Gene Carol Olsen


Gene Carol Olsen blessed the world with her presence for 99 years. She lived a life of commitment to her Lord, her ministries, her family, and all those God brought into her life.

Gene was born to Jesse and Gladys Swain in Webster, South Dakota, where she joined brothers Robert Loren and Keith Kempter, and later welcomed her sister Maryan. The family soon moved to Montana where her dad took up ranching on property along the Tongue River outside Miles City. Gene was “Daddy’s girl,”  following him wherever he went, helping with fence building, branding, milking, and caring for the calves, colts and lambs. Gene’s border collie, Ring, was her best friend and protective guardian, and she loved her horses, Boots and Priscilla. At about six years old, she prayed with her mom and opened her heart to Jesus.

Her first two years of school were in a one-room log schoolhouse; she rode to school on a horse with her brother Keith. In third grade, Gene and her sister went to live with her Grandpa Kempter in Waubay, South Dakota where she attended a “real” city school. During this time the family began attending a Christian and Missionary Alliance (CMA) church. While attending a missionary meeting, Gene was touched by the Holy Spirit when a missionary asked who would be willing to serve the Lord as a missionary. Gene responded, “Yes, Lord.” An important influence on her life was a CMA missionary to India named Fred Schelander, who faithfully corresponded with her family.

Each fall after Gene entered fourth grade, her mother would take the children to attend school in Miles City, while her dad worked on the ranch. During the drought years of the 1930s, they sold the ranch and lived together in Miles City, where Gene graduated from Custer County High School in 1943. Her early jobs were as a waitress and telephone operator.

Committed to her call to the mission field, Gene moved to Seattle after her graduation to attend Simpson Bible Institute. After graduating in 1946, she was invited to attend Wycliffe’s Summer Institute of Linguistics at the University of Oklahoma. This began her career in linguistic work, language translation and teaching. She returned to Simpson College to teach Linguistics, and then to Seattle Pacific College as both a student and student teacher, graduating in 1951.

In the fall of 1951, Gene bid farewell to her family, and set sail on the Queen Elizabeth. She had one large barrel with all of her belongings. At that time, entering the mission field was a lifetime commitment, and Gene left, not knowing for certain when she might return, and whether she would even see her family again.

She studied French in Paris for one year before moving to French West Africa to begin linguistics work. It was an eventful year in France. When she wasn’t studying, she had the chance to meet Ruth and Billy Graham, and traveled to Belgium, the Netherlands, and Luxembourg. She also attended the Keswick Conference in northern England, and visited London.

In November 1952, Gene flew to Bamako, Mali, (her first plane trip!) to begin her missionary career with the Christian and Missionary Alliance. While in Mali, she spent time in San, Sanekui and N’Torosso as she began her work in linguistics. In March 1953, while attending a Missionary Conference in Guinea, she met Walter Olsen, a widowed missionary (18 years her senior) serving in Cote d’Ivoire. Walter had fallen in love with her through her missionary prayer card photo, having never met her. They got to know each other that week, and with support and encouragement from the mission community, they were engaged by the end of the conference. Four months later, on August 3, 1953, they were married. This meant a major change for Gene as she moved to Cote d’Ivoire, and began studying the Baoule language. Their first years of marriage were spent in Bouake and Tiebissou.

Their son Mark Stephen was born on August 10, 1956 in Nyack, NY. After one year there, they returned to Cote d’Ivoire for ministry in Dimbokro. In 1960, when Cote d’Ivoire gained independence from France, Gene helped to sew its first national flags.

In 1961, while they were in Seattle, Gene and Walter were surprised to learn she was pregnant with twins. She continued attending the University of Washington, and they welcomed their beloved children into their hearts and lives, Eric Walter and Rebecca Carol (Beckie). 

Returning to Bouake, Cote d’Ivoire, Gene began Bible translation of the New Testament into Baoule. Her dear friend, Jan Timyan, as well as Noe Nzue and Marc Dahoua, joined her in the translation work, which was completed in 1971.

Following in Walter and Gene’s footsteps, Walter’s daughter, Betty Anne Olsen, was inspired to serve as a CMA missionary nurse in Vietnam. Tragically, there was an attack in which several missionaries were murdered, and Betty was captured with two men. Missionary Hank Blood and Betty both lost their lives during the inhumane march through the jungle, but not before Betty’s unwavering courage and forgiving love for her captors impacted fellow captor Mike Benge, a USAID worker.

Mike lived to share Betty’s story, which was published in “No Time for Tombstones.” In 1971, Gene and her stepdaughter, Marilyn Olsen, began studying Communications at Wheaton College. Gene graduated with her Master’s degree in Cross Cultural Communication in 1972. It was a year of joy and fun as the six family members lived together in Wheaton. They returned to their missionary work in Toumodi, Cote d’Ivoire that summer.

Tragically, Mark died unexpectedly at age 17, following an accident on September 15, 1973, at Ivory Coast Academy. Gene would later say: “My life falls into one of two categories: before and after Mark’s death.” The verse God gave her and others after his death was concerning Enoch, a man of God: “He walked with God; and he was not, for God took him.” Gene was assured that it was not a mistake, but part of the “all things that work together for good to those who love him.” (Romans 8:28) 

On July 4, 1976, Gene and Walter were awarded medals by the Ivory Coast Government. Gene was awarded the “Chevalier de l’Order du Merite Ivoirien.” The following year, Gene took a teaching position at Saint Paul Bible College in Minnesota where she became the first female Missionary in Residence ever appointed by the CMA. For ten years, she taught courses in Anthropology, French, Cross Cultural Communications and Linguistics. She also taught at Bethel College for one year and at Toronto Institute of Linguistics for three summers, preparing new missionaries for language study. In a demonstration of her love for others, she also opened her home for women fleeing domestic violence. On December 24, 1980, Gene’s loving and devoted husband passed away at age 74.

Gene, Beckie, and Eric cared for him during his final days so he could remain at home, surrounded by those who loved him, and they were with him when he passed into the  presence of his Savior. They remained in Waconia, Minnesota throughout Eric and Beckie’s college years. Gene still had so much energy and such an intense desire to continue service to her Lord. So in 1987, she returned to Cote d’Ivoire to teach at Yamoussoukro Bible Institute and also began translating Theological Education by Extension materials for church leaders. During this time she mentored David Saraka in translation work; David went on to work at the Bible Society in Abidjan.

In May 1995, Gene knew it was time to return to the US. She settled in the Seattle area to be close to her children and grandchildren. During the following years, she was actively involved in her grandchildren’s lives, teaching them French, taking them to sports or other activities, and babysitting. She lived in Monroe, Washington, where she cared for a family on her street whose mom had been incarcerated, wrote to another woman in prison, led Bible studies at a women’s homeless shelter and a retirement home, attended Woodinville Alliance Church, and enjoyed a Library Book Club and water aerobics at the YMCA (she took her first swimming class in her 80s!)

Gene was always aware of and informed on what was going on in the world; kept up on Dr. Phil; showed hospitality; cooked delicious meals; loved fashion, road trips, gardening and good books; played a wicked game of Scrabble; would correct your grammar; and ate too much chocolate.

The last several years of her life as her health declined, she continued to be a prayer warrior for her family. She had the devotion, love, and care of Eric and Beckie and their families. The grandchildren were so faithful to her, and she experienced the joy of meeting and holding three great-grandchildren!

Gene will be greatly missed, but we are so thankful she is now with her Lord and Savior, and reunited with her family members who have gone before her. Towards the end of her rich life, when asked how she was doing, she would often respond enthusiastically, “Merveilleuxmas!” (Marvelously!)

Gene is survived by Marilyn Olsen Lewis (Wayne), Eric Olsen (Teresa), Rebecca Olsen Sill (Michael), grandchildren Luke Olsen, Mark Olsen (Kjersten), Jessica Olsen, Caleb Sill (Jennifer), Natalie Sill Carroll (Jordan), and great-grandchildren Samuel Olsen, Josiah Olsen, and Vivian Sill.

We want to express our gratitude to the loving owners and staff of Bothell Park Manor who cared so well for Gene over the past three years: Radu and Marianna Cristodoru, Daniel and Yokabet Bockretsion, Mary Kamau, Elizabeth Mbugua, Kellan Gikunju, and Loveness Chikonde. She often said, “They take such good care of me.”  Thank you.

A Celebration of Life Service will be held on March 23, 2024 at Mill Creek Foursquare Church at 10 am. If you wish to make a donation in memory of Gene, please consider the Monroe Gospel Women’s Mission or the Great Commission Fund of the Christian and Missionary Alliance.

  • Andy and Margie Snodgrass (Posted: March 23, 2024)
    You were indeed blessed to have such a wonderful mother who loved Jesus and loved you. God bless and be with you as you miss her presence, while rejoicing in her being with her Lord
  • Joy Watson (Posted: March 07, 2024)
    I remember her joy on your wedding day Beckie and her banana and cranberry loaves she made for it with loving care. Her life is an inspiration and I am grateful for her dedication.
  • Dave and Jan Arnold (Posted: March 05, 2024)
    We were privileged to work along side of Gene and Walter in Côte d’Ivoire. Wonderful friends.
  • Peggy Lynne Drake-Fredine (Posted: March 05, 2024)
    She was an incredible person! A beloved professor, linguist, missionary and friend!
  • Leave a Comment