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TMC Israel trip still on track

Professor says most of country is still at peace, despite Gaza war

Posted: August 12, 2014 2:00 a.m.
Updated: August 12, 2014 2:00 a.m.

In this photo dated Jan. 2014, IBEX students sit near the Church of All Nations and the Garden of Gethsemane in Jerusalem.

 

The Master’s College professor Dr. William Varner tells students the same thing every year: The question is not if you go to Israel, but when.

And despite battles going on right now in the Middle East, Varner — program director for the Christian liberal arts college’s Israel Bible Extension — says TMC’s semester-long study abroad program in Israel is not a matter of “if” for the fall semester, or even when.

“(The students) are still going,” Varner said in an interview last week. “(We’re) confident despite news of what’s going on in Gaza.” He said most of Israel is “very much at peace.”

Students enrolled in Israel Bible Extension, commonly referred to as “IBEX,” are scheduled to fly to Israel Aug. 30 — the original scheduled travel date.

TMC’s administrative team — consisting of its vice president, security team, student life department, IBEX leadership and academic dean — decided unanimously July 30 to move ahead with the program this semester, Varner says.

Thirty-four students signed up for the program, two of which are from other participating schools, Varner says. As of last week just one student had decided not to go.

The one who did pull out says the media influenced her decision, which she made mutually with her parents.

“We had been watching the news and got concerned,” said TMC senior Christianna Ripley, who instead of IBEX will now complete her degree online. “We didn’t see things getting better (in Israel). The media was saying ...it could take a while to resolve things. That was a determining (factor).”

Trace Turner, on the other hand, a 20-year-old sophomore at TMC, says he still plans to go.

“(People say) ‘Do you know what’s going on? Have you seen the news?’” Turner said by phone last week. “I know the stuff that’s gone on ... I’m not worried about it. I don’t lose sleep over it.”

Maybe just as importantly, he says his parents are on the same page.

“They’re at peace and excited for me to go,” Turner said.

Turner’s parents aren’t the only ones at ease. Varner says only three or four parents contacted him with concerns about the trip in the time leading up to its confirmation.

One reason for the parental confidence may be the location of IBEX’s campus. About 10 miles west of Jerusalem, the campus consists of leased buildings on the Yad Hashmona Moshav, an Israeli community settlement.

“We never went to Gaza or anywhere near (there) for previous semesters,” Varner said. “(The campus) is in a very safe section (of Israel), and the field trips we will take are in safe areas.”

Varner added that Israel is much safer than it may seem on TV. He says a high percentage of Israelis are leading normal lives, an idea confirmed by IBEX faculty living in Israel who have stayed in contact with TMC’s administrative team. For now, the students’ well-being isn’t at stake, they say.

That wasn’t the sense, however, after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. TMC brought its IBEX students home in October that year, the only time the program was curtailed in its 18-year history.

“If our State Department said Americans should not travel to Israel there would be no program (this semester),” Varner said. “Only a travel warning (is in place), and that has been in place almost the entire time of having the campus.”

Started in the fall semester 1996, IBEX provides what the school calls a “unique laboratory experience (of) studying the Bible in the land of the Bible.” Students receive classroom instruction coupled with 25 days of field trips.

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