Five years ago, Olivia Allen ’13 was taking photos for Simpson Residence during homecoming week and snapping photos on the sidelines at football games. Today, Olivia and her husband Jonathan are full time missionaries for Youth With a Mission in Paris, France.
While she was a student at Hillsdale, Olivia was on a pre-med track and studied biochemistry. Now, Olivia uses her background in science to serve those in Paris through a medical ministry, YWAM Paris Connect.
Olivia said she realized she had a heart for serving God through missions when she was very young. In middle school, she went on a missions trip in the Bahamas and saw firsthand the depravation and impoverishment within the country.
“We worked at a special needs orphanage and school, and I really loved it. I loved the kids, and I wanted to open my own orphanage one day and just do that full time,” Olivia said. “I didn’t know that was gonna be what I thought I wanted to do with the rest of my life, eventually, but that trip inspired it.”
Before Olivia committed her life to full-time missions, she was part of the youth program at Hillsdale Free Methodist Church while she was a Hillsdale student. Olivia said she encourages current students to step outside their comfort zones and help those in the community.
“We’re missing out on the mission field right there. Especially if you’re called to missions, it’s there,” Olivia said.
Dave Turner, the youth pastor of Hillsdale Free Methodist Church, said Olivia was an outgoing and compassionate woman who was a creative thinker in terms of her approach to missions. He said she would oftentimes serve children from broken homes outside of the church walls.
“She was here for school, but she was on mission to make a difference. She just had that kind of drive about her,” Turner said.
When she wasn’t serving in the community, Olivia said she spent most of her time with friends as a Hillsdale student. She credits her friends at Hillsdale for preparing her for the work she is doing in Paris.
“By having so many different friends, with so many different faith backgrounds, here, I’m able to be more open and be more willing to not let God be in a box,” Olivia said.
Olivia said she was friends with people from all different types of social groups, including the head resident assistant of Simpson at the time, Garrett Holt ’14.
According to Olivia, one of her most memorable experiences at Hillsdale was climbing on the roof of Mossey Library to take a picture of residents in Simpson for the 2013 homecoming competition.
While on the roof, Olivia snapped a quick photo of Holt, who was wearing a bright red suit. A bright blue sky with clouds and Central Hall filled the background.
“I looked down on my camera and it was perfect, absolutely perfect,” Olivia said. “It just caused me to praise God so much because he knew exactly what my settings needed to be, he knew that moment was gonna happen, he had prepared me for it, without me preparing at all.”
Holt said he did not know Olivia had taken the photo. He and other Simpson residents saw it for the first time projected on the wall of Simpson.
“It was really hilarious because I had not seen it or known about it, and everyone just kinda freaked out when we saw it,” Holt said.
Olivia said Hillsdale prepared her for her future by making her teachable. After graduating, Olivia moved to Colorado and taught for one year at James Irwin Charter High School in Colorado Springs.
Upon moving to Colorado, Olivia met her husband, Jonathan, whose cousin attended Hillsdale College.
“My husband did YWAM right out of high school, so he was very passionate about YWAM,” Olivia said. “When we were dating, he talked about it all the time, and then when we got married we always said we were going to do missions full-time.”
YWAM was founded by Loren and Darlene Cunningham in 1960. It is a global movement of Christians dedicated to knowing God and making him known. Olivia said the main goal of YWAM is evangelism, or talking about Jesus with others.
“What I love most about YWAM is they equip you as a missionary to be solid in your faith,” Olivia said, “but they also teach you how to live in good community, so you can show others how to live in good community.”
Before becoming full time staff for YWAM, Olivia said she and Jonathan had to complete YWAM’s Discipleship Training School. Olivia said there are many different types of DTS, and each one is broken up into weeks focused on teaching students different concepts about being in the right relationship. Examples of DTS programs include medical, sports, music, and writing.
Olivia said each DTS is designed to equip people with skills to respond to their callings from God. She and Jonathan completed a medical DTS together. They spent three months in Perth, Australia training and then another three months in Manila, Philippines doing outreach.
“DTS is ultimately founded on learning about sin areas in your life, and areas you have misconceptions about God,” Olivia said, “and then getting the right conception of God, and living in right relationship with others, and him; that’s what he calls us to.”
After completing their DTS, Olivia said she and Jonathan wanted to stop in another city on their way back to the United States. She said flights through Paris were the same price as flying straight home, so they decided to stop at the new YWAM base in Paris.
“When we flew through Paris, when we stopped there, it felt like home, which was really weird,” Olivia said, “It was Christmas time, we were ready to be home, we hadn’t seen our families in six months, we were tired. While we were there, we were both like, ‘if God told us not to leave, we would be totally okay with that,’ which was shocking to both of us.”
In February 2018, Olivia and Jonathan decided applied for a staff position at the Paris base. In March, she said they were both accepted and made plans to move. Olivia and Jonathan made Belleville, Paris their new home on Aug. 28 and joined the medical DTS staff.
“Together as a couple, our heart for ministry in general is to basically activate people in in their faith and catapult them, equipping them to go and faithfully follow God’s call in their life,” Jonathan said. “Activating their faith and bringing them to their potential as best we can and then releasing them.”
As staff for the medical DTS, Olivia said she goes out into the surrounding communities and provides basic healthcare for those in need. She said the clinics often turn into therapy sessions, as the people she serves will share how they are hurting spiritually or emotionally. Olivia said the goal of her work is to share the gospel with others but also transform communities’ health standards.
“We share basic health stuff — wash your hands, how to deal with fever, how to reduce fevers, how to make clean water, how to deal with dehydration, how to make bathrooms, how to wean a baby, how to breastfeed,” Olivia said. “Just really simple things we take for granted, that they have never heard before.”
Olivia said most of the people she works with do not have an education level above kindergarten. She and the staff perform skits and songs to make it easier for those they are serving to remember.
“We provide materials with pictures in their languages and then we train them in these simple health care teachings,” Olivia said. “We train them to train others, so by the end of it, they get a whole bunch of resources to teach people in their communities how to do these things.”
According to Olivia, the Paris base is focused on serving Europe and the 10 – 40 area, which includes North Africa, the Middle East, and Asia approximately between 10 degrees north and 40 degrees north latitude.
Jonathan Allen said the base leaders in Paris have a vision to become a missions campus that trains people in all areas and sends them out follow their call from God.
Olivia and Jonathan each have their own goals for their future in missions work. Olivia said she hopes to teach the week of DTS devoted to repentance and forgiveness.
“It’s quite an intense week, but it’s one of my favorite weeks,” Olivia said, “I’ve seen so much power in it in my life, and I just think it’s actually a week everyone in their life should go through.”
Jonathan said he hopes to lead a DTS of his own and be the spiritual head of that school.
“I’d love to teach internationally, bases all around the world, but it’ll start here,” Jonathan said.
Olivia and Jonathan both said they hope to encourage people, specifically men, who are passionate about missions to pursue that love for serving God, through a separate organization.
“Men for Missions is an encouragement to guys who feel like missions is their calling to not be held back by what their parent’s expectations are, or what the world’s expectations are,” Olivia said. “This is very much a job and so we treat it like a job. We have a business plan, we have a board of directors, we take it very seriously, and you can as well.”
Olivia also said anyone who is interested in seeing what she and Jonathan do can join them in the summer for two weeks of evangelical ministry in Paris. The program’s name is Paris Je T’aime, which translates to “Paris, I love you.’
“The idea is it’s God’s heart for Paris,” Jonathan said. “God loves Paris and we’re bringing as many people in to show the love of God to Paris.”