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Harry Farmer Benson, c. 1910s.

Credit: “United States Passport Applications, 1795-1925,” Ancestry.com.

Benson, Harry Farmer (1882–1947)

By Milton Hook

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Milton Hook, Ed.D. (Andrews University, Berrien Springs, Michigan, the United States). Hook retired in 1997 as a minister in the Greater Sydney Conference, Australia. An Australian by birth Hook has served the Church as a teacher at the elementary, academy and college levels, a missionary in Papua New Guinea, and as a local church pastor. In retirement he is a conjoint senior lecturer at Avondale College of Higher Education. He has authored Flames Over Battle Creek, Avondale: Experiment on the Dora, Desmond Ford: Reformist Theologian, Gospel Revivalist, the Seventh-day Adventist Heritage Series, and many magazine articles. He is married to Noeleen and has two sons and three grandchildren.

First Published: April 20, 2022

Harry Benson served for over 35 years as a minister and missionary teacher in Japan and Korea. He was the longest serving expatriate missionary in the Far Eastern Division during the pre-Second World War years.

Early Years

Harry Farmer Benson, son of Charles and Bell Benson, was born at Norwalk, Ohio, on June 28, 1882.1 He attended Mount Vernon Academy and was baptized in May 1901.2

In 1904 Harry assisted with an evangelistic campaign in Toledo, Ohio.3 The following year he was appointed to Beechwood Manual Training Academy at Needham, Indiana, where he filled the roles of secretary-treasurer, preceptor, and teacher of mathematics, book-keeping and agriculture.4

On July 24, 1906, Harry married Helen McNair Boggs in her parent’s home in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, immediately after her graduation from Mount Vernon Academy. They were under appointment for mission service in Japan.5

Mission Service in Japan

The couple arrived in Japan in September 1906.6 At that time Korea was included in the territory administered from the Japan Mission. There were only four churches with a baptized membership of 110 in Japan. In Korea there were 96 members and five established churches. Harry initially served as secretary-treasurer of the mission with an office in Tokyo.7 He was instrumental in opening a mission training school in Tokyo in 1908.8

The population of Japan followed Shintoism which was so deep-seated that Christianity struggled to gain attention.9 In 1908, during a re-organization of roles entailed in forming a separate Korean Mission, Benson was selected to conduct evangelism in Hiroshima, one of the strongholds of Shintoism.10 Canvassers assisted him by blanketing the city with copies of the mission paper, Owari No Fukuin. He established a small company that met regularly in a home near a main thoroughfare.11 In May 1911 Benson, along with a national worker, pioneered Adventist work on the island of Shikoku off the coast from Hiroshima.12 Benson was ordained to the gospel ministry in July 1912 at a gathering of believers in the little village of Awaji on Awaji Island.13

In July 1915 Benson was appointed as the Educational Secretary for the Japan Mission.14 He held this role until he was selected to develop the Fukushima region to the north of Tokyo. He began with an evangelistic series based at Aizuwakamatsu village where one of the oldest Seventh-day Adventist churches in Japan was situated.15 In 1919 he was sent further north to pioneer and direct mission activities in the Tohoku region.16 This move proved to be short-lived because in mid-1921, after the superintendent of the Japan Union Mission had to relinquish his position on account of the poor health of his wife, Benson was asked to step in as his replacement.17 Statistics from a 1923 report indicated that Japan had 10 organized churches with a total baptized membership of 313.18 Denominational literature was in high demand and Benson’s committee voted to double the capacity of the Japan Publishing House in Tokyo.19

In 1924, after returning from furlough, Benson was given the responsibility of supervising the construction of the Tokyo Sanitarium-Hospital. A wooden two-storied structure was built and the institution opened with an 18-bed capacity in 1928.20 Having completed one major building program, Benson then assisted with the building of a new Japan Junior College. The site was relocated out of Tokyo city and situated at Naraha in the Fukushima region. New classrooms, teachers homes and a farmer’s cottage were erected with the help of student labor.21 Benson returned to pioneering work in 1929, locating as director of the Hokkaido Mission at the port of Otaru.22

Korean Interlude

After more than 25 years in Japan, Benson was transferred to Korea to teach in the Chosen Union Training School at Soonan, beginning September 1932.23 He remained at his teaching role until 1939, becoming manager of the institution in the final months. From 1934 to 1939 he was also superintendent of the Soonan Food Factory, an industry operated by the school.24

Wartime Disruptions

For the 1939 academic year the Bensons returned to Japan to teach at the Japan Junior College, but remained only a few months before taking a furlough.25 A medical check in the United States found that Harry was suffering high blood pressure but the Foreign Mission Board concluded it was safe enough for him to return to the Far East.26 They had scarcely settled once more in Japan when war conditions brought about the mass evacuation of expatriates from the region in January 1941.27

Benson was reassigned to engage in evangelism for the Malayan Union Mission, specifically in Penang. In reporting the Bensons arrival in Malaysia, the Far Eastern Division Outlook noted that Pastor Benson had served the longest of any expatriate missionary in the Far Eastern Division.28 However, war conditions deteriorated. In February 1942 the Bensons were evacuated from Singapore.29

After returning to the United States, Benson was granted a leave of absence from denominational employment to serve with the U.S. Army Signal Service at Large, located in Washington, D.C.30 After his wartime military service he returned to denominational work, albeit only part-time, assisting at the Home Study Institute in Washington, D.C.

Harry F. Benson passed away at age 65 on October 6, 1947, at Arlington, Virginia, and was laid to rest in the Fort Lincoln Cemetery, Maryland.31 He and Helen had no children. Helen married Dr. Leslie Trott in 1959, and after his death moved to North Carolina where she died at the age of 90 on February 13, 1973. She was interred alongside her first husband in Fort Lincoln Cemetery, Maryland.32

Sources

Benson, H. F. “Hiroshima.” ARH, December 31, 1908.

Benson, H. F. “Japan.” ARH, June 30, 1910.

Benson, H. F. “Ship Work in Otaru, Japan.” ARH, May 8, 1930.

Benson, H. F. “The Japan Union Mission.” ARH, July 6, 1922.

Benson, H. F. and [Helen] Benson, Y. Seino. “Japan.” ARH, August 31, 1911.

Evans, I. H. “Japan Union Mission--Biennial Session.” Asiatic Division Outlook, July 1, 1921.

Evans, I. H. “The Japan Meeting.” ARH, October 24, 1912.

Evans, I. H. “The Work in Japan.” ARH, December 31, 1908.

Evans, Irwin H. “A Month in Japan.” ARH, September 4, 1919.

Frost, S. L. “The Educational Department--Far Eastern Division Annual Report.” Far Eastern Division Outlook, July 1927.

H. F. Benson Secretariat Appointee File. RG 21, File 45231. General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists Archives, Silver Spring, MD (GCA).

“Harry Farmer Benson obituary.” ARH, November 27, 1947.

“Harry Farmer Benson.” Find A Grave. Memorial 118189106, October 4, 2013. Accessed December 14, 2021, https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/118189106/harry-farmer-benson.

“Helen McNair Boggs Benson Trott.” Find A Grave. Memorial 118189074, October 4, 2013. Accessed December 14, 2021, https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/118189074/helen-mcnair-benson_trott.

Hoffman, B. P. “Japan and Korea.” ARH, February 28, 1918.

Hoffman, B. P. “The Japan Mission . . . .” Asiatic Division Outlook, July 1, 1917.

“Important changes are being made . . . .” Far Eastern Division Outlook, January 1941.

Ludden, H. B. “Ground-breaking Ceremony--Tokyo Sanitarium & Hospital.” Far Eastern Division Outlook, April 1960.

Millard, F.R. “Japan Junior College.” Far Eastern Division Outlook, June 1940.

“Mr. Harry F. Benson, of Clyde…” The Welcome Visitor, August 1, 1906.

“Nominations for Asiatic Division.” Asiatic Division Mission News, July 1, 1915.

“Pastor and Mrs. H.F. Benson arrived…” Far Eastern Division Outlook, June 1941.

Seventh-day Adventist Yearbook, various years. https://www.adventistyearbook.org/.

“Statistical Report of the Far Eastern Division Mission for the Quarter Ending September 30, 1922.” Asiatic Division Outlook, February 1, 1923.

“We are glad to report . . . .” Far Eastern Division Outlook, November 1932.

Notes

  1. “United States Census, 1900,” FamilySearch, accessed April 20, 2022, https://www.familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:MMCB-4C3.

  2. “Harry Farmer Benson obituary,” ARH, November 27, 1947, 26.

  3. Ibid.

  4. “Beechwood Manual Training Academy,” Seventh-day Adventist Yearbook for 1906, 98.

  5. “Mr. Harry F. Benson, of Clyde . . . ,” Welcome Visitor, August 1, 1906, 4.

  6. “Harry Farmer Benson obituary.”

  7. “Japan Mission,” Seventh-day Adventist Yearbook for 1907, 103-104.

  8. B. P. Hoffman, “Japan and Korea,” ARH, February 28, 1918, 10-12.

  9. I. H. Evans, “The Work in Japan,” ARH, December 31, 1908, 15.

  10. H. F. Benson,” Hiroshima,” ARH, December 31, 1908, 15.

  11. H. F. Benson, “Japan,” ARH, June 30, 1910, 10.

  12. H. F. Benson, H[elen] Benson, Y. Seino, “Japan,” ARH, August 31, 1911, 13-14.

  13. I. H. Evans, “The Japan Meeting,” ARH, October 24, 1912, 13-14.

  14. “Nominations for Asiatic Division,” Asiatic Division Mission News, July 1, 1915, 17-18.

  15. B. P. Hoffman, “The Japan Mission,” Asiatic Division Outlook, July 1, 1917, 4.

  16. “Tohoku Mission,” Seventh-day Adventist Yearbook for 1920, 163.

  17. I. H. Evans, “Japan Union Mission--Biennial Session,” Asiatic Division Outlook, July 1, 1921, 1.

  18. “Statistical Report of the Far Eastern Division Mission for the Quarter Ending September 30, 1922,” Asiatic Division Outlook, February 1, 1923, 6-7.

  19. H. F. Benson, “The Japan Union Mission,” ARH, July 6, 1922, 11-12.

  20. H.B. Ludden, “Ground-breaking Ceremony--Tokyo Sanitarium & Hospital,” Far Eastern Division Outlook, April 1960, 1-2.

  21. S.L. Frost, “The Educational Department--Far Eastern Division Annual Report,” Far Eastern Division Outlook, July 1927, 18-19.

  22. “Hokkaido Mission,” Seventh-day Adventist Yearbook for 1930, 169; H. F. Benson, “Ship Work in Otaru, Japan,” ARH, May 8, 1930, 12.

  23. “We are glad to report . . . ,” Far Eastern Division Outlook, November 1932, 8.

  24. “Chosen Union Training School” and “The Soonan Food Factory” in Seventh-day Adventist Yearbook for 1934-1939.

  25. F.R. Millard, “Japan Junior College,” Far Eastern Division Outlook, June 1940, 3-5.

  26. A.W. Cormack to H.F. Benson, April 18, 1940, in H.F. Benson Appointee File, File No. 45231, Secretariat Appointee Files, RG 21, Box 9285, GCA.

  27. “Important changes are being made…” Far Eastern Division Outlook, January 1941, 8.

  28. “Pastor and Mrs. H.F. Benson arrived…” Far Eastern Division Outlook, June 1941, 12.

  29. “Harry Farmer Benson,” ARH, November 27, 1947, 26.

  30. A. W. Comack to H. F. Benson, June 17, 1942; Rhea F. Smith to E.D. Dick, October 1, 1942, in Benson Appointee File, GCA, File No. 45231.

  31. “Harry Farmer Benson,” Find A Grave, Memorial 118188074, October 4, 2013, accessed December 14, 2021, https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/118189106/harry-farmer-benson.

  32. “Helen McNair Boggs Benson Trott,” Find A Grave, Memorial 118189074, October 4, 2013, accessed December 14, 2021, https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/118189074/helen-mcnair-benson_trott.

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Hook, Milton. "Benson, Harry Farmer (1882–1947)." Encyclopedia of Seventh-day Adventists. April 20, 2022. Accessed June 18, 2024. https://encyclopedia.adventist.org/article?id=98YS.

Hook, Milton. "Benson, Harry Farmer (1882–1947)." Encyclopedia of Seventh-day Adventists. April 20, 2022. Date of access June 18, 2024, https://encyclopedia.adventist.org/article?id=98YS.

Hook, Milton (2022, April 20). Benson, Harry Farmer (1882–1947). Encyclopedia of Seventh-day Adventists. Retrieved June 18, 2024, https://encyclopedia.adventist.org/article?id=98YS.