October 13, 2023

The Father’s Heart

Multiplying gospel presence through coffee and conversations

by Emmy Duddles

With two liters of Coke, some hot chocolate, and a few pots of coffee, Alliance workers Chris and Jamie O’Dell opened Aroma Coffeehouse in Taiwan, a safe space where people could practice their English and have deep conversations about faith. In the last 14 years, this ministry has seen major success, establishing a church and also becoming a fully functioning business as Aroma Café, where they provide jobs and Christian mentorship to Taiwanese people. 

In May 2022, Aroma Café was able to move into a new space in the heart of Taipei that offers significant opportunities for expansion. Being only half a block from the Taipei main station where trains from all over the city and country pass through, they are perfectly positioned to make an impact in the lives of hundreds of people a day on their journey through the city. 

Not only is this the perfect location, but it is also twice the size of their original space, allowing them to host more English classes, music nights, art classes, and other larger events as well as serving up to 100 people at Aroma Church on Sunday morning. 

“We’re thankful for the way that the building has provided,” says Chris. “It’s because of people’s generosity in 2021 that we were able to finish this.” 

Strengthening Our Witness

The Aroma Café team goes to great lengths to serve residents and visitors to Taipei. But they don’t work alone. As a ministry of Envision, Aroma Café facilitates short-term trips and internships that give Alliance people opportunities to be a part of what God is doing in this region. 

“It’s amazing how the whole Alliance family can get involved here,” Chris says. “They’re getting involved in mission as families and as individuals. People from different churches will come and volunteer, and it shows the unity and gospel presence that is here, seeing the Kingdom at work in the city.” 

Along with internships and short-term trips, individuals and couples sometimes come out to serve indefinitely. Two older couples retired early and moved to Taipei (one from Singapore and one from a Chinese Alliance church in California) to partner with Chris and Jamie, doing everything from picking up the O’Dells’ kids from school to teaching English at the café. “The young townies coming to Aroma Café are so drawn to these two couples,” Chris says. “They want those mother and father figures in their lives.” 

Whether it’s short-term teams holding a vacation Bible school for one week or interns helping build the business and teach English to Taiwanese people, God is moving among them to share His love with the people of Taiwan. Many have felt welcomed in and loved by these teams and individuals, which continues to strengthen the witness of the gospel through Aroma Café. 

Healing Disillusionment

The gospel presence in Taiwan that Aroma Café is building is needed now more than ever. From 2017 to 2022, the number of Christians in Taiwan decreased from 1.5 million to 750,000. Taiwanese people have generally had a good view of Christianity even though many weren’t becoming Christians themselves. However, in the last few years, the pandemic created mass isolation, and some churches in the area used their influence politically in a way that left many disillusioned with the church. 

In the midst of this shift, one of Aroma Café’s most consistent outreaches, Coffee Talk, had to close down because of COVID-19. It had been running every Friday since 2009, teaching English through conversation and sharing the gospel to roughly 50 people a week. Once restrictions had lifted, Coffee Talk started up again, but only 20 people attended every week.

A former Envision intern, Andre, who had served with Aroma Café many years ago, reached out to Chris about an idea he had for this outreach in March 2023. Andre had stayed in Taipei after his internship and had amassed a large following on Instagram and TikTok. He told Chris he wanted to do an advertisement on his social media for Coffee Talk. 

When Andre put a 15-second video about the café up on his Instagram, it was viewed over 500,000 times. Within a few weeks, Coffee Talk had more sign-ups than they could manage. For several weeks, Coffee Talk saw between 60-80 people on Friday night, so they decided to expand into a second night on Thursdays. Even that wasn’t enough, so they expanded into a lunch event on Fridays as well. 

“There’s gospel opportunities every week at those tables,” Chris says. “Our goal now is to get a hundred people per week to come to one of these three events. We’re hitting that goal some weeks. It’s amazing to see that growth and expansion.”

To serve all who want to come to Coffee Talk, Aroma Café started an online chat group for people to sign up for one of their three weekly events, which now has almost 1,700 people waiting for a chance to practice their English in a Christian environment. Many of those who are coming are either Christians who fell away from their faith during the last few years or non-believers who grew up in a Christian home and never had a faith of their own. 

“They’re coming back and saying, ‘We want to know more of this Jesus.’ This is the gospel presence you are sending!” Chris says. 

These people who were hurt by the church are being renewed in their faith because of their conversations at Aroma Café, and others are meeting Jesus for the first time in their adult life. After coming to Coffee Talk, some of them join a chat group for people who want to connect outside of Aroma Café. They go on hikes, hangout at the beach, visit museums, and do other activities together, which allows for more relationship building and more time to have deep conversations about faith. 

“As we reach these people,” Chris says, “we’re engaging them and helping them to smell, become, and spread the aroma of Christ. And it’s all happening right in the middle of our city! It’s all about the world being reconciled to the Father’s heart.” 

God is moving

Among the many who have come to Christ through this ministry are two employees, Andrew and Angela, who now serve alongside the O’Dells. Andrew has a major role in discipleship, leading community growth at Aroma Church, and Angela is the cafe’s manager who facilitated the move to the new building in 2022. They were each deeply moved by the love they received at Aroma Cafe and are now determined to do the same for others. “It’s cool to see how Taiwanese people are stepping up in ministry with us and to see God moving in their lives,” Chris says. 

Angela: I was looking for a part-time job in my freshman year of college. I didn’t know what I was looking for, but then I found Chris. I had always wanted to work at a coffee shop, and it was a great opportunity to learn English. I wanted to be baptized and become a Christian, but I didn’t have a church community at the time. 

Not too long after I started working behind the bar, I started going to church and learning more about God’s Word. I realized it’s not just a religion—God is who I want to follow, and He has a purpose for me. The faithful people at Aroma helped me desire more of Him. 

I worked at Aroma while I was in college and then attended Bethel School of Supernatural Ministry for three years. I always came back to help during summer break. In September 2021, Chris invited me back, and I’ve been working here ever since. 

My favorite part of my job is that who I am can change someone’s life in the same way that others have changed mine by showing me their faith. I don’t have a plan about what to do next. No matter what it is, I’ll have to make sure I do it with God. I can’t do it without Him. 

Andrew: I met a missionary at my college sent from the Aroma Church in 2017. I loved the welcoming vibe even when I just visited the café the first couple times. I felt like I was an old friend to them. 

My first job was as the interpreter for a short-term team doing outreach and vacation Bible school. While I was working with short-term teams that summer, I started attending the Aroma Church regularly, hearing God’s words and joining the small group. We had a Bible reading plan with the manager, who helped me know who I am in Christ, and I was baptized in 2019. 

For me, I love sharing the gospel with the customers who just come to the café. We become friends, and I’m able to share Jesus and my testimony with them. I started to go to Alliance Theological Seminary online in 2022 because God is calling me to be a pastor. I hope while I am helping people smell, become, and spread the aroma of Christ throughout Taiwan, I can also be equipped by the program in the seminary. 

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