New La Sierra University Church Pastor Recounts His Journey
By Darla Martin Tucker
It was an extraordinary moment for Iki Taimi and his family. The word came on February 25 while he and his wife were driving home from a breakfast out—"I got a call from the president of the Southeastern California Conference, Jonathan Park, and he said that the search committee had decided to invite me to be the lead pastor for the La Sierra University church. We were blown away.”
Taimi, currently the senior youth and young adult ministries director for the Southern California Conference (SCC), will officially begin his new role in May. A native of Tonga who grew up in Southern California, he will serve as the first person of color to lead the university church, which was previously guided for 13 years by Chris Oberg, who broke ground as the church’s first female lead pastor. The new and unexpected appointment affirmed Taimi’s original calling to serve the local church and its young people, he said. It also culminated the latest step along a ministerial career path he never would have imagined years earlier. His unlikely journey was sparked through the God- inspired words of La Sierra University’s Homebase Ministries founder Jodi Cahill, whose insights would prove prophetic throughout Taimi’s life, right up until the week of Cahill’s unexpected death on Sept. 10, 2021.
Taimi first met Cahill in 1999. He was jumping over bushes attempting to sneak back into his sister's house on La Sierra's campus after staying out late to play basketball.
“A little white lady with her poodle saw me and said, ‘Hey what are you doing? What are you doing with your life?’ I said, ‘I’m not sure,’” recalled Taimi. “And she said, ‘You’re going to join me and you’re going to do ministry and you’re going to join this school.’ And I said, ‘That’s not possible, little lady’ I didn’t know that was my calling. And she said, ‘Trust me, this is going to happen.’ And lo and behold, a week later I was enrolled at La Sierra University and I was working for Homebase [Ministries] for Jodi Cahill. She has been a prophet in my life,” Taimi said—a prophet who encouraged and predicted his pastorship at the La Sierra University church while he was still in school.
In 2004 Taimi earned a bachelor’s degree in religious studies, followed by a Master of Theological Studies in 2013 from La Sierra’s H.M.S Richards Divinity School. Along the way he served as an associate chaplain for the university. Taimi’s work over the past years has included leading the development of what would become the SCC’s youth and young adult ministries department, which he led full time following its inception in 2018. Until that time, he served as lead pastor of the Gardena Genesis Community church, which he planted around 2008. He continues to lead the ONEHouse senior youth and young adult program, which he directed during these years. He served as associate pastor of the Gardena church while leading the conference department. He is currently pursuing a Doctor of Ministry degree from Fuller Theological Seminary, with a focus on church transformation and the call to justice.
Along Taimi’s journey, Cahill’s vision and insights continued to encourage and inspire him down paths he had not considered, including the prediction of his marriage to his wife, Melanie, well before any romance had blossomed between the two. The couple now have two children, ages seven and eight.
On March 5, Taimi stood before the La Sierra University church congregation to officially accept the call to serve as their lead pastor. In recalling the moment, he reflected on his friend Jodi Cahill and her continued encouragement to him just days before her passing that he would one day serve as her pastor at the university church. “It was surreal for me, standing in front of that church, accepting the invitation in public,” said Taimi. “I know where Jodi always sits, and I just thought of how she would have been so proud to be here in that moment.”
Taimi’s journey at La Sierra and during his prior education at other Adventist schools was also supported by the kindnesses of many others as he pursued his educational goals and the calling he gradually came to experience in his life. Because of the people from all walks of life who reached out to him, Taimi, who was raised in the Adventist tradition, grew to truly love the Adventist faith and its community, he said.
“It was people who loved me and my family. It was people who sacrificed to make sure I could stay in school,” said Taimi. “I had gotten such a wellspring of love from so many different groups of people and families in Adventism that it made me fall in love with this church, and I truly believe that we can do that for others. If Adventism was about a group of people who loved others deeply, through action, I believe that more of our young people would say, ‘I want to be a part of it.’”
At the La Sierra University church, Taimi aims to continue the work begun by Oberg “toward creating community that really is centered around the love of Jesus,” he said, “and indiscriminately loving in such a way that inclusion is a real, tangible thing for all people. Being a part of a community not only means that you belong there, but you’re accountable to that place. I want to see that happen in our La Sierra University church.”
Darla Martin Tucker is director of public relations for La Sierra University.