Posted by: calloftheandes | November 2, 2018

Ruthie Jordan: A Lifetime of Listening to Others and Choosing Cheerfulness

By Ralph Kurtenbach

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, where Peter Stam assisted Philip Howard in publishing the Sunday School Times.

Ruthie Jordan spent her childhood in Narberth, Penn. and Wheaton, Ill.

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 published there by her father’s friend, John R. Rice, an evangelist and preacher. The newspaper’s circulation grew from 30,000 in 1940 to 50,000 in 1946 and continued upwards. After high school, she studied anthropology at Wheaton College, where she sang with the women’s glee club.

Ruthie Jordan as a student at Wheaton College, Wheaton, Ill.

“A fun story that her friends heard many times,” said daughter Peggy Hage, “is that Mom met Dad on the train in Chicago. He was humming a Christian song; they started talking and as they say, the rest is history.” 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 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.

Decades later in Ruthie’s accounts of the early Ecuador years, she told Cole and others in the station’s English Language Service of an earlier age, with flea-bitten missionaries (the insects found refuge in wall hangings of their homes) and long evenings of live radio programming, especially Sundays. Staff countryside picnics followed on Mondays–with attendance mandated by Dr. Jones.

Gene and Ruthie Jordan

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 the early 60’s we lived in Uruguay and Brazil, setting up sister stations for HCJB,” Peggy Hage said. Gene directed the mission’s Samaria Project, aimed at getting Christian radio stations in all of Latin America’s major cities.

With discontinuation of Samaria Project, the Jordans’ responsibilities shifted back to Ecuador. Gene and Ruthie split their time between Quito and months-long tours representing HCJB ministry at dinners, church services and missions conferences and at summer camps.

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] concerts were a highlight, but Dad could be hard to live with when he had music scattered all over the house,” Genie Jordan said.

Ruthie’s voice had slipped from soprano to alto range, even as she continued being called upon for solos and choral ensembles. At her request in the late 1970s, Mary Gardeen joined the Quito Days Concerts choir. “I had never participated in this because of small children and other commitments, but I accepted her invitation and we sat together for every rehearsal,” Gardeen said.

Travis and Margaret Gowan collaborated on these trips, as did Joe and Betty Springer. “We traveled to Peru with them for meetings in Lima and Yarinacocha, the Wycliffe [Bible Translators] base in the jungle,” said Margaret Gowan. “Quite a time getting through customs with Gene’s marimba and Travis’s chalk equipment, but it was a memorable trip.”

The Jordans also travelled with Barb Cline and her husband, Ron Cline, Reach Beyond’s then president who now serves as the mission’s global ambassador. Other times they went with then Senior Vice President Jim Allen and his wife, Trish.

“Ruthie was always fun, a good support to Gene [and] had a wonderful singing voice,” said Trish Allen, adding that the Jordans “could have or should have been worn out by the myriad of people who wanted time with them at each conference, but they were always congenial and welcoming.”

“We were in the States, in Ecuador and in Europe at times,” Ron Cline recalled. “We have laughed, cried, prayed, eaten, planed and sat in silence together.” When others of the road-weary group complained, Ruthie gently admonished with, “Now brothers. . .”

“One time in Europe, we were all getting on a train and had just a few moments to do it before the train started moving again,” Cline recounted. “As she was hauling stuff on she mumbled, ‘I sure wish he played the flute.’”

After Gene’s death in 1990, Ruthie convinced her sister, Peg, to become her touring partner. Kym Giles recalls a time in Ontario, Canada when the two sisters squeezed into the rumble seat of her brother-in-law’s vintage Model B Ford. Giles said, “much maneuvering had to take place to get them out, but they were laughing the whole time.”

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 Gene’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.”

“Ruthie had a relationship with Jesus that was absolutely personal,” Ron Cline concurred. “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.”

Initially taken aback by Ruthie’s prayer of “Father dear. . .” –wondering if it might be too casual or informal– retired missionary journalist Ken MacHarg later warmed to her wording. His subsequent blog entry spoke of perceiving God as One who “came to live among us in human form, knowing our desires and our frustrations, our faith and our doubt, our accomplishments and our sin.”

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. Retiree Carolyn Wolfram added that Ruthie “loved people well, and knew how to love life and share that joy with others.”

She was preceded in death by her parents, a sister, Margaret Robertson, and two brothers, John Stam and Peter Stam. She is survived by a son, Genie (Lynn) Jordan, a daughter, Peggy Hage, grandchildren, Butch Hage, Jordan Hage, Tyler Hage, Kim Jordan, Kelly Jordan-Taube and 15 great grandchildren.

“You always walked away from a time with Ruthie feeling happy,” said Cole. Gowan observed that “I’m sure she had down times, as did all of us, but she didn’t let it show. If I had to use one word to describe her it would be ‘joyous’ with a capital ‘J’.”

“She had no strangers in her life,” said Giles. “If she saw someone she didn’t know, it wasn’t long before she did.”


  1. Hi Ralph,
    Thanks for continuing to do your posts — hope you’re finding challenging and fulfilling ways to serve Him “post-HCJB”. Grateful for all the ways you have encouraged me over the years!

    Beth Patton


  2. Ralph, another great article. Thank you. Miss you guys! – The Holdens

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