A journalist working for The Washington Post said she let a preacher die from a rattlesnake bite because the pastor had “decided to stand by what he understood to be the word of God, no matter the consequences."
Lauren Pond wrote in The Washington Post
that she chose to let Randall "Mack” Wolford “die as a man true to his faith,” rather than call for medical help.
Wolford, 44, who followed his father into the practice of handling snakes to prove faith in God, died last weekend after being bitten by a timber rattler on the thigh during an outdoor service involving the reptiles at Panther State Forest in West Virginia. A family member called paramedics only after Wolford allowed it, but by then it was too late.
Pond, a freelance photojournalist from Washington, D.C., was among 25 people at the service and took photographs during the preacher’s last minutes. She had taken pictures of Wolford for the Washington Post Magazine last year.
Wolford was pastor at Apostolic House of the Lord Jesus in Matoaka, W.Va. Unlike most snake-handling preachers, he embraced publicity, welcoming journalists and photographers, and even taking some on snake hunts as he tried to revive interest in his practice.
“This is what I saw through my camera lens: Pastor Randy “Mack” Wolford, tossing and turning on the couch in his mother-in-law’s West Virginia trailer, suffering from the pain of a rattlesnake bite he had received earlier in the day,” Pond wrote in the Post.
“Parishioners surrounding him in prayer in the stifling heat. His mother stroking his feet, her expression a mixture of concern, sorrow and, eventually, acceptance: This is how her eldest son — a legend in the local Pentecostal serpent-handling community — would die.”
Pond said, “Camera in hand, I watched as the man I’d photographed and gotten to know over the past year writhed, turned pale and slipped away, a victim of his unwavering faith, but also a testament to it.”
She said the preacher’s family “accepted his death as something that he knew was coming and something that was ultimately God’s will. The pastor believed every word of the Bible and laid down his life for his conviction, they said.”
“Mack’s family wanted me to know that he was more concerned with helping people attain salvation than getting them to handle snakes,” Pond wrote.
“In my mind, Mack’s situation was different from that of a starving child or a civilian wounded in war. He was a competent adult who decided to stand by what he understood to be the word of God, no matter the consequences. And so I’ve started to come to peace with the fact that everyone in the crowded trailer, including myself, let Mack die as a man true to his faith,” she wrote.
“Perhaps Mack wanted me to be at that oppressively hot and humid park site to document the bite and its lethal aftermath. Perhaps he wanted me to witness his incredible display of conviction, so that I could share with the world a side of his faith that few have gotten to see.”
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