Wilona Karimabadi

is an assistant editor at Adventist Review and is editor of KidsView, Adventist Review’s magazine for children.

​Soli Deo Gloria (Glory to God Alone)

God is still in the business of turning lives around.

This is the story of an ordinary man.

This is the story of an extraordinary Savior.

And this is the story of what happened when this ordinary man ran headlong into the arms of his extraordinary Savior.

As a young southern California pastor, Meshach Soli shares his story with young people, laying no blame on anything but the choices he made years ago. “I tell kids nowadays, ‘I share this testimony with you where I left the church and lived this wayward life, and I was involved in a lot of drugs and alcohol and criminal activities,’ ” he says. “But to be honest, my parents never neglected me. They loved me and they taught me all the biblical principles.” Somewhere along the way Meshach opted for forks in the road that led to darkness. Yet here he is now, living very much in the light. How?

Meshach’s parents are first-generation Pacific Islander immigrants from Samoa. His mother was originally Mormon, while his father belonged to the Congregational Church. An invitation to an Adventist evangelistic series resulted in their baptisms. The family has lived in southern California ever since and were one of the pioneer planters of the Compton Samoan Adventist Church in the Los Angeles area. Meshach is one of four siblings who grew up in a home where Samoan and Adventist culture were prevalent. “We were raised in the faith, very involved in the church, though it was a bit difficult for us as second-generation kids here. We were raised in the Samoan church and culture, yet we lived in an American society,” he says.

Church services were conducted in Samoan, but none of the Soli children spoke the language fluently, as English was spoken at home. “I was raised in a church where I didn’t understand the sermon. I could sing the songs in Samoan and read the texts, but I never really grasped the language. It was quite difficult growing up in a predominantly Samoan-speaking church and not understanding a whole lot.”

Meshach also attended Adventist school—Loma Linda Academy—from kindergarten on through the end of ninth grade, when he dropped out. It was also at this time that the Adventist faith he’d been raised in no longer had a place in his life.

Curiosity Killed the Faith

“I had gotten into a lot of trouble earlier in junior high and my sixth-grade year,” Meshach says. “I guess I was curious. My older brother had already kind of swayed away from the church, and we got involved in a lot of not very good influences with gang activity and that kind of lifestyle.” In the 1990s especially, Compton was widely known for gang activity, and unfortunately the Samoan church there was not immune to it. “In our church in Compton almost every kid was either from a gang or affiliated with one,” says Meshach. The cousins he’d grown up with in the Los Angeles and Long Beach areas who were big influences on his life were involved in gang culture as well. “We got sucked into that. I’ll tell you, I was raised in a really good home—I have no excuse.”

By age 15 Meshach says he was “pretty much a runaway,” never staying home to face responsibilities or punishment, but hightailing it to friends, only to return home for brief periods. Understandably it was a very dark period for his parents. “My dad and my mom—they cried many tears,” Meshach remembers.

After Meshach dropped out of academy, his father enrolled him in a local public high school with a rough reputation. A few days into his sojourn at the new school, Meshach was involved in a shooting—where he was the one being shot at—and was soon expelled. The family considered several options, including sending him to Samoa to stay with a relative. Meshach was never home enough for anything to have a positive influence, and eventually completed high school, via GED, the same year his older sister graduated from academy.

  • The “Before” Picture: Meshach, age 24, deep into a life that was taking him nowhere good.

  • Kingdom Builder: Pastor Meshach Soli loves nothing more that sharing God’s love and power with others.

  • Slowly Falling Away: Meshach’s eighth-grade yearbook photo. He was baptized for the first time at eighth-grade graduation.

  • Cutting Ties: Meshach’s last yearbook picture at Loma Linda Academy.

  • Lives Made Beautiful: The Soli family today. Left to right: Marley, 15, Isaac, 13, Gideon (on Isaac’s lap), 1, Zion, 3, Linda, and Meshach.

A Partner in Crime

Soon after that, Meshach met his future wife, Linda Puni. They were both around 17 years old. Linda’s family had recently moved from Hawaii, as her dad was the new pastor for a Samoan church near San Diego. “Our first encounter was at a summer camp meeting for area Samoan churches on the campus of La Sierra University,” Linda recalls. “But it wasn’t until a combined church gathering later that year that we finally spoke.”

Meshach left home for good and moved to the San Diego area to be closer to her. “Her parents didn’t really accept me, but of course if I had a daughter and she was dating someone like me back then, I would totally agree with what they were thinking,” he says. Essentially homeless and heavily involved in such drugs as methamphetamine and marijuana, as well as alcohol (he says he was alcoholic by age 17), Meshach knew his life was a mess. “There was nothing consistent about my life back then. I would get these temporary jobs and then literally walk off the job in the middle of the day because I felt like ‘You know, I don’t need to be doing this.’ And that went on for years!”

Linda followed Meshach down the same dark path. “It would be fitting to categorize us as ‘rebels without a cause,’ ” she says. “We were runaways who did everything together from drugs, beer runs, robberies, violence, etc., which we continued into our adulthood and marriage and with our two oldest kids. We were spiritually lost.”

When Meshach and Linda eventually married, their lifestyle didn’t change, but two sons were soon added to the family. Motherhood slowed Linda down somewhat, but Meshach kept going. “Over time,” Linda says, “I started to drift away from our marriage and began relationships at work that threatened our union. I began to do drugs on my own, and the reality was we were heading into divorce and our home into foreclosure!”

“One day Meshach asked our oldest son, ‘Who built the ark?’ ” she remembers. “And our son had no clue!” But it was this love for our children and our marriage that slowly drew us to attending church again—just for Sabbath school.”

He Will Draw You In

Initially Linda and the boys attended Sabbath school while Meshach waited for them in the car—still very much in his old lifestyle. “It sounds crazy, trying to give biblical principles and a spiritual life to my kids while I was still way out there, but it was a foot in,” says Meshach. After a while he began attending Sabbath school with the family sporadically, and sometimes they would stay for the main service. But a true change was still to come.

Meshach’s mother never lost hope. There was a youth week of evangelism at her church featuring a pastor from New Zealand. She invited her son and his family to attend, and they agreed. His mother gave him flyers to hand out, and Meshach found a unique venue to spread the word. “I remember the last time I drank was that weekend before the revival, and I was actually passing out the flyers at a party, telling people to come. But that was the last time I ever drank.”

The revival proved pivotal. “Each day I went there—and I know it sounds silly—I thought that the pastor was talking about me. I couldn’t shake it,” Meshach remembers. “Every message I was just so convicted. I went home every night just saying ‘What is this guy doing to me?’ Not realizing it was the Spirit working in my life.”

When the call for baptism came, however, Meshach still didn’t know if he could recommit just yet. “Out of nowhere I saw my wife stand up, and she went into the baptismal font in her Sabbath dress [with no change of clothes for later] and was baptized. I was so broken. A few more people came after her, and the Spirit was so strong that I did the same. I couldn’t fight it anymore. When I got into the water, I was just blown away. And after I was baptized, it just felt like a heavy burden was lifted from me.”

And the Road Becomes Clear

As the Soli family began a new life with Christ at the center, both Meshach and Linda were drawn to ministry in their local church—Meshach as a youth director and head deacon and Linda in children’s ministries. And they absolutely loved it.

Meshach had been working as a truck driver, but soon became so passionate about ministry and sharing God’s transformative power in his own life that he began toying with the idea of doing it full-time. “I loved the way God is able to transform lives, and just to be a small part of that, I was just so amazed by the process,” he says.

He prayed for the Lord to lead. And then he was laid off from his truck-driving job. So Meshach prayed for more clarity about this direction. Linda got a job at a local Starbucks, and with her wages and tips and Meshach’s unemployment check, they were bringing in the exact salary he made as a truck driver. And the prayers kept going. “Lord,” Meshach prayed, “where do You want me to go? I want to stay local; I’ve got a young family.” Then La Sierra University came into his mind. With a barely tenth-grade education, a GED, and a slew of failed classes from various attempts at college work over the years, he applied to the school.

But a happy ending was still a ways out.

La Sierra denied Meshach admission but, in their communication with him, invited him to talk to the dean if he chose to. So he did.

Removing the Blocks

Then Dean of Students Sue Curtis pulled up Meshach’s application and discovered he was on a list of people who had been barred from the La Sierra campus. Several years prior there had been an altercation at the school involving Meshach and his cousin. Property was damaged, a chase ensued, the police were called, and Meshach was found hiding under a piano in a music practice room. He and his cousin were hog-tied, arrested, and taken to jail that night. And it was Dean Curtis who had called the authorities. He was never supposed to come back, but things were so different now.

“You know, he told that story, and he talked about how he had come back to the Lord, and that he felt called to the ministry,” remembers Dean Curtis. “I’m sitting there thinking about changes that people can make. I was just impressed at that point to say to him, ‘Well, if you’ve been called by the Holy Spirit, who am I to stand in your way?’ ” She took Meshach down to the admissions office and cleared all holds on his application, instructing the office to continue with the admission process. It was an unusual decision she never regretted. “He worked with us at university worship, and he and his cousin [the same one involved in the incident] just became sterling examples of what God’s grace can do.”

As Meshach worked on his religious studies degree to become a pastor, he used his time at La Sierra and in his home church to continue to let God move powerfully in his life. “I can say he is one truly converted person,” says Dean Curtis. “I saw evidence of that in the way that he related to the community and the way that he related to the students. He became what I would say ‘a popular figure on campus.’ ”

It wasn’t easy—after being out of an academic setting for so long and being a bit older than his new academic peers, Meshach found there were struggles. But God was faithful. “I hadn’t been academically disciplined for such a long time, and everything was so new to me. But in every way through those years God had put specific professors, specific students, and specific tutors in my life who just helped me get through,” says Meshach. He earned his degree in 2013. Linda was also able to return to school and became a respiratory therapist, with two additional sons now rounding out the family.

Today, in Meshach’s role as the Beaumont, California, church’s associate pastor, his undeniable passion for youth and community is one of his greatest strengths. “Pastor Meshach is a dynamic preacher, good communicator, and organizer,” says Beaumont senior pastor Bill Penick. “While he does pastor the whole church, his target is our young people. Our youth group is growing, and the ministries targeted to our young people are developing. I am thrilled with the level of competency in ministry and his spiritual walk with the Lord.”

If there is one phrase that best sums up Meshach’s story, it is this: “We’re saved to serve.”

“If it could happen to me, how many other people—especially young people—could I maybe reach and have God allow me to be part of His whole plan of salvation?” asks Meshach. “I am in love with the idea that God is able to take the least of these, you know, regardless of our background, regardless of our sins, and just use us for building His kingdom.”

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