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PSR Students Launch New Garden to Build Community and Honor the Life of Eli Mata’afa

A community garden that began as a project in Fall 2022’s Spiritual Formation for Leadership class is now coming to fruition as a physical garden. After the tragic and untimely death of the Master of Divinity student Isamaeli (Eli) Mata’afa, the garden became a tangible way to come together to celebrate his life and continue his legacy. 

Students broke ground in the Isamaeli (Eli) Mata’afa community garden during the spring semester in the southwest corner of the PSR campus by the existing peace post. They decided on a medicine wheel design to emphasize the healing intention of the garden. The four quadrants have Chick Lupine, Calendula (yellow), Hellebore (dark purple), Red Clover, Columbines (red), and Yarrow (white). These medicinal plants will be available to the community to harvest and share. Blue Forget-me–not flowers border the garden in memory of Eli and his work for climate justice.

The longer-term goal of the community garden is to engage the community toward whole-being and whole-community sustainability and resilience. The student organizers define sustainability as, “whatever helps individuals and communities persist. It encompasses personal, social, environmental, and spiritual aspects of our lives.” By opening a garden space that will be accessible to all, students aim to foster healing of the mind, body, spirit, and community. 

After its opening, the next phase for the garden will be to engage with the community through Seeds of Dialogue. “Seeds of Dialogue aims to acknowledge and embody how we are a forest of selves, an island of life, a node in a network of nature, a dynamic field of interconnected agents of several species” according to the garden’s current mission statement. The Isamaeli Mata’afa Community Garden is a place for spiritual communion, community engagement, and connection. Engagement through Seeds of Dialogue seeks to answer the question, “What conversations do we need to have to foster social transformation?” Emphasis is put on deeply listening to marginalized voices and creating meaningful programming for community transformation around sustainability.

An initial iteration of Seeds of Dialogue is storytelling. “Storytelling is the heart of who we are as humans. It connects us, gives meaning to the events in our lives, and helps us create our identities,” said one of the students involved in the garden’s creation. As the plants in the physical garden grow, so will Seeds of Dialogue and its fruits grow through future iterations. 

This garden, which will open on Earth Day 2023, will be a space of medicine, a salve for troubles and traumas alike. It will be a space to experience the beauty of nature through observation, appreciation, and participation. The physical planting of the garden embodies the planting of Seeds of Dialogue, which will grow in an ongoing conversation of transformation, bearing a harvest of sustainability, resilience, and healing.

How to get involved


The Isamaeli Mata’afa Community Garden is open to the entire PSR and larger Berkeley and East Bay communities. All are welcome to join the weekly community garden hours, Tuesday 1-4 pm and Friday 9:30 am-12 pm. 

Attend PSR’s 2023 Prom

All proceeds from PSR’s prom go towards the support and expansion of the Eli Mataafa Community Garden. Prom will be on the PSR campus on April 21st, 2023.  Click here to learn more and purchase tickets. Please show your support by purchasing tickets.

Isamaeli (Eli) Mata’afa

Eli was a master of divinity student at the Pacific School of Religion and was set to graduate in the spring of 2023. He was the victim of gun violence and died tragically on October 9th, 2022. 

In the church, he was a part of the clergy and youth leader for the Samoan Congregational Christian Church of Oakland. He was the right-hand clergy member of Rev. Ulysses and First Lady Eseta Vee. He was also the Assistant Leader for the Youth Ministry of the Santa Clara Region. He was a standing member of the Disciples of Christ. 

Some of the services he was involved in were the weekly Church Food Banks and community services, where he led his youth in community clean-ups around the neighborhoods to preserve the environment as he believed in environmental justice, especially the effects of climate change on our Samoan islands and the Pacific Island Nation as a whole. 

He also worked with Samoan Affairs in communal interests trying to build and network the Samoan youth with opportunities and resources within the Bay Area  He was also part of a Yale Research Program that is designed to work with the Samoan elders on collective research data for Yale University as they try and target areas of amnesia and why this mental illness hasn’t affected the Samoan community as much. 

He graduated from Kanana Fou Theological Seminary and then was admitted to PSR on a presidential scholarship. He was in the MDiv program and was in the first semester of his last year before he passed. He was compassionate and viewed the world with so much hope and goodness. He was also a very diligent and passionate member of the Samoan church who was always involved in every youth event at all levels within his church, the district, and the region. He was also the main technology personnel for our district functions and supported serving the youth at all costs, as he’d spend his funds on youth events. 

He was the fifth child of 7 siblings in his Samoan-Tuvalu family. The son of Lay Leader Voloti and Anita Mataafa. He was also the breadwinner and caretaker for his parents. God, family, and the church were what his life revolved around, embodying the core aspects of what defines a Samoan Christian. His calling to become a minister was at the age of 20, and was admitted into the Kanana Fou Theological Seminary in American Samoa at 21yrs old. His theology embodied breaking boundaries with Christ’s love for all, as he spoke on the story of the Syrophenician woman and his context within the Samoan community, finding ways to claim our seats as Samoans at the table with Jesus and ways to claim our rights as Samoans in the world. 

Overall, he was a loving, caring, hard-working, determined, and devoted son, brother, uncle, friend, leader, and serviceman to God, his church and youth, his family, and his community.

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