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Students at George Benson Christian College in Kalomo, Zambia.
Students at George Benson Christian College in Kalomo, Zambia

The George Benson I knew

As Harding University debates the legacy of its former president and race relations, an African Christian shares about the man he considered to be his second father.

My name is Rayton Sianjina, son of the late Bicycle Sianjina, a former minister of the gospel who in his lifetime, planted 17 Churches of Christ in our home country of Zambia. Our story is deeply entwined with the legacy of George Stuart Benson.

Rayton Sianjina

Rayton Sianjina

I met Dr. Benson in June 1972 when I was 10. He and Mr. George Triplett, another missionary, drove their rugged Land Rover to my home 50 miles away from the closest town to pick up my dad, who would accompany them into remote locations to minister to the Simalundu villagers. I was invited to accompany them. 

The people in those remote areas were severely poor. Many suffered from diseases including leprosy. I recall vividly my surprise that these two white men mingled so freely among the crowds, shaking hands deformed by leprosy and sharing a common drinking gourd of contaminated water in cooperation with the local customs. 

Dr. Benson routinely came to Zambia and to our home year after year to go into various villages with my dad. They preached the gospel, winning and baptizing countless souls. Dr. Benson also worked with Namwianga Mission, which was established in 1932 in Kalomo, Zambia, by Churches of Christ. When I was of age I attended Namwianga Christian Secondary School. Dr. Benson was heavily involved in building and expanding the school. 

His vision seemed to never end. He wanted a multitude of Zambians to receive an education where they would get to know Christ as their personal savior. Often he met with Namwianga graduates wherever they worked or planted churches. He asked them to assist and support the expansion of the school. Many graduates held government jobs, and through them Dr. Benson was invited to meet with top government officials who, through his persuasion, became heavily involved in the work of Namwianga.

The late George S. Benson

The late George S. Benson

As one of his goals, a college was founded. Rightly so, it was named George Benson Christian College a three-year school that trains students to teach at the secondary level. It also offers training in ministry and Christian leadership development. In 1980 I came to America to attend Harding University. My dad had committed his farm as collateral to secure payment for my tuition, room and board.

Soon after my arrival on campus I was invited to meet with Dr. Benson. Over a welcoming lunch in the Heritage Hall, he spoke firmly about the criteria for my success — the need to focus on my studies as my future and my father’s farm were at stake. During my four years at Harding, Dr. Benson played a significant, hands-on role. He demonstrated great care, love and concern for my well-being and success. 

It is my firm belief that Dr. George Stuart Benson redeemed himself in the eyes of our Lord from the wrongs he had done.

The major cultural change from rural Zambia and all that was familiar to the halls of Harding University was major — cognitively and emotionally. Words cannot adequately convey the significance of the support I enjoyed from Dr. Benson. I witnessed him guiding and helping many young black men. 

I consider myself to have been blessed with two earthly fathers, Bicycle R. Sianjina and George S. Benson. These men touched many lives — white, black, Chinese, Japanese and most certainly others.

Related: Despite petition, Harding to keep George S. Benson’s name on its chapel venue

I spent a great deal of time with Dr. Benson over the years including the last days of his life. In 1991, I sat alone seeing after him at the White County hospital. 

He took his last breath as I was holding his hand. The last person he saw on this earth was a Black man as he parted this life to see the face of God. From seeing a Black man to seeing Christ Jesus is a testament to the redemptive story of his life. 

And yes, this is what the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ is all about — redemption! It is my firm belief that Dr. George Stuart Benson redeemed himself in the eyes of our Lord from the wrongs he had done. The George Benson that I know labored much in his later life for the advancement of the gospel, the good and redemptive news. 

What a redemptive effort of one’s own life and legacy. I choose to honor him!

In reflection of John 8:7, I am sorry, but I have too much baggage of sins to cast the first stone. Don’t you?

Rayton Sianjina earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Harding and a doctorate from the University of Mississippi. He is Director of Assessment and Student Outcomes for Fort Valley State University in Georgia. He and his family worship with the Warner Robins Church of Christ.

Filed under: #GeorgeFloyd Church of Christ George S. Benson Harding auditorium Opinion racism Top Stories Views Zambia

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