25 Years of Changing Lives

Joyful reunions, laughter, and sweet fellowship flowed at the recent 25th anniversary celebration of The Friends of Israel’s Institute of Jewish Studies (IJS). Alumni, faculty, staff, and friends gathered at Friends of Israel (FOI) headquarters in Deptford, New Jersey, to commemorate God’s faithfulness in using this unique ministry in their lives.

The depth of relationships was evident as people reminisced about their IJS experiences and shared their testimonies. Awards were presented to founding dean, William C. Varner, whose vision and work for the school made it a reality in 1986, and former IJS director, William L. Krewson, for their years of faithful ministry with the school. It was also announced that trees will be planted in Israel in memory of Herb Hirt who directed IJS for 10 years and whose presence at the reunion on April 28 was sorely missed.

IJS, originally the Institute of Biblical Studies (IBS), began with a desire to expand a Friends of Israel summer training program for college students in Atlantic City, New Jersey. In the spring of 1987, the first IBS class graduated after completing a year-long, residential program of biblical studies under Will Varner’s leadership. The same year, students were moved from Atlantic City to what is now FOI headquarters. As the Institute grew, Will Varner was joined by Renald Showers, Herb Hirt, Keith Megilligan, Bill Krewson, Sonja Rentschler, and others who carefully taught the Scriptures or helped in the dormitories.

In 1996 the school relocated to the campus of Philadelphia Biblical University in Langhorne, Pennsylvania. It was renamed the Institute of Jewish Studies (IJS) and remained a ministry of The Friends of Israel. The move also ushered in Dr. Hirt’s leadership as IJS director, succeeding Dr. Varner who left to become a professor at The Master’s College in California and director of the college’s IBEX semester-in-Israel program.

For the next 10 years, Herb Hirt shepherded IJS until additional responsibilities led him to step aside. In 2006 Dr. Krewson, a faculty member for many years, became the director.

In the fall of 2009, under the transitional guidance of FOI Vice President James A. Showers, FOI decided to enlarge the school by abandoning the confines of a small college campus and making this quality Bible education available worldwide via the Internet. IJS returned to its roots at FOI’s international headquarters and retooled as an online, distance-learning school for students of all ages around the globe.

Today IJS has 10 times its previous enrollment and a full complement of courses designed and taught by some of the finest men in their field. In addition, new subjects are added each year and draw students from as far away as Israel, Hong Kong, Japan, and Afghanistan.

In 2010, the school’s leadership was passed to Clarence Johnson who is committed to FOI’s goal of ensuring that IJS equips followers of the Lord Jesus Christ through the study of biblical truth, which includes a proper understanding of Scripture and God’s love for the Jewish people and their importance in His eternal plan.

William E. Sutter, who retired May 1 as FOI’s executive director, closed the celebration with a moving reminder: Every twist and turn in IJS’s development was solidly based on a commitment to present God’s Word accurately and to instill in students a passion for the land of Israel and a love for Jewish people around the world.

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