BERNE, Ind. (Mennonite Mission Network) — Olga Claassen led a life of dedicated service to God which took her to India and Indiana, and a few other places besides.
Claassen, who died July 5, 2010, offered a level head and a steady and inspiring influence on both colleagues and those outside of church circles, according to Joseph and Mary Lou Duerksen, who served with Olga and Curt Claassen in India.
“She was dedicated, in the broadest sense of the word,” Joseph Duerksen said. “She was dedicated to her family, she was dedicated to the church, she was dedicated to her calling [and] to the women and children with whom she worked.”
For 28 years, the Claassens were evangelists in India, teaching in the Janjgir Bible School, planting churches, encouraging isolated Christians in villages, and mentoring Indian evangelists. Because of Claassen’s love and concern and passion for the well-being of children, she held Bible classes for them.
Duerksen said she also worked with area women, teaching the Bible, which she knew thoroughly. Her knowledge helped her interact with many groups of people, including mission workers whose different assignments sometimes led to different priorities.
Olga Rose (Schultz) Claassen was born on June 8, 1918, to Henry H. and Mary (Fast) Schultz in Mountain Lake, Minn. She entered the heavenly presence of her Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, at the age of 92.
She spent the first eight years of life in Minnesota, moving then to Lustre, Mont. Family church attendance and involvement were very important to her. When she was 9, her mother, Mary died of liver cancer. As she was dying, her mother said she hoped all her children would be in heaven with her. This left a deep impression on her. She accepted Christ as Savior at the age of 12 and was baptized by the Rev. A. C. Wall the same year. At 18, her family moved to Dallas, Ore.
Two years after high school, Olga began studies at the Bible Institute of Los Angeles (now Biola University), graduating in 1943 with a degree in Christian education. At Biola, she was impressed by a handsome young man who worked with her in the dining room. It was Curt, who she married on June 1, 1944, in Dallas, Ore.
From childhood, God had placed in her heart a desire to serve, she thought in Africa. (Later, two of the Claassen’s sons would serve in Africa.) Instead, in November 1945, the Claassens boarded a ship for India under the General Conference Commission on Overseas Mission—a predecessor agency of Mennonite Mission Network.
Their four sons, Lloyd, Gordon, Eldon and Loren, all grew up in India and graduated from Woodstock School in Mussoorie, India. As a wife, mother and missionary, Olga had many roles. Her example in each of them clearly modeled and taught her family the ways of the Lord and the importance of following Christ Jesus, whom she loved with a deep dedication.
The Claassens served in India until 1973.
On their first furlough to the United States, they served the Beatrice (Neb.) Mennonite Church. In 1975, they moved to Berne, Ind., to serve at First Mennonite Church, where for 20 years Curt was an assistant and visitation pastor. Olga often accompanied him in hospital and home visitation.
She was given to hospitality, and was known to invite strangers who were visiting First Mennonite home for Sunday dinner. She was a member of First Mennonite Church, taught Sunday school, participated in Women in Mission, wrote for the congregational “Update” newsletter and involved herself in many other ways in church life. The Claassens have been greatly blessed by many expressions of love and support from the people of the church and the Berne community.
She was preceded in death by her parents, step-mother Anna Wiebe Schultz; five brothers and four sisters. She is survived by her loving husband, Curt; four sons and daughters-in-law, Lloyd and Gail, Gordon and Jarna, Eldon and Jan and Loren and Patricia; and her grandchildren, Joshua and wife Ashley, Caleb and wife Beth, Anna, Sarah, Kenneth and Kyle Claassen, and many nephews and nieces.
Funeral services were Saturday July 10 at First Mennonite Church in Berne with the Revs. Jeff Linthicum and Jerry Flueckiger officiating. Interment is in the M.R.E. Cemetery of rural Berne.
Preferred memorials are to the First Mennonite Church Missions.