Good things come in Pears

Mike and Helen 1 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.

Alibarba & The Bitners

No – it’s not some new funky band, it’s a list of our August visitors here in Nieuw Vennep. First came the Bitners. Jim and Carol are Americans who lived near Belfast for a few years and attended Windsor Baptist when David was pastor there.  They are now ‘retired’ back in the US but have taken up a part-time pastoral role caring for mission workers. This involves them travelling to Europe twice a year and driving through parts of France, Germany and Switzerland where they visit mission staff members from the US and help support and encourage them in their work and everyday lives. Actually, this is pretty much what they did in Belfast when they befriended several Windsor families and encouraged and helped in so many practical ways. Their ministry continues and their rich life experiences (including having 17 grandchildren!) make them valuable mentors as well as all-round good friends to many, including us. What a great use of retirement years! When they left us, we paid a flying visit to NI for David to have some dental work and got back just in time to welcome Alison Bingham and Barbara Johnston – old friends from Windsor, Belfast – for a weekend.  There was much laughter, chat and a few late nights as we reminisced and caught up with all their church and family news, after they had walked their feet off around Amsterdam all day. We all took the bus to Haarlem to sample the Jazz Festival and some yummy Mexican food, went to the English Reformed Church on Sunday, all shared lunch with another US friend Lauran Bethell.  Now our August visitors are all gone and we carry on writing blogs, editing journal articles, discussing plans and getting stuck into work with our new boss… it’s been a good summer!

Weather Song

(Tune: Danny Boy – an Irish Air)
Oh Davy boy, the pipes, the pipes are frozen,
pipesThe temperature is nearly minus eight.
The Eastern Beast is roaring at our windows,
Put on your coat, throw more wood on the grate.
We said we’d go to work at IBTSC
In Amsterdam – with weather just like home.
Did BMS say Holland or Siberia?
Ah well, the summer will come soon, we mustn’t moan!

Oh Dotty girl, the pipes, the pipes are baking,heat-wave
It’s 35 degrees, ain’t that a treat?
The grass is brown and all our plants are dying,
We Irish were not built to stand such heat!
We said we’d go to work at IBTSC
In Amsterdam – with weather just like home.
Did BMS say Netherlands or Africa?
Ah well, the winter will come soon, we mustn’t moan!

Dear Dave and Dot (the email says from BMS),
We’re sorry you’re too cold/hot (please delete). images
The Dutch saying ‘There’s no such thing as bad weather,
Only bad clothing’ – works for cold and heat!
You said you’d go to work at IBTSC
In Amsterdam – with weather just like home.
Please understand we don’t control the weather,
Take heart – autumn is coming soon, so please don’t moan!

© McMillan & McMillan Inc.

Routes, Rubies and Roots

Route First we planned our route. Next we packed Monti to the gills – food, clothes, table and chairs, ten boxes of books and journals to be given away, IBTSC promotional banners and other conference materials. Then we were off on our two-week June/July European trip. We drove through the Netherlands into Germany, across Austria and finished up the next evening at a campsite on the southern side of Vienna. Monti had a rest there for the week, while we travelled in and out of the city by bus and train to our conference – the bi-annual Consortium of European Baptist Theological Schools (simply known as CEBTS). There were 21 of us, representing 13 different colleges (from UK, Netherlands, Portugal, Denmark, Spain, Germany, Romania and Estonia), and the conference was a chance to meet and get to know each other, discuss our schools’ challenges and also find out how our different institutions prepare students for Baptist ministry and leadership. There were speakers, discussions, prayer times, a trip into Vienna city centre and beautiful meals provided by the staff and volunteers at the Baptist Donauhof Centre.  It was a good week and, as we were responsible for organising it, we were relieved that all went well (as we say in N. Ireland, it ‘passed off peacefully’!). Then it was time to wake Monti and start off for our next destination – Zürich in Switzerland. This time we stayed on a campsite on the shores of Lake Zürich – which sounds idyllic and was a lovely setting; however, most of Europe seemed to be staying on the same site, including a bunch of teenagers who pitched their tents right beside our van. We were there for the annual gathering of the Baptist World Alliance, so again we used public transport and let Monti sleep beside the lake. On 4th July we celebrated our ruby (40th) wedding anniversary and had a lovely lunch with some friends at the BWA event. They had sneakily (with help from our Sarah) got hold of some of our wedding photos and made a nostalgic card… it was a really nice surprise. On our last morning in Zürich we made a pilgrimage to Rüschlikon – the original location of IBTS when it was formed in 1949, long before the move to Prague and the recent move to Amsterdam. Dot at Ruschlikon The college occupied a lovely old house set in the hills above Lake Zürich and must have been a beautiful place for those early students who came here just after WW2 to learn to live, study and work together with other Baptists from across war-torn Europe. Today it is a conference centre and the college chapel is home to an international, English-speaking Baptist church. It was very special to visit the place where IBTS began, before climbing back into Monti for the long drive back to Nieuw Vennep. We clocked up almost 3,000 km in 14 days and Monti was well ready for his annual MOT – due the day after we returned. And, of course, he passed!

Our UK Tour

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. Monti 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! DavidandDorothy1 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!

We have a new Director!

Mike Pears

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…

“It’s a long, long wayPhoto-Fureys-2017-P-resized

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 P1070468 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…


A Post-Christmas Ditty

snow 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,
Visited landmarks.
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.


Houses on Amsterdam canalDutch 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 SatP1070446urday 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!