We have a mighty God who molds and shapes surrendered people to be used for His work. To God be the glory as we praise him for what he has done through these two surrendered lives. Leslie Ollila grew up in a remote mining location in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. He was a shy boy with an embarrassing stutter and he grew up battling the odds of adversity and poverty. Pastor Charles Hart took him to a church where he could hear the gospel. Les, the youngest of eight children, found the warmth of love and fellowship with believers in Pastor Hart’s church.
Charlene Allison grew up in the Ozark Mountains, one of six children. Growing up without a mother in difficult circumstances, she later found a home in Sedalia, Missouri, with Pastor Robert and Marcella Rhodes. When Robert and Marcella moved to a pastorate in Roseville, Michigan, Charlene went with them to become the church secretary. Les moved to the Michigan “mainland” where he grew spiritually under the ministry of Pastor Rhodes. The day he surrendered to the ministry was the day he met Charlene. Working through his high school days as a logger, he continued that work full-time after graduation; he had no intention of going to college. With his severe speech problems, how could he ever be a preacher? Les plainly declared, “I’m not going.” Charlene’s response was “That is your opinion. What does God say?” She read Jeremiah 33:3 to Les: “Call unto me and I will answer thee and show thee great and might things which thou knowest not.” There was the answer Les needed. He would yield to the Lord even though book-learning was the last thing he wanted to do. He traded in his chain saw and flannel shirts for a typewriter and ties.
Dr. Les Ollila, Founder and Director
After hundreds of hours practicing and coaching by his college professors, Les overcame his speech impediments. It took Les a while to adjust to the formal studies, but he soaked up his theology classes because his heart was to know God’s Word. Overwhelmed with the studies of Shakespeare, he nicknamed Shakespeare “Billy Wiggledagger.” He still refers to him in this way today. Les’s humor and humility characterized his college adventure. Charlene put off finishing her schooling to help provide financially for them so that Les could finish his education.
They accepted a position of interim pastor at Mt. Calvary Baptist Church in Greenville, South Carolina. Together, they worked to rebuild that struggling church. Later, Les and Charlene were asked to come back to Roseville, Michigan, where Les was ordained to take the youth pastorate position under Pastor Robert Rhodes. Les was an ordinary guy from a rough background, and he let God lead him to develop a unique, well-balanced youth program. What made his youth ministry unique? This program entailed the involvement of the entire church. Les and Charlene’s involvement at the Wilds Youth Camp came as a result of the numerous busloads of Calvary young people they took to camp each summer. As approachable, compassionate people with a heart for God, their popularity as youth leaders with teens and college young adults led to the further development of the Wild’s Counselor in Training program and the F.I.T. conference for youth pastors.
During their pastorate in Michigan, they began to travel with Life Action Ministries, a revival ministry for the local church. After Les became Life Action’s staff evangelist, they packed up their family of five to travel full-time, living out of a 5th wheel travel trailer on the road twelve months out of the year. During this time, Les felt a growing burden to minister to pastors and educators. “The ministry is no longer simple like it used to be. There are no small problems any more. Even attitude problems today are combined with abuse, divorce, and broken homes. Immorality has become acceptable. Pastors need to remember that we do not have to grow, but we must obey. When growth becomes the motive then pragmatism becomes the method.”
Meanwhile, events were unfolding in the small town of Dunbar in northern Wisconsin. God used Paul Patz, an immigrant farmer with a third grade education, to begin a small camp on a property in Dunbar in 1961. Paul Patz’s inventions had made him a wealthy man, yet, he wanted to put that wealth into a ministry. Therefore, in 1976, he added Northland Bible Institute to the camp ministry. In 1983, Northland approached Les Ollila about becoming the next president of the college. Board members, faculty, and students were drawn to Les because of his humility, servant spirit, and transparency. After Les heard Paul Patz’s testimony of how he was directed by the Lord to begin Northland Ministry, Les knew that this was the vision that he wanted to be a part of. Northland provided a venue where he and Charlene could invest time in hundreds of students’ lives.
One of Les’s sayings is the following: “Leadership is not lordship, but servitude.” Les and Charlene have modeled this truth throughout their ministry. When asked what he enjoys most about his ministry, he is quick to answer, “Seeing pastors helped and leaders built, seeing people encouraged and helped, and seeing God’s truth change lives.”