One thing I learnt from my time as a young reporter at the Crosby Herald/Formby Times is that you can always track someone down.
This last week or so I have been preparing for the address at Sunday’s Remembrance Day service. This year it features the Duncalf family who suffered possibly more than anyone else in Aughton from the Second World War. The problem is that there has been very little to go on and certainly no photographs.
Some of our older residents did remember the family but their recollections were patchy and didn’t always add up. However, I did manage to find out that Nora Matthews, now resident in Hillcroft, had worked with the youngest brother – but that was over 50 years ago.
She did think that Joe Duncalf had moved to Margate to marry his wife – but I could find no evidence of any Duncalf in or near Margate. The trail had gone cold. Until yesterday.
I had a second chat with Nora visiting Cafe Vista On reflection, she remembered that Joe had moved not to Margate but to Ramsgate. On checking thephonebook.bt.com I discovered that there is a J Duncalf living in Ramsgate. And yes, when I phoned, he was the Joe Duncalf I was looking for. Now 90 I found him remarkably alert and even more wonderful, with an ability to handle emails.
I don’t think anyone had asked him about the sacrifice his family had made since his move south in 1947. But his memories were as vivid as if it were last year. And more, the fact that someone all these years later was wanting to know about his brothers, I’m sure he found deeply affirming. His family had not been forgotten. Someone had taken time out to listen to him.
Last night I received a remarkable post on Facebook from organist Graeme Scroggie in Cape Town, where he finds himself as a British Airways cabin crew member. Graeme recounts a conversation he has with a young man asking for money, Jobi. “He had been roaming as a refugee throughout Africa from his childhood. His immediate family had been either killed or misplaced by the civil war that raged throughout his country. He was 27 years old and alone on this earth.”
I am hoping to have Graeme’s permission to forward his whole article.
This young man through no fault of his own has been forced to live in the shadows without any apparent hope of release. There is the sense of sheer hopelessness for this victim of war.
But the point is that Graeme had given Jobi (we know his name) his time and more, his attention, just to listen to his story.
That God listens to us is at the heart of the Gospel. “The Lord hears the needy and does not despise his captive people,” affirms the Psalmist (Psalm 69:33). The wonder of the God of this incredibly huge universe taking time out to listen to us, even to me.
We see this with Jesus who spends time with the outcast Samaritan women and listens to lepers. It is this Jesus who is forever asking questions so that he can hear our answers; he provokes dialogue.
And it is this Jesus who urges us to pray to God as our heavenly father on the basis that he hears, he listens. Wonderfully, God is attentive.
There is something very special about the ministry of listening. “My dear brothers and sisters,” writes James, “take note of this: everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry.’ (James 1:19). Even if in listening you can see no way of helping or changing a terrible predicament, as for Jobi, nevertheless something very special has taken place – you enter into someone’s life, you tread on holy ground.
It is Dietrich Bonhoeffer, executed in the closing days of the Second World War, who writes: “The first service that one owes to others in the fellowship consists in listening to them. Just as love to God begins with listening to His Word, so the beginning of love for the brethren is learning to listen to them. It is God’s love for us that He not only gives us His Word but also lends us His ear.”
May we learn to listen.