Our Man in Tartu

Home: Tartu, Estonia. Workplace: Amsterdam.

Toivo (4) That’s quite a commute for Toivo Pilli (Director of Baptist and Anabaptist Studies at IBTSC). The good news for him is he doesn’t have to do it every day! He travels to Amsterdam several times a year for meetings, face-to-face supervision of students, teaching on our MA programme, conferences or other special events. The rest of the time he works from his home in Estonia – assessing student work, supervising PhD students by email and Skype, writing academic papers for publication and he also serves as part-time pastor of Salem Baptist Church in Tartu. Toivo is a PhD graduate of IBTS Prague, where he taught from 2002 to 2006. He is married to Einike, who is the rector of Tartu Theological Seminary, the educational centre for the Union of Free Evangelical and Baptist Churches of Estonia, and she serves as the only female member of the Union’s executive board. Einike was herself one of the Tartu Seminary’s first students after it was allowed to re-open in 1989. She completed her doctoral studies in theology at family editedthe University of Tartu, and she is also an adjunct faculty member at IBTSC. Toivo and Einike have three sons – Iisak (21), Siimeon (18) and Timoteos (16).

Toivo tells me that the software for Skype was invented by Estonians. He says Estonians are described as people who have an iPhone in one hand and a small knife for mushroom-picking in another! Despite his obvious pride in being Estonian, Toivo has adopted at least one aspect of Dutch culture by buying a bike which he keeps in Amsterdam so he can join the merry throng of cyclists every morning and evening when he comes to IBTSC.

Best thing about Estonia:

Einike: Its size – it is small. Toivo: Saunas and home-made black rye bread.

What do you like to do to relax?

Toivo: Walk. Spend time in the archives – this equates emotionally to fishing! (really?) Einike: Go out and listen to jazz with my best friends (better!).

Challenges for IBTSC in Amsterdam:

To provide an environment where Baptists can reflect theologically on identity, mission and practice – especially on the many difficult issues that face Europe today.

 Best part of working at IBTSC:

Two ‘best’ things! The people we work with – the sense of community and belonging together because of a shared interest; the sense of joy – that what we do is meaningful and important.

After reading this, you really need to visit Estonia (see our earlier blogpost on 4 October 2016: Estonia is closer than you think!).

World Book Day

logo Read any good books lately? World Book Day http://www.worldbookday.com on 2nd March sounds like a great time to get started. It’s billed as a worldwide celebration of books and reading, and marked in over 100 countries all over the world’. The aim is to provide every child in the UK and Ireland with at least one book, as well as supporting fun events to promote reading in schools, libraries and public spaces. But is World Book Day totally unrealistic – like trying to hold back the tide from coming up the beach? By all accounts reading is fast becoming a minority interest. According to The Reading Agency https://readingagency.org.uk/ ,  nearly half of young people aged 16 to 24 in England don’t read for pleasure and only a quarter of 10-year-olds ‘like reading’. In the USA the figures are even worse: just over half of adults have not read a piece of literature in the past year. Here in the Netherlands, book sales have been declining steadily (despite a slight increase last year). A recent Dutch report states rather vaguely that ‘86% still pick up a book from time to time’. A gloomy picture, indeed. So maybe World Book Day is just what’s needed.

Ok, but what shall we read? Despite the overall decline in reading, sales of two particular books are currently soaring. George Orwell’s famous novel 1984 has been selling like never before in the past two months, since the phrase ‘alternative facts’ was uttered by US President Donald Trump’s spokesperson. In his novel, Orwell uses terms like ‘newspeak’ and ‘doublethink’ – phrases that seem uncannily apt in today’s political climate. In Germany, 2016 saw the first publication in 70 years of Mein Kampf, Adolf Hitler’s political work and the foundation of Nazi ideological thought. The new edition has now had six print runs and sold over 85,000 copies. Both these books have become popular in the face of widespread political change and uncertainty across the western world – a definite sign that people are searching for explanations and answers to life’s big questions.

most-read-books But the best-selling book of all time still holds its place, according to Guinness World Records: ‘Although it is impossible to obtain exact figures, there is little doubt that the Bible is the world’s best-selling and most widely distributed book’. But is it the most widely read book? Bible reading suffers from the same decline in reading as other literature. A recent LifeWay research study http://lifewayresearch.com/ found that almost one in five churchgoers say they never read the Bible, though about the same number say that they read it every day. Why would someone read the Bible? Some read it to find comfort (especially the Psalms) when life is tough; some read because they feel lost or sinful and want to know how to find God’s forgiveness; some read because they love the sound of the language (especially the King James version); some read to find ammunition for a theological argument… Whatever your motive, why not start reading the Bible this World Book Day? As I write this, a song from childhood has been buzzing around in my head and it won’t go away:

The best book to read is the Bible,

The best book to read is the Bible.

If you read it every day, it will help you find your way,

The best book to read is the Bible.