Volunteering In Vanuatu
NiVan men, some bare-chested and wearing a traditional loincloth, hack their way through the tangles of vines and jungle debris inching slowly toward the water source. During the dry season, this fresh-water spring on top of a mountain provides the only clean water for miles. It takes hours to go only a short distance even with their razorsharp blades chopping and slashing the dense overgrowth. Although grueling, this work must be done because the village children need a pathway to the mountain spring. Volunteer Jeff Benson also knows a little something about clearing a path along the side of a mountain. In fact, he has a lot of practice doing it.
Since the age of 8, Jeff has had a tool in his hand. Growing up as the son of a construction business owner, Jeff was a student in the school of hard knocks. “I never had any formal training, but by age 12 my hometown builders hired me to excavate basements,” shared Jeff.
Benson spent several years working for various independent oil companies running pipelines in Bradford, PA. “I spent years cutting pipelines, roads, and oil well locations up and down the sides of Pennsylvania’s mountains. I understand how to navigate tough terrain to accomplish infrastructure work,” Jeff commented. When a recession hit in 1983, Benson was forced to look for work elsewhere. “I had two sisters. One lived in Denver and one in Virginia Beach. I flipped a coin and went to live with my sister in Virginia,” Jeff chuckled remembering. He and his father spent the next 10 years building a successful business in Virginia focused on clearing, grading, and installing
sewer and water lines.
It was during that time that Jeff also experienced personal and spiritual growth. “I met my wife Leslie and had three beautiful daughters, but even more importantly, that’s when I really came to know Christ,” shared Benson.
“I used to think that all religions were the same. Christianity seemed no different to me than any other belief,” recalled Jeff. His views of the church were tainted by hypocritical Christians. Jeff described himself as an honest businessman and an all-around nice person. “I was a good guy going straight to hell.” But then the Spirit of God caused his young daughter to ask him a question that eventually changed everything.
“Daddy, are you a Christian?” Jeff, not wanting to lie to his little girl but also not wanting to disappoint her, couldn’t answer. This led to a time of seeking which eventually caused him to respond to an altar call to accept Christ. “The impact of that question has caused me to be intentional about witnessing to others. It’s really important to ask people where they are at with the Lord,” shared Benson.
Practical Service & Lasting Relationships
As Jeff grew in God, his daughter asked him to go on a mission trip to Argentina. While excited to see the Gospel shared, Jeff left disillusioned by the lack of discipleship provided to the people. “This door-to-door kind of witnessing wasn’t fruitful. There was no relationship and there appeared to be no follow-up. I came home questioning the impact of our efforts,” Jeff shared shaking his head.
Thankfully godly men from 1040 Visions (a partner mission organization of FIA) hosted a water well-drilling trip to Africa that better captured Jeff’s heart to share his faith. “It was there that I met Matt Durkee (FIA’s Deputy Executive Director). I was so impressed with the work that was being done. From start to finish, all the construction efforts were to make God known.” In his mind, Jeff drew a contrast between the hypocrisy experienced in his younger days and the practical, relational Christianity he encountered working in the field.
In addition, FIA’s strategy to partner with national leaders and missionaries living among the unreached people made sense to Benson. “Our volunteer work was like a tool in a toolbox. What we were doing was one part of an integrated whole where relationships were there, and would continue to be there, after we left,” shared Jeff.
On the business side of life, his parents’ retirement in 1993 caused Benson to acquire a new partner and branch into civil engineering, surveying, and site development – work that continues today. “In my early years, I gained experience in excavating, building roadways, pipelines, and utility work, and as time progressed, the management of business, people, projects, and scheduling. It’s like my whole life in construction prepared me for this,” Jeff shared when talking about his new role as one of the project managers of FIA’s latest effort in Vanuatu.
Bringing Water to Vanuatu
Benson first heard of the NiVan’s desperate need for water at FIA’s annual banquet in 2019. “My heart burned when I learned many of them had never heard the full Gospel and that something as simple as clean water could open their hearts to understanding Jesus,” Jeff said passionately.
Convinced his construction experience could enhance this work of God, Jeff agreed to assist with the water project which promises to bring clean water through 16-miles of gravity-fed piping to 30 villages, 3 schools, and 2 clinics.
The parallels between his early work carving oil lines along Pennsylvania mountains and this work of bringing water piping down jungle terrain along a mountain in Vanuatu are astounding!
Jeff is excited to get in-country to survey the work needed to build the supply road, intake system, and run the first mile of pipe from the water source to Vunamean, the first of the 30 NiVan villages. “We’ve got a great team ready. Water-Tec is the company in charge of the necessary piping and materials. Levi (FIA’s partner missionary) communicates with village leaders, and I’m helping to guide the purchase of equipment, tools, methodology, and training.
FIA will be hosting work teams in 2022 as soon as the nation’s borders open again.
FIA’s water project is a chance at using physical water to share Jesus, The Living Water and another opportunity for Jeff to again become a tool in the Master’s hand