The one o’ clock prayer meeting had just finished at the Bethesda Senior Center. Gripping the handles of her four-wheel walker, Mrs. Liller P. Bates, known affectionally as Mother Bates, makes her way to a seat. Afternoon sunlight streams through the windows giving her face an angelic glow. To this day, she is still guided by her mother’s counsel offered years ago, to ‘always put God first.’ In a soft voice, Mother Bates explains, “Every morning that I wake up, I thank the Lord that He kept me safe, held back death and disease, and gave me another day.”
Remembering her childhood, she said, “My parents used to tell my siblings and me about slavery and how as Black men and women we had to live in America. I learned from that you have to be strong because you will be mistreated through life. I remember a particular incident when a white man was being rude and calling my father names. I couldn’t understand why my father didn’t stand up for himself because he was a man, too, just like that, man.”
Contemplating past lessons and heartaches, she said, “One of the darkest times in my life was when my mother, husband, sister, sister-in-law, uncle and first cousin were in a terrible car accident on their way to St Louis, Missouri. Three of them were killed, and three were hurt badly. My son-in-law went with me to St Louis. He, along with my husband, was my main support, along with my church family.
“Scripture that helped me through this hard time was John 14:1-6, ‘Let not your heart be troubled: ye believe in God, also believe in me. In my father’s house, there are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am there ye may also be. And whither I go ye know, and the way ye know. Thomas saith unto him, Lord, we know not whither thou goest; and how can we know the way? Jesus saith unto him, I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the father, but by me.’ ”
The neighborhood on Milwaukee’s north side is extremely different since 1980 when Mother Bates relocated what she calls her ‘helping ministry,’ the Bethesda Senior Center, to its present location. Now the Felmers O. Chaney Correctional Center, the last stop for inmates being paroled into the community, sits on the same busy street a few blocks away. Ironically, the needs of individuals who frequent Bethesda now, in many ways, mirror the regulars who came when she first opened the doors in another location 50 years ago.
They crave conversation, a break from loneliness and isolation, meals enjoyed with others, and the assurance of spiritual comfort. Bethesda also provides other support services, referrals, and advocacy.
Certainly, she has experienced her share of hardships but also enjoyed a rich life of blessing others as she too was blessed with a devoted husband, Rev. Rudolph Valentino Bates with whom she shared 66 years. Her children — Rudolph Valentino, Bates Jr., Timothy Bates who leads the prayer service, Patricia Murrell, Pastor Hosea Bates, and Joyce Mills remain devoted to their mother.
“My mother gave tough love, taught us to be responsible, respectful, and love each other. I also learned how to be a woman, to take care of my household, and to love my husband,” says her daughter Joyce.
A virtuous women anointed to live 91-years, Mother Bates has created a legacy of love, leadership, faithfulness, and total praise.
For my Sisters Who Stand in Need of Prayer
Our Lord, Sanctifier, and Redeemer; you created us before the foundation of the earth and named us daughters of radiance. You have called us to be at one with you and with each other. We recognize the struggles of the past and look forward to the future because everything is in your hands. Great is our faithfulness, Lord, because we are bound together in the three-strand cord that cannot be broken joining us through Sisterhood.
We lift our hands of praise to elevate, encourage, and affirm the power of womanhood. You created us to let our light shine and share your spirit of compassion, love, peace, and harmony with all. Give us a fresh anointing, so that we might hear your still small voice whispering faith instead of fear, strength instead of weakness, victory instead of defeat. Thank you for grace and unmerited favor that we may show the same to our sisters.
We praise you, Lord for every challenge, every broken heart, every unanswered prayer. As we go through life’s ups and downs, agony, and ecstasy, good and bad; we ask for the trust that surpasses all understanding. You protected our survival as a people, and we thank you for being with us as we continue to struggle for liberation from all that would diminish our stature as human beings. We’ve come this far by faith, and continue our legacy of strong Black women who fought for justice, liberation, and peace.
We are grateful, O God, that you are still in control. The sun still rises in the east and sets in the west. The winds blow gently, and storms still rise in their time. We pray for peace in our homes, community, and our world. Help us, O God to be sensitive to the needs of all your people, and love ourselves and each other as much as you Father God love us.
From your precious creation —Woman. Amen.