Or should it be ‘Pairs’? Well, either way, it is true. Mike and Helen Pears arrived in Amsterdam at the end of July and are definitely a good thing. Mike is settling in as Director of IBTS Centre. Helen is settling in too – she has already hosted a staff and families’ meal (I mean cooked and served it all – not just sat at the head of the table!). As fully paid up members of the grandparent club, we four already swap lots of stories about our beloved grandchildren. They are well ahead, though, with a current total of seven grandchildren! Before they came to Amsterdam, Mike and Helen began their involvement in mission and ministry in an old Baptist chapel in Peckham, south-east London as part of a church-planting movement, before returning, via a period of study at Regent College Vancouver, to their West-Country roots and a post at Cairns Road Baptist Church in Bristol. After that, Mike and Helen moved to an edge of the city estate as part of a small Christian missional community, which for Helen ended up propelling her into the world of food, feasts and festivals. For Mike, Knowle West is where he began and completed his PhD, from where he became increasingly involved in teaching and tutoring at Bristol Baptist College/Trinity Anglican College and started the research and learning organisation Urban Life. Rather unexpectedly, their last home before emigrating to Europe ended up being on a canal boat plying the waterways around Worcester and Droitwich. I asked them a few questions to find out a bit more about the new Pears…
The view from the Pears’ canal boat
Mike, do you like going to conferences? (a conference pear)
Well, I used to be a conference pear but am now more of a conversation pear. But I very much appreciate a good gathering (especially with good food) where there is plenty of time to share ideas, renew friendships and get to meet new people.
Helen, are you a fan of the TV series The West Wing? (a Bartlett pear) … ok, I’ll stop that now!
Are you missing anything in particular from England yet? If so, what?
It would have to be hugs from the grandchildren! Otherwise, we are enjoying exploring everything Dutch, especially the lovely bakery products, so we haven’t been yearning for too much as yet, particularly as I [Helen] have found a source of Marmite. Although there are days when we get a little nostalgic for hills in the distance, or the view from the top of a hill . . .
What do you guys enjoy doing in your spare time?
We both love being out and about walking [and now cycling] in the city and wherever there are green spaces – punctuated by plenty of coffee and tea stops of course; finding, and especially for Mike, participating in interesting art; loitering in bookshops; watching films, and being around a meal table with friends and family (especially if this involves curry!).
What was the best/worst thing about living on a boat?
Helen: That’s tricky, as the best thing about being on the boat was just being there and experiencing a completely different way and pace of life. This summer was wonderful for gliding along the waterways and enjoying being ‘in’ nature. Apart from, which was probably the worst thing about being on the boat this summer, being ‘in’ the midst of swarms of mosquitos! There were several rather surreal times, such as catching sight of ourselves in the middle of nowhere, walking down the towpath at night, me with my headtorch and Mike dressed in a suit and wellington boots! We had just arrived back very late from the airport after his interview in Amsterdam and it felt like stepping between two totally different worlds.
Where do you most want to visit in the Netherlands?
Everywhere? All is new territory for us, so we are looking forward to getting acquainted with as much of the country as possible and being surprised by places we might stumble across in the process. We are both drawn to the more wild and open spaces, so we hear the coast and islands to the north might be a great place to spend some time.
Apart from the Bible, what is the best book you have ever read?
For a couple that really love books, that is a mean question! Various books and types of literature/writing have held importance and resonated for different periods of life for both of us. We have both been impressed by Barbara Kingsolver – The Poisonwood Bible and The Lacuna – and really moved by Louis de Bernieres, Birds without Wings. Mike especially has found inspiration and challenge by Miroslav Volf, Exclusion and Embrace and John V Taylor, The Go-Between God both of which offer a profound theological and practical challenge to the ways in which we conduct our relationships with others. But my [Helen’s] immediate gut response to the question would have to be Margaret Atwood’s trilogy Oryx and Crake, The Year of the Flood and Maddaddam. There are other books that are fabulous, but these are the stories and characters that seem to have ‘stayed with’ me for a very long time and continually make me think. Another book that has lifted my spirit over the past couple of years and that I regularly return to is An Altar in the World by Barbara Brown Taylor.
Tell us one little-known fact about yourself.
I [Helen] am a very proud Blue Peter Badge holder! Mike is a twin, and yes, he has heard the response ‘Oh, a pair of Pears!’ so many times. In student days he and his brother did holiday work on an apple farm owned by Mr and Mrs Bramley (and yes they did grow Bramley apples).
What are your hopes for the future of IBTS Centre?
Helen: I have always been impressed with the sense of community that lies at the heart of IBTSC. Not just in the lovely team on the ground – who have been such a generous and welcoming presence for us – but that permeates the wider community too. My hope would be for the deepening of that in terms of becoming a vibrant learning community that can act as a real accompanying presence as we all journey along the way of living our faith in the world.
Mike: In my mind this question is inextricably tied to the profound shifts occurring across Europe and beyond. Rising nationalism, mass migration, extreme social and economic inequality, dominant social media, fake news … all present profound challenges to the mission of the church across the EBF region. Against this backdrop, my hope is that IBTSC will bring significant and effective support to Baptist unions, mission agencies and colleges across the EBF region; I hope it will foster collaboration and cooperation amongst Baptists in the face of complex theological and cultural challenges; and I hope that (perhaps as yeast is in the dough) it will be fully and practically immersed in the mission of God.