Mack Wolford, um pastor evangélico da Virgínia Ocidental (EUA), costumava pregar e dançar segurando cobras. Ele planejava um megaevento em que, segundo ele, as pessoas manifestariam o dom de línguas desconhecidas, manipulariam cobras e se divertiriam em um parque. Só que, um dia após completar 44 anos, Mack foi mordido por uma cascavel e morreu. Ele foi ferido ao tentar passar a cobra a uma fiel na igreja. O líder religioso justificava na Bíblia a prática perigosa com as cobras – uma forma de demonstrar o poder da sua fé. O pastor foi levado a um hospital em Bluefield, mas não resistiu ao ferimento e faleceu.  A história é ainda mais trágica: o pai de Mack, que costumava também segurar serpentes, morreu em 1983 – picado por um réptil.

A Pentecostal reverend known for preaching with the help of a rattlesnake coiled around his arm lost his life when one of the creatures suddenly bit him. Mack Randall Wolford, pastor at the Full Gospel Apostolic House of the Lord Jesus in Matoaka, West Virginia, died hours after receiving the deadly bite on Sunday – the day after his 44th birthday. Wolford’s father, who was also a serpent-handling pastor, died in the same way nearly 30 years ago.

Wolford had been bitten three times before, but never sought medical attention, saying that a bite was a test of his faith. It was his wish not to be taken to a hospital unless absolutely necessary. But by the time he was taken to Bluefield Regional Medical Center, it was too late. Wolford was holding a ‘homecoming’ service outdoors at Panther State Forest about 70 miles away from Matoaka while handing the rattler, which is seen by his followers as a sign of faith.

Wolford had reportedly owned the timber rattlesnake, named Sheba, for several years, taking care of it in his home and introducing it to his followers during his services. Videos posted to YouTube show the preacher dancing in previous services while holding the snake. His unique celebrations were held regularly for his followers – who numbered between five and 30 – most of whom were members of his family.

‘His daddy passed away the same way, from a rattler. He knew the risks. All of us around here are that way.’ Wolford was only 15 at the time of his father’s death, but later took on his mantle. His devastated mother, who was present at the service when he was bitten, was always fearful for her son, but was extremely proud of his work with those who battled alcoholism and addiction, Ms Fowler said.