Love is a doing word

by Mike May

Christine Ikeh was a refugee from rural Nigeria, who had fled the violence and havoc caused by Boko Haram militants, when Dana Washington noticed her attending Mass at her church, St. Benedict the Moor in Omaha.

Over several weeks, the women became acquainted and Washington realized Ikeh needed help.

Ikeh, who was living temporarily with a distant cousin in Omaha, moved in with Washington’s family for about six months while she found a job, a place to live and adjusted to life in the United States.

For Washington, living mercy often means welcoming the stranger. But in Ikeh’s case, she offered more than a friendly word or a warm handshake.

Washington believes in serving her neighbor—and that’s anyone God places in her path, she told the audience in her testimonial during ArchOmaha Unite’s Main Event June 8 at CHI Health Center in Omaha.

“Oftentimes, because of where we associate, our neighbors may be a lot like us,” Washington said. “Sometimes our neighbors are very different, they may be people from various backgrounds with very different value systems, but if God has seen fit to throw us together in some kind of way, then I really believe that is our neighbor.”

Washington said she likes to help young women, especially those interested in furthering their educations. So as she and Ikeh became acquainted, Washington noticed her ambition and motivation to continue her education and was moved to support her.

Washington often sees opportunities to live mercy at her church, welcoming strangers, some of whom may be immigrants such as Ikeh.

“When I see someone I haven’t seen before, just making an extra effort after Mass, to get over and talk to them and welcome them and find out their story, and oftentimes I will become aware of a need that they have,” Washington said.

Those needs may be for clothing or food, or simply for companionship—someone to accompany them “so that they’re not just in it alone and they make some friends or understand some things about how things are going to work, so they’re just not on their own navigating their new world. Those are some of the ways that I try to welcome immigrants.”

And sharing daily life with Ikeh has been rewarding for the Washington family.

“It’s been a gift to me, my kids love her and she’s still a part of our extended family,” said Washington, who stays in contact with Ikeh and occasionally helps her with gas money or groceries.

Ikeh, who now holds two jobs and attends Metropolitan Community College in Omaha, is grateful for the Washingtons’ support. “I pray that God will bless them.”

Washington, who now is senior vice president and general counsel with Boys Town in Omaha, served as a teacher before beginning her law career and has since maintained her interest in helping young people grow. She has served as a mentor through Big Brothers, Big Sisters of the Midlands and informally with people she meets through her parish and in other ways.

She extends an invitation to talk about anything they wish—their education, family concerns, career directions, faith.

“I just make myself accessible. Here’s my number, if you need anything I’m happy to help, call any time,” Washington said.

“It’s just a matter of opening yourself up to people and letting them know that you’re a resource, that you’re there for them, that you care about their well-being, you care about their success, that you’re invested in them and that it matters,” she said.

Washington said mercy also means showing patience and extending forgiveness, especially toward family members, including husband, Darryl, and their four children.

“I think being quick to forgive is another way to show mercy … when somebody hurts you that’s close to you. It’s easy to hold on to anger and resentment,” she said, “so being quick to forgive is big.”

“I think that’s what God does with us all the time,” Washington said. “We mess up, we fail, we deserve condemnation and instead he just gives us love and mercy. I think there’s a lot of little ways in how we live our lives that we can extend that same love and mercy to other people.”

Washington said being close to Jesus helps her reach out and serve others.

“I’m aware of how weak and broken I am and how much I am absolutely and totally dependent on God and his mercy and his grace,” she said. “When you become really aware of that, it’s easier to not be judgmental and to just try to love and serve rather than judge.

“You find that God just gives you the graces to help in ways that maybe you never imagined that you could, and he gives you the energy and the time to do it as well.”