By Megan Nuehring
“God has used us in ways beyond our ability … we have reached milestones [in a relationship of love and understanding] with our neighboring Muslim community,” says Rani Abdulmasih, pastor of Mother of the Savior Lutheran Church, an ELCA congregation in Dearborn, Mich.
A mission congregation, Mother of the Savior is unique. The congregation is one of two Arabic speaking congregations in this church and is the only Middle Eastern Christian congregation in Dearborn. The church property is next to the largest mosque in North America. Members of Mother of the Savior worship in a community where 90 percent of the residents are Muslim.
Rani was born and raised in Jerusalem. He is a recipient of the “Building Bridges” award in 2003. He is an advocate, educator and a neighbor to all in Dearborn. Alongside the congregation, Rani participates in many ongoing interfaith activities.
“In the past year, I have brought 900 people to the mosque to meet and learn about our Muslim neighbors,” he says.
In a society that can often be fearful of those with varying beliefs, Rani immerses his congregation in activities that help his flock walk with their neighbors. Every other weekend an interfaith event is held, and 80 to 150 people attend. These events allow the participants to experience one another’s faith and fellowship.
One year ago, Mother of the Savior hosted an ELCA Glocal Event. With nearly 200 people attending the community dinner, the overall event called for a celebration of what the congregation has accomplished and the bridges that have been built. Rani emphasizes that it does not matter if someone is Muslim, Jewish or Christian. The main concern is building a relationship with them.
“My belief tells me to walk with my neighbor, no matter their background,” he says. “It is amazing the need to just simply be there and open the relationship with those who are different, [and] although we may have different beliefs, we are both in the journey together.”
The interfaith activities benefit the youth in many ways, Rani adds, including encouraging young people to ask questions and learn about and from their peers.
“Some [of the youth] were born in the United States, and some were raised in the Middle East. They are of Muslim and Christian families from the community,” Rani says.
The youth are asking their peers, “Why are you Christian? Why are you not Muslim?” and vice versa. This allows youth to build bridges among their neighbors.
“Interfaith work is not a complicated business,” says Rani. “It is simply walking with my neighbor.”
Megan Nuehring is a recent graduate of Wartburg College and now lives in Dubuque, Iowa, where she spends her time writing and volunteering.