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Ministering in the Voodoo Capital

Jon and Elizabeth Smith pastor the House of Prayer Church in New Orleans where encountering the supernatural is far from uncommon.

New Orleans is a city known for its colorful, expressive culture. It is a metropolis for the arts from talented musicians strumming chords on every street corner to elaborate ironwork galleries displayed in its historic French quarter. Along with its artistic appeal, it is also a spiritual city. New Orleans is considered the Voodoo capital of the United States.

Pastors Jon and Elizabeth Smith lead the House of Prayer Church, one of the few Pentecostal churches left in the area. A unique function of the church’s ministry is working through the gifts of the Spirit to combat the beliefs and practices of the witchcraft and voodoo community.

Voodoo consists of various African magical beliefs and rites mixed with Catholic elements. Practices derived from African beliefs include the worship of supernatural entities and the ancestral dead through dancing and the use of drums. Catholic elements include prayers such as the Hail Mary and the Lord’s prayer along with the use of candles and images of Saints.

“As a church, we are aware of that (Voodoo) and it causes us to go to the next level in terms of fasting and operating through the gifts of the Holy Spirit,” Jon says. “We understand that for us, in order to be able to function effectively in this city, operating through the gifts of the Spirit and through the supernatural is really non-negotiable.”

Pastors Jon and Elizabeth stress the importance of training their staff to be prepared in dealing with the community of Voodoo and witchcraft practitioners. It is not uncommon to have church visitors who practice Voodoo or the occult. As a result, staff members are trained to respond to unique circumstances and proactively communicate with one another during the course of church services and community outreach programs such as street evangelism.

Jon explains that as the practice of Voodoo or other forms of witchcraft frequently involve demonic possession, the manifested presence of the Holy Spirit in the church often causes a demon to reveal itself or respond to His presence — just as the Bible depicts demons doing when they were in the presence of Christ.

“We were in prayer on a Wednesday night, pressing in and praying in the Holy Spirit, when a young woman and her boyfriend came in,” Jon says. “When she heard our prayers, she suddenly started sprinting to the altar. My wife noticed her and caught her, and the girl started manifesting, her face contorting, screaming indistinguishable words. The prayer service turned into a deliverance service, we prayed deliverance over them both. When they left the church that night, they looked like two totally different people.” 

New Orleans is also a city recovering from the devastation of a natural disaster. “The trauma that the people of New Orleans experienced from Hurricane Katrina was like having Post-Traumatic Stress Syndrome,” Jon says, “I don’t think the churches in New Orleans were prepared to deal with that.”

The House of Pastor Church has developed a unique ministerial approach due to the spiritual and emotional obstacles faced in ministering to the people of New Orleans. “The DNA of who we are is a training center for ministry. If you can effectively minister in the city of New Orleans, I am convinced that you can go anywhere in the country and around the world and be effective in ministry because of the spiritual challenges and curveballs that come at you in this city.”

Both Jon and his wife Elizabeth were led to the House of Prayer church approximately 17 years ago. Jon served as youth pastor for about two years before stepping into the role of senior pastor. Jon’s wife and Southwestern Assemblies of God University (SAGU) alumna, Elizabeth, plays a vital role in directing church operations including staff training.

“She was one of the reasons I went to SAGU,” Jon says. “She was showing me her lectures from different professors and I was so blown away by the quality and sound theology from these men of God.”

Jon graduated from SAGU in Waxahachie, Texas, in 2013 with a Master’s degree in Organizational Leadership and Elizabeth received her Master’s in Biblical Theology.

During his graduate studies, Jon found a way to apply his studies directly through his church. Towards the end of the program, students must complete a final project. Jon chose to organize and structure the church’s operations and ministries for his final project. The church’s current structure and model of ministry is a direct result of Jon’s project.

After completing his master's degree, Jon was excited to see the House of Prayer Church continue to make strides in effectively reaching a damaged city.

“We are seeing the city of New Orleans transformed. We really believe that we have a church that is committed to seeing transformation in the city. I am excited. I really think we are going to have a spiritual outpouring of the Holy Spirit over the city.”

Andrew Hurst

 Andrew Hurst is a journalist and freelance writer in Springfield, Missouri. He earned his Bachelor of Science degree in journalism from Evangel University in 2015. At Evangel, he served as the news editor for The Lance, Evangel’s student newspaper.  Hurst grew up in Asia and the South Pacific as a missionary kid. He moved to Springfield in 2005.