When Love Starts At Home

Posted on Aug 30 2019

On the outside the High Desert Bilingual church blends seamlessly into the arid desert surroundings, but from the inside out flows brotherly love and hospitality as modeled in Romans 12, between the three separate language congregations that worship there every Sabbath.

Originally a Spanish and English language church, since 2016 it became home to a third language, Samoan. The story of how three distinct cultures came to form such a close-knit community is reminiscent of the early church that simply sought to build community and share the gospel with their neighbors.

In 2016 a group of about 15 Samoan people were looking for a place to worship; churches of other denominations opened their door to them for a few Sabbaths a month, but they really longed for a church building they could call “home.”

“We prayed for a long time,” said Matautu Brown, a member of the Samoan group. “We trusted that if God was willing to do it, it would happen.”

Their persevering prayers resulted in a conversation with Andy Silva, then pastor of the High Desert Bilingual church, who, according to Brown, opened the church’s doors without hesitation.

Brown even became emotional as she recalled the experience. “Pastor Silva said, ‘don’t worry about payment, you can come worship here. This is your church,’” she said. “I got on my knees and thanked the Lord.”

The High Desert Bilingual church happened to have a third building that was not used for worship, so they offered it to their new Samoan church family members.

The Samoan group transferred their membership to their new location. Word quickly spread in the Samoan community that there was a new place to worship, and the Samoan group has grown to about 50 people, some of who make the approximately 70-mile one-way trek from Orange County.

While three language sections of the church now conduct their own services and activities as well as their own outreach ministries, they have come together through shared Sabbath lunches by mutual invitations, joint communion most of the year, and other activities.

“The goal was to maintain unity,” said Michel Aguinaga, former English ministry coordinator at High Desert Bilingual church. “That’s why communions and baptisms are done together. It’s truly the spirit of one big church.”

The melding of three distinct languages into one unified worship experience has also been conducive to learning about each other’s cultures in a way that builds friendship and understanding.

“We blessed the Samoan group by opening our doors, but we have been blessed by them too,” said Arturo Ramirez, head elder of the church. “The Samoan culture is very respectful. They love people and are very friendly.”

“The goal of the church is that anyone who comes feels welcomed and appreciated,” said Aguinaga.

According to Aguinaga, the greatest period of growth experienced by the High Desert church was under Silva’s leadership, including 120 baptisms and membership transfers in a three-year period that includes welcoming the Samoan worshippers.

The church is also very outward focused by conducting food banks, blood drives, health fairs, and other community activities. But the love, so to speak, starts at home, by serving each other.

“Even though we have different languages, we serve the same living God,” said Matautu. “It may be difficult to understand another language but we can all feel the Christian love.”

by Cynthia Mendoza