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Once Reserved for Sunday Worship, Religion Now Big Business Every Day

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FOUR OAKS — The Gospel message is the inspiration for a growing number of products from music to books and even jewelry. The demand for these products has inspired a new entrepreneurial spirit.

"I think it's because there's so much negative in the world today that anything positive that can make somebody smile or lift somebody up gets people interested," said Teresa Carraway.

Like many products made for a Christian market, Prayer Pals began as a personal ministry.

"I had a friend who was battling breast cancer and felt a need to let her know that her friends at her church were praying for her," said Carraway.

Carraway made her first Prayer Pal for that friend. The hobby became an in-home business she shared with Joan Densmore and Vicki Jackson.

"You write on the doll whatever your sentiment is," Densmore said.

"The response was so phenomenal that we got to like 200 back orders, and we couldn't keep up with the demand any more," Jackson said.

Now, a manufacturer in Four Oaks turns the product out by the hundreds, and stores in several states sell the Prayer Pals.

"The very first place that we went was Sign of the Fish Christian book store. They took it immediately as a product they wanted to sell," said Carraway.

Opportunities to present the Gospel in various forms has never been greater according to store owners Irven and Joanna Hicks. Nor has the demand for such products been greater.

"Our motivation is to present the Gospel in as clean a form as available and in as attractive a form as available," Joanna Hicks said.

The Hicks say the end of the millennium may be one reason for the interest.

"We're seeing a big move in the Christian community. People are trying to get their lives in order," Hicks said.

Books on surviving the Y2K computer bug are prominently displayed in many Christian stores. End of the millennium interest may also be behind the unprecedented sales of some Christian novels and stories that deal with Bible prophecy and end of the world scenarios. Appolyonis the fifth book in a series. I believe the book is the first Christian book to hit theNew York Timesbest seller list," Hicks said.

The real best sellers are items that have nothing to do with the end of the world. Many come looking for encouragement, inspiration and a shock-free environment.

"One thing I don't mind is weeding through all these different CDs, because I know that I'm not going to see anything that will offend me or that will bother me," said customer Mary Catherine Tyson.

"People come in a say 'What's different about your store? What is it that I feel?' We just say it's God Almighty, Himself. He resides here," Hicks said.

Business is good, but the Hicks say their mission is the same as it was when they began out of the trunk of their car in the early 1970s.

"The ministry drives the business. The profit is what keeps it open," Carraway said. "I mean at this point, we have decided that if we can reach as many people across the world, the better. It's a ministry, and that's what it's supposed to be."

TheAssociation of American Publisherssays books on religion outsell all other adult categories.

And in 1997, religion accounted for 37 percent of all audio tapes sold in the United States.

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Rick Armstrong, Reporter
Rick Armstrong, Photographer
John Clark, Web Editor

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