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Bennett (Ben) Dickson

1950-1951 / NZBTI Diploma (Queen Street Campus)

The second in a family of nine sons, Ben left school at age 12 to work for his father on their land in Timaru. At 15 he started his trade training at Caroline Bacon Factory, working there until he commenced studies at the NZ Bible Training Institute in 1950. In his application to NZBTI he noted, “I find the time has come when the Lord would have me do something for him”. Two verses “come like an ache that gives me no rest” – “Go ye … and lo I am with you” (Matt 28:19) and “My presence shall go with you” (Ex 33:14).

After his studies he returned to Timaru and worked as a truck driver. In 1953 a letter came out of the blue asking him to come to Whangarei to help out in the hostel work of the United Māori Mission (UMM). He had been intending to go to Papua New Guinea and had no experience of hostel work or little interaction with Māori. However, he decided to investigate the opportunity, met UMM missionary Charlie Bennet (NZBTI grad of 1936), and thus began an involvement with UMM which spanned over 60 years.

The initiation process was intense! With no cooking knowledge or experience, Ben soon found himself as the hostel cook for 22 boys and staff. He met his future wife, Mary Penning, in Kaikohe where she ran the UMM hostel. She later studied at NZBTI (1956-1957) and they married in 1959. In 1969 Ben and Mary moved to Auckland with their three children to manage the Owens Road hostel, looking after 53 young Māori boys aged 16-18 who had come to Auckland for trades training. Māori culture, weekly Bible studies, and Sunday services were an important part of hostel living and the development of the boys. Ben was proud of the way many of the boys went on to do well in their lives.

In 1979 Ben had to give up his management role for health reasons but continued in other roles – representing UMM around the country, taking senior Bible classes at Valley Road chapel each week, relieving staff at hostels, and getting involved in hostel renovations and redecorating.

When the hostel side of UMM work came to an end in Ben’s life, he began to volunteer in prison ministry at Mt Eden and Pāremoremo prisons. Here he teamed up with other NZBTI graduates, May Mackey (1947) and Wally Hayward (1958) and was one of the team to run the first service in the chapel at Mt Eden Prison.

One of the hardest times in Ben’s life was Mary’s diagnosis of Parkinson’s Disease in 1988. Having to place Mary in a home for health and safety reasons was almost unbearable, and from that day until her death in 2003 Ben’s life revolved around lunch hours with Mary and watching the six o’clock news together.

After Mary’s death, Ben picked up his work in the prisons again – and testified to seeing the change in some hardened prisoners when they met Christ. He was still visiting Mt Eden in the last fortnight before his death on 5 September 2014, at age 87. Evidence of the people impacted by Ben’s ministry was seen at his tangi when a stream of ex-hostel boys and ex-prisoners came to pay their respects.

Read more of the story of the United Māori Mission and the involvement of the NZ Bible Training Institute in its establishment:

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