Friday, 23 April 2010

Remember tracts?


Forty years ago, Christians used slips of paper with short messages printed on them to spread the gospel. These were called tracts. This practice has largely died out, though some persistent believers still hand these to people on the street. From my upcoming How I Was Razed memoir, here is how I became involved with this evangelical fad.

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Though Thee Church wasn't overtly evangelical, some members encouraged me to share my faith and hand out tracts. Linda and I rode the bus downtown late one January afternoon. "Here's some tracts. Just walk down the street and hand people one," she instructed. "I'll be close by if you need any help with questions."

"I've never done this before. Is that all I have to do?"

"Sure. If the spirit lays something on your heart, say whatever he tells you. Don't be afraid. Remember that Christ promised never to forsake us." Most people I approached ignored my proffered slip of paper. When I held up one with the words "NOT TOO SHORT" on it, One sour-voiced old man said, "Not too short of money I'll bet." That stung since I was all too aware of people's misjudgment of us Christians. By the time I thought of a civil reply, the man was gone.

being insulted was not the only cost of handing out tracts. Sister E took me to a Bible supply store one winter evening. As I inspected the various packets of handbills, I felt shocked at their high prices. "I didn't know these things cost so much," I confided to her. "Well, it does cost money to print these messages. You can't expect to get them all for free, you know."

"But, they're such little pieces of paper."

"If you don't want to buy them, then don't. Just make up your mind and get what you can afford."

A tug of war raged in my mind as I pondered the colourful stacks of messages on the shelves. Because of my poor vision, I attended a junior high school in Edmonton that had counsellors tasked with reading book assignments onto tape and assisting us with test papers. The pittance Dad gave me to live on was not much better than a child's allowance. I had to choose between buying the occasional chocolate bar or tracts. I compromised and bought the least expensive bundle of handbills.

Not knowing any better, I decided that the Greyhound bus depot would be a good place to "witness." On one of the Saturdays when I stayed at Jay and Linda's, instead of going home, I thought I'd evangelize the passengers. I walked up to several people and held out a handbill but none of them took it. "Would you like to read this?" I asked an elderly lady. "Don't take it," a middle-aged woman with black hair ordered. "Don't take it?" the grey-haired woman asked, sounding baffled. "It's just some religious stuff," her minder snapped. "What's this you're handing out?" a man in a green uniform demanded as he stood behind me. I mutely handed him a tract. After skimming through the front paragraphs and glancing at the back, he returned it. "You're not allowed to hand these out here. It's against the rules." I left the depot feeling dejected. "Lord Jesus," I prayed under my breath as I walked down the sunlit streets to my bus stop, "I'm just trying to do my best for you. Please help me find somebody who I can save."

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Each Friday, I publish excerpts from my books on this blog as well as on WordPress. Please also visit the InScribe writers group page and check out When a Man Loves a Rabbit (Learning and Living With Bunnies) as well as Deliverance From Jericho (Six Years in a Blind School). Have a nice weekend.