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House of Prayer offers glimpse into hell with annual performance


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By Mark Keierleber





A group of people walked into the room and sat down on the front pew after a woman handed each person a red rose. A loud, sinister laugh engulfed the room as a demon appeared, dressed in a black cloak with a saturated red and black face.

For the past 12 years, the House of Prayer Ellettsville, located at 4100 N. Hartstrait Road in Bloomington, has transformed their holy sanctuary into a hellacious depiction of the devil’s work during the Halloween season.

But Pastor Larry Mitchell said their performance, dubbed Hell House, is “a demon-guided tour that will change your life,” not a haunted house.

Mitchell said he admits Hell House is controversial, but he justifies the performance by saying each scene is a depiction of real-life situations.

“I love funerals,” the demon guide said. The demon identified the man in the casket as Jason, who died from AIDS.

“We told him he was born gay,” the demon said. “Who in their right mind would actually believe that? Now he’s gone forever, into eternal fire, with all the other perverted, twisted, sin-infested souls. We’ve got your alternative lifestyle — in hell.”

The demon urged the group to take a closer look. Standing from the pew, the group walked past the motionless body in the casket and walked outside.

Klansmen stood in traditional Ku Klux Klan robes. One man carried a noose. Flames engulfed a large wooden cross. A man lay on the ground in front of a defunct pickup truck, also on fire. Three confederate flags cover another truck.

“These simpletons actually believe that they are the supreme race,” the demon said. “All these fools have done is bought into one of my biggest lies: racial hatred and
prejudice.”

As a Klansman and the demon attack the man lying on the ground, he is shot in the head. 

In another room, three women surrounded another woman who was laying on a bed with her legs up. Her gown was covered in blood. The woman screamed as the doctors
performed an abortion.

“Killing babies is a wonderful choice,” the demon told the group. “It’s so convenient. After all, a woman has the right to murder her own child.”

After quickly descending down a flight of stairs, the group entered a room filled with leaves. A wrecked car filled the corner of the room. A woman’s arm could be seen
emerging from the vehicle.

“You and your beer have killed your wife and daughter,” the demon told the man on the ground.

After seeing these scenes and several others, the group entered the hell scene.
The devil was depicted as a goat-like character with large horns and ears. Guards wore medieval armor and carried battle axes. Commotion in the scene was amplified by screams of “save me” from a group of women behind a prison gate.

Then, an angel emerged. Dressed in a white gown, his large wings rose from his back above his head.

He led the group into the final scene, the heaven scene. Quietly, a group of women and young girls, also dressed as angels, sat on the green carpet.

A man portraying Jesus stretched out on a cross. He came down from the cross and offered the group a confession of faith. As Jesus spoke to the group through the speakers, he stared them in the eyes. His lips didn’t move.

Tears ran down a man in the group’s face. He removed his glasses and wiped his eyes.

“I don’t think a person can walk through those six scenes without identifying with at least one of them that’s happened to them or someone in their family,” Pastor Mitchell said. “We’re just trying to tell people the devil is real. There’s a heaven to gain, there’s a hell to shun.”

Despite Mitchell’s confidence in the program, he admits criticism isn’t uncommon.

Mitchell said a group from another church attended the event last Friday and expressed disagreements.Others disagree with the performance’s graphic nature.

“It makes them sick. They’re disgusted,” Mitchell said. “They usually will pick out the funeral scene. They’ll usually make comments about that. We get a lot of comments about the abortion scene because they have the right to make their own choice, but once again, we’ve all got the right to make choices, but we make bad choices.”

Karen Jeffries attended Sunday. Rather than taking offense from the graphic depictions, she said it helped restore her faith in God.

“The scariest scene was, of course, the hell scene, but the best scene was the scene with our Lord, the Savior in heaven,” Jeffries said.

But among the scenes, she said she had a personal connection with the drug scene because she said she was a “pothead” when she was younger.

Many of these scenes resonated with several members of the House of Prayer because of their rough backgrounds, Mitchell said.

“We’re out there on the cutting edge. I mean we’re out there three yards from hell just snatching people from the flames,” he said. “We’ve got a lot of former drug addicts and prostitutes and gang leaders here, and so we went after them. We didn’t wait for them to come into our doors. We tell them they don’t have to stay the way they are. They don’t have to live the way they are.”

Even Mitchell himself said he lived a life of crime before becoming a pastor. After graduating from high school, Mitchell said he became the president of a motorcycle gang, the Hell’s Henchmen out of Chicago. He said the Henchmen’s motto is “It’s better to reign in hell than serve in heaven.” 

On Sunday, Mitchell wore a black T-shirt with white lettering: “Jesus Christ loves bikers, too.” The sleeves were cut off, and his arms were exposed, dotted with colorful tattoos.

Until 1978, Mitchell said drugs and alcohol consumed his life until he said he received a vision in the night from heaven.

“On the night of Jan. 28, 1978, the first miracle was that I didn’t smoke anything, I didn’t take anything, (and) I didn’t drink anything before I went to bed because I usually had to because I didn’t sleep well,” Mitchell said. “I was living a violent lifestyle.”

He slept poorly that night, he said, but at about 2:30 a.m., a miracle happened. Laying in his bed, he said he saw a scale.

On one side of the scale, he said he saw several parts of his current lifestyle, including his drugs and alcohol. On the other side, he said he saw peace, joy and eternal life.
“I had a voice speak to me ‘Larry, you’re choosing death, but I’ve come that you might have life,’” Mitchell said. “That’s all I heard, and it hit me right straight in the heart.”

From that moment on, Mitchell said he has dedicated his life to Christianity, never looking back. He became a pastor in 1993.

Hell House is not Mitchell’s original idea. He borrowed it from an acquaintance but altered the scenes so it would resonate better with Bloomington’s demographics. For example, Mitchell added the KKK scene.

“The Klan’s not dead,” Mitchell said. “They’re rallying around here. They’re trying to make a revival. They’ve been passing out fliers for the last several years now, trying to make a comeback in this area. We’re not about prejudice and racial hate and
all that.”

As the group of visitors exited the hell scene, they were directed into a small room. They were asked to fill out a card describing the impact Hell House had on
their lives.

For Mitchell, this is an opportunity to gather statistics.

While he said about 1,700 people attend each year, about 25 percent of the people who attend say it is their reason for converting to Christianity.

About $9,000 is generated each year from Hell House admissions, but they continue to invest at least $4,000 into the show each year.

While Mitchell said he wrapped several themes into the performance, homosexuality is one of the main underlying themes.

He said he does not believe homosexuals are born gay because it would require him to admit that God made a mistake.

“I believe God loves the homosexual. I believe he loves the alcoholic. He loves the drug addict. He loves the old mangy biker scum guy, and he loves us the way we are, but he loves us too much to leave us that way,” Mitchell said.

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Members of the House of Prayer Ellettsville act as angels in the final scene of their production Sunday at Hell House. After several hellacious scenes, visitors were guided to the Heaven scene where they were asked to follow Christianity. Mark Keierleber Buy Photos

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