Estelle Orcutt

January 5, 1922 – February 1, 2010


Estelle Hoffman was born to missionary parents in Edwaleni, South Africa. After one term of service, her family returned to the U.S. In 1939 Estelle entered Central Christian College of Kansas, McPherson, Kansas. During her two years there, she sensed God’s call to missionary service in Africa. Estelle met Paul Orcutt while a student at Greenville College, Illinois. They were married in 1943. Together they served pastorates in Plymouth and Mason City, Iowa. Estelle was also a teacher in Plymouth.

The Orcutts applied for missionary service and were approved in October 1947 to serve in central Africa. In September 1949, following a year of language study in Belgium, they reached Muyebe Mission Station in present-day Burundi – then called Ruanda-Urundi, Belgian Congo – to begin their work as educational missionaries.

Orcutt2The Orcutts ministered there for 13 years. Their three children – Jonathon, Virginia and Drusilla – were born in central Africa.

In 1959 Estelle received government approval to start a girls’ boarding school in Muyebe. That September the school was opened with an enrollment of 36 girls. During the three-year course, the girls received instruction in homemaking arts, child care and teaching methods. Upon completion, the graduates could teach kindergarten through second grades. The Orcutts’ ongoing work in education included supervising instruction for nearly 4,000 Africans. The mission schools contributed significantly to increase Burundi’s literacy rate. At that time, 90 percent of the population was illiterate.

The region underwent a political evolution. Following independence, Paul and Estelle lived in the midst of fierce tribal fighting. Church leaders were forced to flee the country or were imprisoned. The areas of Rwanda and Burundi became separate countries.

Orcutt1In 1962, the Orcutts were transferred to Rwanda. Estelle and Paul, along with a team of church leaders and missionaries, helped open advanced training schools providing a Christian environment. When a new Bible school was opened in 1968, Paul served as director and Estelle taught math and science. She was also involved in a number of other training programs. She taught women and girls, served as conference Sunday school superintendent, taught missionary children, served as mission and conference treasurer, helped lead women’s conventions, and was involved in youth work. In 1964, Estelle taught English to Aaron and Edith Ruhumuriza, a future bishop and wife of the FMC in Rwanda.

The first women’s convention the summer of 1964 was such a success other districts wanted similar teaching. Part of Estelle’s presentation was instructing on how to be a better Christian wife. God continued to use these conventions to reach women, as Estelle wrote in an article, “Only as the hand that rocks the cradle (or the back that carries and jiggles the baby) is touched by God, can families really be influenced and changed to become truly Christian.” (Jan. 1965, The Missionary Tidings)

The Orcutts returned to the United States in August 1972 for a period of deputation throughout North America. They then served pastorates in Illinois and Kansas before retirement.

Estelle’s Colleagues Write:

Fellow Burundi missionary Clara Sparks Rice recalls, “I assisted the doctor in the delivery of Ginna (Paul and Estelle’s oldest daughter). Then later I was appointed by the mission to assist Estelle in the Muyebe School District where she was the director. I worked with her for one year. We enjoyed many happy times, as well as some sad times. Estelle was easy to work with, took her job seriously and helped me in many ways. She taught me a lot about school work and I enjoyed so much helping her. She, Paul and their family meant a lot to me.”

Olive Bodtcher Downs worked with the Orcutts at Kibogora, Rwanda, for about a year in the 1960s. She recalls, “About three weeks before Christmas, Paul and Estelle were going to town for supplies. They asked us if we needed anything special. Good cheese was hard to find, but we asked if they could bring us some Gouda cheese. We were a bit disappointed when they came back without the cheese, but realized that was the way it was in Rwanda those days. Christmas day a gift was delivered to our house from our neighbors, Paul and Estelle – a lovely round of Gouda cheese! That’s the kind of people they were, full of fun and giving.

“When Estelle delivered Drusilla on April 1 (April Fools’ Day), I was to tend the maternity room down the steep hill. When I arrived at the ward, I found the door knob had broken off and I could not get in. I sent a runner up the hill to ask Paul to come down and get me in. He received the message, but thought it was an April fools’ joke, so he didn’t come. Meanwhile, Estelle was delivering Drusilla, and I was trying to figure out why Paul hadn’t come. Finally I got a small African through the very small window and she unlocked the door from the inside. We all had a good laugh when it was all said and done. Estelle delivered Drusilla on that day – the most beautiful baby with beautiful, big blue eyes.

“Estelle was full of wisdom and grace. She taught me much about God’s will for our lives as we sat on the wall overlooking Lake Kivu and talked. As I think of Estelle, I remember a caring, loving missionary who was always ready to help. She was an inspiration to all who knew her. Even though I did not see the Orcutts for many years, I will always be grateful for the imprint they left on my life.”

Another colleague, Myra Adamson, writes, “Estelle was my missionary colleague at Kibogora, Rwanda. I remember her as a courageous, hard-working, helpful friend, who rescued me many times through several difficult circumstances. She and her husband, Paul, founded the secondary school at Kibogora, laboring many long hours both day and night to get it launched just right. She and Paul also worked long hours getting ready for the annual missionary conference at Kumbya.

“Estelle was a gifted teacher, teaching the Africans in the French language which she had learned in Belgium, and also teaching the missionary children and shaping their lives to live for Jesus.

“We shared a curious history: we were both missionaries’ children, and both born in South Africa. Even more curious was the fact that in childbirth our mothers were both attended by the same doctor, pioneer missionary Dr. Backenstoe.

“Estelle was courageous to the end, enduring the disability of Parkinson’s disease and sending letters, cards, and poems to her many friends. Her life is a challenge to us whom she has left behind.”