SCOTT SIMON, host:
Some evangelicals in Alabama have connected to an unexpected sector of society. From member station WBHM in Birmingham, Tanya Ott reports on a Christian tattoo artist.
TANYA OTT: Greg Ashcraft purses his lips when he remembers his first tattoo, a Confederate flag with a skull.
Mr. GREG ASHCRAFT (Evangelical Artist, Alabama): He told me how happy I would be with the tattoo and how much I would enjoy it. And of course, he got done. The tattoo was horrible.
OTT: Ashcraft is an artist and knew he could do better. So he started doing his own tattoos and eventually, opened a shop called Skinworx. It looks like any other tattoo joint, except that in between tattooing and nipple piercing, there's a bit of evangelizing.
Greg Ashcraft was born again in 1994.
Mr. ASHCRAFT: I was drinking about a half case of beer everyday. I had a cooler in my truck waiting on me when I got off work. And you know, it just hit me how I was living, and how I was talking, and you know, the way I was thinking. And so I rededicated my life to the Lord.
OTT: And he regularly witnesses to his clients, telling them about Jesus. He says some quickly changed the subject, some listen, and a few are praying with him by the end of the session. Ashcraft claims he saved 22 people over the years.
When he started this business, he wasn't so sure that pierced and tattooed crowd would want to hear his message, but it plays well with customers like Jennifer Seuss(ph), who got a tiger tattooed on her shoulder.
Ms. JENNIFER SEUSS (Tattoo Customer): I believe that he would do a better job because he has better standards and morals than some of those other guys out there.
Mr. ASHCRAFT: Without God in your life, man, what are you? You're just lost.
OTT: Tattoos cover nearly half of Matt Crane's body. The father of three is a piercer at Skinworx. He says it's important to him to be in a Christian environment.
Mr. MATT CRANE (Piercer, Skinworx): I mean, I'm not knocking anybody who doesn't believe, but I really don't understand how they couldn't, you know.
OTT: Actually some believers are among the biggest critics of Greg Ashcraft's work, which ranges from elaborate tattoos of Moses to naked women, skulls and snakes.
Local church leaders cite Scriptures like Leviticus, which says do not cut your bodies for the dead or put tattoo marks on yourself. But Greg Ashcraft defends his art and his mission.
Mr. ASHCRAFT: A lot of them feel that I'm deceived by the devil and I'm spreading the devil's work and things like that. But if a person can get saved, how is that false?
OTT: There are things Ashcraft won't do, like tattoos of marijuana leaves or tattoos on minors. Skinworx also doesn't allow profanity, drinking or drugs. On a good day, up to a hundred people come in for tattoos and piercing. Ashcraft hopes at least some will leave with a lot more.
For NPR News, I'm Tanya Ott in Birmingham, Alabama.
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