Christian Bookstore changes hands

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, August 3, 2005

Linda Saunders never thought she’d end up running one of Suffolk’s most prolific Christian bookstores for more than three decades. At least, not until she got a message.

&uot;I had worked in retail since I was 14 or 16,&uot; she recalls. &uot;One day, I was in the shower, and a voice came to me, saying ‘Open a Christian bookstore.’ I looked around to see if anyone was there with me.&uot;

There wasn’t; apparently, the voice had come from Someone else.

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Saunders started attending night business courses at Paul D. Camp Community College and John F. Kennedy High School. One night, a professor asked everyone in the class to tell why they’d chosen to take it.

When Saunders gave her reason, some of her classmates laughed. But soon after, two of her classmates came to her and said they’d been praying for years that someone would open such a store.

Eventually, Saunders and her husband Gary opened a small store near the old Russell’s Drug Store, near the current home of the Godwin Courthouse. Soon they moved across the street near where Baron’s Pub now stands. Then they went up Main Street, near the post office until, 18 years ago, Holland Plaza.

&uot;God told us to move,&uot; Saunders says. &uot;He took us to each step along the way.&uot;

Wherever they went, the customers followed. The classmates who had told Saunders about their hopes for the store became two of the most common faces, as did many others.

&uot;We tried to treat every customer like they were the only ones in the store,&uot; Saunders says. &uot;God kept sending us loyal customers.&uot;

Over the past year, things started getting difficult. The customer base started to decline, as did Saunders’ health.

&uot;I have Parkinson’s disease,&uot; she says. &uot;It saps your strength. It’s a struggle to get out of bed in the morning. Some Christians believe that everything should go like you want it to, but how can God test you if you don’t have problems?&uot;

Eventually, Gary asked their pastor at First Baptist Church for guidance.

&uot;He told me that he looks at four things,&uot; he says. &uot;The first is to seek Godly counsel. The second is to look at the circumstances. The third is, does it line up with the word of God? The fourth is, do you have peace?&uot;

The Saunders’ minds went to another loyal customer; since the past October, a man named Andrew Mattox had been coming to their store, asking about purchasing it. They had his number at home, but hadn’t called yet.

Strapped by the shrinking customer numbers and a lease set to expire, the Saunders became engaged in talks to move their business to the Suffolk Plaza on Main Street, ironically, into a former liquor store. At the end of February, they called Mattox.

&uot;I used to work in insurance,&uot; says the Courtland resident. &uot;I didn’t feel like it was where I needed to be. I devoted a lot of time to prayer and talked to my wife. I finally threw my hands up and said, ‘God, your will be done.’&uot;

On July 1, he and his wife Tracy took over the newly-moved Christian Bookstore in the Plaza.

For his whole life, Mattox says, &uot;Whenever I walked into a Christian bookstore, I had a sense of peace.

&uot;I could walk around for an hour or two and not buy anything, but I knew that God was there. Now I get to have that feeling everyday.&uot;

Saunders still comes to the store sometimes, welcoming her old customers to the new location. But she knows that just because her business work is through for now, her life’s work isn’t.

&uot;There’s something else God wants me to do,&uot; she says. &uot;I’m not going to go home, sit down and do nothing. That’s not what a Christian should be doing. If nothing else, I’ll call the people on my church’s sick list. I’ll still be doing something.&uot;