SPRINGFIELD - When Springfield native Jacqueline Olson graduated from Bethel University last spring, she faced the same question that every student does when they reach the end of their college career - what now?
Olson spent this past year using her degree in ministry to work in youth programming at Calvary Baptist Church in Roseville and at the White Bear Area YMCA, but during the course of the year she realized there was somewhere else she was supposed to be, somewhere much further away than Roseville.
In the back of her mind, Olson had known that someday she wanted to give mission work a try. During the winter, everything in her life began to line up correctly for her to think about pursuing mission work in the Philippines, and she realized that entering mission work was something that she didn't have to wait for.
Photo courtesy of Faith Academy
A view of the Manila skyline from Faith Academy’s campus
"I was asking questions for affirmation," Olson said. "Is this the right time? Is this lining up the right way? This isn't just some fluke thing? No, it's lining up. It's where you're supposed to be."
In the fall, Olson will be serving as a teacher at a school called Faith Academy, which is located in the Philippine capital city of Manila. The students at the school are predominantly the children of missionaries, with the student body including kids from around the world. Some high school-aged students even live at the school while their parents pursue mission work elsewhere.
Olson was introduced to the school when her good friend Luke Bostrom - a fellow Bethel grad - began working there. After Olson told Bostrom of her interest in seeking out mission work, he pointed her to TeachBeyond, an organization that arranges financial support for mission work around the world, including at christian international schools in more than 40 countries. After contacting TeachBeyond, everything fell into place for Olson to join Bostrom at Faith Academy.
How to donate:
- Visit www.teachbeyond.org/donate
- Follow the prompts, first entering your address and donation amount.
- In the "Designation" section, enter "Jacqueline Olson" in the box labeled "TeachBeyond Missionary."
"I was like, 'Missions? Yes, that's something I'm interested in. How do I get to a mission field? How do I find training so that I'm equipped to go somewhere?,'" Olson said. "[Luke] pointed me to TeachBeyond, and by default of what jobs were open and what I'm trained in, I ended up at Faith Academy."
Things ended up aligning even more perfectly for Olson when she was told that she would be working primarily in the music department at Faith Academy. Olson spent most of her time at Bethel studying music, only deciding to focus on a degree in ministry during her senior year.
"They told me that I will be working primarily in the arts department, so I'll be doing music, which is what I've got a lot of experience in, which is why I know that's where I'm supposed to be, because I couldn't have designed this job description any better myself," Olson said.
Olson will be assisting with the school's band and orchestra and will also be teaching a music theory class. In addition, she will be co-teaching a class on worship along with Bostrom, another sign that ending up at Faith Academy was fated since she first met Bostrom when they led a worship team together at Bethel.
Faith Academy goes from Kindergarten all the way through 12th Grade, but Olson will be teaching mainly at the high school and middle school levels.
Due to the nature of mission work, Olson's position at Faith Academy is purely volunteer based, meaning that she has to raise the funds herself to cover her living expenses for her two-year tenure at the school. She is still in the fundraising process, needing to reach $50,000 in pledged donations before she can even book her ticket to leave for the Philippines.
"It's a very odd place to be to know that this is exactly where I'm supposed to be, and yet not have the tangible means in front of me to say that this is happening and here's my flight time," Olson said.
To help with her fundraising efforts, on June 14 Olson held a hymn sing at United Methodist Church in Springfield, her home congregation, where she gave a talk explaining her mission trip. She will hold another hymn sing on July 2 at Calvary Baptist.
Olson explained that the most useful pledges are those that give a per-month donation, which will give her mission a greater degree of economic stability compared to a one-time donation.
"I think a lot of people, especially from my home town, feel like it's really helpful to just send you a check for $50, and it's helpful, but it would be more helpful if it was $5 a month," Olson said. "Now a lot of people would say, 'It looks like I'm just giving you five dollars a month? That's nothing, why would I do that?' But that's what adds up, because I know I can count on that $5 every month."
Olson's fundraising is organized through TeachBeyond, with donations able to be made on TeachBeyond's website at www.teachbeyond.org/donate. In order for the funds to properly reach Olson, donors will have to enter her name in the "TeachBeyond Missionary" box when prompted.
Once Olson hits her fundraising mark, she'll finally be able to focus on realizing a dream that first developed during her summers attending and working at Camp Grace Bible camp in Chandler, Minn.
"Ministry is something I've always been interested in," Olson said. "I grew up going to a Bible camp in Chandler, Minnesota. That's always been one of my favorite things in the whole world, is to go to camp in the summer. I went to camp for two summers and then they just put me on staff, because they were short-staffed, so I've been on staff at camp for 10 years, and I'm 23... In that regard I've been interested in ministry my whole life, but when it came to picking a vocation and a career it wasn't on the table until my senior year of college."
Although Olson is happy to be directing her career down an exciting new path, she's thankful for the experiences she gained working in youth ministry in the Twin Cities over the past year.
"I'm glad that I didn't go right out of college, because it would be too easy to go right back into that academic schedule," Olson said. "I think it was really helpful for me to have kind of what's essentially functioning like a gap year, where I have to really figure out how to stand on my own two feet, and what I really like, and how do I deal with people. There's a lot of growth and development that happened in just one year of being an adult that I'm thankful for."
After growing up in a town of 2,000 people, moving to a city with a population of 20 million is bound to be an adjustment for Olson, especially since she has only left the United States on one other occasion - a trip to Ireland as part of one of her classes at Bethel.
"This is my second time going international ever," Olson said. "I've never even been to Canada, which is sad, but true. My first international experience was in January of 2011 I went to Ireland with a J-Term study for Bethel."
Rather than shying away from making such a big commitment, Olson is fueled by her desire to use her youth and her talents to help make the world a better place. She mentioned that her time at Bethel helped her to appreciate that the world is a much bigger place than she used to think it was when she was growing up, an outlook that has her on the cusp of moving over 7,000 miles away from her home town.
"I think one of my primary purposes in this is to show people - particularly my generation - that it's OK to be different and it's OK to do things that are seemingly outlandish," Olson said. "It's OK to be a young person that's not tied to anything or anyone and just go, go where you're supposed to be and not be afraid."