Jacob Thomas Matthew Walters, 12, prays over his stepsister, Faith Starrett, and his mother, Sheila Starrett, during a Powerhouse of Praise service in Toledo.
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Most of the time, Jacob Thomas Matthew Walters is your average 12-year-old boy next door.
A polite, soft-spoken sixth grader with short brown hair and pudgy cheeks, Jacob said he is crazy about sports - all sports, naming soccer, football, hockey, basketball, and baseball as examples.
But give him a microphone and put him in a pulpit, and Jacob is transformed into a shouting, leaping, dancing, Bible-waving evangelist.
“I ve been preaching since I was 3 years old,” he said in an interview at Powerhouse of Praise, a storefront church that opened last month in South Toledo.
“The Lord, when I was 3 years old in this big cathedral, my Daddy was preaching and I felt led to run up there,” Jacob said. “I tugged on his suit coat and I said, Let me preach. I have a message from God. And I started saying scriptures that God put in my heart.”
Jacob said he doesn t know how or why, but he is convinced that God called him to be a preacher.
“Once he starts, you can t shut him up,” said the Rev. John Starrett, Jacob s stepfather and pastor of Powerhouse of Praise. “He didn t get this from a school of theology, he got it from the school of knee-ology - getting on his knees and praying.”
Jacob said it feels like “electricity” is going through his body when he feels God s touch, and he knows it s God because “you can feel his presence, like when you feel love.”
It s unusual for a preacher to be so young, but it s not much of a surprise that Jacob feels comfortable in the pulpit. Both his natural parents, his stepfather, and his grandfathers are preachers.
Before a weeknight service recently at Powerhouse of Praise, Jacob sat in a folding chair in the front row and talked about his preaching.
He was wearing a shiny new black suit given to him by a woman who attends the church, with a white shirt, gray patterned tie, and matching handkerchief peeking out of his suit pocket.
“I love to preach. I just love it!” said Jacob, who attends Glendale-Feilbach Elementary School in South Toledo.
Asked if there were certain evangelists who inspired him to preach, he replied: “Jesus. Jesus is my inspiration.”
Jacob said he prefers preaching from the King James Version of the Bible because he finds it “easier to understand” than other translations.
His favorite verses are James 4:7-8, and he recited them from memory: “Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you. Draw nigh to God and he will draw nigh to you.”
The pint-sized preacher said he studies the Bible every night before going to sleep and prays at different times throughout the day.
He doesn t know exactly what he is going to preach until the last minute, he said.
“The Holy Ghost gives it to you. The Holy Ghost lays it on your heart for this particular moment,” he said. “I just try to save people and lead as many people as I can to the Lord.”
Jacob was born in Toledo, moved to Marion, Ind., and returned to Toledo in January to live with his stepfather and his mother, evangelist Sheila Starrett, who also preaches at the storefront church.
Mrs. Starrett said she was startled a few years back, when Jacob was 10 and wandered away from their house.
“I couldn t find him and I went looking for him and he was in the middle of about 50 bikers. I was mad!” she said. “I asked him what he thought he was doing. He said, Mom, I m out here preaching to them. Don t you know I must be about my Father s business? ”
The comments were startling because Jacob had quoted Jesus words when Mary and Joseph found him preaching in a temple.
Jacob spoke quietly and politely when he was not in the pulpit. But the moment he took the microphone, the baby-faced boy was transformed into a high-energy, high-volume evangelist.
“Jesus is in our midst!” he yelled. “Everybody s gonna be all right!”
Mr. Starrett, seated at an organ and electronic keyboard, pumped a series of shrill chords through the church s bright-yellow speakers. In front of the organ was a cross made of artificial flowers. A faded painting of Jesus praying in the Garden of Gethsemane hung from a nail on the back wall.
Jacob, voice rising, began preaching in a half-shout, adding an extra syllable at the end of every line of his sing-song sermon.
“Fear is of the devil-huh!” Jacob yelled, taking a deep breath. “Don t fear the one who can kill the body-huh! Fear the one who can kill the body and soul-huh!”
He points a finger in the air, waves the Bible, and spins around.
“I feel something here tonight-huh! He s the Alpha and the Omega and everything in between-huh!”
Suddenly, Jacob sprinted down the aisle full speed and ran back to the altar. He lifted one leg, shook his foot in the air, and whirled around in a dance.
“The devil can t win-huh! Glory to God!”
After about 15 minutes of shouting a mix of scriptures and simple statements of faith, Jacob slowed down and offered a quiet prayer for all the people of Toledo, then turned the microphone over to Mr. Starrett.
“Let s have a hand for Jesus and Jacob!” Mr. Starrett said. “I told you he was a fireball! What he s got can t be taught. It s got to be God-given.”
After his sermon, Jacob said he doesn t know what the future holds but his goals are to “finish school, go to college, live a good life, and always tell people about Jesus.”
Jacob Thomas Matthew Walters will preach nightly at 7:30 tomorrow through Feb. 22 at Powerhouse of Praise Church, 723 Byrne Rd., two blocks north of Airport Highway. For more information on the revival, call the church at 418-867-1653.
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