Porridge? Yes, please!

This morning I made porridge. It was my first bowl of 2019. Breakfast cereals are fine for holiday mornings, but work days require work food – porridge. img-20190107-wa0003 And it tasted good! I was looking through the inevitable New Year healthy living/weight loss tips in the newspaper at the weekend and trying to find the least demanding and most reassuring ones (isn’t that what everyone does?) when I came across Richard Branson’s personal trainer’s ‘top 10 tips for a health reboot’. Guess what Tip 6 is? Yes, it’s ‘Eat porridge for breakfast’. Tip 1 is ‘Don’t join a gym’ and I have been totally successful in that one too. So (ignoring the other 8 more demanding tips) I feel pretty healthy and ‘rebooted’ already (especially as I bought a new pair just before Christmas).

pic Speaking of Christmas – Christmas and New Year were great. We got to spend time with both our daughters and their families – one in England and the other in N. Ireland (see photos).  We visited wider family, our home church at Windsor in Belfast and many more friends. It hardly rained at all – very unusual for the UK – so we did lots of walking in the countryside and even tackled some hills (not possible in the Netherlands). We thoroughly enjoyed the break. Now it’s ‘back to porridge’ – in so many ways! January is the busiest month of the IBTSC year, so we need to say ‘Yes, please!’ not only to the breakfast food but also to the ‘porridge’ of routine and our daily work. Happy New Year!


IMG-20181115-WA0001Week Three of the ‘woningverbetering’. This is the ‘house improvement’ scheme that our landlord is carrying out on all 48 houses in our area. The builders moved in during early summer to carry out Stage One – installing new bathrooms and kitchens. Ours were new when we moved in nearly three years ago, so we escaped Stage One. Then in August, Stage Two began – a much more major job for our house. This time they are replacing roof tiles, all windows, front and back doors; installing solar panels, cavity wall and underfloor insulation and even putting a new roof on our bike shed. This being the Netherlands, the whole business is highly organised. The project foreman visited every house to explain what’s involved, to advise how to prepare and to deliver plastic sheets to cover furniture, plus one pair of earplugs per resident! Ours is the last house to be ‘improved’ – number 48 in the queue. We are hopeful that after doing 47 other houses, they will be faster, well-practised and highly motivated to get off-site before Christmas. The whole project is due to finish by mid-December. We look forward to that date and to being much ‘improved’.

La Belle France

Bonjour, tout le monde! We have just got back from our ‘summer’ holidays – though they were rather late, they were well worUs and grandchildren Sept 2018th waiting for. We started off with a visit to the family in England, when we ‘hung out’ with our grandchildren for a few days (I think their parents may have been there somewhere too).

We also called into BMS HQ at Didcot and Dorothy can now sleep better at nights, as she was able to get her Christmas cards bought there. If you are totally disorganised and haven’t bought yours yet (just joking!), BMS have a great range and you can order online at https://www.bmsworldmission.org/product-category/type/greeting-cards/

After England we made our first journey (in Monti, of course) through the Eurotunnel to France and headed south from Calais to Annecy in the Alps. P1070547 We first visited the beautiful lake and town in 1988 with a Baptist Youth team from Northern Ireland and our daughters aged 7 and 4. Thirty years on, it is still a lovely place to visit – as you can see from the picture.

Then Monti took us to the Rhone Valley and we found a very quiet campsite, where the only noises were birds singing and leaves falling in the forest around us! The site was almost deserted and we enjoyed the peace and quiet – reading, sleeping a lot, walking aDSC_0686 bit and visiting the village patisserie. Our next campsite was in the Dordogne – it had only about 20 occupants on a site with 150 spaces as it was mid-October. We had the indoor and outdoor pools to ourselves and loved the beautiful plants and shrubs, all laid out like a botanical garden.  After a few days in Cognac (the place, not the liquid) we went back to England for a farewell party for the Sellars family (Sarah, Simon and their boys) as they get ready to move to live in God’s Own Country (N. Ireland).

Then it was a drive to Harwich to catch the ferry to Hoek van Holland and home to Nieuw Vennep. Four weeks out – time to jump back in…

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!