Christian church receives interfaith award for ministry to mosque

by Kelly Ledbetter |

Salaam Mosque Sacramento

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (Christian Examiner) – Though their beliefs differ greatly, First Covenant Church of Sacramento and SALAM Islamic Center have forged an enduring friendship.

In his acceptance speech for an award commemorating the relationship, First Covenant executive pastor Mark Shetler said: "There are many things that we can share in common. We as people of faith want to be people who are learning to love one another."

Established in 1913, First Covenant has been involved in aiding Muslim refugees who are fleeing political unrest and violence in Iran, Iraq, and Afghanistan since 2009. Through World Relief, First Covenant members help refugees clean, furnish, and move into their new California apartments.

First Covenant Church of Sacramento

"Volunteers take them to the Social Security office, the Department of Social Services, help them register their kids for school, take them for medical appointments and also the first trip to the supermarket—most have never seen anything like it."

Since 2011, First Covenant has also hosted an annual Iftar, a dinner breaking the day-long fast observed by Muslims throughout the month of Ramadan.

This year at the Iftar, Metwalli Amer, the executive director of SALAM, presented First Covenant with the Distinguished Award for Exceptional Interfaith and Community Service, the first such award given by an American mosque.

Of the closeness of the church's and mosque's friendships, Amer said, "SALAM is their second home, and First Covenant is our second home." SALAM has invited First Covenant members to feasts and has held an Easter toy drive.

Shetler estimates that the church has sponsored more than 100 refugees and aided more than 500 in their culturally and emotionally challenging transition to California. "We had no idea what we were getting into – many of them are still suffering because a family member has either been killed or wounded because of the violence in their home country."

He described how church members were honored and humbled by their involvement in the refugees' lives. "Just last week, one of the refugee families got word that a brother, uncle and nephew all got killed by ISIS in Baghdad."

To SALAM, the award signifies that First Covenant is prepared to provide physical and spiritual succor to people in need, regardless of differences in faith. To First Covenant, the award serves as a reminder, as Shetler says, to be grateful for opportunities to show God's love.