A poisonous neotropical pit viper, commonly referred to as a rattlesnake (Getty)
(USA TODAY) - Pastor Mack Wolford, the son of a snake-handling pastor who died from a rattler bite, lived by faith and died on Sunday, like his father before him, from a serpent bite.
Julia Duin has the riveting story of belief in miracles that defies mere rational understanding. Wolford, 44, "a flamboyant Pentecostal pastor from West Virginia," refused treatment for snake bites and, like his father before him, died within hours of a Sunday afternoon service in an isolated park.
Duin, who had profiled Woford for the Washington Post Magazine last year, writes:
Mack Wolford was known all over Appalachia as a daring man of conviction. He believed that the Bible mandates that Christians handle serpents to test their faith in God -- and that, if they are bitten, they trust in God alone to heal them.
In her earlier piece, she detailed how Woford had combed the backwoods of West Virginia for the serpents he kept in his back bedroom for his prayer events at the isolated, tiny Church of the Lord Jesus
... in an unincorporated hamlet of 1,191 souls has been world-famous for its death-defying handlers of serpents. Reporters, researchers, photographers and TV crews have come here to track Pentecostals who brandish poisonous snakes, drink strychnine and play with fire as a testimony of their faith...
Mark 16:17-18 mandates that true Christians "take up serpents and if they drink anything deadly, it will by no means hurt them; they will lay hands on the sick and they will recover...
Wolford told Duin last year how the passion to believe survived the pain of his father's death:
Those who die from snakebites are never criticized for lack of adequate faith; it is believed that it was simply the deceased's time to die. Still, Wolford says he went wild after his father's death, getting arrested for armed robbery and kidnapping when he was 18 and spending a year and a half in jail. Booze destroyed his first marriage and was destroying his second when he repented at 30, and "God took the taste for alcohol away from me." He quit his job as a loom technician in a North Carolina cotton factory and became a pastor. But that was not enough to satisfy him.
Despite the way his father died, Wolford wanted to travel to the radical edges of Christianity, where life and death gaze at you every time you walk into a church and pick up a snake.
And so he died, surrounded by the prayers of family and believers.