Article by: Ryan Swedberg
The Lord said to Abram, after Lot had separated from him, “Now lift up your eyes and look from the place where you are, northward and southward and eastward and westward; for all the land which you see, I will give it to you and to your descendants forever.” (Genesis 13:14-15)
The Master’s University is a special place. Being built upon the foundation of God’s Word, having a faculty of the highest caliber and facilitating opportunities to foster friendships that will last a lifetime, very few schools can truly compete in offering a real, lasting education. Yet, a nondescript moshav (literally, “village” or “settlement”) tucked away in the Hill Country of Israel just may be Master’s University’s best-kept not-so-secret secret. This moshav, called Yad Hashmona, houses the campus of Master’s University’s Israel Bible Extension Program (or, as it is commonly called, IBEX). Conceived in the early 1990s in a conversation between Bill Schlegel (who still currently teaches at IBEX) and then-Master’s professor Doug Bookman, IBEX has soared in popularity with Master’s U students. As Dr. Varner has said so many times, “It’s not if you go to IBEX, but when you go to IBEX.” Indeed, every semester, 32 students are afforded an opportunity take part in this incredible program. This spring, I am blessed to be counted among that number. Over the next couple of months, I will be recounting some of the amazing experiences IBEX offers. Hopefully, you will catch a glimpse of what life is really like in the Promised Land!
YAD HASHMONA + KIRIATH-JEARIM
On January 29th around 8:30 AM, IBEX Spring 2017 boarded a bus that would begin our journey to Israel. With little sleep and little food, a stop at protest-riddled JFK and after hours of travel, we finally arrived around 4:30 PM (Israel Standard Time) on January 30th in Tel Aviv. Although we were all certainly feeling the effects of jet lag, “brimming with excitement” would better encapsulate our mood. After all, we stood on the precipice of three months of life in Israel! After a brief bus ride out of the Coastal Plain (Tel Aviv’s location) and into the Hill Country, we arrived at the settlement of Yad Hashmona.
I’m sure all of us on this trip would be willing to live virtually anywhere in Israel for the semester but residing at Yad Hashmona is a particular blessing. Our meals are eaten in a hotel restaurant, our linens and towels are washed weekly and many conveniences are within walking distance. Furthermore, all permanent residents of the moshav must profess faith in Jesus Christ. Interestingly, Israel’s government allows for this type of religious discrimination. For example, just down the road from Yad Hashmona is a settlement of Orthodox Jews. A predominantly Arab community of Abu Ghosh is also in close proximity to Yad Hashmona. Even the iconic Old City of Jerusalem just a few miles away is split into four distinct quarters comprised of Jews, Christians, Armenians and Muslims.
Directly to the east of Yad Hashmona stands the hilltop of Kiriath-Jearim. This past Wednesday, IBEX professor Benjamin Foreman led our group to explore this biblical site. This hilltop, referenced many times in the Old Testament, is perhaps best remembered for being the place that David stored the Ark of the Covenant for a short while (1 Sam. 7:1-2). Down the hill from Kiriath-Jearim stands the previously referenced city of Abu Ghosh. Abu Ghosh happens to be a prime candidate for the location of the biblical city of Emmaus (Luke 24:13-35). It was incredible to gaze at a site upon which Jesus likely walked.
Today, a statue of Mary sits perched atop a church on Kiriath-Jearim. To me this statue, which overlooks Abu Ghosh and West Jerusalem, served as a reminder that many don’t yet know the coming King who will reign from this Jerusalem. Sadly, many in Israel are blinded to the reality of the Jewish Messiah. Whether it be a devout Orthodox Jew who insists that Jesus is not the Messiah, a Muslim who just acknowledges Jesus as another prophet, a “Christian” who is involved in a religious system that distorts the gospel of Christ or a secular Israeli who cares not for religion, all desperately need to know this Savior. May God use this semester’s IBEX team to be instruments to bring people to faith in Israel’s Messiah.