Posted by: calloftheandes | January 27, 2017

Healthcare Advocate, Communicator Susan Olsen Dies at the Age of 67

Susan Olsen

Susan Olsen

by Harold Goerzen

Susan Olsen was struggling in the early 1980s when she met John and Yvonne Gardeen in Minneapolis, Minn. As retiree Roger Reimer, then serving as healthcare director for Reach Beyond in Ecuador, put it, “They took her into their home and treated her as a daughter.”

Intrigued with the concept of a mission hospital, Olsen traveled with the couple to Ecuador where they visited their son, Gary, and his wife, Mary, and family who were serving as missionaries at Hospital Vozandes-Quito (HVQ). Gary was the administrator of the hospital, a facility operated by Reach Beyond.

Olsen was impressed with the staff and the quality of the physical and spiritual care given to patients at HVQ, but she also found a hospital in dire need of renovations and updates that were critical to keeping the doors open and modernizing its services.

Project Life, a decade-long, $4-million construction program to expand HVQ, was gearing up to launch in early 1987, but funding was minimal, and Olsen was eager to help. That’s when her life was changed with an exciting new assignment.

“The mission had a policy at that time that did not allow [professional] fundraisers, and although she had an interest in promoting Project Life, we weren’t sure how to appropriately get her involved,” Reimer related. “As with a lot of those who came to see the ministries, she became an advocate for the hospital.”

Olsen came to Ecuador as a working visitor in the fall of 1986, then joined Reach Beyond as a full-time missionary in March 1987, serving as director of resource development for the Healthcare Division.

Working primarily out of an office provided by First Covenant Church in Minneapolis but making frequent trips to Quito, her new assignment fit her background perfectly. She had graduated in communications with an emphasis on healthcare from the University of Minnesota, and she had helped produce audiovisual presentations for several hospitals in the area.

COS-Advancement Bizhub 454e-20170118162736One of her first jobs at HVQ was to work with Mary Gardeen and other missionaries to launch Amigos (Friends), a newsletter that spread the word about Project Life and the organization’s healthcare ministries in Ecuador, telling stories of those whose lives were transformed by the outreach.

“Over time, Susan was able to accumulate a list of people whom she had made some kind of contact with and we began sending these people Amigos,” Reimer said. “The word got out, people began responding to the needs, and funds began to come in for Project Life.”

“Susan arranged for all kinds of meetings, mostly informal get-togethers with potential donors in the Twin Cities area,” he added. “Her enthusiasm was recognized and she was well received as she met with people.”

Some years after the completion of Project Life in 1996, Susan left Reach Beyond due to ill health and moved to Bellingham, Wash., where she founded the nonprofit corporation, Project Nineveh, in 2008. Her mission was to deliver copies of the Gospel of John to every resident in Bellingham. Susan walked through each neighborhood, completing her goal in four years.

However, Olsen’s physical and mental health problems again worsened. She weathered a bout of breast cancer, and in mid-2016 she discovered that the disease had metastasized to her brain. Then while completing a series of treatments for depression, she suffered a stroke. Olsen spent the last weeks of her life at Avamere Bellingham Healthcare and Rehabilitation Services.

“I still have to have help with standing due to balance and strength issues,” she stated. “The darkness of my depression has lifted, and the Lord is giving daily strength to face this new trial. I am blessed with the compassionate care I’m receiving from the staff. And daily I have brief visits from beloved and caring friends. We pray, sing, laugh and encourage each other in the Lord.”

Throughout this ordeal, Olsen remained firm in her faith and looked to the Lord for strength. “Pray that I would experience and rest in God’s promises to me that He will never leave me or forsake me,” she wrote. “Pray that I would live out Proverbs 3:5-6, ‘Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct your paths’ (NKJV).”

Susan Olsen, born to Madeline and Robert Dusenbery in Bellingham on March 21, 1949, died on Tuesday, Dec. 13. She was 67 years old.

“Sue fought long and hard,” noted Olsen’s longtime friend Mary Nuckolls. “The last two weeks she became more and more unresponsive. She went peacefully in her sleep. Everyone that worked with Sue spoke of her love and kindness to them.”

“Susan was an amazing missionary,” added Ron Cline, a former Reach Beyond president now serving as an ambassador for the mission with his wife, Barb. “She saw what we were doing and asked if she could help. She was a joy to work with. She had a strong vision and a total commitment. I loved it when she was there and miss her now that she is gone.”

Barb agreed, describing Olsen as a “woman who had a passion to serve others. She gave so much energy to the task of raising funds for Project Life. She always brought a bright, optimistic and compelling message to those she came in contact with, and she made many friends for the mission. She loved HCJB [Reach Beyond] and was a faithful servant.”

Olsen was preceded in death by her parents. She is missed by her brother, Matthew Dusenbery, and a sister, Becky Peterson. Susan was an active member of Immanuel Bible Church in Bellingham where a memorial service was held on Saturday, Jan. 7.

Donations in Olsen’s name may be made to the church or to Team Julia, 2000 W. North St., Bellingham, WA 98225.

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