By Jennifer Von Ohlen
COKATO, MN As a follower of Christ Jesus, Cokato resident Jay Wirkkala has been called to help share the Christian faith to individuals around the world (Matthew 28:16-20).
For the last two years, Wirkkala has been pursuing this command in Taiwan, where less than 3 percent of the population are evangelical Christian.
Wirkkala’s interest in missionary work began in 2000, at age 15, when he embarked on a three-week missions trip to Russia with his family.
“I saw a lot of things I had never seen before, like extreme poverty,” Wirkkala recalled. “And I also saw the Christian church very passionate about gathering together, how important that was to them. That was a very unique experience to me.”
He admitted, however, that at that age he was more concerned about whether or not his teammates liked him than focusing on the love he was supposed to be sharing.
“It was kinda like a glorified tourist trip,” he commented.
In 2006, Wirkkala’s uncle offered him the chance to go to Central America for a few weeks.
“When he asked me that, I remembered back in 2000, and I remembered how much I enjoyed that, and how much I had grown, the relationships I had formed with all my team members and all the people who had gone. And I was like ‘Absolutely, I would love to go,’” stated Wirkkala.
“That seed [for missions] had been planted to see those opportunities as very valuable,” he added.
Wirkkala accepted his uncle’s proposal, and ended up returning to Central America the following three summers.
“It was a slow interest that started to grow,” Wirkkala shared.
At that time, Wirkkala was also attending Crown College in Saint Bonifacius, which heavily focused on international missions. He learned about the different situations of other countries, and met several people involved in the missions field. Through all of this, the idea of partaking in long-term missions work was slowly being hammered into him.
“I ended up going to China for a couple years, came back to the states, and ended up working at a Chinese restaurant for a few years,” Wirkkala recounted. “I went to Thailand for an internship, and I kinda was getting frustrated at one point. I didn’t know where I was supposed to go. So, I threw my hands up in the air and said, ‘Where am I supposed to go?’ And the organization I was talking to [at the time], I just said, ‘Where do you need help? I’m right here. Where do you need me?’ And through recommendations, they suggested Taiwan.”
Spreading ‘The Aroma’ of Christ
At the start of 2017, Wirkkala committed the next two years of his life to working at a coffee shop in Taipei, which partners with the missionary organization, Envision.
The café was established in 2011, when a missionary couple from New Prague and Nowthen (who had arrived in Taiwan in 2008, to plant a church) recognized the potential outreach and connections that could be done through a coffee shop.
Their decision was also based on the need for a larger location to host their Coffee House sessions, where locals could learn and practice English.
Its name, The Aroma, comes from 2 Corinthians 2:15, “For we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing.”
As stated on the café’s website, “The Aroma exists to help people smell, equip them to become, and send them to spread the aroma of Christ with excellence and urgency, through kingdom businesses and tranformative communities, so that Ximen, Taiwan, and the world will be reconciled to the Father.”
In addition to its café side, the Aroma also has church services, small group opportunities, Coffee Talks (English classes), and other events.
Through this experience, Wirkkala has made many friends, and has witnessed several individuals dedicate their life to Christ.
“I think one of the really [cool experiences] is being able to meet someone who’s not a Christian, and as they interact with our community, to be able to see the change that happens to them. And, as they slowly change, [they] start to think about it and say, ‘Yeah, I think I will become a Christian,’ and then they actually decide they want to.”
Although Wirkkala’s commitment to the missions program has ended, he has decided to return to Taiwan on his own terms, and will have boarded his return flight by the end of this weekend.
When he arrives back in Taipei, he plans to initiate his five-year plan for obtaining an alien permanent residency card, which will provide more flexibility for living and working there.
“I’m not officially a part of [Envision] anymore, but I’ll still do a lot of stuff for them [The Aroma], and help them out with things,” said Wirkkala. “There’s a lot of ministry things the church, the café, and Envision all do together.”
Presently, The Aroma team is reanalyzing its method for reaching the people of Taiwan, and is heavily considering becoming a full-functioning school based on the needs and interests of the area.
Whatever changes take place at The Aroma, Wirkkala wants to be a part of it.
“Now that I’ve been there for two years, I’ve been able to see what the need is,” he commented. “I can see there’s a need not only for people to be there, but to be there and stay there, and to continue to build long-term relationships because evangelism takes time. There are some people that I know, and I’ve only known them for two years. I’m starting to get to know them better, but I’m hoping I can get to know them even more.”
He continued, “And even from a business or organizational standpoint, it’s nice to have people who have been there a while, so those people are familiar with how things work and can train new people. They [can] have people who have experience, instead of just always having people come and go, come and go. There’s just a huge need for people; we need more people.”
Wirkkala concluded, “I guess I just look at the experience I have and the interests I have, and it looks like this [opportunity] matches up pretty good.”