Ask an alum of the Israel Bible Extension (IBEX) program at The Master’s University, and odds are good you’ll hear something like this: “IBEX was a life-changing experience.”
If you’re an IBEX alum yourself, you know exactly why that is. If you aren’t, nothing better communicates the program’s heart than hearing from those who’ve experienced it firsthand.
For this edition of the magazine, we got in touch with nearly 20 alumni who shared their favorite memories from the program and reflections on what they took away from their time in Israel.
For those who have experienced IBEX, we hope reading their words will bring back priceless memories. And for everyone, we hope that these reflections stir up fresh joy in the geographical and historical reality of Scripture.
Ryan Boys (’00)
Semester at IBEX: Fall 1997
During our week in Galilee, we enjoyed the sunset each night along the shore of the Sea of Galilee. One evening I recall sitting on the beach with my feet in the lake, talking with friends about future plans for ministry. That moment captures several ways IBEX was a blessing. Not only did we get to study and experience the very places Jesus walked and taught, but we also developed lifelong friendships in the process. I’m grateful for the investment of the professors and other students in such a unique place.
Perhaps the greatest lasting impact of walking where the Word became flesh has been in contemplating the incarnation. British General Edmund Allenby, upon victoriously arriving at Jaffa Gate in the Old City in Jerusalem during World War I, famously dismounted his horse and reportedly said, “I will not ride where my savior walked.” I think he had it right. Being in the land of the Bible should humble us and lead us to worship. That’s what it has done for me.
Stephanie Durruty (Schuster) (’99)
Semester at IBEX: Spring 1999
Spending a semester at IBEX to attend classes in the Holy Land is one of the top two things I have ever done in my life. Even 20 years later, I feel the same. It was great getting to know my group of students — eating, sleeping, traveling, and learning together about the land and its role in biblical history. I made many memories that have never faded and are pillars in my mind as I listen to a sermon or read God’s Word.
Memories I loved: staying at the moshav, running in the morning on a dirt path by a grove of olive trees and later that afternoon hiking to an old Roman fort nearby. Riding a small Arab horse in the valley where David’s tomb used to be as I waited to enter the narrow, wet, pitch black of Hezekiah’s Tunnel. Excavating 1-inch beige mosaic tiles in an archaeological dig by Ai. Singing in the Roman amphitheater in Caesarea only to be echoed by another group singing the same hymn in German, and realizing our great God is not only transcendent across time, but cultures.
Matt Cooper (’01)
Semester at IBEX: Spring 1999
The classes, the hikes, the professors, the people, and the land all made IBEX one of the most memorable times of my life. However, I will always remember sitting on top of Mount Arbel thinking about the fact that our Savior probably retreated to this same mountain, looked out, and saw pretty much the same view. It made reading Scripture come alive in a deeper, more personal way than I had ever experienced before.
In fact, IBEX gave me a more full view of Scripture. Although it is the inspired Word of God, it was written by real men who lived real lives in a real land. Now having the context and the understanding of where Scripture was written, I can better understand what I am reading.
Kim Guess (’00)
Semester at IBEX: Fall 1999
IBEX Volunteer for Fall 2000 and Spring 2001
There are so many wonderful memories of my time at IBEX, but it was not just the locations I traveled to and the things I learned. It was also the people with whom I got to experience it. Although I may have arrived in Israel only knowing a handful of people, it did not take long before I realized that my classmates, professors, and their families were a precious gift from the Lord.
IBEX also gave me a deeper love for the Lord and for Scripture. There is nothing magical about the land, but studying the Bible, geography, and culture, along with seeing and experiencing it, gave me a much better understanding of Scripture. Passages that I had skimmed before were now exciting to read, and I was able to understand them more clearly. The more I understood Scripture, the more I understood who God is, which deepened my awe and love for Him. My time in Israel still impacts the way I read and understand God’s Word, and it also helps me as I talk with others about God and as I teach God’s Word to kids.
Nate Madden (’00)
Semester at IBEX: Fall 1999
The 40 of us who went that semester became one large family. Professors such as Todd Bolen and Randy Cook became like parents to us. Not only did they instruct us in the classroom, but they hiked alongside us, ate with us in the dining hall, worshiped with us in the miklat as we celebrated Shabbat each week, and even opened up their homes to us for Bible studies and family celebrations.
I should also mention that for 23 years I’ve taught middle and high school Bible classes at Mingo Valley Christian in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Hardly a day goes by in the classroom where I am not drawing on my experiences from IBEX. Being able to explain firsthand what it is like to hike the barren Judean wilderness or to walk the streets of Jerusalem during the Feast of Sukkot keeps my students captivated with the exciting truths of the living Word of God. My confidence in teaching the Bible with cultural and historical accuracy is largely attributed to my time spent in the IBEX program.
Andrea Heck (Greene) (’00)
Semester at IBEX: Fall 1999
Early one morning, we made our way to the north end of the Sea of Galilee to an area known as the Cove of the Sower. As our professor, Todd Bolen, made his way to the shoreline, the rest of us scattered ourselves throughout the amphitheater-shaped hillside, an area that could easily seat thousands. Far from all of us, Todd began to read the Parable of the Sower, and with crystal clarity we could hear his every word.
In that moment my sanctified imagination erupted. Scenes from the Gospels flooded my mind. I envisioned the multitudes crowding the hillside, listening with eager curiosity, marveling at Jesus’ capacity to bring to life the truths of the kingdom with the imagery of their ordinary lives. I had never doubted the gospel accounts, but neither had I grasped how scenes like this could be possible. On this day, though, all that changed.
Andrew Buell (’01)
Semester at IBEX: Fall 1999
One of my favorite memories from IBEX happened in the wilderness. Our bus had been making its way through the Negev for hours when our instructor (Todd Bolen) asked the driver to pull over on the side of the road. Todd stood up and asked us all to get off the bus. Outside, he talked to us about the fact that God often chooses to meet with His people in the wilderness. Then he invited us to walk out into the desert to spend some time with the Lord.
I had been wrestling with God for a few years about what He wanted me to do with my life. In the wilderness, in that hour that I spent with the Lord, He confirmed my call to the ministry. Twenty-two years later, I am profoundly grateful to Todd and the IBEX program for sending me into the wilderness that afternoon.
Rachel Jamieson (Wahl) (’00)
Semester at IBEX: Spring 2000
Dr. Todd Bolen always encouraged the IBEX students to explore Israel completely — knowing it was our once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, he said. So during our week in Galilee, I decided to bike around the Sea of Galilee, asking my friend Bryan Vaughn to accompany me. We rented a couple bikes early in the morning, wind in our faces as we whizzed down the Golan Heights.
Simply riding around the sea put into perspective a place that figured so significantly in Jesus’ ministry. It isn’t huge. It is still a fairly agrarian landscape. Now when I read the Gospels, I think I grasp the distances and comprehend the geography so much better than I did in my flannelgraph childhood days. The land is as real as the historical man who was born and raised, walked and sailed, and lived and died there.
Jedi Johnson (’03)
Semester at IBEX: Spring 2001
Each biblical site we visited was memorable, whether it was walking through Hezekiah’s Tunnel, trying to sleep in the caves of Adullam, or taking a rather rough ride down the Jordan River. We inserted ourselves into the Purim festivities on Ben Yehuda Street, participated in a Passover seder, and woke up for a very early sunrise service at the Garden Tomb.
My life changed completely because of IBEX. I met my wife, Anne (Lawrence), during our semester at IBEX, and it seems unlikely that our paths would have crossed at the University apart from that semester. Beyond that, my knowledge of the Bible is still informed by the experiences we had that semester. Anne and I have been blessed to travel the world together since IBEX, but we both point to that semester as unique and pivotal for how God has shaped us into who we are today.
Dan (’05) and Katie (Wood) (’04) Talcott
Semester at IBEX: Fall 2003
Hiking in the Holy Land stands out as a profound way IBEX changed us. This time without the distractions of everyday life, along with meditating on God and His Word, grew our love for the Lord. These hikes deepened our knowledge of the Bible, grew our confidence in the Scriptures, and expanded our understanding of God’s character. They were also instrumental in creating friendships based on the truth as we discussed what we were learning together.
Some of our closest and deepest friendships came from relationships formed at IBEX. Many in our group married each other (including us). The ladies in the group started praying together, and though the group got smaller as people graduated and moved, 10 years later there was still a group meeting and praying. This last Thanksgiving, 19 years later, a group of us spent the holiday together.
Andrew Gilmore (’06)
Semester at IBEX: Fall 2004
We took an overnight trip to the Dead Sea for our History of Ancient Israel class, led by Todd Bolen. We hiked into Nahal Arugot, found and played in the hidden waterfall, then went up and over into Nahal David. Walking the land was so important for my understanding of biblical maps and places.
That History of Ancient Israel class was the best class I took in all of my undergraduate education and in my Master of Divinity program. The integration of facts, dates, names, places, stories, and The Story stays with me to this day, and it sparked interests I didn’t know I had.
John Russell (’06)
Semester at IBEX: Spring 2005
A great memory is standing on the Temple Mount with Prof. Randy Cook instructing us. The guards began to shout at us in Hebrew. According to Prof. Cook, they wanted us to leave. But Prof. Cook did not want to lose the opportunity to teach us on the Temple Mount. He continued to teach as he slowly moved toward the exit. The guards were not happy with his speed, so they came back angrier and louder. Then Prof. Cook said, “I guess we really need to go now!” I’ll never forget that moment, or the fact that I had an opportunity to stand and learn on the Temple Mount.
Experiences like these at IBEX forever fixed in my mind the reality of Scripture. Scripture is tied to real places, real people, and a real history. I walked where Jesus really lived and died and was resurrected. I stood where David and the prophets really stood. I climbed the same real hills and descended the same real valleys that the people in Scripture did. There is something to that tangible reality that confirmed the truth of Scripture in my heart. As I’m sure many others will say, you can never read Scripture the same.
Trisanna Grisanti (’09)
Semester at IBEX: Spring 2007
What is my favorite memory from my semester in Israel? I have many to choose from, like celebrating Passover in the land, being surrounded by the people originally saved and redeemed out of Egypt. And then there’s sailing across the Sea of Galilee and being on the Temple Mount, reminded of God’s truth and faithfulness to fulfill what He has promised and all that He has already fulfilled and made possible through Jesus. Then there’s excavating part of the Pool of Siloam, reading the Bible in the wilderness, exploring Jerusalem and many other biblical sites while having New and Old Testament biblical accounts come alive before my very eyes.
Because of IBEX, my Bible reading and studying has gone from black and white to an explosion of color. IBEX was my favorite semester, and I made friendships that will last a lifetime.
Jessy Heinzen (DeChamplain) (’15)
Semester at IBEX: Spring 2013
IBEX Administrative Assistant from Fall 2016 to Spring 2019
One of my favorite memories from IBEX was the camping trip we all took the last week of our semester, including the professors and their kids. It was a great way to close out the best semester of college. Overall, IBEX impacted the way I read the Bible. I think most alumni would agree on that. I’m a visual learner, so getting to be in the land, on site, reading the Word, was huge. IBEX really helped me to understand the Bible in a deeper way.
Alexandra Gilbertson (VanBerkum) (’14)
Semester at IBEX: Fall 2013
One memory that will always stick with me is from an evening walk through Jerusalem. We spent the walk following Jesus’ steps leading up to His crucifixion. The night sky was amazing and full of stars. I was hit by the immensity of sitting in a place where Jesus had been, under a sky of stars that were created through Him. He is powerful enough to create those massive stars and humble enough to walk through man-made gates.
The incredible humility and kindness of our Creator and God became so real to me. It was a newfound recognition of how truly incomprehensible it is that He allowed Himself to be beaten and killed by the people He created. And He did it for the sake of the very people who were beating Him.
Sami Mubiru (Del Rio) (’19)
Semester at IBEX: Spring 2017
One memory from IBEX that I often dwell on is when students shared their testimonies in the miklat on different evenings. People opened up about how the Lord had graciously saved them. I was not yet truly saved when I went to IBEX, but the testimonies I heard had a great impact on me. I also loved all the new friends I made and the new experiences I had during the program.
Though I did not give my life to Christ until one year later, I learned so much through this trip about the historical realities of the Bible and the spiritual darkness of those who choose not to put their faith in Jesus as God. Many people across the world put their faith in different religious ideas, but only true believers in Christ have real joy and assurance.
Nathan Dougherty (’23)
Semester at IBEX: Fall 2022
I was struck by how many of the cultural and religious issues we encountered appear directly in Scripture. We met a Jewish rabbi who rejected Jesus as the Messiah because He failed to bring political deliverance, like many in Jesus’ day (Matthew 27:22). We listened to a Samaritan explain how worship ought to take place on Mount Gerizim, rather than Jerusalem, which Jesus addressed in John 4. I heard accusations that the Gospels and the New Testament are an attempt to abolish the pure Jewish religion of the Old Testament, which the book of Hebrews explores in detail.
Those experiences of a culture that values tradition, location, history, law, and genealogy so highly helped me understand the original context in which the Bible was written. I was encouraged to see how clearly Scripture addressed the issues of its time, as well as its sufficiency to instruct us in our lives today as we continue to witness the unfolding of God’s redemptive plan.
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