View All Photos

 Verneita May Oliver, Charles Gilbert Oliver, and Ronald.

Photo courtesy of the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists Archives.

Oliver, Charles Gilbert (1917–2004), and Verneita May (Kessigner) (1918–1994)

By Desmond Sirami

×

Desmond Sirami, M.A. in education (Adventist International Institute of Advanced Studies, Silang, Cavite, Philippines), is the director of the Sabbath school and personal ministry departments of Papua Mission, Indonesia. He was a member of 1000 Missionary Movement and served as a missionary in the Philippines. He was an English and Bible teacher at Doyo Baru Academy, Papua, Indonesia, and director of Papua Adventist Academy and Papua Adventist School of Theology. He is married to Elihama Villanueva Okan and has three children.

First Published: January 29, 2020

Charles Gilbert and Verneita Oliver served as missionaries in Japan, Guam, and Indonesia, he as a church administrator, and she as a nurse.

Early Life 

Charles Gilbert Oliver was born November 28, 1917 in Oak Grove, Oregon, to Aldwin and Mabel Oliver. Charles had an older brother, John, and a younger sister, Mary. John, a physician, served for many years in India and Nepal. Mary was for many years the associate editor of Our Little Friend, a Sabbath School magazine for children.1 Verneita was born October 22, 1918 to Ira and Amanda Kessinger.

Education and Marriage

After attending the public elementary school in Rickreall, Oregon, Gilbert moved on to Laurelwood Academy in Gaston, Oregon, and subsequently to Walla Walla College in College Place, Washington. At college he met Verneita May Kessinger from Boise, Idaho. Both were from Seventh-day Adventist families. Gilbert’s major was business administration, and Verneita’s was nursing.

Ministry (1940-1947)

After graduation Oliver worked for a year as the business manager of a small sanitarium in LaGrande, Oregon. Then he was the boys’ dean and taught business and Bible at Gem State Academy. It was about then that Verneita finished nurses’ training. The couple got married in Port Townsend, Washington, on December 10, 1941. Their only child, Ronald Wesley Oliver, was born in the same city on January 27, 1944.

Because of his business training and experience, Oliver was assigned to the Army hospital at Fort Warden for most of the war. He reached the rank of Master Sergeant and was the director of medical supplies. Verneita worked at St. John’s Hospital in town. One of Gilbert’s favorite stories was about post housing. Housing was scarce and post housing the scarcest. When sixteen houses were vacated and up for bid, he submitted a separate bid for each of the sixteen. His was the only bid on one tiny house that had been converted from a chicken coop. So he got post housing ahead of many senior to him. That house served not only as their home, but as a Sabbath home-away-from-home for many young Adventist soldiers through the war years.

Early in 1944 Oliver was deployed to the Pacific. His assignment overseas was setting up and operating the medical supply service in Army hospitals, first on Guam, then on Saipan. In Guam, Oliver along with a military colleague, Henry Metzger from Southerlin, Oregon, was active in establishing and nurturing a Seventh-day Adventist congregation. Oliver was overseas a little over a year before the war ended and he returned home to the Northwest part of the US and was discharged from the army on November 29, 1945. He then worked as the business manager at the Portland Sanitarium and Hospital for a year and a half.

Missionary Life (1947-1982)

Gilbert and Verneita became part of the early wave of missionaries leaving home after the war in 1947. The family was called to mission service in Japan--Gilbert to be the business manager of the Tokyo Sanitarium and Hospital, and Verneita to teach in the School of Nursing.

After three years of service in Japan, Oliver was called to Guam where he was the secretary-treasurer of the mission from 1950 to 1956. Part of that time was spent in Palau where he relieved the pastor/school principal who was on furlough. While serving in Guam, he was appointed as the principal of the newly started Guam academy, and was ordained in 1953. On the day of his ordination, he had the privilege of conducting his first baptismal service as a minister, baptizing his son. Oliver and his wife enjoyed working with and for young people throughout most of their ministry. In Guam, besides being school principal, Oliver was active in the Missionary Volunteer (or MV) Society. Because of its isolation, the official term of service on Guam was only 3 years. Olivers’ first furlough was in 1952. On their second furlough in 1955-56, they went to Washington, D.C., where Oliver enrolled in a Master’s degree program in Biblical Archeology at the Adventist Theological Seminary, and continued the studies over subsequent furloughs, finally graduating in June 1962 from Andrews University in Berrien Springs, Michigan.

Meanwhile, after that second furlough, Oliver was called to Borneo Mission whose territory included Sabah, Sarawak, and Brunei. He served there as the Mission President from 1957 to 1962.

Oliver was then called to Irian Jaya, the Dutch half of New Guinea. The Dutch were just handing over the administration of the territory to Indonesia. Within days of arriving in Irian Jaya, the Oliver family attended the transition ceremony in the country. Meanwhile, the former mission president Pastor Klaas Tilstra, a Dutchman, was returning to Holland, and Oliver was appointed as the mission president from 1963-1965,2 with residence and office being in the capital, Hollandia. Oliver was soon involved in a busy schedule of building churches, opening branch Sabbath schools, helping develop the Irian Barat Junior Academy and promoting evangelistic outreach throughout the mission. As Oliver expressed in a report to the division news magazine, “In Irian Barat we have but touched the fringes with our fingertips and there remaineth much land to possess. May God help us to measure up to the needs of the hour.”3

From 1967- 1971 Oliver was called to be the business manager of Indonesia Union College, Bandung Java.4 From 1972 to 1976 he served as the West Indonesia Union treasurer.5 From 1976 to 1982, he was called to be the chairman of the Theology Department at East Indonesian Union College, later known as Mt. Klabat College.6

Oliver loved an adventurous life, and he served the church with the zeal of adventure, whether such service was in teaching, administration, treasury, or leadership. While on furlough during service in Indonesia, Oliver decided to take flying lessons and returned to the mission with a pilate license. Meanwhile the Adventist church in Indonesia was developing an extensive flying program to reach the scattered parts of the islands of the field. Verneita had developed a great interest in children’s Sabbath School programs and was director of child evangelism. She was also involved in health ministry, home and family evangelism and music ministry. Both Verneita and Gilbert flew quite often to reach the scattered centers of the mission field. Although he could not officially fly the planes for want of a commercial license, his pilote's training enabled him to ride in the front seat and sometimes take the controls.

Few years before his retirement, there was a significant shift in Oliver’s career. He sponsored several students in colleges and helped in establishing Adventist English Conversation Schools in East and West Indonesia.7

Later Life

After he retired in 1985, the Olivers went back to teach at Mt. Klabat college for 3 separate one-year terms. On one of those volunteer assignments, Oliver initiated the Guru Injil (student missionary) program, which consumed most of his post-retirement promotion and interest both in Indonesia and in the U.S. Moved by his deep commitment to volunteer service, college students from Mt. Klabat would take off a year or two and go to some remote, often previously unentered part of Indonesia to start a church or school and then return to college with a scholarship.

The Olivers eventually retired in Vancouver, Washington, near the home of their son Ronald who had married, in 1982, a former missionary from Irian Jaya, Virginia Smith. The Olivers lived to see 7 grandchildren 7 great-grandsons and one great-great-granddaughter.

In retirement Gilbert took an interest in hiking and often hiked with his son and grandchildren. At about age 70 he climbed Long’s Peak, a 14,000-foot mountain in Colorado. A year or two later he hiked the Timberline Trail around Mt. Hood.

The retirement years also saw the couple traveling a lot and visiting friends. In December 1991 they celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary. On June 17, 1994, Verneita died of cancer.8

As a student at Walla Walla College, Gilbert was acquainted with another student, Orilee. They renewed that acquaintance at the alumni weekend in 1996, and were married on June 27, 1997. Gilbert and Orilee were both active in the church, with Gilbert continuing to do the things he had enjoyed, attending College alumni weekends, retiree’s meetings, family gatherings and keeping up home and garden where he once put his apple orchard experience to good use by grafting an apple tree in his son’s yard so that it produced three different kinds of apples!

A few weeks before his death, his son asked if there was anything that he had always wanted to do and offered to help him do it or if there was any place he had always wanted to go. His reply was a consistent no. He had already done far more than he ever expected and been to far more places than he had ever thought of visiting. He was content with his life. With that contentment, Oliver died on June 14, 2004 and was buried in Willamette National Cemetery.

Contribution

Charles Gilbert Oliver was a significant Seventh-day Adventist missionary and church leader who served the Far Eastern Division in the post World War II period with great discipline and distinction. He provided direction and leadership to the church organization in the right use of financial resources, training and strengthening workers, developing schools and establishing different ministries. His leadership laid a strong foundation for God’s church and ministry in Indonesia.

Sources

Gereja Masehi Advent Hari Ketujuh di Indonesia Sejara Perintisan dan Pengambangannya. Official Church Paper of East and East Indonesia Union Missions.

Oliver, C. G. “Irian Barat.” Far Eastern Division Outlook, March, 1964.

“Oliver, Verneita M. Kessinger.” Obituary Citation, Seventh-day Adventist Obituary Index, North Pacific Union Gleaner, Aug 15, 1994. Accessed May 20, 2019. https://encore.andrews.edu/iii/encore/record/C__Rb3564842__SOliver%2C%20Verneita%20__P0%2C1__Orightresult__U__X6?lang=eng&suite=cobalt.

Seventh-day Adventist Yearbook. “Index of Institutional Workers.” Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald Pub. Assn., 1967-1982.

Notes

  1. Ronald Wesley Oliver, the only son of Charles Gilbert Oliver, phone interview by author, July 20, 2017.

  2. Gereja Masehi Advent Hari Ketujuh di Indonesia Sejara Perintisan dan Pengambangannya, Official Church Paper of East and East Indonesia Union Missions, 383.

  3. C. G. Oliver, “Irian Barat,” Far Eastern Division Outlook, March, 1964, 15.

  4. Seventh-day Adventist Yearbook, “Index of Institutional Workers” (Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald Pub. Assn., 1967-1971).

  5. Seventh-day Adventist Yearbook, “Index of Institutional Workers” (Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald Pub. Assn., 1972-1976).

  6. Seventh-day Adventist Yearbook, “Index of Institutional Workers” (Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald Pub. Assn., 1976-1982).

  7. Gereja Masehi Advent Hari Ketujuh di Indonesia Sejara Perintisan dan Pengambangannya, 486-487

  8. “Oliver, Verneita M. Kessinger,” Obituary Citation, Seventh-day Adventist Obituary Index, North Pacific Union Gleaner Aug 15, 1994, accessed May 20, 2019, https://encore.andrews.edu/iii/encore/record/C__Rb3564842__SOliver%2C%20Verneita%20__P0%2C1__Orightresult__U__X6?lang=eng&suite=cobalt.

×

Sirami, Desmond. "Oliver, Charles Gilbert (1917–2004), and Verneita May (Kessigner) (1918–1994)." Encyclopedia of Seventh-day Adventists. January 29, 2020. Accessed June 18, 2024. https://encyclopedia.adventist.org/article?id=GCJH.

Sirami, Desmond. "Oliver, Charles Gilbert (1917–2004), and Verneita May (Kessigner) (1918–1994)." Encyclopedia of Seventh-day Adventists. January 29, 2020. Date of access June 18, 2024, https://encyclopedia.adventist.org/article?id=GCJH.

Sirami, Desmond (2020, January 29). Oliver, Charles Gilbert (1917–2004), and Verneita May (Kessigner) (1918–1994). Encyclopedia of Seventh-day Adventists. Retrieved June 18, 2024, https://encyclopedia.adventist.org/article?id=GCJH.