They believe that if a snake bites them it’s God’s will whether they live or die. Many will not go to hospital if they are bitten, and many have indeed died. It’s an ancient Pentecostal tradition, and one that was dying out – but one young preacher is determined to bring it back.
Andrew Hamblin is 22 years old and lives in the small town of LaFollette, Tennessee. Three times a week he preaches in his tiny church before 20 to 100 followers, many of them young and recruited from Facebook. In every service, they handle snakes. Rattlesnakes, copperheads and cottonmouths are taken from their wooden boxes as believers cradle them in their arms, press them to their foreheads and dance with them.
One year ago, Hamblin’s best friend Randy ‘Mack’ Wolford, the snake-handling preacher who introduced him to the practice, died of a rattlesnake bite. Randy’s father had died the same way.