The Maple Grove United Methodist Church in Waukee has stepped up to assist a family in need and drawn together the larger community through a gesture of hope in the face of tragedy.
“We had to do more, we just had to do more,” said Jim Riordan, a Maple Grove member and one of the organizers of the recent event, a Day for Mike.
Mike is Mike Wasike, a Des Moines husband and father originally from Kenya who stopped on his way home from work one day last February to offer help to three teenage boys who he thought needed assistance.
The boys attacked Wasike and beat him nearly to death in the course of a car-jacking.
The three were later caught and have been charged with first degree robbery, their trials scheduled for the coming year.
Wasike was hospitalized in Methodist Hospital in Des Moines. Various people and groups reached out to the Wasike family, including Maple Grove.
“The thing they really wanted was someone to go and pray with them,” said Maple Grove Pastor Melinda Cree Anthony.
Maple Grove members continued to pray regularly with the family on Sunday afternoon in Mike Wasike’s hospital room, beginning in April or May and lasting until he was transferred from the hospital in late August.
“That’s how we got to know them,” Rev. Anthony said. “What I think they were looking for was that lasting relationship.”
And lasted it has.
Wasike was moved in August to a rehabilitation facility in Tulsa, OK, where he undergoes intensive therapy. His brain is severely bruised. Currently he is unable to walk, talk or see.
Tulsa is more than 400 miles away from Des Moines. Wasike’s wife Joan Namachemo and their children, Sandrah, 13 and Melvin, 4, travel to see him when they can, at best, every other weekend when Namachemo is off from her job as a third shift supervisor at Mosaic Des Moines, which serves adults with intellectual disabilities.
Initially Maple Grove church members planned to host a summer cookout as a fundraiser and invite other local church communities to participate.
“One of our church members said, “You know what, this family deserves better,” said Maple Grove member Susan Cox. “Jim (Riordan) picked up on things from there.”
“Prayer is extremely important, of course,” Riordan said. “But to try and take action to help the family with their needs is critically important.”
Maple Grove members held a birthday party for the children, a Halloween party for them and a party for Mike Wasike when he left the hospital in Des Moines.
Mike Wasike worked two jobs to support his family prior to his attack. The family lost two-thirds of their income with his incapacitation. They have had to go on Medicaid, but this will not cover all of the medical expenses. And then there is the cost to his family to travel to be with him.
Maple Grove members began networking and reaching for help and advice. The idea for A Day for Mike was developed. A handful of local marketing professionals stepped in to assist in getting the word out.
“The media in the area really got behind the event,” said Riordan.
On November 17, A Day for Mike took place at the Community Choice Credit Union Convention Center in the Iowa Events Center.
Everything was donated, the space, auction items, food, drinks and the performance by the Waukee Big Band.
The Iowa Events Center didn’t hold back.
“It was really classy-looking,” Riordan said.
Essentially the entire Maple Grove community and beyond worked on the day.
“I knew a lot went into it, but when I got their on Sunday I realized just how much,” said Rev. Anthony. “They worked really hard on Sunday. I was really impressed.”
Approximately 180 items were donated for the benefit’s auction. Riordan, a long-time volunteer auctioneer, conducted the auction.
The event was well attended.
“There was obviously a large community response,” Cox said.
The Maple Grove really stepped up and did an amazing job, she said.
“It went really, really well,” said Rev Anthony.
“It was overwhelming,” Joan Namachemo said.
“I really appreciate what the community has done, to come along with me on this journey” she said.
It was a bit of a surprise to her that so many would come to her family’s aid.
“Surely it was,” Namachemo said. “Because I did not know these people.”
The Maple Grove church community has made a significant impact as well.
“We’ve just become a family,” said Namachemo. “Praying with me, they’ve been very involved in my life.”
Her children are traumatized, and they miss their father.
Melvin Wasike prays no less than three times daily for his dad, at times waking in the middle of the night to do so.
“He prays, “God help Daddy feel better. Amen,” Namachemo said.
Mike Wasike’s son writes letters to his dad and continually asks his mother when they will go to see him again.
The original projection was that Mike Wasike would be in Oklahoma for six months, but he has not progressed as it was thought that he might. Joan Namachemo has been looking at facilities in Des Moines to be prepared for the day when her husband will be able to return home to Des Moines.
The medical bills continue to pile up.
The Wasike family will need support for some time to come.
“Their need is great,” said Rev. Anthony. “And we will continue to provide coordination of things.”
“We’re just going to stand with her,” Riordon said. “We’re going to try to support her.”
This is not lost on Namachemo.
She doesn’t let herself think about the three young men who brutally changed her family’s life forever. She holds on to her faith, and she has to believe that one day this will be over. She also works very hard to keep her children optimistic.
“I tell them, bad things happened to Daddy, but he’s getting better,” said Namachemo.
“I think God touched their heart,” Namachemo said of the people reaching out to help her. “”It adds strength to me.”
“I just keep my faith up and look at the good that’s coming out of this,” she said.
The giving in the case of the Wasike family is a two-way street. Susan Cox considers it a gift from God to have been able to be a part of supporting the Wasike family.
“I’m very thankful for how everything came together, the blessing of working on this” she said. “I feel like I obtained more of God’s grace than I ever gave. It really has been life-changing for me.”
Maple Grove United Methodist Church has just 50 members in its congregation. They are facing the prospect of having to move their church building with the impending widening of Ashworth Road. This will be a significant financial cost. Discussions were taking place for how to contend with this when the Wasike family tragedy presented itself.
“We said, “We’re not going to focus on our own needs,” said Cox. “We’re going to focus on the Wasike’s.
“We told ourselves, “We’re the little church that could,” Riordan said. “And we took a leap of faith.”
Maple Grove had more than $20K raised for the Wasike family before A Day for Mike took place. Preliminary estimates of the event show another $20+ thousand to add to that.
As word has spread about the Wasike family, people continue to call to offer money if they couldn’t attend the benefit event, or they offer services or other support.
It was mentioned that Joan Namachemo felt she couldn’t rely on her car to make the trips back and forth to Tulsa. A local auto mechanic subsequently called and volunteer his services.
“It’s just amazing stuff, everything that’s going on,” said Riordan. “The giving continues. This has really struck a chord.”
“I think the fact that a little church stood up and said, “We’re going to do this,” said Riordan. “We realize this family is going to need help for a long time.”
The Team Wasike fund remains in place at the Maple Grove United Methodist Church in Waukee to accept donations for the family.
“Everything sent will go to that family. We can guarantee that,” Riordan said.
Joan Namachemo continues to be moved and encouraged by how many people have come together to help her, including the little church that could.
“It’s not about the money,” Rev. Anthony said. “It’s about the relationship.”
Information on supporting the Wasike family is available on-line at teamwasike.org