Reaping a Samoan Harvest
Ethnic congregation in California city finds favor in the community.Harvest Samoan Assembly of God in Patterson, California, started in 2009 with 25 people and a vision to serve the community. A decade later, appreciative city leaders are supportive as the church prepares to build a new facility and expand ministry.
New companies locating in Patterson, combined with reasonable housing costs, have attracted Samoans moving inland from coastal areas. The city of 22,000 also has a large Hispanic population, many working on plantations that give the area its “apricot capital” nickname. Other islanders, some U.S.-born, as well as various intermarriages between people groups, make Harvest Assembly truly multiethnic. Most are U.S. citizens or in the citizenship process, and over one-third of the 125 regulars are youth and children.
Pastor Hercules Lasi Lofa preaches the Sunday service first in English, the primary language of younger congregants. He then follows with a second sermon in Samoan. Lofa, 55, answered the call to ministry in his native Western Samoa before serving a Samoan AG church in Hawaii as youth pastor for three years and Carson Samoan Assembly in California as assistant pastor for 12 years. He and his wife, Iole, have pastored in Patterson since 2012. The church is part of the AG Samoan District.
Renting facilities from another church, the congregation began outreach through serving. The church held regular Saturday prayer walks, and the youth assisted neighborhood elderly with cutting grass and other home maintenance. At the suggestion of a youth group member, a Thanksgiving outreach began six years ago. Neighborhood families join in fun activities, hear worship music and a message, and receive a free turkey. In 2019, the event was restructured to include a hot meal.
The church is also in its fifth year hosting a prayer breakfast for community leaders and first responders. Local pastors take turns giving the message, with Harvest Assembly providing and serving the meal.
Other churches and community leaders have taken notice, according to Lofa. Needing more room for ministry, the congregation started a building fund, and last year purchased nearly two acres debt-free after the property owner, believing in the church’s ministry, significantly lowered the price.
Fresh Start Builders of Lodi, California, led by Rick Souza, will be the contractor for the new building. Souza served several years as an appointed Assemblies of God world missionary leading Missions Abroad Placement Service teams around the globe. He worked with various island populations in their native countries, and back in the U.S., served the AG Northern California-Nevada District as director of church construction and field consultant for the missions board.
Souza, 67, is currently executive director for Adult & Teen Challenge Faith Home Network in California. He established Fresh Start Builders as a self-supporting business to provide quality building services while giving Teen Challenge staff and students the opportunity to learn a trade and contribute financially to the ministry. Souza’s overseas missions experience is especially valuable to ethnic congregations, which are often unfamiliar with complex U.S. building permit processes.
Harvest Samoan Assembly’s commitment to serving has led to positive response and rapid turnaround time in obtaining the city’s approval, including conditional use permits, for the new facility.
“The planning commission was definitely favorable, due to the church’s investing in the community,” says Souza. Construction begins soon, with the goal of the facility being ready by the end of the year.