Christian missionaries have always been in the forefront of European approaches to non-European societies, whether in the company of explorers, conquerors or commercial traders. Bringing the Christian faith to non-Christians has left a legacy as complex and mixed as that of European expansionism itself. As shown in “The Tailenders,” this missionary work has found new strength — while raising age-old questions about its moral complexities — through an ingenious melding of technology and marketing.
A portrait of Global Recordings Network (GRN), a grassroots organization founded by Joy Ridderhoff in 1939 in Los Angeles, “The Tailenders” explores the history, techniques and philosophy of a remarkable organization that has recorded Bible stories in over 5,500 of the world’s 8,000-plus languages and dialects, and made those recordings available in the most remote regions through inventive, ultra-low technology. The company has reached out to the “tailenders” — those who are among the last to see missionaries and whose languages and ways of life are disappearing under globalization’s sweep. But what becomes of stories when they cross from one culture to another? At a time when radio was king and the disembodied voices of people as different as Roosevelt, Hitler and early radio evangelists were creating a new impact in America’s living rooms and on world opinion, Ridderhoff had the inspiration to use the technologies of recorded and broadcast sound for a single purpose. Much like the Gideon Society, which strove to place Bibles in every hotel room in America at a time when books were the primary means of mass communication, Ridderhoff and her collaborators at Gospel Recordings (as it was then called) wanted to bring the Bible’s stories to every community in the world in its own spoken language, especially to the poor and illiterate. (+)