One of the most unique aspects of TMC is its Israel Bible Extension program (IBEX). It is a semester-long study abroad program of classes pertaining to biblical geography, history, languages and Jewish life. One of the TMC faculty members who leads the program and who has been in Israel since IBEX’s inception, is Bill Schlegel. The Master’s Piece reporter Scott Gilmore recently interviewed Professor Schlegel to discuss his life in Israel and as an IBEX professor.
Q: How long have you been living in Israel? How long have you been teaching in Israel?
A: I have lived in Israel since October, 1984. I tutored children here in 1986-1987. Fall 1987 I started teaching Bible geography.
Q: What schools/institutions have you taught for while in Israel?
A: From 1987-1995 I was on the administrative staff and teaching faculty of the American Institute of Holy Land Studies (The Institute), now known as Jerusalem University College. I taught Bible Geography and Hebrew there. Since 1995 I have been with TMC-IBEX.
Q: How and when did you first get interested in teaching in Israel?
A: I first got interested in living in Israel through reading the Scriptures when I was a junior in college. I wanted to learn Hebrew and become familiar with the locations where biblical events occurred. The fall after I graduated from college I came to Israel to live. I didn’t have much of a plan other than to learn Modern Hebrew and try to find a job – I wasn’t interested in continuing formal education at that point. Eventually I studied for an M.A. degree at The Institute. As I finished the degree I also looked for a job, knowing that teaching others what I learned in Israel could be involved. There was a staff-faculty position open at The Institute and the director hired me.
Q: How did the IBEX program start and who birthed the idea?
A: One of the first things that comes to mind about IBEX beginnings is that IBEX started in the providence of God. The Lord brought a number of people and circumstances together in His timing. I asked a graduate student at the Institute about faculty at TMS/TMC that might be interested in Israel. He gave me the name of Doug Bookman. I wrote Doug. Doug had been on an Institute three-week program before, so he was familiar with the school, but was somewhat surprised to find a theologically conservative staff/faculty member who was ready to tailor make a study program for a group. In May 1989 Doug brought a short term group via the Institute (TMC’s Dr. Greg Behle was also on this trip). Subsequently Doug established a program whereby six TMC students a year could come on the Institute semester program. He also continued to bring short term groups. As years past, the Institute went through some administrative changes. I was personally looking for a new challenge. By this time Doug, Greg and I had become good friends. In January 1993 I suggested to Doug that perhaps TMC would be interested in setting up its own Israel program … Doug tirelessly worked on the idea of a TMC extension campus in Israel … It was no small task for him to convince TMC administration and board that they should hire new faculty and send 40 students off the home campus, with all the expenses involved. He eventually succeeded. The first IBEX academic short term programs came in May 1995. The first semester program was Fall 1995.
Q: What’s the hardest part about living in Israel?
A: It’s a foreign country; one is always a stranger, personal relationships depend on a language that isn’t one’s mother tongue, the government of Israel doesn’t receive Christians with open arms, etc., etc. The land has always been a testing ground of faith – that’s good, but not necessarily easy. I’ve seen quite a few evangelical couples/families come and go because living here is particularly difficult for a non-Israeli wife/mother.
Q: What’s the most enjoyable part about living in Israel?
A: It’s the land of the Bible. The Bible is not taboo. Also, one can isolate oneself from typical western materialism and commercialism.
Q: What do you enjoy most about teaching?
A: The positive relationships with other human beings. Also, one learns much when teaching.
Q: What’s the most difficult part about teaching?
A: Grading papers and exams, and having students complain about a grade because they will lose a scholarship.
Q: What were the biggest challenges you faced when you first lived in Israel?
A: Loneliness. I knew exactly no one when I arrived. Also, economic challenges. I lived frugally for a number of years.
Q: What are the biggest challenges you face now?
A: Raising children. Orienting and training students to live outside of America.
Q: How is it to help run a Christian academic program in Israel?
A: Most students that come here are very motivated to learn, and they know the Bible better when they leave. Also, with so many shared experiences, IBEX groups tend to form close friendship bonds. On the other hand, IBEX staff is responsible for arranging lots of details in students’ lives. We don’t really ever leave the campus. Free evenings or weekends are rare.
Q: What are some of the biggest lessons you’ve learned and what wisdom have you gained while living in Israel?
A: Hodu la Adonai Key tov, key le olam hasdo. (This is Hebrew for, “Give thanks to the Lord for He is good. For His mercy endures forever.)
Q: When are you starting your sabbatical this year? What do you plan on doing during the sabbatical and where do you plan on staying when you get back to the states?
A: We plan to be on sabbatical near Minneapolis, MN (where I’m from) from July to December this year. In God’s grace I hope to produce The Satellite Bible Atlas. I’ve worked on prototype versions already, but have rights to a new base map now, so in a sense I’ll being doing it over again, with more focused editorial priorities.