Tag Archives: Morocco

Robert Eugene Duncan, November 13, 1933–June 17, 2010

Bob, ca. 1968Mum called Thursday morning to tell me that Uncle Bob had died. On Monday, he was sitting up in the hospice care facility when Aunt Polly returned from a family wedding in Colorado. On Tuesday morning he was unresponsive and they decided to bring him home. Mum spent Tuesday and Wednesday nights with them. On Thursday morning, Mum was holding his shoulders while the hospice caregiver bathed him. He opened his eyes wide and stopped breathing.

How many people felt the air go out of them when they heard that news. Expected perhaps, but not welcome. Death never is. God comfort my Aunt Polly, my cousins Andy, Gene, and Colin, my dad and his sisters and brother. We all feel so sad.

Uncle Bob is most assuredly not sad. He’s been longing to hear his “well done, good and faithful servant” (Matt 25:21) for a while now. “I want to be at home,” he told me several times during those long months in the hospital. When he opened his eyes wide, I’m sure he was taking his first look at the Home of all homes.

He would have recognized it. After all, he and Aunt Polly created a home, not just for their children, but for me and my three sisters, for their many other missionary kid nieces and nephews, for the larger family, for their church families, for just about anybody who needed to feel welcomed. My dad tells the story of Uncle Bob catching heat from Aunt Polly when he even welcomed some hippies to set up their tent on the Duncan front lawn, years before I ever moved in.

For many of those years, Uncle Bob and Aunt Polly’s house was my Grandmother Duncan’s home, too—the family seat. When I was a kid, we would drive to the Fort Square parsonage for holidays and birthdays. Far flung family, returning from Illinois, Georgia, California, France, Peru, Colombia, and beyond, could be found in their house. All through high school and college, their home was the one to which I returned during vacations.

During one of my school breaks, I heard Uncle Bob praise me to my parents, “I’ve never walked into my own kitchen and had anyone ask me what they could get for me.” This might sound self-serving until you know that meeting other people’s needs, predicting and supplying them seamlessly was my childhood “job,” my role in the family, but no one had ever noticed that out loud. Uncle Bob saw it in me. He saw me. And for an adolescent girl, who wouldn’t figure out who she was for another fifteen years, being seen and celebrated was profoundly important. He saw into many of our souls.

Uncle Bob became my second father. There were things he could say to me, which I couldn’t have heard from my own dad. As a young adult in crisis, I craved his voice of wisdom, though it was probably the quality of his listening and his sense of assurance that changed things for me. And not just me. Years after he’d left one church, a troubled parishioner would still call him at home, usually at dinnertime, and pour out her anxieties. He always took that call.

He could listen, but Uncle Bob could speak firmly, too. During Urbana ’97, which we attended together, we met for lunch one day. I told him about a young roommate who was asking me many questions concerning women in ministry, which is still a controversial topic in some churches. Though I myself was in seminary, I’d counseled her cautiously because I didn’t want to get her in trouble with her elders. “It doesn’t sound like that is what she needs to hear right now,” he challenged me.

He was a good preacher, too. He’d trot out his sermon ideas during Saturday night dinners and I enjoyed listening to him weave them together on Sunday morning. He delivered the homily at my wedding seven years ago, driving with Aunt Polly from Ballston Spa in New York even though they had to turn around just hours later so he could be home to deliver the sermon on Sunday morning.

Uncle Bob officiated at many weddings, including my cousin Sandy’s thirty-three years ago. I still remember him complaining to my father, a surgeon: “Everybody thinks they know best. Family at weddings where I’m the minister is like relatives crowded into your operating room, all insisting, “Less blood now. Can’t you cut after the tumor is removed? No. No. We need fifteen clamps, not five.”

Being a preacher was good, but what he really wanted to be was a missionary. At least, he really wanted to experience the world. Before he tried seminary, he tried the armed forces, but they wouldn’t send him overseas because of the metal pin in his leg, the result of a youthful motorcycle accident. He and Aunt Polly even moved to Costa Rica temporarily to learn Spanish during the early ‘90s just to see if this wouldn’t morph into a call to missions.

Still God didn’t send them, so he had to content himself with traveling, which he did avidly. He visited missionaries and missionary family members ever chance he got. He led tours to the Holy Land. He joined a Presbyterian delegation to the church in Cuba. He visited his grand-children in Korea. For a long time, an apt cartoon of him in his preaching robe and hiking pack hung on the basement wall. “After the benediction,” it read, “Polly and I will be leaving for Israel.”

One time he and Polly were lost in Morocco. They’d eaten something that disagreed with them. It was hot and they were out of water. And now they were in danger of missing the ferry back to Spain. Afraid and unable to find anyone who spoke English, they leaned against a wall and prayed. Seconds later an old woman touched him on the arm and motioned for them to follow her, which they did. She led them back to the boat, but when they turned to thank her, she was gone. Years later, he still claimed that God had sent them an angel.

There wasn’t anywhere he wouldn’t go. And if he couldn’t fly, he drove. He loved to drive and he loved cars. On one long trip, we stopped at a gas station for a break. Heading back to the station wagon, he detoured to an old Studebaker. Without a qualm, he pulled open the door and leaned in to inhale. “I just wanted to smell it,” he explained.

There were many drives to and from college and during one, he collected me at my roommate’s house. “Whadya got in here, a dead minister?” my friend’s dad teased as he hoisted my suitcase into Uncle Bob’s car. Then realizing that Uncle Bob was a minister, he blushed and apologized, but Uncle Bob was too busy laughing. Laughter and tears came easily to Uncle Bob.

He enjoyed music and reading, filling his theological shelves with all comers. “Don’t read that commentary,” he exclaimed one day when he found me in his office after Sunday worship. He didn’t think the author’s scholarship was sound, but the book was still on his shelf. Another time, he lent me his favorite book A Severe Mercy by Sheldon Vanauken. “What is it,” I asked? “A love story about a couple who try to build the perfect love between them. It’s a selfish love, though, because its only expression is inward.” In that book Uncle Bob recognized his own ideal as well as the temptation to selfishness curled up inside.

Uncle Bob was unselfish, a good minister. He preached well. He pastored empathetically. He visited the sick constantly. He used to wear a clerical collar when he went to the hospital to keep security and nurses from questioning his motives. This earned him the honorary “Father” because people thought he was a Catholic priest, and some not so honorary glares when people saw him with his beautiful young wife Polly sitting in the front seat of a car together.

During this past year in and out of hospitals, his ministry to his own caregivers continued. Word of his testimony filtered back to me through many sources: Our daughter’s babysitter’s husband played cards with him a couple of times and I heard about his love for Jesus. A woman who knew one of my co-leaders in ministry was married to one of his doctors. I heard about his faithfulness from her. His family and I are grateful to all those who cared for him and for Aunt Polly through this final, hardest sickness.

My sisters and cousins and I cannot properly thank Colin, Gene, and Andy for sharing their parents with us. Uncle Bob and Aunt Polly leaned on God for their apparently endless store of family love, but I know it was sometimes your space that we took up. All of us in the church families that they served have a debt of gratitude to you. Thank you for sharing even your grieving space with us.

The last time I heard Uncle Bob pray, we were together in one of his hospital rooms. I was taking up his grandson’s space, so I gave hugs and turned to Uncle Bob. He held out his hand.

His grip was strong. Before I could offer, he began to pray. He prayed a short blessing on me and my dad, who was in Angola at the time. Then he began to bless God. He asked him to “be with us here, too” and confessed “for we do not know what tomorrow will bring” in a cadence and with a strength that sounded like Uncle Bob in the pulpit. He told God, in a tone that felt instructive to us also, that “we will be careful to offer nothing but thanksgiving” and “we will have nothing but praise on our lips for you.”

And interspersed with his prayers he said, over and over, “and we will rise with the wings of the morning. We look forward to rising with the wings of the morning.”

He was misquoting Psalm 139, applying it to himself as he looked ahead to his new day. It reads, “If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast. If I fear, ‘Surely the darkness will hide me and the light become night around me,’ even the darkness will not be dark to you; the night will shine like the day, for darkness is as light to you” (vv. 9–13).

Even this darkness is as light to our God. Uncle Bob has risen on the wings of the morning. Our turn will come.

written by Dawn Duncan Harrell (Steve’s daughter) on the occasion of Bob’s death, June 19, 2010

Can you add to the story? Please do. Write in the box below. (You may need to click “Leave a Reply” above to make the box, name, and address fields appear.)

  • Do you recall other stories about Bob as an adult? Please tell us.
  • Do you have a Bob preaching story? A visiting Bob story? A Bob’s book story? A Bob traveling story?
  • Can Did you live with Bob as a child while your parents were elsewhere? What stands out to you? Do you have a story of that time to tell?
  • Did Bob perform your wedding ceremony? How did it go? What do you remember about it?

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Bob Ruins the Story of Christmas

Bob and Polly in Morocco[Lee] You know your illustration about not turning you down in the Mideast. That was in Translation Principles [perhaps Bible Translation] or something. They said it was very hard when people are working in languages there to translate that Joseph came and they turned him down at the inn because they would never turn down a pregnant woman.

[Bob] I have a whole other theory on that. It was taught by Ken Bailey [cf. Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes]. He said he didn’t go to an inn. That’s the only place that that word is used as an “inn.” What it really means is the guest room in a house. All it means is that there was no room in the guest room because others were there to sign up, so he slept with the family. There wasn’t even a stables because none of that makes any sense. He said, “Was Joseph so ill-received in his own home?” That was his native home. Would they have turned him away? He said, “Never would they have done that.” So the principle is the same, but the whole business of the stable and the inn and all of that just doesn’t make any sense.

[Lee] But we heard, isn’t it a cave that they [ ]?

[Bob] Well, that’s what they say, but all of this, all of this. . . .

[Virginia] You guys are blowing my mind.

[Bob] I know. Polly doesn’t like this.

[Polly] I’m going to the flea market. I don’t want to hear this.

[Bob] The idea of the house was that every house had stables in it. I mean they brought their animals into the house and there were these little mangers—like, umm, oh about yeah big—cut into something. And the animals were down there and you went up three or four stairs onto a level, onto a plank, and that’s where you slept. You slept with the animals, so in that’s sense it’s right. But that whole story was written in 200 AD [sic]. I mean the depiction of coming down in winter and all the rest, it just, it isn’t right. It’s just something we bought hook, line and sinker, and I try not—not after Polly made such a fuss about—I have a video on it.

[Virginia] Wait a minute. Wait a minute. You’re breaking my . . . the foundation of my. . . .

[Polly] Wait a minute. You’re taking my story away. I have my whole scene.

[Bob] But it’s all based on total hospitality. And this is Ken Bailey, who was raised as a missionary kid over there and then taught at the University of Jerusalem in a Bible setting over there. So he knows the culture.

[Polly] Interestingly enough—and I still don’t like it, but anyway—I heard on a . . . I forget who the preacher was on the radio, just recently, I mean within the last couple weeks. He was speaking in the same way, but he was referring to Ken Bailey.

[Bob] Yeah. Yeah. Well that’s . . . he’s the only one. I have a video on this. He’s a terrible, boring speaker. He’s sitting at a desk, you know. But the point is very well taken, I think. But there’s only so many . . . it’s not the kind of issue. . . .

[Ken] [ ] put on the camera [ ]

[Bob] It isn’t. It isn’t the cattle are lowing and the poor baby sleeps. Well, that could be.

[Lee] You know, we ought to leave so they can [ ].

[Polly] Right.

transcription of a conversation between Bob, Polly (his wife), Virginia (Lee’s daughter), Lee, and Ken (Lee’s second husband) during a visit to California in January 2004

Can you add to the story? Please do. Write in the box below (You may need to click “Leave a Reply” above to make the box, name, and address fields appear.).

  • Did Bob and Polly take more than one trip to the Middle East?
  • Lee mentions a resource call Translation Principles. Was that a book? I’ve listed the modern SIL book, but who wrote the one Lee used? What was the full title?
  • Anybody else have a story of Uncle Bob’s “research” messing with your idea of Scripture?

What’s That Port City of Morocco?

[Bob] We took a train from Paris to Gibraltar [in August 1981]. We were going over to Morocco to see friends. And about the border of France, it was nighttime. It was very interesting though. I was sitting in this train and all of a sudden the car went straight up in the air.

[Polly] And you could feel it.

[Bob] And you could feel it. And I said, I know what they’re doing. They’re changing the wheels for a different gauge railroad between France and Spain. So they put it down eventually. And then we got into Spain. Boooring. Boring!

[Polly] It was so boring. And then we came to one of the cities.

[Bob] Madrid.

[Polly] Madrid.

[Bob] Oh, boy. Here’s a city I can look at. It went right under a tunnel the whole time we were there.

[Polly] We thought we were going to see something. Didn’t they know we haven’t seen Spain?

plain in Spain[Bob] It was just like Arizona. It would be like going on that railroad in Australia. It goes a thousand miles and doesn’t curve. For a thousand miles it goes as straight as [ ].

[Bob] I thought I’d never see anything and then we got to Algeciras.

[Polly] Which is the closest city near where the Rock of Gibraltar and the Straits of Gibraltar are. Anyway that’s where the big rock is. Or across from there. And we had to cross by ferry. You know, when we go, we don’t really know what we’re doing. We don’t know the language. But we go anyway. Especially with Uncle Bob. “Honey, it’ll all be taken care of!” And I’m, “Mmmmm, how are we going to do this? Where are we going?”

Abdul, Nadia, Houda, Nouza Filali-Ansary Family, Quincy, 1980[Polly] We were planning to meet and go over that route and go to Morocco. That was our plan. We had met this couple—and they had two little girls—as an exchange student in Boston. They were studying, or he was, at Boston University, many, many years ago [1980]. They kept saying, “Why don’t you come and visit us when we go back home to Morocco?” We were host family to them and took them a lot of places. And really, though they were Muslim, they would come to church quite regularly and everything. It was the music. They loved the music.

[Bob] They even said it was just like being in the mosque. And I said it couldn’t; it couldn’t. I could have choked him.

[Polly] That wasn’t such a nice thing, but I think he was trying to be. . . .

[Bob] Yeah. Trying to be cordial and all that.

[Polly] But anyway, by the Lord’s providence and so on, we were given a gift at our twenty-fifth wedding anniversary time [Aug 25, 1981] and we were able to go. We did go to Europe with the Gordon College Alumni Tour. And then we took off on our own. That’s why we were in Paris heading for [ ].

Ferry between Algeciras, Spain and Tangier, Morocco[Polly] Well we got—jump ahead now to Algeciras—and we really knew we were planning, when we got on the ferry, somehow we would be met by our friends on the other end, Abdul and Nouza in Morocco. But the ferry, it was so confusing: they would give you a ticket in the best English they knew how to communicate with us with no Arabic. Anyway, we were given the wrong tickets. This couple who knew some English. They were actually a French couple, but knew a little bit of English. No, a Moroccan couple, that was. We met a French couple, too, but that was. . . . Anyway, they were able. They said, “Oh, this won’t get you where you want to go.” So they helped us.

[Bob] Exchange the tickets.

[Polly] In that part of the world—and we may have this happen somewhat here and you probably have had it in your travels—but over there if you are given a number, a gate number where you were going to go out of, where the ferry was going to go out of, and all of the sudden they changed it. Well everybody—and I’m not kidding—everybody just jumps over you like a herd of cattle. And you’re going to head for the next one, but it doesn’t matter whether your luggage is there or you’re there. And so everybody—and literally that’s what happened to us—so we’re kind of swept along by this crowd, not knowing. . . . And this couple, young couple really helped us. They were wonderful.

[Polly] So we got on the ferry OK and had to show our passport at least seven times. But, you know, this was just part of that world. Got to, what was the port of Morocco that we came to? Not Casablanca. Oh, isn’t that awful. Not, no Al Jazeera’s the news.

[Bob] No. It’s very well-known. When you think of Morocco, you think of the city. Besides Casablanca.

[Polly] It’ll come.

[Bob] It’ll come.

[Polly] It’ll come. That’s all right. One of those senior moments?

[Polly] And anyway, we got there. This couple guided us. Well, we never met the couple we were supposed to meet.

[Bob] They weren’t allowed on the pier.

[Polly] And so, as a result, we ended up eventually, without, I’ll cut through a lot of the details. We stayed overnight in a motel. They helped us get us. . . .

[Bob] Not a motel, Honey. Remember the fellow we met? He heard us speaking English. He was, he had worked in the United States.

[Polly] No, no, no. This was. That’s when we got on the bus. This was not. . . . In the port city where we landed, we stayed in. . . .

[Bob] Stayed in his house.

[Polly] Later, Honey, in Rabat. Remember? When we took the bus ride? But this was the first thing.

[Bob] I know. Hotel. Small hotel.

[Polly] Small hotel. Anyway, and then we said, if we couldn’t find our friends, we would make our way back to Paris, then to Belgium and home. That’s where our tickets were, tickets for Belgium. And this couple said, you know in Eastern, or Mid-Eastern—whatever—hospitality, you do everything you can.

[Bob] You can’t do that. That would be a great insult.

[Polly] That would be an insult . . .

[Bob] . . . to go home . . .

[Polly] . . . to them.

[Virginia] To not try to find them?

[Bob] Not to try to find the couple that weren’t there at the port.

[Polly] The host family.

[Bob] Tangier!

[Polly] Tangier!

[Bob] You wait long enough, it comes to you.

[Polly] Yeah. And so they really impressed upon us that it would be almost our duty, I guess at that point, to take a bus to Rabat, which is the capital city, where the friends lived.

[Bob] And then look them up there.

[Polly] We did.

[Bob] That’s what we did. Yup.

[Polly] We found them eventually. They found, we found them.

[Bob] We found them.

[Polly] Amazing. Amazing.

[Bob] On the bus, we were talking, speaking obviously in English. It’s our best language.

[Lee] Your mother’s tongue.

[Bob] My mother’s tongue, yes. And a fellow from behind us came up, a young fellow. He’d been working in the United States and he was going home.

[Polly] Actually, he’d been studying in San Francisco.

[Bob] Yeah, San Francisco.

[Polly] Aziz was his name.

[Bob] So we said, “We don’t know where we are going. We don’t know how to find our folks.”

[Polly] “We don’t know what we’re doing.”

[Bob] And he said, “Oh don’t worry about that. There’s plenty of room in my house.” But then we got to his house and he couldn’t get it. It was all locked up. So he tried going up the gutter outside and then that collapsed on him. Anyway, his mother finally came home. And he was like the prodigal son back home again and they were all dancing. We were dancing. We slept in the mother’s bed.

[Polly] They insisted we stay overnight with them. Interestingly enough—you know the Lord does provide even when we were so ignorant we didn’t know what we were doing—but this family knew the name of our eventual hosts that we were trying to get to and were known by this other family that we had just stumbled across.

[Bob] They knew a sister or something and so they called the sister and the sister called the family.

Nouza, Houda, Abdul Filali-Ansary[Polly] And she actually drove us to the home of our eventual host family. Then we spent a bunch of maybe four or five days, but by the time we got to them it was more than half in.

[Bob] And they told us all the things we had missed that they had planned to do when they met us at the port.

[Virginia] What happened with that? They just weren’t able to get in.

Bob and Abdul[Bob] They weren’t able to get on. We drove right by them. They were sitting in the car but we didn’t know it. You see what happens there, an awful lot of Moroccans go to Europe and work. And then they have a month off, like they do in France. They go back home. Then they have to go back again. And there was a two- or three-day wait, sitting in the cars to get on the ferry. You know, it’s first come first served kind of thing. But they were in all that crowd. It was terrible, terrible. No restroom facilities. I mean it was just awful.

[Polly] Eating in the streets.

[Bob] Yup. Yup. Eating. Eating anything they could eat. That was the part that was very interesting. But then we got in the house. Now he had been working for the government for over a year, but couldn’t get a telephone. He says, “We have the wires out there in the yard, but they wouldn’t hitch them up.”

[Polly] And we tried and tried and tried, that was the other thing.

[Bob] Call them from all over Europe.

[Polly] But there was never an answer. We had a phone number, but never an answer because the phone wasn’t hooked up.

[Bob] Once we got there, we had a good time, except Polly got desperately ill. Sick-sick-sick-sick-sick.

[Virginia] Was it from the food?

[Bob] Yeah.

[Polly] Yeah. And I ate everything. I mean I tried to eat everything, which was probably not a good idea.

[Bob] We’d be eating at an outdoor restaurant and cats would run out over your feet. I mean up on the tables.

[Polly] They’d be up on the tables.

[Virginia] Oh no.

[Bob] I got sick, just for part of a day, but she got really, really sick.

full transcription of a story told by Bob and Polly (his wife) to Virginia (Lee’s daughter) and Lee and Ken (Lee’s second husband) during a visit to California in January 2004

Can you add to the story? Please do. Write in the box below (You may need to click “Leave a Reply” above to make the box, name, and address fields appear.).

  • Do you remember the month and/or year that Polly and Bob visited Morocco in this story?
  • Do you recall other events from this trip?
  • I recall Bob telling a story about being unable to find his and Polly’s way back to the ferry after visitting Morocco. They were sick, or one of them was, and a woman beckoned them to follow her and led them to the ferry. Does anyone else recall this story? Can you retell it for us? Was it on the same trip or another one?