The wheels of the plane touched down; it was another flight finished. But for the students on board, it was the culmination of a long and stressful process. TMU students had arrived in Israel for the first time in a year.
The group of 17 students would be starting some of the best weeks of their lives, but first, they still had to face different challenges than previous IBEX groups. Some would be arriving late due to COVID tests not arriving on time and everyone would be required to quarantine for a week before they could move freely. These restrictions undeniably impacted the IBEX experience, but not all of it was for the worse. Caleb Welch is one of the 17 students at IBEX this semester and despite the differences, has loved his IBEX experience.
Brewer: What is your year, major and favorite Israeli food?
Welch: I am a junior studying business management. My favorite Israeli food is falafel.
Brewer: In what ways has your experience at IBEX been impacted by COVID?
Welch: To be honest our IBEX trip has not been affected too much. One thing which was different was once we got here, we had to quarantine for a week at Hebrew University before being let go. Another thing has been that we do not have a week of travel study where we would usually get to travel somewhere in Europe or somewhere else for a week.
Besides these two things we have not been affected at all. In fact, COVID has almost helped make our field studies way easier. We have not been turned away at any location that we want to go, it is basically empty everywhere we go so we have not had any trouble getting through crowds to get to places.
Brewer: Do you in any way regret going this semester, instead of waiting for COVID restrictions to go away?
Welch: I have been asked this question by many people, and my answer is that I do not regret coming to Israel this semester in any way. There was so much uncertainty before coming and a lot of stress getting in all the paperwork, in fact a couple of us actually missed our first flight and had to leave a day late because our COVID tests did not come in time.
Through all of this, I do not regret coming this semester. I have learned so much about the Bible in my time here, I have had so much fun with this small group of people, like I mentioned before we have not had any trouble going to any place we want to go. It has been such a great semester and in no way do I regret coming at all because of how much I have grown and learned.
I would encourage people who are on the fence about coming, to come. I know there is a lot of uncertainty with the vaccine and even being able to come, but it is so worth it. I can’t even describe how much I have grown in my time here, and it makes me sad that so many people would decide not to come. It is so worth coming.
Brewer: What sort of things have you done through the IBEX program?
Welch: We have done so many things in the three months we have been here. For a week or two we spent almost every day going into the old city of Jerusalem. Jerusalem is such a cool city, we got to go to the place of Jesus’ crucifixion and burial (or where they think it is), travel through Hezekiah’s Tunnel, visit the Dome of the Rock where the temple was in the time of Jesus and so much more in the city.
We traveled to Jericho, hiked in the wilderness and traveled to the place of David and Goliath’s fight in the Elah Valley. We got to snorkel in the Red Sea, swim in the Sea of Galilee, swim in the Mediterranean, float in the Dead Sea and cliff jumping.
So many fun and amazing things, but most important with all of these places is as we travel we are constantly reading the Word of God. The best part of IBEX is reading the Word in the very place where it happened, and this is why people always say after this trip the Bible comes to life, because you can picture all these places in your mind and it does truly come to life.
Brewer: Where do you go to church and what is it like going to church in a place where the religion is similar but opposed to Christianity?
Welch: We go to a church in Jerusalem called Jerusalem Assembly. Thankfully this church is a very solid church that holds to the truths of the Bible. It can be difficult sometimes because we are listening to the sermon through a translator, but overall it is a good church that sticks to the Word of God.
There are very few Christians in the country of Israel, which is great because it has allowed for us to be able to share the good news of Jesus with some people. We have learned a lot about the culture and religion of Judaism, and it is very sad to see so many people placing their hope in their works, many do not believe in Christ or even know about Him. So it’s been a great opportunity to be a light in such a dark place.
Brewer: What do you miss from home and what do you plan to do first when you get home?
Welch: I miss many things from home. I miss my family a lot. I miss good American food- I am going to pound some Chipotle when I come back. I miss being at Master’s, which is one of my favorite places in the world, and I miss being on campus with the student body. I miss church a lot — I mentioned that the church here is very solid, but I miss sermons without needing a translator. I also miss coffee and donuts in the morning, and I miss being able to serve with the local church body. There are many things I am excited to get back for.
It may come as a surprise to some that IBEX has begun again, or that in the midst of challenges it is just as edifying. Students at The Master’s University have concerns about going, and think that maybe they should wait. However, don’t miss out on this chance to see Israel and visit the places in Scripture.