DUNCAN Dyason MBE tells Jo Duckles about his miraculous escape from a life of booze and crime, his conversion to Christianity and how he devoted his life to rescuing Guatemalan street children.
Dunc is pictured with little Duncan, who was found by Dunc when he was just 15 days old in a cardboard box on the streets of Honduras. He is now 10. Photo: Street Kids Direct.
Dunc was born in Kent and moved around the South East during what he describes as a dysfunctional childhood. “My dad was a gardener and my mum did part-time cleaning jobs. At some points the family lived in extreme poverty,” he says.
At 15 Dunc was thrown out of school. “I was under social services care and they sent me to work on a farm. I had a record for burglary. My life spiralled out of control until I was 21 and became a Christian.
“It was a difficult time. I was drinking heavily and seeing what was going on with my sisters. We were spiralling into oblivion,” says Dunc, who had moved to Blackpool. Alone in his bedsit one night he decided he didn’t want to carry on living. “I just thought I would end my life that night,” says Dunc. However, with no knowledge of God and having never been to church, Dunc found himself reflecting on eternity. “I realised that when you die it is forever. My mind was going over and over the word ‘forever’ and I started thinking about God,” he says.
Shouting out to God for help Dunc says he heard an audible voice tell him to go to Tunbridge Wells. With £28 to his name, Dunc got on a train the next day. Opposite the Tunbridge Wells train station was a newsagent’s, where Dunc spotted an advert for a bedsit. He phoned the landlady, but without any deposit money, was at first declined the tenancy. The situation seemed gloomy as a local assured him he would: “never find a job in this town.”
“I walked into a department store thinking I could nick some silverware when a man in a suit approached me and asked if I was looking for a job,” says Dunc. By the next day, he had been fitted out in a suit and began earning a living selling the silverware he had been tempted to steal.
The man from the store gave Dunc the deposit money for the bedsit, and it turned out the landlady was a Christian. That Sunday Dunc felt bemused as he walked into Christ Church, on the High Street of Tunbridge Wells. He wasn’t quite sure what to do with the books he had been handed, or why the leaders were wearing strange robes.
“The last four rows of the church were full but there was no one at the front apart from me. I had no idea what to do when to stand up or sit down. I was a big guy with a leather jacket on, and most of the congregation were aged 60 plus. I think they were frightened of me,” he says.
But the hospitable vicar’s wife began a conversation with Dunc, inviting him back to the vicarage for lunch and to a mid-week Bible study.
“I just kept turning up and hearing all this stuff about God and Jesus. They just kept feeding me and loving me,” he says.
Saving up enough money to buy a second-hand telly, Dunc switched it on to discover Ben-Hur was on the box. “It got to the point where Jesus is on the cross and says: ‘Father forgive them for they don’t know what they are doing’ and I just started crumbling because I had been forgiven. I just burst into tears, dropped down on to the floor and cried and cried. Why would God forgive me for all the houses I had burgled and the bad things I had done?
“I got up the next morning and with my new clothes on and felt like there was a joy inside of me. It felt like someone had cleaned me inside. I went outside that Monday morning and everything was brighter. When I went to the Bible study and described what had happened they told me I had become a Christian.”
Feeling zealous, Dunc went out every lunchtime to tell people about Jesus. One day he got an icy response from some teenagers he invited into the church. This prompted him to start a youth group and a month later he was appointed youth leader for Christ Church.
Feeling a strong calling to learn more about his new-found faith, Dunc was reliant on the generosity of people from Christ Church to fund his three years at Moorlands Christian Theology and Training College in Dorset. From there he moved to Chesham Bois in Buckinghamshire to be the youth worker at St Leonard’s Church.
It was a BBC Everyman documentary entitled They Shoot Children, Don’t They? in 1991 that inspired Dunc to move to Guatemala.
“I just got home one Sunday, turned on the television and this programme was on,” says Dunc. The documentary highlighted the plight of children, many thrown out or abandoned by their parents, who were forced to live on the streets. Those youngsters, forced into a life of crime, were often shot at or beaten up by the police who should have been working to protect them.
“I just knew this was something God wanted me to do so I went to work for Toybox helping those children on the streets of Guatemala. When Toybox moved on to do other things in 2001 I founded Street Kids Direct.”
He says 100 per cent of money donated to Street Kids Direct is used to help poverty-stricken Guatemalan children. Many of them live in grave danger, fearing for their lives. When the Everyman documentary was made, there were 5,000 children on the streets. Now that figure has been reduced to zero according to a recent survey, but many children are still extremely vulnerable.
Recently Dunc rescued a family of six at risk of living on the streets and Street Kids works hard to prevent others from going down the same route. Recently Dunc met one boy Danny, who had been selling drugs for five years. “He had committed armed robbery and getting into more and more trouble. Three attempts have been made on his life and he is just nine-years-old,” says Dunc. “He’s now in a secure children’s home and has started school and he’s doing well. We help them get off the streets and offer them a mentoring programme in a centre they can visit every day.”
In terms of support, people back in the Diocese of Oxford can help Street Kids financially. They can get involved in charity events, or sponsor Dunc and his colleagues as they set out on theirs. One is the Camino por Amor 2018 which saw Dunc and his friend Steve Poulson go head to head in a 364-mile walk. Dunc described the walk as ‘amazing’ and on finishing they were greeted by the British Ambassador to Guatemala and the British Ambassador to Honduras.
“Two large buses of children also met us on the approach to the city and walked with us under police motorcycle escort all the way to the finish. It was an emotional journey but one that saw us cope with many challenges along the way.” The walk raised £5,800.00 for a new Protection Home which recently opened in Guatemala.