By Clint Cooper
Tom and Shirley Porter have found a way to supply the gospel to nearly 200,000 people around the world without ever leaving Chattanooga.
The couple publish a variety of tracts — compact leaflets offering spiritual information — through a ministry called Tracts Inc. from their Brainerd home.
While the World Christian Tract Directory lists hundreds of organizations that publish tracts, the Porters say their endeavor is a ministry and not a business.
“We didn’t plan to do any of it,” said Mr. Porter, a retired U.S. Navy and Coast Guard officer and industrial worker. “God just impressed on us to do it.”
Millions of tracts are published worldwide, but the Porters publish only nine. The couple said their literature is in at least 11 countries in various languages.
The advantage of a tract, Mr. Porter said, is it is a compact piece of literature that “tells a story that doesn’t vary — the continuous word of God.” He said tracts are “one of the great ministries of today.”
Such literature often is passed out by street-corner preachers, door-to-door evangelists and shopping center parking lot volunteers.
The Porters said they might leave a tract with their tip at a restaurant, include one in Christmas cards or slip one into a bill. “I always have a couple in my pocket to hand out,” Mr. Porter said.
They don’t believe in forcing the literature on those who don’t want it, though. “I don’t think that’s right,” said Mrs. Porter, an employee of Child Evangelism Fellowship. “They have a right to say they don’t want it.”
Jeff Anderle, pastor of Vineyard Christian Fellowship of Chattanooga,said his church doesn’t use tracts but prefers servant evangelism — such as passing out Popsicles at public gatherings, cleaning public toilets and paying for the next person in the drive-through line.
“It’s a practical demonstration in the lives of people,” he said.
Mr. Porter said one of the secrets to a successful tract is an attractive cover, perhaps with colorful artwork or a catchy slogan. The World Christian Tract Directory describes covers that show the late Princess Diana, advertise a “Celebrity Intelligence Test” and say things such as “Warning — Religion Can Be Dangerous.”
One of the Porter’s brighter tracts is titled “Colors,” which Mrs. Porter said she wrote so children could understand God’s plan of salvation through various colors and their relation to pertinent Bible verses. Another of their tracts for children has images of their own now-grown children on the front.
“You need a cover that attracts attention,” Mr. Porter said. “People will gravitate toward it.”
The Porters said in the last few years interest in material from their “Mom and Pop operation” has begun to “snowball.” They send out samples to anyone who asks, but request 5 cents for each black and white tract and 10 cents for a colored one.
Mrs. Porter said the donations they get don’t cover their costs, and she figures they lose $200 to $300 every six months. And they have never copyrighted their material. But she said a nonprofit status they are exploring might help them to break even.
Money is not the point, though, the Porters said.
“We’ll let the Lord grow it,” Mr. Porter said. “We’ve never been in business for ourselves.”