This article was originally published by Mennonite World Review

Holdeman tracts sow gospel’s seeds

CHICAGO — From the outside, it looks like an ordinary suburban home in Elk Grove Village. In fact, it’s a missionary base for the only conservative Mennonite outreach in the Chicago area.

In February, William and Margaret Brandt of Halstead, Kan., began their third year of tract distribution for the Gospel Tract and Bible Society, a mission agency of the Church of God in Christ, Mennonite, also known as Holdeman. They’re the society’s first full-time workers in Chicago, driving around 2,000 miles per month and distributing nearly 1.2 million tracts, with an estimated 396,000 distributed since August.

William Brandt replaces a tract rack he had left a few months ago at a business in a Chicago suburb. — Rachel Stella/MWR
William Brandt replaces a tract rack he had left a few months ago at a business in a Chicago suburb. — Rachel Stella/MWR

These large numbers are due to the efficient method of placing pre-filled cardboard racks of tracts inside businesses, rather than trying to hand out individual tracts to people.

“I don’t force myself on anybody,” William Brandt said. “We’re seed-sowers; we’re not the combine. The combine is Jesus. . . . It’s not about conversions, but sowing seed.”

On the hallway wall, a map of Chicago and the surrounding suburbs is marked with the tract distribution routes. The Brandts choose their route for the day and drive their van, loaded with filled tract racks, to the businesses on the route that have previously allowed tracts to be displayed.

At each stop, William brings in a new rack. If the previous one is still there, he simply exchanges them, often without saying anything to anyone. If it is gone, he will ask an employee on duty, “Is it still OK to leave gospel literature here?” Most times, they agree to display the tracts. If a business declines, the Brandts don’t ask there again.

Margaret Brandt stays in the passenger seat, keeping records of the responses, the languages of the tracts distributed and sometimes the hours or days the business is open.

In the car, they keep plastic bags with tracts and cookies or crackers to give to beggars along the road. William also keeps a few plastic bags filled with a few tracts in his shirt pocket to hand out to people outside.

Diffusing tense moments

Sometimes the routes have taken them into tense situations. Once, when attempting to leave a tract rack at a mobile phone store, William encountered a man arguing with the employee, insisting he was entitled to a new phone if he traded his. When William held up the rack and silently pointed to the place he wanted to leave it, the employee urgently asked him to wait.

Detecting some tension, William waited in the store while she eventually told the man what he wanted to hear. After the man left, the employee told William that the man had opened up the inside of his coat and threatened her with a knife.

“I think the pressure got turned down when I came in there,” he said.

Another time, William encountered a group of people passing around an illegal substance in plastic bags. He joined the group and began passing out his own plastic bags of tracts.

“One day, we had some fellows running past us, shooting at a moving van,” he said. “I saw the smoke come out of the barrel, and it caused a bit of nervousness.”

Yet they aren’t too worried.

“Some of the people in that area have told us they think we won’t be bothered,” Margaret said.

Millions and millions

The Gospel Tract and Bible Society, with offices in Moundridge, Kan., and Ste. Anne, Man., publishes and distributes tracts in 59 languages in 149 countries.

Dale Becker, the society’s business manager in the Moundridge office, said the tract distribution is focused on urban areas, where the Church of God in Christ, Mennonite, typically doesn’t have congregations.

“There’s no clearly defined method for deciding where to go,” he said. “It’s prayer. It’s the work of the Spirit. . . . Essentially it’s just the sense of, ‘You know what? We need to be in this area.’ ”

Becker said the agency favors areas with linguistic diversity. In Chicago, it’s common for tracts in Spanish and Chinese to be more eagerly received than those in English.

He estimates the society’s worldwide distribution is 35 million to 40 million annually. Sometimes more than 2 million tracts leave the Moundridge office in a month.

Worldwide, there are around 30 distributors (mostly couples, who are counted as a unit). Yet the agency, in most cases, doesn’t actively recruit workers but waits for volunteers.

“We feel like, ideally, workers of this type are those who feel called,” Becker said.

It’s common for CGCM congregations near the Moundridge office to have tract rack assembly nights, when they fill racks with a “city mix” — tracts with a variety of titles such as, “Is There a God?,” “Christ’s Peaceable Kingdom on Earth” and “A Biblical Guide to Salvation.”

Once a month, someone makes a delivery of between 300 and 400 filled racks in a van or trailer to the Brandts’ outpost and visits with them for fellowship.

The tracts contain agency contact information. Becker and others respond to calls and emails from people who have picked up tracts. Sometimes, the people who have found tracts want to order more of their own to distribute. Other times, they are looking for Bibles, prayer or to talk. If they express interest in meeting with someone in their area, the agency will take their contact information and forward it to missionaries to follow up.

“We consider the tract work the beginning of mission work,” William said. Yet the goal is simply to publish the basic gospel message, not to get people to become Mennonite.

“We just want to continue to place the tracts out there for people to take,” Margaret said. “Our prayer would be that God allows them to touch hearts.”

More than 100 people have responded to the agency’s office after finding a tract in the Chicago area. The Brandts visit people who request meetings.

On the first Sunday of the month, a few people from CGCM congregations in the Midwest join the Brandts for fellowship and lunch, often arriving the evening before, as many are driving three to six hours. The closest congregation is in Goshen, Ind., and the second-closest is in Arthur in southern Illinois.

One man from the Chicago area with an interest in tract evangelism and Anabaptist ideas has joined them for the monthly meetings.

On Sundays when they’re alone, the Brandts study the CGCM-published Sunday school quarterly book and listen to the audio stream of their home congregation’s service online.

“My goal is to be the servant of God,” William said. “Whatever agenda God gives me, that’s my agenda for the day.”

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