Just back from our UK tour – me (Monti), Dave and Dot. We three have been together for two and a half years now, so I reckon I can shorten their names without getting into trouble. Anyway, about the tour… Every year or two Dave and Dot go back to the UK to do what they call ‘Home Assignment’. This involves travelling around parts of England, Wales and Northern Ireland visiting churches and friends to report on their work at IBTSC in Amsterdam. As you can imagine, I love travelling. I am a Fiat Ducato 115BHP engine Auto Trail Tribute camper van and I just live for a good long journey. The Netherlands is ok but there are no hills. I found Pembrokeshire in Wales much more fun – narrow roads, steep hills and lots of traffic. Dot was scared out of her wits going up a 1:5 hill in Little Haven, with no room to pass and cars coming both ways. She seriously underestimated Dave and me – we are the original Dream Team. At least I thought we were; but I was seriously disappointed when he left me behind PARKED!! in a driveway in Bicester while they flew to Belfast for a week. I was so looking forward to seeing the Giant’s Causeway – ah well, maybe another time. One day I took them to BMS World Mission Headquarters in Didcot, Oxfordshire and, while D&D were inside doing updates and recording interviews, I dozed in the carpark. If you want to see the interviews, try this link . Then suddenly Dave started bringing people out to the carpark to admire me – I was seriously flattered. One guy even took photos of us three with pretend cups of coffee and holiday smiles on. It was cool. The last big trip we did on Home Assignment was up to Manchester and then on to Carlisle (I loved the M6) to visit some nice people. Sadly it’s all over now and, after a lonely night on car deck of the Harwich to Hoek van Holland ferry, I took them back to Nieuw Vennep and my little parking spot behind the house. Home sweet home! By the way, I hope you like the photos – I always insist that we carry the latest Engage magazine so Dave and Dot have the latest news from BMS. Otherwise, they tend to read Good Housekeeping or Motorhome Monthly. I hate it when they read that last one as it has lots of adverts for shiny new vans and they might start to think the unthinkable!
Today we were able to announce the appointment of Revd Dr Mike Pears as Director of IBTS Centre as of 1st August 2018.
Mike began his doctoral studies in Prague in 2011 and completed his doctorate in Amsterdam, being one of the first IBTS Centre students to graduate at the VU. As well as research interests in the use of ethnography in relation to theology, mission and urban theology his faith has been shaped and enriched through ministry and mission in inner-city London, Vancouver, Frankfurt, Sofia, and Bristol. Along with Prof. Paul Cloke (Exeter University), he is co-editing and authoring a series of six books entitled Mission in Marginal Places currently published by Paternoster.
We are really looking forward to working with Mike. He believes that IBTSC is strategically situated, both culturally and geographically, to encourage research and learning of baptistic theology and spirituality across Europe, the Middle East and further afield. That’s a vision we share and are delighted to be available to support in the coming years.
In the words of the great poet Anonymous:
Spring has sprung,
The grass is ris’,
I wonder where
The birdies is?
We know the answer to that: the birdies (jackdaws) is pecking away at the edge of the roof outside our bedroom window, trying to find a gap where they can push in sticks to start building a nest. At 6am every morning, they sound like builders working with hammers and chisels, but so far (thankfully) without success.
Now that the ‘Beast from the East’ has retreated, the daffodils and tulips in our garden are beginning to emerge very cautiously – as if they are scared that the Beast might return and bite off their heads! It seems that the world-famous tulip displays at Keukenhof will be a bit late this year, following the long, cold spell. But Spring is definitely here – the canals have thawed, the grass is growing, the clocks have changed, the evenings are brighter, the bulb fields are beginning to burst into colour…
Even though I often complain about the cold or the heat or the rain or the fog, I really love the variety of the seasons, moving reliably through Spring into Summer, then Autumn and back to Winter. It always reminds me of God’s promise recorded in the book of Genesis in the Bible:
‘As long as the earth endures, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night will never cease.’
“It’s a long, long way
From Clare to here…”
So says the well-known Irish song by Ralph McTell. But actually, it’s not so very long nowadays. Ireland is criss-crossed with very modern motorways and the journey we made last week from Amsterdam to Dublin Airport to Co Clare only took a few hours. Yet in other ways it really was a long, long way from here to Clare: we left behind lots of work and found ourselves completely free to get up late, walk in the wind and rain, eat lots, sit beside the fire, read, watch TV, do crosswords, wander around the town… and abandon all sense of routine or responsibility. For a whole week it was wonderful. This was a bit of a nostalgia trip – we stayed in the same hotel as we did thirty years ago and visited some of the same tourist spots like the amazing Cliffs of Moher, the Burren and Lough Derg. At the end of our week away we had another nostalgic experience: David was invited to speak at the thirtieth anniversary of Dundalk Baptist Church because we had been living and working in the neighbouring church in Newry all those years ago. It was a lovely chance to meet up with old friends from those days as well as seeing many new faces. Then it was all over and we came home to Nieuw Vennep. Suddenly we felt ready to return to the work, the routines and the responsibilities we had so eagerly abandoned just a week before. Isn’t it amazing how a restful week away can give us new energy (even when we have passed the 60-year marker)? Let’s hear it for holidays!
Here’s the Fureys’ version of a Long, long way from Clare to here…
In the bleak mid-winter
Christmas came and went.
All the presents bought and wrapped,
Cards received and sent.
We put up our tiny tree
With its lights and snow,
In the bleak mid-winter
Just a month ago.
We stayed in Nieuw Vennep
And some family came,
Simon, Sarah and their boys,
Joel and Luke by name.
Grandpa Dave and Granny –
Energy quite low –
Had their batteries recharged
Just two weeks ago.
We went to a circus,
Played in muddy parks,
Took a trip to Amsterdam,
We sang carols at our church,
Ate meals long and slow,
Films, games, stories, jigsaws…
Not so long ago.
Now the house is quiet,
Family have left,
Ibuprofen eases aches,
Still we feel bereft.
We have both gone back to work,
Christmas come and gone.
And the bleak mid-winter
Simply carries on.
Dutch houses have big windows. And thin (or no) curtains. From inside, this means the living space looks large and bright and the residents have a good view of the garden, passing cyclists, buses or the nearest canal – depending on where they live. From outside, it means that passers-by have the chance to spy slightly on those inside. Obviously there are rules to this game: it is not considered polite to stand with one’s back to the street gazing into the nearest house or apartment; however, there is no problem with taking a quick look sideways as you walk along the footpath (whilst keeping a sharp lookout with the other eye for any bikes that might mow you down, of course). This ‘speedy sideways stare’ technique means that you can gain lots of glimpses of life inside Dutch homes: families eating dinner; children watching TV; parents relaxing or doing housework… At this time of year you can even pick up all sorts of clever Christmas interior decorating tips for the price of a sideways glance. The ‘speedy sideways stare’ is not confined to home spying: our Sunday morning tram journey into the city centre offers further glimpses of people’s lives: a lonely looking man with a carrier bag watching the traffic; a young couple with backpacks striding along the street; an old lady drinking tea alone at a table in a deserted square; a shopkeeper opening up for business; street sweepers cleaning up after a busy Saturday night. Where do they all come from? Do they have families? How are they feeling today? We can only guess the answers to these and many more questions. It makes me think how little we know of many people we meet on a daily basis. For the most part we get glimpses – only sometimes do we have the privilege of getting more involved with people, finding out more about them and offering more than a glimpse of our own lives and passions. Just a thought!
My memory is getting better. Every year I find I can remember another year further back – isn’t that amazing? When I was a child, I used to think my Dad was ancient because he could remember and tell us about things that had happened to him 40 or 50 years ago. Now I find I can easily do the same – even though I often have more trouble remembering what I did yesterday (see Breaded Chicken –two blog posts ago). As we are both reaching 60 this year, David and I (to be fair, it’s mainly me) seem to reminisce more. Recently we spent an evening talking about things that happened in our childhood and teenage years (we knew each other as far back as primary school – aw!). I still remember the ‘proper’ way to wind up electrical cable, as demonstrated to us girls in ‘Mathetes’ music group by the super-knowledgeable blokes (David and Richard). I can also still remember the words of the hymn ‘When I survey the wondrous cross’ that we learned in Irish when we sang at the Letterkenny Folk Festival in 1975! I have just rediscovered this lovely wee poem on remembering (which I vaguely remember from school days): https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/44387/i-remember-i-remember
Remembrance is a big issue at this time of year. For many people All Saints Day on 1st November is a time to give thanks for loved ones who are no longer alive. This year there has been a lot of focus on remembering particular events of the First and Second World Wars – the Dunkirk evacuation (with the launch of the Christopher Nolan film), then the Battle of Passchendaele and also the launch of the Irish poppy to remember Irish soldiers who died in WW1. At a personal level, as we approach the end of another year we are bound to look back and remember the changes since last year. Some memories are painful, others are happy… some things are helpful to remember; others would perhaps be better forgotten. Whatever our memories, we will do well to heed St Paul’s advice:
‘Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report, if there be any virtue and if there be any praise, think on these things.’