Family first, ministry second

TelevisionColleges and UniversitiesEntertainmentPhiladelphia (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania)Pembroke PinesMartin Luther King Jr.

Rev. Willie J. Cook

Other job experience: Churches in Tampa, Gainesville, Homestead and Inverness

Education: Degree in business administration, Florida A&M University; master's degree in divinity, Interdenominational Theological Center, Atlanta

Personal: Age 56; born in Lakeland, resident of Pembroke Pines since 1994

Family: Married to Dorothy, a special education teacher for Dade County Schools. Four children

How could you live in Pembroke Pines while serving churches around Florida?

Technically, you're supposed to move around, but my wife and I wanted stability. So on Monday, I would drive to the church and, Thursday afternoon, I'd come back home. Then I'd go back on Saturday morning, and, on Sunday evening, I'd come back home.

Those are incredible lengths to go for your family.

My wife has been very supportive. And for me, it's therapeutic. It's time to be alone in prayer.

Do you have a family emphasis in your ministry, too?

Yes, we help a lot of couples who ask how we make it work. I tell them that family comes first, then ministry. People embrace that.

How did you get into your vocation?

I worked in accounting for 16 years for BellSouth, but I felt a calling deep in my spirit. I finally said, "Lord, if you want me to be a minister, open doors for me to go to seminary." It took seven years, but it happened.

Favorite pastime?

Going to the mountains, taking nature walks. I love the Smoky Mountains and Yosemite.

Favorite vacation spot?

For my wife and me and our oldest son, one of the most beautiful places is Maui. It's remote and has beautiful water and views. And the highway winds for hours.

Favorite TV shows?

We usually watch with our son, so we pick channels like Discovery or Animal Planet.

Do you have a hero?

Richard Allen, the founder of the AME Church. He was ahead of his time. He also started an insurance company and organized a nursing guild in Philadelphia to deal with yellow fever. He worked many jobs and bought his and his brother's freedom. And he was never a bitter person. He preached the gospel and believed in it.

What person in history would you like most to meet?

I'd want to meet two: Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X. Both were great thinkers, and there was a dichotomy between them that I'd like to explore.

Your most spiritual experience?

One was when I visited Mother Bethel AME Church in Philadelphia (birthplace of the AME denomination). That is sacred ground, where something great was started by a man of faith. It is the first property owned by blacks in America.

Something most people don't know about you?

I was a champion swimmer; I started swimming around the age of 7. The city pool in Lakeland was right across from my house. I won hundreds of races. I was a water safety instructor for adults and children. That was my summer job in college.

What's the most important thing you've ever learned?

When you show love and care for others, they usually respond by showing love and care for you.

When things get you down, how do you reconnect with the spirit?

I meditate, focus on the Scriptures and pray a lot. I love to pray.

Have you ever doubted your faith?

Not doubt, but there are times when you question what you're doing and if God is leading you. In the end, I always come back to, "If God has sent me, God has prepared me."

What would you like most to be remembered for?

That I tried to love, tried to share and tried to make the situation better wherever I served.

-- James D. Davis

Do you know someone we should profile? Tell Religion Editor James D. Davis at 954-356-4730 or jdavis @sun-sentinel.com.

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