rev-joaquin-willis_web.jpgAt 17, I left Mobile, Ala. to pursue my dream of attending Howard University. Within weeks, I found myself hospitalized, scared, and longing to see my mama.

Far from home, and still as a minor, I needed my mother’s approval for doctors to repair a blood vessel on the verge of rupture. Distance and emergency permitted my mother only the comforts of giving approval and prayer.
All of us become lost from time to time, and forget how to pray.  As children, we attach ourselves to our mother’s faith and prayers, and shape our belief through her example and experience.  

As I lay in pain in a Freedman’s Hospital bed, I feared returning home in shame and defeat. I watched from my window as classmates walked around campus with their “dumb” little blue and white freshman beanies. I had missed orientation, early registration, the first three weeks of school, and the chance to wear my beanie.

On Mother’s Day, I pray each of us attended a church service. Some likely went out of duty, others to respect tradition, and others to maintain Christian standing in society. 

Regardless of the reason for attending, or whether we sought spiritual healing, we went to honor our mothers. In church, we were reminded that our mother’s prayers are/were full of love, faith, persistence and cheerfulness. These prayers sustained us.

One Canaanite mother (a black woman) in Matthew’s gospel (15:21-28), refused to let the disciples dissuade her from pursuing Jesus in search of healing for her demon-possessed daughter.

Scripture says, “Jesus did not answer (her) a word. So his disciples came to him and urged him, ‘send her away, for she keeps crying out after us’” (15:23).  This mother, like many of our own, was persistent, and she cheerfully entered into a dialogue with Jesus, which ultimately brought her to her knees in prayer (Matthew 15:25).

Jesus had some disturbing words for this mother: “‘I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel.’…It is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to their dogs.”

The mother quickly responded, “Yes Lord, but even their dog eats the crumbs that fall from their table.”  

This woman’s cheerful persistence, in the midst of her troubles, enabled her to smile and joke with Jesus. Great mothers keep a sunny and positive disposition in prayer, as God would love for us to do, too.

This mother approached Jesus with an audacious love and a working faith that grew into worship. She came with the persistence of an unconquerable prayer warrior who would not be turned away.

Scholars comment that Christ’s words, seemingly prejudicial, were spoken out of love, and were a test of faith. The mother’s heartfelt desire for her daughter’s healing could not, and would not, be denied.  

As adults, we often childishly pursue happiness. Our spiritual life is nearly non-existent. We soon find our joy diminished, and ourselves adrift.

Sooner or later, God answers our mother’s prayers, and we stumble back into church, broken, hurt and sick, looking to Christ to heal our wounded, broken bodies, souls or spirits.

Over the years, Mama prayed for me, and encouraged me to hang on, to finish school.  

She said, “Joaquin, if you want to, you can come back home.”

But she continued to pray, and I stayed at Howard.  

My first year ended in academic probation, and Mama continued to pray. I studied harder the next year, and long afterwards, until I ultimately achieved a doctoral degree. At that graduation exercise, Mama cried tears of joy, seeing the fruition of her years of prayer.

This is the power of a mother’s prayer.

Thanks, Mama!

The Rev. Dr. R. Joaquin Willis is pastor of the Church of the Open Door at 6001 NW 8th Ave., Miami.  To contact the church, call 305-759-0373 or email the pastor at