Part of the family

  • Written by Jean Parietti
  • Published in NW Stories
Oyidia and Moore Ibekwe at their parish's Pan African Community celebration. Photo: Stephen Brashear Oyidia and Moore Ibekwe at their parish's Pan African Community celebration. Photo: Stephen Brashear

Love, faith blossomed across an ocean for Moore and Oyidia Ibekwe

Fresh out of an aeronautical university in Florida, Nigerian-born Moore Ibekwe Jr. landed a great job with Boeing. Now, he decided, it was time to start going to Mass more often than during his college years.

Moore was living near St. Mary Magdalen Church in Everett, so “I just went in and, behold, the priest was Nigerian as well,” he said with a laugh. “So that was interesting.”

It was another of those things in his life that Moore took as a sign from God.

“I just started going there [in 2005]. And as I met people, it became home,” Moore said. He became an active member of the community and got to know all the priests assigned to the parish over the years. In 2013, he helped start the parish’s Pan African Community.

So when Moore and his bride, Oyidia (Oh-YEE-dee-ah), enrolled in the parish’s Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults program in 2014 so they could be baptized, it surprised at least a few people — including the pastor.

“I knew him and just always assumed that he was Catholic. He did too, I think,” Father Hans Olson said with a laugh.

A conscious choice

Born in Nigeria to Catholic parents who weren’t married, baptism wasn’t an option as a child, Moore said. “Back then, if your parents weren’t married in the church, you couldn’t be baptized in the church,” he explained.

But Moore grew up Catholic, unaware that he hadn’t been baptized. When he was about 13, Moore moved to Atlanta to live with his father, and completed secondary school there.

Eventually, Moore figured out that getting confirmed was something he would have to pursue himself, “which is OK, because it was a conscious choice that I ended up making,” he said.

Being Catholic was important to him, something he especially realized while dating a Protestant girl for a long time when he was young. “She made a comment one day that she didn’t think Catholics were Christians. I was like, this isn’t going to work out,” Moore recalled.

“When I prayed for a wife, I wanted someone who would also help me be closer to the church, and fortunately that’s what I got.”

Oyidia and Moore
Oyidia and Moore Ibekwe. Photo: Stephen Brashear

Together through technology

Moore and Oyidia first made contact on Facebook in 2012, a connection suggested through a mutual friend of their respective aunties.

“I pretty much wasn’t interested in dating,” said Oyidia, who was living in Lagos, Nigeria, had completed her university studies to be a doctor and was busy working as a hospital intern.

So when Moore’s first Facebook request came, she deleted it. A month later, a second request came. This time, she accepted. Then, one evening she got a call from a number she didn’t recognize. She decided to answer. It was her new “friend,” Moore.

They talked in-depth for more than three hours. “It wasn’t like any other relationship before,” Oyidia said.

And so began their long-distance courtship. “We talked every day,” Moore said, whether by phone or an app like Skype, and despite time-zone differences and busy schedules that included Moore’s international travel for Boeing.

After four months, Oyidia and Moore met in person when he traveled to Nigeria for his grandfather’s 100th birthday celebration. Five months later, the pair were engaged.

“When you know what you want, it’s not a difficult thing,” Moore said.

Sharing the faith

Growing up in Nigeria with a Catholic mother and Salvationist father, Oyidia experienced going to Mass as well as Salvation Army services. While in boarding school for grades 7–12, “it was the Protestants or the Catholic Church,” and she attended services of both.

“It really wasn’t about which church I attended. It was more about my relationship with God as a person,” Oyidia recalled. “At a point it was hard. … I couldn’t understand why we should have different churches.”

She also felt challenged by things people claimed about Catholics, such as that they worshipped idols.

“It was a tough time for me because I didn’t understand any of those things,” Oyidia said. “That was something I really had to struggle with.”

In college, she attended Protestant services, but when she started her medical internship, she began going to a Catholic church close to the hospital. “I started making it a habit,” she said.

When she and Moore began dating, “I think that was when I decided to go to the Catholic Church full time,” she said.

On Sundays after Mass, she called Moore to ask, “OK, what did you learn today? And we’d talk about what happened during Mass. It was very interesting,” Oyidia said.

Although Moore was in Everett and Oyidia was in Nigeria, the Sunday Scriptures were universal. “We talked about the readings and the Gospel and what the priest talked about,” Moore said. “I thought that pulled us closer.”

In March 2014, Moore and Oyidia got married in Nigeria — twice. First came the traditional African ceremony, followed a week later by the Salvation Army religious ceremony.

That fall, the couple entered the RCIA program at St. Mary Magdalen, something they had talked about before getting married. Oyidia would prepare for baptism and Moore for confirmation. But when Moore asked his mother about his baptismal certificate, she told him he never was baptized.

‘Transformational’

Now both Moore and Oyidia were preparing for baptism, attending weekly RCIA gatherings that included more than 40 people. “I really liked the diversity, to see there were many other people who were also interested in the Catholic Church and what it stands for,” Oyidia said.

She found answers for a lot of her doubts and gained a better understanding of the Trinity and how it’s reflected in the teaching that man and woman are complementary. “It was something that really touched my soul,” she said.

Moore also found answers to his questions. “It was just good to be in the community every Thursday for an hour, just listening to the word and just understanding the faith a little better every single week. I would say it was transformational.”

Each week, he and Oyidia would come home and talk about what they learned. “It brought us closer to the church,” Moore said.

Oyidia beams with delight recounting the first time she received the Eucharist, after being baptized at the Easter Vigil in 2015.

“I was excited because … I became part of the family,” she said. “To me, the Eucharist being given to everyone at the same time, it’s the same thing as a family coming together. They’re eating together, breaking bread, drinking wine,” Oyidia said. “I felt like part of the Catholic Church.”

Moore Ibekwe is baptizedCourtesy St. Mary Magdalen Parish

Living their faith

Although Moore was active in the St. Mary Magdalen community before his baptism, going through RCIA reinforced for the couple that just going to church on Sunday isn’t enough to really live out the faith.

“You want to be more active and do more,” Moore said. “Doing the bare minimum in anything does not benefit
a person.”

The Ibekwes recently were installed as parish ushers and are very involved in the parish’s Pan African Community. The group hosts a variety of events during the year, including a February parish celebration of its patron, St. Josephine Bakhita.

“Moore has taken kind of a lead in that community,” said Father Olson, who has suggested Moore consider becoming a deacon one day. “I was very impressed with his leadership, first of all because it is very faith-filled,” the pastor said. “Really, he just commands the attention of the crowd. He’s a very eloquent speaker.”

Moore willingly shares his story with others, and the signs that have imparted lessons along the way.

Such as the time a slower car got in front of him as he was hurrying to the airport. “I was like, this person is an idiot,” Moore said. Then he noticed the license plate said DEUT65. He pulled off the road to look up what Deuteronomy 6:5 says: “Therefore, you shall love the Lord, your God, with your whole heart, and with your whole being, and with your whole strength.”

“All right,” Moore said with a laugh. “I guess I should pray for that person.

“Since then, that’s kind of stuck in my mind,” he said. “We talk about signs and when do you know when God is talking to you.”

Ed Miller, Oyidia’s RCIA sponsor, said it’s not uncommon for new Catholics to be overwhelmed after the Easter experience. Some need time to grow into their faith before becoming really involved in the parish, while others drift away after a while, said Miller, who has been involved in RCIA for many years.

But Moore and Oyidia “are really committed,” he said. “They’ve really embraced God in their life; they’ve embraced the Catholic religion. They’re a success story.”

Northwest Catholic - April 2016