The melodic voice of Ruthie Jordan captivated shortwave enthusiasts over the years, even as her listening ear captured the hearts of fellow missionaries and staff at Radio HCJB in Ecuador.
“She was an excellent listener and quietly asked you questions about yourself and whatever you were trying to process or tell her about,” said Mary Gardeen, a longtime missionary serving in Ecuador. “I think that was a real gift she gave to many people. She listened very well.”
“She encouraged me many times,” said Reach Beyond retiree Denise Zambrano, replying to Genie Jordan’s Facebook announcement of his mother’s September 3 death. “I loved working with her in the English Language Service [of HCJB]. She always had great advice.”
Ruth Wilma Stam—“Ruthie” to friends and family, was born in Paterson, New Jersey to Peter and Margaret Stam on May 7, 1924. The family moved to Narberth, Penn., near Philadelphia.
She grew up with a strong influence of evangelism and missions. To Ruthie, the 1934 killings in Anhui Province, China of missionaries John and Betty Stam were the loss of “Uncle John and Aunt Betty.” Her four-month-old cousin, Helen Stam, was found alive and rescued by Chinese Christians.
When Peter Stam became a Wheaton College dean, the family moved to Wheaton, Ill. Ruthie later reminisced about rolling and mailing Sword of the Lord newspapers for her father’s friend, John R. Rice, an evangelist and preacher. After high school, she studied anthropology at Wheaton College, where she sang with the women’s glee club.
In Chicago, she met Gene Jordan on a train ride after noticing that the tune he was humming was a hymn. Even as Gene and Ruthie became aware of each other, they learned from HCJB co-founder Reuben Larson about the Ecuador-based Christian shortwave radio station. Working at at Moody Radio in Chicago, Gene was also performing music for Youth for Christ and Billy Graham evangelistic events, according to Genie, who serves with Mission Aviation Fellowship in Nampa, Idaho.
“Billy Graham bought my mom’s wedding band and engagement ring for my dad in Holland,” Genie Jordan said, explaining that Gene provided music at Graham’s 1947 campaign in the Netherlands. “Billy ‘knew a guy’; Dad gave him the money.”
The Jordans travelled in 1951 to Ecuador, where the mission’s co-founder and president, Clarence Jones, informed them where they’d be living and what hours they’d be on the air at the radio station. “She said you really didn’t bargain or try to change his mind,” said Reach Beyond International Ministries Vice President Curt Cole.
Several years after the Jordans’ arrival in Quito, five U.S. missionaries were speared to death in the Ecuadorian rainforest in an effort to evangelize a group known to outsiders as “Aucas”, which means savages. (The tribe referred to themselves as “Waorani”, which means “the people”.)
Ruthie’s friendship with one of the widows, Elisabeth (Howard) Elliot went back to Philadelphia when their fathers worked together at the Sunday School Times. Elliot’s book, Through Gates of Splendor, recounted the lead-up to the 1956 killings of her husband and the other men.
She had no regrets, “even when you heard her story about getting to Ecuador and having no mail, no phones and no family,” according to Kym Giles, a longtime missionary friend.
In addition to music, Ruthie helped respond to listeners who wrote to the station. Gene, a master at violin and marimba, directed choral groups, instrumental ensembles and in an especially ambitious endeavor, choral groups accompanied by an orchestra in annual concerts to commemorate the founding of Quito.
The Jordans provided music for fundraising dinners, mission conferences and other events, often traveling with Barb Cline and her husband, Ron Cline, Reach Beyond’s then president who now serves as the mission’s global ambassador. “Ruthie had a relationship with Jesus that was absolutely personal,” said Ron Cline. “She knew Him intimately and she talked with Him constantly. He was not far away or someone you turn to in time of trouble. He was closer than anyone else to her. She never really said that; you just knew.”
In retirement, Ruthie lived in Minnesota, later moving to Idaho to be near Genie’s family. At the age of 94, she died of pneumonia and aspiration after having fallen some months earlier.
“In one of my last conversations with her, she shared that she was mad when she fell and ‘woke up’ in a new nursing home,” recounted Genie’s daughter, Kelly Jordan-Taube. “But she didn’t stay mad for long, because Jesus had taught her happiness long ago and she has chosen that ever since.”
Gardeen found Ruthie to be “a consummate hostess,” with “a lifelong bent for joy” who did not mind sharing her own sorrows even as she listened to others tell of theirs.
“She had no strangers in her life,” said Giles. “If she saw someone she didn’t know, it wasn’t long before she did.”