Building Bridges

By Rev. Kathy Haueisen

I have learned much over the past few months about connections between Houston Lutherans and their Muslim neighbors. This education began last August when the west Houston Dawoodi Bahra Muslim Community completed an addition to their Masjid, located near where my daughter, Carol Flores, lives and about two miles from Covenant Lutheran, where I worship. Because Carol lives in that neighborhood and works for Interfaith Ministries for Greater Houston, she was invited to a dinner meeting and tour of the new facilities before the scheduled October dedication.

That dinner coincided with Pastor Elizabeth Hanley’s very first day in the office as Covenant’s new pastor so they attended together. The three of us attended the October opening reception for His Holiness from India, Syedna Mufaddal Saifddin. He came to inaugurate the new facilities and lead an estimated 20,000 Dawoodi Bahra faithful followers, many of whom were from India, through nine days of mourning, prayer, worship, and study. In writing about this, I also learned about many other Houston area Lutheran-Muslim connections:

Pastor David Roschke and Salem Lutheran in Houston established connections with Imam Wazir Ali at Mercy Community Center through a clergy leadership pulpit exchange. Each took members to visit at the other’s place of worship and spoke at each other’s sites. Salem also hosted an Iftar (Post Ramadan meal) last July with the Islamic Institute, where around 200 people came to enjoy food provided by their Muslims neighbors.

Hosanna member Nancy Agafitei, a librarian, got a grant to learn more about the Muslim culture; through this she got Hosanna involved with two local Masjids. Now Muslim women work with Hosanna’s women to finish quilts to donate. Members of Hosanna and their Muslim neighbors work together on the annual “God’s work. Our hands” community service projects, and the communities meet monthly to learn from one another.

Pastor Pete Warmanen at House of Prayer in Houston led a November campfire and candlelight vigil, reaching out to the Clear Lake Islamic Center’s Iman Dr. Waleed Bsyouni, who then spoke at adult forums in January.

Christ the Servant’s member Marcy Williams was president of a neighborhood association back in the early 2000’s when the Turkish Muslim Americans were constructing the Rainbow Turkish House. In that capacity she helped them understand and follow local building codes so they’d pass inspections. That led her and members of her church to participate in the Turkish-American Muslim’s annual pre-Thanksgiving dinner.

Free Wheels of Houston

Bill Mintz at Christ the King in Houston networked with his congregation and Houston Campus Ministry to launch Free Wheels of Houston, a non-profit. They refurbish used bikes and give them to newly arrived refugees fleeing from extreme violence in Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, and other countries.

These are just some of the examples of how members within our synod are extending the welcome mat to our Muslim neighbors.