The entire Pacific School of Religion community grieves deeply for the sudden and tragic death of Isamaeli (Eli) Mata’afa. Eli died on Saturday, the victim of a shooting that took place while he was out with friends and relatives in Berkeley. Very little information is currently available, but three others were injured, and the incident is under investigation.
We hold his family, church, and the entire Bay Area Samoan and Tuvaluan community in prayer.
Eli entered our Master of Divinity program in the spring of 2020 on a presidential scholarship, awarded to the top incoming students who best exemplify PSR’s mission. He came to PSR after graduating from Kanana Fou Theological Seminary in American Samoa, a school with a long-standing connection to the PSR community.
Eli’s goal in pursuing a Master of Divinity was to serve God and his community in San Lorenzo and the greater Bay Area. He also had a commitment to address climate change, which threatens the Pacific Islands through extreme weather and sea level rise, from a theological perspective. He felt strongly that addressing climate change upholds the fifth commandment, ‘Thou shalt honor thy mother and father,’ a concept with great resonance in Samoan culture where a connection of people and planet is greatly relational.
In response to this devastating news, Rev. Ann Jefferson, PSR’s director of community life and spiritual care said, “When any member of our community is taken so suddenly from us – and in particular, to the plague of senseless gun violence – the web and interwoven fiber of our community life is also torn apart. We will mourn the loss of Ismaeli, his contributions to our community, and his extended community of faith, and we as a community pledge to do our part to remember his life by working for the flourishing of peace in our world.”
Sandra Nathan, chair of PSR’s Board of Trustees, said, “We are so deeply saddened by this tragic loss to Eli’s family, church, community, and the extended PSR community. Today and in the days to come, we are lifting him up and asking for God to cradle him in God’s arms and send solace to his loved ones. We are also praying for this senseless violence to come to an end.”
“Eli embodied everything our PSR family holds dear. He was a person of deep personal faith and was a leader and mentor in his community with a desire to create a world where all can thrive. He had much more to give before he was taken from us. Today and in the days to come, our prayers go out to Eli Mata’afa’s family — no parent should suffer the loss of a child, and certainly not to gun violence,” said PSR president, Rev. David Vásquez-Levy.
He added, “PSR is a tightly-knit community where each student is known, valued, and heard. In our grief, we stand in hope. Romans 8 assures us, “For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
A prayer vigil, led by the young people Eli led as a youth leader in Oakland, will be held this Thursday evening (10/13) outside of San Lorenzo Community Church — 945 Paseo Grande in San Lorenzo, CA
A memorial for the PSR community is also being planned with more information to come.