No matter how big, small, well connected, wise or foolish we are and sometimes feel, the reality is that in ministry, despite our efforts we are simply children of God, doing a finger painting for our Father. It is Jesus, who chooses if and when to use our best efforts, with all our inadequacies, hang ups and short falls, and transform them into something of value for the sake of His kingdom.
Of all the ministries I have seen that should have worked, that had the right people, facilities, finance and determination, the humblest of all of them is the one that continues today with the most profound of impacts.
Christian Tract Outreach is a small website in the recesses of cyberspace through which many are receiving strength, encouragement and the gospel. It is run by an elderly husband and wife, Danny and Terri Maher, and is funded almost entirely by the small senior's pension both of them receive.
Although we may have heard the slogan 'from little things, big things grow' related to superannuation, the same can definitely be said of Christian Tract Outreach. The ministry itself started in the 70'shortly after Danny gave his life to the Lord. It began with two tracts; The Right of Choice and Jesus Christ the Word of God, and was borne out of an insatiable hunger for God's Word.
Initially the tracts were distributed via letter box drops throughout Danny and Terri's home suburb, Wynnum in Brisbane. With the help of a retired missionary who owned a small printing press, for the next 20 years other tracts were written printed and distributed.
From the outset, tracts focused upon salvation through Jesus and the Gospel message, sanctification (what it means to be set apart by the Lord and shaped in His image) and fruit bearing. This focus is still interwoven through tracts written today. As time passed, the tract ministry gradually slowed down and all but petered out, as both Danny and Terri's focus were increasingly drawn to pastoral matters and small groups.
In 2004, Danny was led back to the tract ministry with a renewed sense of vigour. Through prayer, and spending time with the Lord, he felt the great commission's call to 'Go into all the world and preach the gospel..' (Mk :16:15) had particular relevance to the tract ministry, he just wasn't sure how to do it.
A couple of days later, I met Danny and Terri for the first time through a mutual friend. We met at a bible study at Danny and Terri's house, and after, they shared a little bit about his tract ministry in the 70's, and how in the past he and Terri did a letter box drop in the area.
As I was a computer programmer, I offered to knock up a quick website for him so he could try and reach people he normally wouldn't have contact with. I'd love to be able to say that at that time, the clouds parted and I heard the Lord's deeply resonating voice proclaiming 'Thou shalt build a website, and it will be good....', but the reality was I figured I was giving an old fella a leg up and some encouragement.
Over the next couple of months, I visited Danny and Terri once a week for dinner, and worked on the site at their place until we had something simple set up for people to read, and download tracts. For the next couple of years Danny reworked many of the 200 – 300 tracts, and even wrote new ones adapting them to bible studies so that they could be downloaded and used.
After some time had passed, Danny received an email from a young Indian man studying in Bangalore. He had found the site, and wanted to be able to use them for evangelism at the college where he was studying. He and Danny built up a bit of a relationship over email, which eventuated in Danny couriering out a couple of hundred copies of the first two tracts he ever wrote, to be used in a campus crusade.
Slowly, emails started to trickle in from other countries too. Pastors, evangelists and readers from Tanzania, Nigeria and other parts of India began to regularly contact Danny for support in the form of tracts to be posted out and used by churches for evangelism and encouragement.
Through the enthusiasm and diligence of 3 pastors in particular, Christian Tract Outreach tracts were helping evangelists reach more and more people throughout central and eastern Africa as well as India.
As the demand for printed tracts grew, it quickly became apparent that simply printing and couriering tracts from Australia was a slow, and ridiculously expensive task, especially as all this was being funded by two pensioners in Brisbane. A printer was found in Tanzania who offered their services at a reduced rate, and tracts were able to be printed and distributed within Africa at a fraction of the original costs.
Since this time, in the face of lack of finances, persecution (of evangelists in non Christian countries), and ill health, more and more people have been requesting and receiving tracts for evangelistic purposes throughout predominantly Muslim, Hindu and Christian countries.
To date, over 4 million tracts have been printed throughout India and Africa in over 15 countries and in 10 different languages. Over 200 pastors and 12 evangelists use the tracts for evangelism and outreach. The website has undergone a couple of revisions and face lifts; the latest one allowing Danny to maintain and update it himself.
The future for Christian Tract Outreach is looking bright as it recently has unofficially partnered with online bible college Trailblazers, and this coming year, Trailblazers will be visiting key people in Ghana, Tanzania and India who are distributing and using the tracts, with the intent to train new pastors with an emphasis on caring for new believers.
Christian Tract Outreach does receive some additional financial support, however to the greater extent, Danny and Terri still fund its work personally. The greatest blessing from all of this according to Danny, is that he has been able to witness Jesus take control and be part of everything in this ministry.
From the greatest of issues to the smallest of details, Danny insists that he has been like a spectator in the whole thing. All that has been necessary for Danny to do is to trust and follow the Lord. To follow the path that the Lord presents, and to trust in Him during times when that path isn't clear.
For myself, to watch this ministry bloom has been an opportunity to watch my God in action, choosing the humblest of vessels to do His work. Two people in the later years of their life, still full of life and love, pure heartedly offering their service to bless their Father, without the formal support of church, and outside the boundaries of a conventional ministry, funding the majority of their work from the contents of their own pockets and at a time in life when they have the least.
Many can learn from their love and willingness to serve and bless their Jesus!
The web site for Christian Tract Outreach - www.christiantractoutreach.com