As a young child, Assemblies of God Senior Pastor Cheri Sampson began following in the footsteps of her parents, Rev. Virgil E. Sampson and Rev. Eunice V. Sampson. Both were enrolled members of the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community and ministers with the Assemblies of God.
Sampson, a Pima Indian, is pastor of Salt River Indian Assembly of God church in Scottsdale. She was elected presbyter by the Phoenix Metro Indian Section of the Arizona District Council of the Assemblies of God in February. There has never been a woman presbyter in Arizona for any church with the Assemblies of God, and Sampson is only the second unmarried person to become a presbyter in the state of Arizona.
A Family Tradition
“I traveled with my mother and dad and was an evangelist, so my three sisters—Joy Sampson, Alta Navarro and Rev. Chris Sampson—and I would sing together,” she said. Sampson attended grade school in Mesa, and before reaching high school she left and went to pastor in Prescott with her family. After graduating from high school, she attended Southwestern Assemblies of God University in Texas, earning an associate of arts degree.
“When I was in Texas, I worked in a large church with [youth of all ages], and then I came back [home to Arizona] in 1995 and my mom and I decided to go back to school,” Sampson said. “I went to Scottsdale Community College because I wanted to do some writing, so I took all these classes in English and history and then transferred to Arizona State University.”
In 2005, during the week of finals, Sampson developed meningitis. She took one final exam and then ended up in Phoenix Indian Medical Center for five days.
“I was struggling with retaining information because of meningitis and had difficulty for several years,” said Sampson. “It was interesting, because any secular studies I was unable to retain, but I could still remember all the (Bible) verses and that kind of stuff.”
Stepping Up, Stepping Forward
Sampson became interim pastor of the Salt River Indian Assembly of God church in August 2006, earned her license to preach in January 2007, and two years later was ordained.
“I have been in ministry all my life and have enjoyed it. I love people and the Community,” she said. After she became ordained her name was submitted for consideration as a presbyter, and she was elected earlier this year. She supervises pastors in 21 churches in her district.
As the first Native woman to ever be a presbyter within the Assemblies of God throughout the whole United States, Sampson said, “What I love most about it is that my parents were so faithful in being ministers and were always doing what the Lord wanted in the Community. They always hoped for us four girls that we would keep going on, and that is what is most impressive to me that we four girls keep going forward and doing things and going places our parents always hoped we would go. Because I think that is the whole [idea] of family and Community: we always encourage each other to keep going wherever God leads us, and we just embrace it.”
Within the Assemblies of God Sampson was also asked to take on the position of treasurer of the Native American Fellowship.
“I feel totally over my head in a sense because I am the senior pastor [of Salt River Indian Assembly of God church] and then the presbyter, and now [I have] a national position for Native American Fellowship. But that is also a good place, because the moment I am in over my head I depend on God to get me through the next thing,” Sampson said. “I do not rest on my own talent, and I am finding more and more people are looking for opportunities to rise up in leadership. You just help develop them and pray they surpass you.”
Vision and Heart
Sampson said, “The most important part in Scripture tells us that those who are in leadership are to pray and to study the word of God so we know how to meet the needs of the people.
“I think the spiritual need is most important need, and then dealing with the physical aspects with a compassionate ministry.” The church has community outreach that aids people with emergency funding, food boxes and other services.
“As Native Americans, spirit is the core of who we are. Our spiritual life goes through everything—how we work, how we treat people—you will see an outward manifestation of the inward work of God. People can call themselves Christian, but if they are not walking in the word of God, then I will question them. Mine is to help people mature and process and deal with life’s stressors, to go through life, death, birth, marriage and loss. However I can get them through using the word of God, that is what I am called to do. I feel that is my vocation.”
About 70 people consistently attend services at the Salt River Indian Assembly of God in Scottsdale. For more information, call (480) 947-5278. Sunday school begins at 9:30 a.m. Worship and preaching begin at 10:45 a.m. Evening service begins at 6 p.m. and bible study is held Wednesday evenings at 7 p.m.