message. Radio broadcasts and the JESUS Film have also been effective tools in reaching non-readers in larger groups, but it is not financially possible to provide these resources in all 8,000 languages as it is with audio recordings.
The Language Barrier includes a formidable 8,000 languages and dialects. This barrier melts away when people hear their language spoken, just the way they speak it, on the recordings. Many peoples will often not accept a message that they hear spoken with a different accent even though it is understandable Audio recordings on tape overcome this barrier.
The Geographic Barrier: Tribes tucked away in the mountains of Nepal are not visited often by missionaries. The effect of this barrier is greatly lessened as they repeatedly listen to cassettes that have been left with them.
The Prejudice Barrier: Missionaries are not welcome in the isolated villages of the Trique Indians of southern Mexico. The prejudice barrier has been negated by gospel cassettes in their own dialect, carried home by migrant workers.
The Political Barrier often shuts out missionaries, but not audio cassettes. The power of audio cassettes can be seen in the example of Iran. Prior to the revolution that brought him to power, the Ayatollah Khomeini flooded Iran with audio cassettes bearing his message of Islamic revolution. This paved the way for his eventual takeover of the government. Likewise, missionaries can use these low cost audio cassettes to bypass government restrictions and flood the unreached peoples with the gospel message that can truly set them free.
The Manpower Barrier: Audio communications helps missionaries and evangelists to cope with the manpower barrier by multiplying their voices.
Audio Communication is a tool available to all missionaries and Christians. It provides a pre-church- planting strategy. It allows missionaries to reach groups whose language they cannot yet speak and the message keeps on going long after the missionary leaves. It also helps new believers to witness to their friends, neighbors and family.
It is much easier and quicker to produce these recordings in unknown languages than to produce any other communications media. These recordings can also be done at much reduced cost compared to radio, TV and other forms of media communication. Because it is easier, faster and less costly to produce these recordings, they are perfectly suited to reaching the smallest and most remote unreached people groups. If enough money and manpower were available to produce these recordings, it is possible that every language and people group in the world could have a gospel recording by the year 2000.
From one center in Los Angeles, the work of Gospel Recordings has become worldwide in its scope with 30 offices and bases around the globe. These are all linked together as an international fellowship called the Global Recordings Network. This is a coordinated venture that enables them to unite their efforts to accomplish so much more than they could operating independently.
Gospel Recordings focuses on gospel messages, but there are other ministries that distribute Scriptures on tape. Together with these ministries Gospel Recordings has formed the Audio Communications Track of the AD2000 and Beyond Movement. Together, they hope to have an even greater impact in bringing the gospel to every people by the year 2000 in audio form.
Gospel Recordings also seeks to multiply its impact by involving other missions in the recording process. This new effort is in its infancy, but they are excited by the potential of many mission agencies aiding in the development of gospel recordings. Wycliffe Bible Translators, for example, has a Vernacular Media Services department which holds an annual training course in North Carolina for those who wish to use audio communication methods to reach non- readers.
Gospel Recordings has developed a simple recording method that allows the message to be clearly communicated across language barriers within a short period of time. Using this method, teams of field recordists travel to some of the world's remotest corners in search of languages. (See the article, A Diary of a Recordist on page 12.)
Armed with high-quality recording equipment, recording teams are able to tape salvation messages with the help of national bilingual helpers. Technological advances have greatly reduced the size and weight of the equipment used making it easier to pass it through customs and carry it into remote areas. Their aim is to provide each language group with at least 60 minutes of messages and songs that clearly present the gospel within the context of the local culture.
These messages are then distributed on cassette by missionaries working in the area. Gospel Recordings depends on missionaries working with various evangelical agencies to purchase the gospel messages and distribute them as part of their own church planting efforts. Gospel Recordings' engineers have developed a handwind cassette player so that recordings can be played in remote areas where electricity and batteries are not available.
Rarely in the history of the modern Christian missionary effort has so much been accomplished by so few with so little. In their brief 57 year history, Gospel Recordings has made the message of the gospel available to over half of all the languages on the planet. This is an incredible accomplishment, but much more needs to be done.
Gospel Recordings has given the Church worldwide a magnificent tool to bring the gospel to the most remote unreached peoples in the shortest time possible. It will be a tragedy if Gospel Recordings is unable to provide a simple gospel message to every people by the year 2000 simply because the Church did not fully support their efforts with enough resources to accomplish the task.
With just 100 recording teams worldwide doing 10 recordings each a year, all 4,000 remaining languages could be recorded by the year 2000. If each mission agency were to include audio as one of the strategies they employ in church planting and were to dedicate one staff member to work cooperatively with Gospel Recordings to record these gospel messages, these 100 teams could easily be assembled.
Regardless of what the future holds for Gospel Recordings and its vision, nothing can diminish the phenomenal accomplishments of this small, but faithful band of God's servants. They are truly heroes of the modern missionary effort and we praise God for them.
We are passing on to our readers the following list of prayer requests from Gospel Recordings. Please join us in praying for them.
For more information on Gospel Recordings, you may write or call them at:
Gospel Recordings 122 Glendale Blvd. Los Angeles, CA 90026-5889 or call 213-250-0207 Fax: 213-250-0136 e-mail GloReNet@aol.com
Rick Wood has been the managing editor for Mission Frontiers since 1990 and is a graduate of Western Baptist Seminary in Portland, Oregon.
"The box talks! Come and listen, come and hear! It speaks our words, Balanta!" Turning slowly from their daily activity of cultivating ground nuts, first the children and then their parents curiously approached the young man and his box--a cassette player--that was talking; and yes, it was not the foreigner's tongue; it was Balanta! For the first time, the villagers were hearing about Jesus in their own language.
A New Tribes missionary working with the Balanta, a remote group on Senegal's southern border, reports the thrill he experienced after many years of hard work. He had to leave the field for health reasons, but not before he had been able to record the Gospel and Bible lessons in the village's own language.
There may be as many as 15 believers in the village now. The Balanta are only one of 37 language groups in Senegal, many of which are illiterate.
Gospel recordings are available in 29 of these languages. These can spearhead the "audio cassette church," where all the teaching is from a cassette. In the absence of a live pastor this electronic means is a way to multiply the work of a missionary or pastor, enabling him to speak at dozens of locations via recordings. Then local workers can follow up with Bible teaching and discipleship.
First printed in the Global Prayer Digest.