Our Grandfather is a Hero

No sentence or thought swells my heart more than this one: my grandfather is D.J. Benson. My grandfather is a real hero, and I think you should know his story. 

When his biological mother got pregnant in 1929, she was just a teenager. Her mom did not want anyone to know of the pregnancy, so my great grandmother hid in shame for nine long months, until the day that my grandfather, at last, was born.

For most, the birth of their child is a joyous day, but D.J. Benson’s mother wanted nothing to do with him, so she put him in a shoebox and left him out behind her house to die. Later that night (we think), neighbors thought they heard a baby crying behind their house. After walking toward the noise, they were surprised to find a newborn baby in a shoebox, covered with ants, hungry, and crying out of control. 

The neighbors took my granddad into their house to clean him up and give him some milk before taking him to the orphanage the next day.

That little baby that no one wanted would go on to lead thousands of people toward faith and a hope-filled future. That little baby who was discarded as rubbish would go on to be a man of courage, character, and mettle. 


My grandfather would meander his way through a really tough childhood, bouncing from one foster home to the next. He settled in one home for a while but never knew or experienced real love. He first heard of Jesus when he was in the 5th grade, when some Gideons came to give a New Testament and shared the gospel.  He enlisted into the Air Force and then went on to get an education in theology at Mississippi College. For the first time in college, he would know love.

This love came from a fellow student (and absolute beauty) named Nina Cole. 

Nina and D.J. would go on to be married, have three children, and four grandchildren. All of his children and grandchildren are currently in full-time Christian ministry, all around the world. D.J. Benson’s impact is felt primarily- but not only- through his family. You might know this, but my grandfather is a pastor. 

He has faithfully pastored for 63 years and counting. He, my grandmother, and a few other families started Salem Heights Baptist Church 38 years ago. His real legacy is the (approximately) 50 young men and women that came through Salem Heights under his biblical preaching and are now in full-time or bi-vocational ministry. 

When my granddad sees this, he would want me to tell you one thing: this story really isn’t about him. It’s really not about Salem Heights. It’s not even about his family. The life and story of D.J. Benson is all about Jesus. God exchanged an orphan’s hopeless future for “the riches of his glorious inheritance… and what is the immeasurable power toward us who believe” (Ephesians 1:18-19). His Savior pulled him from nothing and gave him a wonderful wife, family, church, and legacy. 

I shudder to think what might have been had there been a Planned Parenthood in Mize, Mississippi, where my grandfather was born. When given the chance to live, D.J. made much of his life. - Matt Kendrick