Bart Centre, with his dog Maddie, is a retired retail executive living on… (Caleb Kenna, For The Times )
Natalie Jones said the idea of paying someone to send emails to her loved ones after the "rapture" would have seemed preposterous to her a few years ago.
That was before the occupational health therapist and mother of two in Surrey, Britain, became a born-again Christian. She now believes the faithful will be swept up in the skies to unite with Jesus in the rapture, while nonbelievers will be left behind to wait for Armageddon and the second coming of Christ.
Eight months ago, Jones paid $14.95 to a website called You've Been Left Behind to send letters to nonbelieving loved ones in the event she is taken away in the rapture.
"I'm the only Christian in my family, so what I really have to achieve is to warn them about everything, but they just think I'm crazy," said Jones, 43.
You've Been Left Behind is one of several enterprises advertising post-rapture services. You've Been Left Behind lost its incorporation status with the state of Massachusetts last month for failing to file its required annual report, although it continues to advertise on the Web.
Founder Mark Heard, a professed rapture believer and handyman in Cape Cod, Mass., said he plans to reconfigure the venture as a nonprofit.
Experts said potential buyers should be wary when approaching business ventures based around deeply held religious beliefs.
"Usually most of these things sound too good to be true, and people, instead of trusting their own instincts, will fall back on 'There can't be anything wrong with it because it's my group, it's my religion,'" said Lisa Fairfax, a George Washington University law professor who has studied religious-based investment fraud schemes. Some of the ventures hawking post-rapture services don't pretend to be operated by believers. Eternal Earth-Bound Pets, which promises to care for pets left behind, is run by avowed atheists.
"Is this a joke?" That's question No. 1 on the site's list of frequently asked questions.
"No" is the answer. "This is a serious offer to our Christian friends who believe in the Second Coming and honestly care about the future of their pets after the Rapture occurs."
Bart Centre, the New Hampshire retiree who runs Eternal Earth-Bound Pets, said he simply wants to make a buck.
"I saw dollar signs, because no one has more pets per capita and more rapture-believing Christians than the good old U.S.A.," he said.
His business is not incorporated in any state. Centre said he simply reports the income on his personal tax return.
While Centre doesn't believe in the rapture, he insisted he's prepared to honor his contract. If prospective customers are wary, Centre said, he will suggest they appoint a trusted nonbeliever with "post-rapture power of attorney" to enforce the agreement.
Centre said inquiries picked up in recent months based on predictions by evangelical radio broadcaster Harold Camping that the rapture will take place Saturday, leading him to boost his basic rate from $110 to $135. For that fee, his crews will retrieve and care for one household pet post-rapture, if it occurs within 10 years of payment.
Jones is not holding her breath. She believes the rapture is coming soon but doesn't think anyone can predict the date. Nor was she concerned about You've Been Left Behind's standing with the state of Massachusetts.
"So long as the service is still operating and delivers my messages to those left behind then that's fine with me," she wrote in an email. "Do [you] know if it's still working?"