He slipped away from family and friends in much the same way that he lived life – humbly, and peacefully. A hot summer day, 23rd January 2020, saw the close of an extraordinary life of service.
Born ‘Ikifofoa Peni Siakimotu’ on 5th October 1934, Ben Siaki was the eldest child of Rev Peni & Mahele Siakimotu. His passing also came in much the same way he departed Niue as a young man bound for New Zealand – quietly, and unsuspectingly.
The one point of difference, I suppose, was purpose. Back then, Ben was running from something; this time around, he ran towards something.
Apart from a brief stint as a champion boxer in the early 50’s, Ben’s younger years were marked and marred in ways not unlike most young men at the time. They were no attestation to the transformation that awaited the runaway son of a respected minister.
On a Sunday in 1958, a destined encounter took place. Ben was randomly approached by Keith Hampton of the Auckland Baptist Tabernacle as he made his way down Queen Street. He impolitely rejected Keith’s invitation to join their service, and Keith impolitely pursued him down Queen Street. Worried that this “crazy, determined, white man” might just follow him home, Ben made Keith a promise he had no intention of keeping – to meet him and attend a service the following week.
Keith returned to the congregation armed with nothing more than a name and implored everyone to pray without ceasing for a certain Ben Siaki. In his later years, an amused Ben would say that the week that followed was the most miserable week of his life. With all those people praying for him, he didn’t stand a chance.
His conscience uneasy, Ben devised a simple but ingenious plan. He would make his way to their rendezvous a whole hour early, accuse Keith of violating their agreement by being late, and leave. However, that fateful day was not going to go his way, and Ben arrived an hour early to a patiently waiting Keith Hampton. What happened next was best summarised by one of Ben’s sons as he eulogised his father, saying – “That night, Ben Siaki met the King of Kings, the Son of God, at the top of Queen Street in the Auckland Baptist Tabernacle.”
For the next four decades, Ben dedicated his life to taking the Gospel of Jesus Christ to the world and, in his own words, ‘serving the God who saved him’. Based in the Philippines for 25 years and then in Swaziland (Africa) for 15 more years, Ben only retired back to Auckland with waning health in 2002.
His many years labouring in the mission field were fragmented by trips back to Niue, the home he slipped away from in a ‘banana boat’ decades earlier. For many years, to their own disadvantage, Ben wasn’t particularly well appraised by his own people or their establishments. Despite this, as he did wherever he went, Ben Siaki sought and utilised every opportunity he could to reach others.
Through all the challenges, Ben never waivered in his calling. He served across the globe with fearless love and a unique perspective on things as he navigated demanding terrain, crossed dangerous borders, and often landed himself in precarious circumstances.
On one such journey into a precarious situation, Ben received a blunt warning from the man who was obviously in charge. Should Ben speak there, he was not to speak about religion or Jesus Christ – an undoubtedly simple request for a fervent preacher. To further emphasise the gravity of this condition though, the man told Ben that there was a gun constantly pointed at him and that he would be listening to every word that was said.
If it had been anyone else, they likely would have fixated on the threat; but not Ben Siaki – he saw the opportunity. What opportunity, you might ask? Ben knew that if he preached that day, it was guaranteed that at least one person was listening intently to every word he said. So, preach he did, with his life in the balance for the sake of another.
Clothed with humility, however, Ben would not take the glory or credit for this or any of his many heroic actions in life. He always deflected, sometimes crediting his devoted wife, but all the time glorifying the God that saved him.
Ben Siaki and Perla Mission met and married in Perla’s native Philippines, 55 years ago. Perla faithfully and prayerfully supported her husband through it all, and Ben was known to say that – ‘God sent him on a mission, and gave him a ‘Mission’, to help him with that mission.’
Their union was marked with the same qualities of the ministry they shared and laboured in, attributes of faithfulness and service. Ben is survived by his loving wife, two sons, only daughter, and many grandchildren.
Yet, much more than that – Ben’s memory survives in the legacy that he leaves behind, and the countless lives impacted with the message of love and hope that he lived and preached. The world is poorer in his departure, but we are certain that Ben Siaki was welcomed where he longed to be, with the divine accolade ringing out –
“Well done, good and faithful servant.”