Kenneth Ben. Photo: Claus Grue/WCC

Kenneth Ben. Photo: Claus Grue/WCC

By Claus Grue*

When Kenneth Ben grew up in the sixties and seventies each day started and ended with a prayer. His father, who was a pastor, had a pulpit in the home and his parents built a lifestyle around Christian values. Ben also learned early on the value of an extended family, where grandparents and relatives are included.

“Today, people are too busy and the elderly are being neglected. People totally ignore the value of an extended family. It is a sad trend. There are a lot of broken families around and our main challenge in today’s society is to regain family values”, Ben says.

It took him almost 25 years of service as a police officer in Rarotonga, which is the main island in the Cook archipelago, to heed the call and commit himself to serve professionally as a disciple of Jesus.

Today, he is the secretary for the Titikaveka parish in Rarotonga, as well as an ordained and working director for evangelism in the Cook Islands Christian Church (CICC), responsible for evangelism in more than 60 branches of Christian churches in New Zealand, Australia and the Cook Islands. Four years ago, the CICC extended its boundaries into mission and started to train students to become missionaries. The interest has been vast; 45 students are now enrolled in the programme, and 12 new are recruited every fourth year.

“In 1965 I was born, in 1973, the Lord showed me my vision, and in 1986 he showed me my mission. It happened when me and my wife-to-be were collecting colourful fishes on the beach. When God calls you, you will remember”, Ben explains.

Twenty years later, in November 2006, he accepted a position as a commissioner at the World Council of Churches Commission on Mission and Evangelism and after another seven months, he resigned from the police. That happened to coincide with the passing away of his father, who was such an inspiration to him. Also, being a police officer for 24 years has contributed to his understanding of ordinary people’s daily struggles.

“You touch base with the lives of people, which gives you an insight to what is going on in society”, he says.

“Our main challenge today is modern technology’s impact on our daily lives and traditions. People are too busy to talk to each other and we see a growing gap between the traditional lifestyles of elderly people and the modern lifestyles of youngsters. The question is who is being marginalized”, Ben asks.

Most of his more than 200,000 countrymen live overseas in New Zealand, where Cook Islanders enjoy legal citizen status, and Australia. Less than 20,000 remain in their native environment in the Pacific.

“Youngsters continue to leave for education and jobs abroad and then return back home after maybe ten, twenty or thirty years, bringing with them urban values and a global outlook”, Ben explains.

Also, over time foreigners have influenced traditional Christian faiths and established their own churches on the islands. “All this is part of globalization, which poses challenges to traditional family values, but also opportunities for jobs and revenues. We must understand the bigger picture and acknowledge faith as a healing force at home. Healing requires reconciliation, in which the church can play an important role. We must be positive about the fact that God’s grace is much bigger than the challenges we face in society”, Ben continues.

His attendance at the Conference on World Mission and Evangelism in Arusha earlier this month, as commissioner and member of two committees, gave him plenty of opportunities to share experiences on mission and evangelism with peers from all over the world.

“The intention here is to address today’s challenges, such as globalization, environmental issues, gender issues, violence against women and children, etc. and take them to another level in a global context. I appreciate what other delegates are doing in their own context and the fact that we are learning from one another. It is good to be united as one people in the universal body of Christ”, Ben concludes.

To him, life is about harmony, and praying is still the key to open the door in the morning and to lock it in the evening.

Mission conference opens in Tanzania with deep spirit of sharing (WCC press release of 8 March 2018)

WCC general secretary on the Conference on World Mission and Evangelism: we are called to transformation (WCC press release of 7 March 2018)

Mission conference theme carries profound meaning (WCC press release of 6 March 2018)

"Arusha Call to Discipleship" issued (WCC press release of 13 March 2018)

*Claus Grue is communication consultant for the World Council of Churches.