Serving Mochas, Muffins, and the Gospel: How Chris O’Dell Turned a Taipei Cafe into a Mission Field
Your typical cafe probably doesn’t double as a church.
But Aroma cafe, nestled within the heart of Taipei, Taiwan near China is not typical.
Aroma exists to serve the locals of Taipei and prepare them to be missionaries to the world. It operates as a cafe and as a church, and is now in its seventh year of operation.
The man leading this ministry is Crown alumnus Chris O’Dell.
O’Dell started Aroma in 2012, and he continues to see how God has used the ministry in countless ways.
His inspiring journey with Aroma is a testament to why we should always follow God’s call for our lives, even if it means moving halfway across the world.
How it all started
O’Dell’s parents are both graduates of St. Paul Bible College, which is now Crown College. They knew their son would be a missionary even before he was born.
O’Dell powerfully experienced the Holy Spirit throughout his childhood, and he can recall several times during his youth where he opened himself to God’s calling to spread the Gospel throughout the world.
“I remember the Lord searing into my heart that I would go to different places and mark my life’s value by my ability to complete the task of testifying to the gospel,” says O’Dell.
During his high school years he went on two mission trips in Ecuador, where he helped run camps for special needs kids.
It was on these trips that O’Dell discovered his love for missions and his desire to continue to serve the Lord overseas. Thus, after graduating high school, he enrolled at Crown College in 2004. He calls Crown a “natural choice” because of his interests in pastoral work and missions.
Landing at Crown College
O’Dell participated in mission trips all throughout his time at Crown, both stateside and internationally, such as Ecuador and Taiwan.
O’Dell went to Ecuador with Crown when he was a freshman. On this trip, Chris read My Utmost for His Highest, a devotional book by Oswald Chambers. It focuses on Acts 20:24, which states: “However, I consider my life worth nothing to me; my only aim is to finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me—the task of testifying to the good news of God’s grace” (NIV).
He points to this trip and that specific devotional as the definitive moment when he knew he was called to serve God as an international missionary.
Reflecting on his time at Crown, O’Dell especially remembers how classes such as Hebrew, Greek, and Biblical Evangelism and Missions prepared him for his missionary work. The classes he took at Crown, combined with the advice and tutoring from his professors, prepared him spiritually and gave him experience for crossing cultures, applying Scripture to his work, and helping him work with a team of people. O’Dell graduated in 2008 with a major in Biblical and Theological studies.
On one of the trips he took during his time at Crown, O’Dell went to Taipei where he first encountered both the beauty of the city and its desperate need for a Christian revival.
His team leader on the trip was a young woman named Jamie – they started dating after the trip, and they got married a year later! Now both O’Dell and his wife serve as missionaries in Taipei.
Envision and Aroma
After graduation, the young couple discovered a brand new missionary organization that was part of the Christian and Missionary Alliance — and they were looking for young leaders to step up and serve overseas. The organization would eventually be named Envision.
Envision’s ministry thrives on spreading the Gospel in urban settings, both nationally and internationally.
O’Dell and his wife were among the very first missionaries to serve with Envision in 2008. They landed in Taipei, where they founded Aroma — a cafe that serves meals as well as treats. It is now a staple of the Christian community in Taipei.
According to their website, Aroma exists “to help people smell, equip them to become, and send them to spread the Aroma of Christ.”
The Aroma staff reach out to both regular customers and visitors, welcoming them and inviting them to their Bible studies, church services, and other events. Whether they stay for church activities or grab a quick coffee, Aroma is a welcoming place to all who enter their doors.
Aroma finds success in inviting both foreigners and locals to the cafe.
“Aroma provides a quiet place to relax, an opportunity to study English, and an entertainment venue,” says Aroma missionary Jay Wirkkala, who is also a Crown graduate. Aroma staff often invite guests to weekly church services, community groups, and one-on-one opportunities with the missionaries.
“Aroma has become an environment that engages the unreached generations in new ways,” says Envision Director Jen Schepens. “It provides a safe place for engaging the next generation, while also providing a unique context to train and disciple short-termers who join the ministry.”
O’Dell gives all of the credit for Aroma’s success to Christ. He finds that the best way to evangelize is to step out of the way and let Jesus reveal the Holy Spirit to everyone that steps in Aroma’s doors.
O’Dell hopes his story is a source of encouragement to those who don’t know if they should work in a mission field. To the people hesitant to act upon a missionary call, he offers his strong encouragement:
“There’s never been a better time for you to try,” he says. “Go somewhere. Do something. Give it a shot. The risk is so low, and the reward is so high. By jumping in and practicing, you get a vision of what the Lord might do. Who knows who you’ll meet, who you will touch, whose life you may change, and ultimately, how you’ll encounter God!”
Aroma thrives on spreading the Gospel using something as simple as a cup of coffee.
O’Dell hopes we all use his story as an example of how God can work through us if we only answer His call.