Christian scholars gather in Chile to share challenges, cultivate vocations 

Christian scholars from more than eight countries across Latin America came together in January for a conference where they were able to share challenges and nurture their vocations.  

“It was a very special meeting because in most Latin American countries there are few spaces and opportunities for Christian professors and academics to share their challenges and dreams in the university context,” shares Sarah Nigri, former General Secretary of ABUB, the national movement in Brazil, who now serves as a mentor to LCI Catalysts. “Many feel alone and don’t have peers in the faith.” 

Pablo, Lorena, Deborah and Sarah

IFES’ vision of seeing Christians on university campuses thriving together in witness and whole-life discipleship applies not only to undergraduates but also to faculty members, researchers and graduate students.  

How can Christian scholars be empowered to engage with the university and bring their Christian voice and service into the conversations and culture of academia?  Scholars from Latin America have told the Logos and Cosmos Initiative that fostering a supportive network of peers is important in helping them live out their unique calling to the academy. But such opportunities for connection are often rare.  

Thirty-five scholars attended the two-day Christian Scholars Gathering, which took place in Chile. It is believed to be only the second such conference in the region, and the first took place almost a decade ago.  

“There were high hopes about bringing this community together, to exchange ideas, learn from each other and pray for each other,” Sarah says. “These hopes were not only met but exceeded! I have no doubt that we all came away strengthened to face the challenges of our contexts and encouraged to celebrate and cultivate the vocations that the Lord has given us.” 

Small group discussion

The conference was the culmination of a project led by Chilean physicist Pablo Gutiérrez. As an LCI Catalyst from 2021 – 2023, Pablo partnered with GBUCH Chile, the IFES national movement, to develop a network of Christian scholars in his country. His plans for a national conference evolved into a regional gathering and he joined forces with regional LCI staff and a few other scholars to organize the event. 

“Christian scholars have a very specific call,” explains Pablo. “Events like this help to strengthen a network of scholars interested in integrating science and theology, each one from their own workplace.” 

“Participants appreciated the uniqueness of being together and the opportunity to discuss the challenges and joys of teaching and research with peers,” he says. “The image of the road to Emmaus comes to mind: two people on the road, discussing what happened, and then Jesus came along and gave them a new meaning.”  

The main talks were delivered by Vinoth Ramachandra, former IFES Secretary for Dialogue and Social Engagement, who invited participants to read his new book God’s calling and the university ahead of time.  

Participants also attended roundtable discussions on the challenges of being a Christian scholar (in the face of the “publish or perish” culture); pastoral challenges of Christian scholars (mental health, family, church and students); and the challenges faced by women in the academy. 

“The academic environment is often not receptive to children and families,” shares Sarah. “Because of the “machista” culture in which we live, academic women feel these difficulties more acutely than most men. At this meeting, we were able to talk about relevant topics, such as gender inequalities at university and the challenges of academic productivity.” 

In addition to being an LCI mentor, Sarah is a mother of two young children. She has a master’s degree in political history and hopes to resume her studies at some point.  

“For me personally, the scholars gathering was a remarkable meeting because I was able to travel with my family and meet and get to know other families who share a love for Jesus Christ, the student mission and the university.”  

Scholars connecting with students and staff too 

Gustavo Sobarzo, who helped organize the scholars gathering, explains that it was held in the middle of a week-long training event for student leaders and staff from IFES national movements in the Southern Cone sub-region (Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Paraguay and Uruguay).  

Scholars with Southern Cone conference particiipants

“We intentionally designed it this way to energize the interactions between the scholars and the staff and students,” he says. Gustavo is the Tier One Training Coordinator for the LCI in Latin America and IFES Subregional Coordinator for Latin America’s Southern Cone subregion– positions which he holds alongside his academic career as a professor of veterinary microbiology.  

“Both events had their own program but shared meals, devotions and free time,” Gustavo says.  

Sarah affirms that the set up worked well: “This strengthened the bond between professional academics and student ministry – something which is very precious.” 

Several members of the LCI community contributed to the training for national movement staff and student leaders. Gustavo and Catalyst Lorena Brondani led an Engaging the University workshop; LCI staff members Jouseth Moya and Alejandra Ortiz led a workshop about women in ministry; and LCI staff member Josué Olmedo led a workshop about vocation and work.  

One joint event that brought both gatherings together was the launch of Catalyst Lorena Brondani’s new book “Authentic,” which was published in January by Editorial Certeza. The book is the culmination of her LCI project from 2022 – 2023, in which she captured the stories of six Christian, Argentinian women in academia who have attempted to integrate their Christian faith, university careers and their relationships/family life. Find out more on Lorena’s blog.  

Lorena’s book launch

As part of their LCI-funded projects, several Catalysts in Latin America are already helping connect scholars at different levels. Lorena is leading a mentoring and research group for Christian “mother-scholars” from across the region. In November 2023, Deborah Vieira, held a conference for Christian scholars in Brazil, which attracted 150 students and researchers connected with ABUB.  See the LCI’s Latin America projects webpage for more information. 

In terms of region-wide gatherings and networks, Gustavo hopes that the momentum gained from the conference in January will continue.  

“I have a special calling to keep this going,” he says. “We are still working out concrete plans for the future, but we plan to have a few more online meetings. Our dream would be to make this into an annual meeting.” 

There is now an IFES Connect group for Christian researchers and teachers who are connected with IFES national movements in Latin America. For more information, visit https://connect.ifesworld.org/topics/40388/feed. 

Not striving alone: wise counsel sets Catalysts up for success 

“Plans fail for lack of counsel, but with many advisers they succeed,” says Proverbs 15:22. What difference does wise counsel make for Logos and Cosmos Initiative Catalysts as they lead theology and the sciences projects on campus? 

“My project has been enriched by so many people with profoundly diverse backgrounds and experiences,” says Lorena Brondani.  

One source of support that Lorena has benefitted from is the input of two project consultants. She admits that she was not sure what to expect when she first met with project consultant Karen Hice Guzmån. On paper, they have different academic backgrounds and contexts. Lorena is a PhD student in social communication based in Argentina; Karen originally trained in horticulture and lives 5,000 miles away in the USA. But when they met on Zoom, they quickly discovered that they share a mutual passion for mentoring Christian women in academia, a theme which runs central to Lorena’s LCI project. 

Photo of Lorena talking to Karen on a zoom call, also with interpreter Pilar present
From top left: interpreter Pilar, Lorena and Karen

“It was amazing to learn about the Women Scholars and Professionals (WSAP) ministry that Karen leads at InterVarsity, and how God called her there to mentor other women,” explains Lorena. “We also share an interest in providing and generating resources for Christian women scientists.” 

Karen has spent more than a decade empowering women through WSAP, a ministry initiative of InterVarsity Christian Fellowship, the IFES national movement in the USA. With Karen’s advice, Lorena found that she has not had to “re-invent the wheel” on some aspects of her project.  

“Karen’s willingness to stay connected with me and the materials she shared with me enabled me to see what I can apply from her ministry in my own country and national movement,” Lorena explains. “I am tremendously inspired by the work of the WSAP ministry, because it has been organizing forums, book clubs and activities for several years, and these helped me to think through my project.”   

Photo of the book cover of Lorena's book: Authentic
Lorena’s new book

In 2022 – 2023, as part of her project, Lorena captured the stories of six Christian women in academia in Argentina and published them in a series of short videos and a book, Auténticas. Diálogos con mujeres académicas, seguidoras de Jesucristo (Authentic: Dialogues with Women Academics, Followers of Jesus Christ) which will be published by Editorial Certeza Argentina in January 2024. 

Lorena gained the idea after reading a book that Karen recommended to her, Power Women: Stories of Motherhood, Faith, & The Academy (InterVarsity Press, 2021). 

“That book was a real find for me,” says Lorena. “This book, and my own experience of motherhood, inspired me to write my own book, for my own context. It was important for me to write a book in Spanish because there are few biographies of Christian academics in my country, let alone in Latin America.” 

This year, as part of her project, Lorena is leading a mentoring and research group for Christian “mother-scholars.” The books, journal articles, videos and websites that she learned about through her project consultants have helped her compile this list of resources on motherhood, family life, feminism, faith and academia for the ten women participating in her group.   

Lorena’s story is not unusual. LCI regional staff ensure that each Catalyst is matched with one or two project consultants. 

Meeting for the very first time 

In Cameroon, geologist Dr Isaac Daama’s project on controversial mineral mining techniques has been strengthened by the guidance of Rev. Dr Ebenezer Blasu, Research Fellow at the Akrofi-Christaller Institute of Theology, Mission and Culture in Ghana.  

In mineral-rich Cameroon, many artisanal miners hold traditional African religious beliefs about where minerals can be found. Their practices involve animal sacrifices and prayers, asking the gods to open up the earth for them. For the last two years, Isaac has been partnering with his IFES national movement to lead a project that draws together scientific and Christian perspectives on these mining techniques. 

“Dr Blasu has really helped me to understand the foundations, objects and symbols of traditional African religions,” says Isaac. “Thanks to him I understood that the term “animism” is a pejorative term for these religions, since it was a label used by white colonialists who used this term without trying to understand the spiritual practices of traditional African religions.”  

This year, Isaac is continuing his project by interviewing miners and university-trained geologists about their beliefs on these approaches. He is also hosting a training course and discussion workshops at his university about theology, science and the culture of traditional African beliefs. 

“Dr Blasu suggested that I write a scholarly article based on my research, and suggested some courses that I can take,” Isaac shares. 

In January, Isaac will travel to Ghana to take a course on primary African religions at the Akrofi-Christaller Institute where Dr Blasu is based. Whilst there, Isaac will be able to receive Dr Blasu’s input on his journal article, which has been accepted for publication in the Journal of African Christian Thought. Isaac is excited as it will be his first time meeting Dr Blasu in person. 

Photo of Isaac interviewing artisanal miners at a mining site
Isaac interviewing miners

 “Dr Blasu has become like a father to me,” he explains. “We talk or email quite often and I receive a lot of advice from him.” 

A highly enabling program 

Project consultants are just one of many different sources of support that Catalysts are provided with to help them succeed with their projects. A recent external mid-term review of the LCI, described it as “a highly enabling program in which [Catalysts] have several levels of support available to make the journey easy and to find motivation and encouragement.”  

Those were the words of Dr Bonnie Jacob, an independent consultant that the LCI commissioned to conduct a comprehensive review of the program. Her review won’t be finalized until 2024, but her preliminary report, submitted in June 2023, commended the LCI for its support of participants.

“The number of people who speak into Catalysts’ lives and support them in different aspects is incredible. The Catalyst does not have to strive alone.” 

— Dr Bonnie Jacob, independent review of the LCI

Advocates walk alongside  

As soon as they join the LCI, Catalysts are assigned an advocate, a mentor to walk alongside them in their learning journey and to assist them as they design and deliver their projects.  

Professor Valentin Ngouyamsa from Cameroon, for example, is a sociology professor who participated as a Catalyst a few years ago and has continued his connection with the LCI by serving as an advocate. He currently mentors Sarah, a sociology graduate student from the Democratic Republic of Congo, and he has been instrumental in shaping her project right from the start.  

Photo of Professor Valentin Ngouyamsa
Professor Valentin Ngouyamsa

“To help Sarah find a feasible theme, I asked her to look around and observe her environment and tell me what she saw,” he says. “She told me about the permanence of war in her country, so I suggested that she explore the impact of war on young people.” 

From there, the two of them worked together on Sarah’s proposal for her project, which draws together psychosocial and theological approaches to the mental health of students traumatized by war.  

“I helped her define the objectives, activities and scope,” shares Valentin. “And I provided scientific input and helped ensure that her proposal fit with the objectives of the LCI.” 

Sarah’s project was approved by the LCI for funding and implementation. This year, she is leading a research study, hosting awareness-raising events and providing practical mental health support for students in her city.  

“I believe the role of an advocate is to provide scientific, psychological and spiritual support to the Catalyst,” says Valentin. “It can mean calling them to encourage them, praying with them and for them, being available and approachable, and if necessary, providing constructive criticism.” 

Always a joint venture 

Catalysts are deeply embedded in their IFES national movements, and their projects are always joint ventures with the national movement. For this reason, once they begin their project, each Catalyst forms a project team, which includes the general secretary, and students and volunteers from the movement.  

This is something that encouraged Álvaro Pérez when he began his first project earlier this year on the bioethics of gene editing.  

“This is going to be hard work, but I won’t be alone,” he said. “I have the support of several collaborators and volunteers.” 

Working with the national movement in Ecuador, Álvaro’s project will promote dialogue about bioethical and Christian perspectives on human gene editing. It will include an academic forum; a scholarly article; and the production of a video interview with an expert in the field.   

“The general secretary of my national movement has agreed to provide advice on the content of the academic forum and the video interview,” explains Álvaro. “I will also have the support of the communications team, a logistics coordinator and volunteers.” 

Photo of Álvaro Pérez
Álvaro Pérez

Wise counsel program-wide 

Photo of Ana Ávila speaking at an LCI workshop
Ana Ávila speaking at an LCI workshop

Catalysts aren’t the only ones benefitting from wise counsel. The LCI program itself is also designed with feedback and accountability in mind. The LCI has about a dozen independent external advisors who provide input on the program in general and on individual Catalyst projects. All of them have significant experience in academia, science and theology discussions, and leading projects funded by the John Templeton Foundation. 

They provide advice to the LCI leadership, and some have shared their expertise by teaching at events. For example, for the last two years, Argentinian academics Dr Ignacio Silva and Dr Claudia Vanney have taught a seminar for Catalysts in Latin America on the epistemology and history of science and religion. In 2022, Mexican science writer Ana Ávila spoke at a workshop for Catalysts about writing at the intersection of science and the Christian faith. In addition, some of these external advisors review Catalysts’ project proposals as part of our rigorous selection process, and several are serving as Catalyst project consultants this year.   

“We emphasize community and collaboration,” says Professor Ross McKenzie, Leader of the LCI. “Catalysts are not isolated individuals but part of communities: the LCI community, their IFES national movements and their universities. And we hope that this will help their theology and the sciences projects to be the very best that they can be.” 

  • Read more about Lorena’s project on her blog.   
  • Read summaries and watch short videos about Catalysts’ projects on our projects webpages. 

Catalyst Perspectives: learning from women who love the sciences and Jesus 

When Argentinian academic Lorena Brondani joined the Logos and Cosmos Initiative in 2021, she found herself with her baby in her arms, juggling motherhood and a PhD while also learning how to build bridges between her Christian faith and her discipline. In this Catalyst Perspectives blogpost, Lorena explains how her experience led her to run an LCI project that will share the stories of women who love the sciences just as much as they love Jesus and their own families.  

Being a Christian woman in academia, combined with my experience as a wife, new mother and member of the IFES national movement in Argentina, have all shaped my life deeply. These personal experiences inspired me to seek out and listen to other women who share a love of science (especially the social sciences), the Lord and in the cases of mothers, the emerging life they are nurturing. This was the seed of my Logos and Cosmos Initiative project, which is called Conversations with Christian women academics from Argentina. 

How did these conversations begin? My calling to the academy 

For many years, I have felt called to the academy as a mission field – but my approach has evolved. As I progressed from my bachelor’s degree in social communication to a master’s in university teaching, I began to see that the university is a complex ecosystem. The Lord began to show me that bringing His kingdom to the university is broader than just reaching students, it also means reaching out to professors, researchers and non-teaching staff.

Photo of Lorena with her baby son
Lorena with her son

Now, as an academic and PhD student, I would say: “I became an intellectual to intellectuals, to win over intellectuals” (paraphrasing Paul in 1 Corinthians 9:22) But my vision of what it means to bring God’s kingdom through academia has been enlarged further by three specific experiences.  

The first was in 2014 when I read a report written by an Argentinian, female academic, following her participation in an IFES “Latin American Consultation of Researchers and University Professors” meeting held in Brazil in 2014. It was led by Vinoth Ramachandra, IFES Secretary for Dialogue and Social Engagement, as part of IFES’ Engaging the University ministry. 

I am not exaggerating when I say that this report marked me for the rest of my academic career and my Christian life. At that time, I had never known anything about how Christian scholars could see their classrooms, research projects, disciplines and science in general as a place to make a Godly contribution to the university and the world.  

My heart burned when I read about some of the challenges that were presented by Vinoth Ramachandra at the event. For example, the need for Christian academics to integrate theological and scientific perspectives on important issues, to orient their research towards projects that help their communities flourish, to defend the truth in science, and to work with intellectual honesty.  

The second experience that confirmed my “call” to serve God through my academic career was participating in a program for professors and research students at the IFES World Assembly in Mexico in 2015. It impacted me greatly to meet successful academic Christians from different disciplines, countries and cultures, all with the same goal; fulfilling God’s mission in the simple matters of everyday life. I remember the testimony of one professor who felt called by the Lord to make a difference by treating her students well, leaving behind the pride and arrogance that often comes with academia. I really identified with her story and made her decision my own.  

Finally, becoming a Catalyst at the Logos and Cosmos Initiative has helped me understand the complementarity between the sciences (mainly communications) and theology. It was a huge change from the messages that I grew up with in a Catholic context in Argentina, such as “beware of science” and the idea that science and theology are opposed, or compete with one another. 

Photo of Lorena teaching a class
Lorena teaching a class

During my studies at the LCI, I found it useful to read biographies of Christian scholars such as Dr Francis Collins1, an American physicist and geneticist who founded the Christian organization BioLogos I learned about models for relating science and religion by reading the work of Denis R. Alexander2, Director of The Faraday Institute for Science and Religion. I have been taking steps on the path of developing a “Christian mind,” an idea developed by Christian philosopher Nicholas Wolterstorff3. As a scholar of communication theory, I like to call this a “communicational mind,” which to me, means using the Bible to learn how to see contemporary social communication issues through the Christian lens of creation, fall and redemption. 

I’m continuing to work out the links between my Christian faith and my academic work, particularly my research for my PhD in social communication. As I continue on this journey, I was curious to learn from other women who had built bridges not only between their Christian faith and their academic discipline, but also with their family life (marriage, motherhood, singleness and divorce). When I began to look into this area, I found that very little research has been published specifically on the experiences of Christian women in academia, especially in Spanish. 

The beginnings of my project: initial findings 

When I interviewed female Christian scholars for my LCI pilot project in 2021, I discovered that many of them have spent a lifetime giving just as much love and dedication to the university and their academic career as they do to their own families and children.   

Those who are mothers have had to slow down, get up early, but not stop their academic production. Those who are single have often suffered social, cultural and even religious pressures to marry or have children but that did not stop their mission to the university, their academic contributions to society or their devotion to Jesus Christ.

Zoom screengrab of Lorena conducting an interview on zoom
Lorena (left) conducting an interview

Divorcees are also messengers of the kingdom of God in their classrooms, in their senior career positions and through their publications, and have not necessarily had a marriage interrupted “because of” their university career, as some might assume. 

The women I spoke to were remarkably diverse but they have all cultivated an active and creative spirituality and have loved God “with all their minds” (paraphrasing Deuteronomy 6:5 and Mark 12:30). 

My pilot project raised many questions about the intersections between women’s spirituality, their academic work, and their gender and family roles (marriage, motherhood, singleness). To explore the triangular intersections among these three areas, my project will collect and share the life stories of at least six female, Argentine academics.  

My goal is to develop inspiring resources that demonstrate how these three areas can complement and enrich each other, and encourage young, female Christian students who hope to pursue academic careers. I will conduct in-depth interviews and use them to publish a printed book, an e-book, a short film and a series of short audiovisual clips.  

My project today: conversations with Christian, women academics from Argentina 

After my proposal was accepted by the LCI in April, I began with times of prayer, mentoring and indispensable feedback. By the grace of God, I have a wonderful project team made up of women who have served/are serving with IFES movements in Latin America. Together, we  identified the women who would be interviewed for the project.  

Screengrab of four participants at Lorena's project team prayer meeting on zoom
Project team prayer meeting

In July I began recording the first few interviews. To give a taste of what the women talk about, the stories include: the “long singleness” of an academic woman who married at age 50; a historian and academic mother who knew how to deal with self-esteem and guilt; and a single academic who knew how to cultivate rest and seek out Christian mentoring for her academic work.  

Looking at the progress I have made so far, I am grateful that I have had two incredible consultation meetings with external advisors and participated in a course titled “Past, Present and Future of Feminism” with Dr Sarah Williams, Research Professor in the History of Christianity at Regent College.  

I am given hope by the encouraging messages I have received from the other Catalysts in my cohort, such as: “I’m very curious about the facts you’ll have on single women!” ;  “Thank you for revealing these women to us”; and “The project will bring many important lights for women in science.” 

Lorena Brondani is studying for a doctorate in social communication at Austral University in Argentina and is an advisor to ABUA Argentina ( the IFES national movement) in her hometown, Paso de los Libres, Corrientes.

Find out more:

  • Follow Lorena’s progress with her project on her personal blog (in Spanish)
  • Read about all 18 of our Catalysts’ projects on our project webpages 

ENDNOTES

1Collins, Frances (2016) “How Does God Speak? The scientific evidence of faith (Ariel, 2016)

2Alexander, Dennis (2007) “Models for Relating Science and Religion” The Faraday Institute for Science and Religion

3Wolterstorff, Nicholas (2014) “Christian Scholarship in the Twenty-First Century: Prospects and Perils “ (Cambridge, United States: Editorial Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing & Co. Translated by Moisés J. Zelada. chap.1, pp. 1-17)

Projects in Latin America

New projects for 2023 – 2024

Moving students from reflection to action on the environmental crisis  

The environmental crisis is a global problem, but it is developing countries such as Guatemala that are already suffering the worst impacts. Guatemala is among the top 10 countries most vulnerable to the effects of climate change. In the last few years, climate chaos has caused droughts, floods, and landslides, increasing food and water insecurity in a nation where 59 percent of people live in poverty.   

Photo of Venuz Perez Lopez
Venuz Perez Lopez

Climate change, as well as pollution, biodiversity loss and land degradation may seem like insurmountable problems but agricultural engineer Venuz Pérez López believes small actions can make a difference. Her project will sow the seeds of change, starting with students.  

Working with GEU, the IFES national movement in Guatemala, Venuz will organize a one-day forum for Christian and non-Christian students, providing a space for dialogue about the environmental crisis through the lenses of science, theology and indigenous peoples’ knowledge. Following this, she will design and deliver a five-month-long course to help students connect their faith with creation care and equip them to be protagonists in tackling the environmental crisis. Students will be guided in the development of their own socio-environmental projects to be implemented on their university campuses. 

–Venuz Pérez López is a lecturer in agronomy at the University of San Carlos of Guatemala and also works on creation care projects with a Christian ministry called The Ezra Centre. She is collaborating on this project with her husband Johnny Patal, who ran an LCI project in 2022 – 2023, which is described in the concluded projects section at the end of this page. 

New tools and trainings to equip student ministry to tackle mental health  

The mental health crisis among young people is a global problem that has been flagged by the World Health Organizaton, as well as by IFES in its Global Trends Report. The pandemic has only made the crisis more acute. In developing countries, such as Mexico, mental health is aggravated by poverty, violence and human rights violations. 

Photo of Moisés Elías Coreas Soto
Moisés Elías Coreas Soto

Dr Moisés Elías Coreas Soto is a Christian clinical psychologist who works with university students in Mexico. He believes that COMPA, the IFES national movement in Mexico, is at the frontlines of the mental health crisis and is strategically placed to respond. His project will equip COMPA staff with new resources that encourage a critical and integrative dialogue between psychology and faith, and ultimately aim to improve student wellbeing.  

The project will involve a survey to better understand student and staff attitudes toward mental health and their own experiences. Based on the findings, Moisés will develop a theoretical and practical manual for COMPA staff, equipping them to provide better pastoral accompaniment to students, including psychological first aid and an understanding of when to make referrals to mental health professionals. The manual will be coupled with a five-part, hybrid training program for COMPA staff, taught by Moisés and a team of psychologists and counsellors. 

— Dr Moisés Elías Coreas Soto holds a PhD in neuropsychology and is a clinical psychologist at the Polytechnic University of Querétaro. 

Human genome editing: moving the conversation from rightness to righteousness  

As scientists have developed faster, cheaper, and more precise methods to edit the human genome, gene therapy has gained support as a promising way to treat a wide range of diseases. But some Christians have taken a stand against it, arguing that scientists are trying to “play God.” 

Photo de Álvaro Pérez
Álvaro Pérez

Álvaro Pérez, a Christian biotechnologist from Ecuador, believes that gene editing is the exercise of our God-given creativity to love our neighbor as ourselves. Understanding how nature works and modifying it allows humans to play an active role in creation and not just be spectators. Nevertheless, the bioethical and theological aspects of this type of research needs further investigation and there is a vacuum of research on the topic in the Latin American context.  

Alvaro’s project will promote dialogue about bioethical and Christian perspectives on human gene editing, aiming to move the conversation from “Is gene editing right?” to “How can it be done righteously?” Understanding that Christians are called to live righteously and justly, the project will include discussions about what faith communities can do to ensure equitable access to these new advances in medical treatment. 

Aimed at students and professionals – inside and outside of CECE, the IFES national movement in Ecuador – the project will include an academic forum; a scholarly article; and the production of a video interview with an expert in the field. 

– Álvaro Pérez works in a research lab at the University of San Francisco in Quito, Ecuador, and volunteers with CECE. 

Breaking bread: exploring the relationship between theology and food and nutrition security  

Access to food is a basic human need and a powerful lever for development. Yet projections show that the world is not on track to achieve the UN’s second Sustainable Development Goal of ending hunger by 2030.  

Photo of Liliane Alcântara Araújo
Liliane Alcântara Araújo

Local faith communities often play a key role in knowing who is hungry and why and are well placed to meet these needs, according to a report for the UN World Food Programme. However, Liliane Alcântara Araújo, says that churches and Christian ministries need to go beyond emergency food give-aways and should gain a deeper understanding of food security (having enough to eat) and nutrition security (consistent and equitable access to healthy, safe, affordable foods).  

In 2022, she conducted a pilot study and found that church and student ministry leaders had difficulty connecting their faith with these issues. In response, Liliane’s project will help Chrisitan students learn more about the relationship between Christian theology and food and nutrition security and equip them to respond biblically. 

Working with ABUB, the IFES national movement in Brazil, the project will involve workshops at the regional and national level, exploring food production systems, the use of natural resources, economic systems and the physiological aspects of food. The workshops will be followed by a four-month-long mentoring program in which selected students will be guided through theoretical foundations, bible studies and the development of their own project proposals to respond to this problem in their context.  

— Liliane Alcântara Araújo is a regional staff worker with ABUB, the IFES national movement in Brazil and is also a secondary school teacher.  

Expanded projects continuing from last year (2022 – 2023):

Vaccines, values and truths: promoting dialogue between science, biotech and theology 

The growing rejection of scientific facts among evangelical Christians in Brazil and Latin America has been a significant factor in low vaccination rates in the region, especially for the Covid-19 vaccine. At the same time, there is very little academic literature in Portuguese on the dialogue between the biomedical sciences, biotechnology and theology. Biologist Prisciliana Jesus de Oliveria’s project aims to promote dialogue between these three areas.  

Photo of Prisciliana Jesus de Oliveira
Prisciliana Jesus de Oliveira

In 2022 – 2023, Prisciliana launched a social media campaign linking biblical values with scientific information on vaccination. She also developed an eBook for students, containing a series of Bible studies on this subject, and led two courses for undergraduate and postgraduate students about theological approaches to vaccine development and other life-saving technologies. 

In 2023 – 2024, Prisciliana will train a network of Christian researchers in Brazil who will be “multiplier leaders.” They will be equipped to engage in dialogue between theology, and bioethics and vaccinology through health education and to communicate their research and career paths to Christian communities. Prisciliana will develop the eBook and awareness-raising materials that she created last year into a health education course about vaccines titled “Vaccines, values and truths,” and the “multiplier leaders” will be trained to deliver this course to national movements and churches. 

For a global impact, Prisciliana will produce two scientific articles: a review article about the role of Christian scientists in the control of infectious diseases, and an article presenting the findings of her project and the impact of the training and health education courses on vaccination rates.  

— Prisciliana Jesus de Oliveira is a PhD student in tropical medicine at the Oswaldo Cruz Foundation and teaches immunology on a consultancy basis.

Watch a 3-minute video about Prisciliana’s project from 2022:

Equipping students to be agents of peace and justice in Latin America

Mexico and El Salvador are both listed in the top 10 countries with the lowest peace indexes in Latin America (Global Peace Index; 2022). Mexico is the 3rd most violent country in Latin America1, largely due to the “war on drugs2” between the government and drug cartels. Yet among Mexican evangelical Christians, there is little talk about justice and peace. A pilot study conducted by graduate student Sandra Márquez revealed that many students believe justice to be purely about law, and that peace is only about the absence of wars. 

In 2022 – 2023, Sandra collaborated with COMPA, the IFES movement in Mexico, to foster dialogue about faith, justice and peace, and empower Christian students to take active steps as peacebuilders. She led workshops to equip student leaders and ministry staff to develop initiatives to respond to social violence at the local and campus level. She organized an online academic forum, bringing together experts from theology, social sciences and civic initiatives to discuss violence in Mexico. Finally, she conducted a survey to understand student beliefs about war, justice and peace, and shared the findings in a scientific article.  

In 2023 – 2024, Sandra is collaborating with LCI Catalysts Areli Cortez and Remy Ocon on an expanded project that focuses on social and gender-based violence in both Mexico and El Salvador. Last year, during her project, Sandra identified a need to understand more about Christian attitudes towards gender to develop strategies to prevent gender-based violence in relationships among university students.  

The project will develop a peace-building training seminar for students and staff of the national movements in these countries. Students will also be invited to take part in two service projects in conjunction with NGOs working on issues of injustice and violence. The team will conduct a study on attitudes towards gender equity, gender violence and biblical perspectives on gender among those involved in the two national movements. The results will be shared in an academic journal article.  

Photo of Sandra Márquez Olvera
Sandra Márquez Olvera
Photo of Areli Cortez
Areli Cortez
Photo of Remy Ocón
Remy Ocón

 — Sandra Márquez Olvera is studying for a PhD in community psychology at the Autonomous University of the State of Morelos, Mexico and is also a university lecturer. Areli Cortez is a history and anthropology of religion student in Mexico and Remy Ocón is a sociology student in El Salvador. 

Watch a 2-minute video about Sandra’s project from 2022:

Developing a network to equip Christian researchers for theology-science dialogue 

A pilot project conducted in Brazil by Deborah Vieira, in 2021, found that 60 percent of evangelical students surveyed believed that Brazilians are ill-equipped at understanding how science and theology overlap; 25 percent believed that people do not understand the compatibility of science and theology at all. Many students also reported feelings of isolation and loneliness as Christians in the university, and a lack of Christian peers in their academic environment. 

Photo of Deborah Vieira
Deborah Vieira

In response to this, in 2022 – 2023, Deborah worked with ABUB, the IFES movement in Brazil, to establish a 7-month-long theology and the sciences mentoring network called Emmaus. The mentoring program connected Christian undergraduate students with mentors who are further ahead in their academic careers. Participants exchanged experiences in the face of similar challenges and explored how to better connect their faith with their academic discipline. Deborah trained the mentors and designed a curriculum based on what she learned at the LCI. 

In 2023 – 2024, Deborah will continue her project by launching a network of Christian researchers connected with ABUB, equipping them to promote dialogue and aim for a long-term impact on the way Brazilian Christians understand science. 

Taking the learning from her successful mentoring program, Deborah will organize a 3-day conference to kick-off the development of the researcher network. Held at a public university, the first two days of the conference will be open to Christian and non-Christian students and researchers and will focus on cultivating intellectual virtues and building bridges between one’s discipline and faith.

On the final day, Deborah will convene a working group to launch the researcher network. Videos of conference sessions will be published on the national movement’s social media channels and Deborah will produce a booklet about the conference themes which will be available on the national movement’s website. 

— Deborah Vieira holds a master’s degree in literature and has worked in publishing. She is a volunteer with several arts initiatives at ABUB Brazil. 

Watch a 2-minute video about Deborah’s project from 2022:

Launching a research and mentoring group for mothers at the intersection of science and theology 

Many women have successful academic careers but little research has been published specifically on the experiences of Christian women in academia. A pilot study conducted by Lorena Brondani in 2021 in Argentina raised many questions on the triangular intersection among women’s academic work, Christian faith and their gender and family roles. 

Photo of Lorena Brondani
Lorena Brondani’

In 2022 – 2023, Lorena partnered with the IFES movement in Argentina to conduct an exploratory study which captured and shared the life stories of six Argentinian women academics through a series of short audio-visual clips, an e-book and a short film. The goal was to demonstrate how academic work, faith and gender roles can complement and enrich each other, and to encourage young Christian, female students who hope to pursue academic careers. 

During the project, Lorena identified a need for further research specifially on the needs and contributions of Christian female academics who are navigating motherhood and academia.

She also identified a need for a space in which Latin American Christian mother-scholars can share stories, skills, resources, achievements and challenges and be equipped through training, resources and mentoring. 

In 2023 – 2024, her project will take on a regional scope with the creation of a mutual mentoring and research network for approximately ten Latin American mother-scholars. The goal is for the women to be encouraged and equipped to reflect and write about their academic performance, family, motherhood and rest – a topic that has received very little research attention in Latin America. Over a ten-month period, they will meet to explore the intersection between motherhood, spirituality and academia. They will participate in online meetings and book clubs, and will be offered mentoring, funding for training and funds and resources for an individual spiritual retreat.  

Alongside this, Lorena will develop a database of Christian women academics (not only mothers) who are connected to national movements in the region in order to explore the beginnings of a wider scholarly support network.  

— Lorena Brondani is a PhD student in social communication at the Graduate School of Communication at University Austral. 

Watch a 2-minute video about Lorena’s project from 2022:

Concluded projects from 2022 – 2023

Working towards human flourishing amid the climate crisis in Guatemala

Guatemala is among the top 10 countries most vulnerable to the effects of climate change1. A nation in environmental crisis cannot flourish. Graduate student Johnny Patal believes that solutions will arise by approaching the issue from multiple different knowledge perspectives.  

Photo of Johnny Patal
Johnny Patal

His 2021 pilot project explored Christian university students’ perspectives on climate change. He found that they acquire their information on this topic from academic sources and through their Christian communities, but their understanding is incomplete and largely relates to their personal experience. 

Johnny’s project equipped Christian students to bring together perspectives from the academy and their Christian worldview to discover ways to positively tackle climate change. 

Working with GEU Guatemala, the IFES national movement, the project convened a multidisciplinary group of students who participated in discussion groups, reading circles and practical projects in the university and wider communities. The project developed resources such as: video interviews with Christians who have implemented climate change adaptation and mitigation projects, interviews with Christian academics sharing their position on climate change; and a written training guide for students in GEU Guatemala. 

— Johnny Patal is from Guatemala and is studying for a master’s in economics, development and climate change. 

Watch a 2-minute video about Johnny’s project from 2022:

Exploring how spirituality and virtues impact the scientific profession in Chile

The perceived conflict between science and spirituality is still prevalent in academia and the wider society in Chile. Physicist Pablo Gutiérrez conducted field research in 2021 and observed two specific observations: Christian students and academics in Chile need role models and “companions along the way”; and the academy could benefit from a more integrated perspective on the sciences.  

Photo of Pablo Gutierrez
Pablo Gutierrez

Pablo’s project tackled these needs by exploring how spirituality (the root of our virtues) impacts academic life. This area was explored both in personal stories and from theoretical perspectives. 

Working with GBUCH Chile, the IFES national movement, Pablo developed a supportive network of Christian students and professionals working in academia. Through this network, he captured and shared audiovisual interviews with Christian academics discussing the points of connection between their Christian faith and academic careers. Finally, he organized a scholarly seminar about the relevance of faith perspectives and spirituality on academic work – an aspect which is frequently excluded from academic conversations in Chile. 

— Pablo Gutiérrez is a physicist who teaches and conducts research at the University of O’Higgins, Chile.  

Watch a 1-minute video about Pablo’s project from 2022:

Combining theology, history and philosophy to tackle Mexico’s challenges

In the northeast region of Mexico, problems such as migration, gender violence, and young people being victimized by drug traffickers converge to affect university students and the general population. In order to know how to respond to these challenges, Christian students need to understand their place in history and how the Bible speaks about the difficulties of their context. 

Photo of Areli Cortez
Areli Cortez

Areli Cortez’s project created a learning space for students in COMPA Mexico, the IFES national movement. She developed a course in which the biblical framework of creation, fall, redemption and restoration helped students understand their personal and social history. The course brought together perspectives from theology, history and philosophy to equip and encourage students to respond to the challenges around them from a science and theology perspective.  

The project included curriculum development and training for COMPA staff and volunteers who  delivered the course. In parallel, Areli explored the same themes in an academic article that was presented at a colloquium at her university.  

— Areli Cortez is a history and anthropology of religion student at the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM)., and a staff worker with COMPA Mexico. 

Watch a 1-minute long video about Areli’s project from 2022:

Fostering a Christian response to gender-based violence in El Salvador

Tackling gender-based violence (including physical, sexual, psychological and economic) in El Salvador needs to involve all of society, including the Christian community. But the evangelical church in El Salvador has often been silent on such issues and in some cases, complicit. 

Photo of Remy Ocon
Remy Ocón

Initial research through Remy Ocón’s pilot study on women’s experiences in evangelical churches in El Salvador found that many of the women said they had experienced inequality, lack of access to leadership roles, conflict in male/female relationships and the use of biblical interpretations to support violence towards women.  

The interdenominational nature of MUC El Salvador, the IFES national movement, provides an opportunity to promote frank dialogue between the Bible and gender studies. Remy’s project provided a formative process and practical tools to train students, professionals and church members to be able to understand and respond to the challenges of gender-based violence in El Salvador from a Christian perspective.  

She extended her 2021 pilot project research into a full study. This informed the development of a manual that brought together perspectives from social sciences and the bible. It was disseminated through workshops for students, a podcast and printed materials.  

 – Remy Ocón is a sociology student at the University of El Salvador (UES), the only public university in the country. 

Watch a 2-minute video about Remy’s project from 2022:

Theology and the arts research program in Brazil

Our perception of God and reality impacts how we relate to the world and how we represent it through artistic expression. The biblical narrative arc of creation, fall and redemption is the lens through which Christians see the world. 

Photo of Marcio Lima
Marcio Lima

Looking at this biblical narrative through the arts, and vice versa, is a way in which we can understand more about God, the world and what it means to be human. For theologian David Taylor, “the arts lead us to an intentional and intense participation in the physical, emotional, and imaginative aspect of our humanity.”  

Marcio Lima’s project was a theology and the arts research program for Christian students who are involved with ABUB Brazil, the IFES national movement. It promoted the production of new research and meaningful artistic productions that are related to the biblical narrative. The program consisted of a Fundamentals Course, followed by a public call for research/artistic production proposals, of which three received funding, mentoring and academic support. 

– Marcio Lima is a Professor of Architecture and Urban Planning at the University of São Paulo in Brazil. 

Watch a 2-minute video about Marcio’s project from 2022:

Art and Word in Ecuador

Most of the students in CECE Ecuador, the IFES national movement, understand that there is a symbiotic relationship between art and the Christian faith. The movement has held events on this topic for the last five years. However, many students lack the theological and theoretical elements to represent this relationship in a rich and concrete way. In the aftermath of the global pandemic, there is also a need to help students connect with each other in new ways. 

Photo of Isabela Pineda
Isabela Pineda

Isabela Pineda’s project had three axes: theology, aesthetics and artistic production in community. She developed and delivered a free, digital learning module on the dialogue between art and theology in the Latin American context, and students contributed to its production.  

The module was launched with two special events on a local university campus: an academic conversation in which panelists discussed themes from the module, such as art, imagination and decolonization; and an exhibition of eight works of art, each produced by a student under the mentorship of a volunteer artist from CECE. 

— Isabela Pineda is an architecture student at the Pontifical Catholic University of Ecuador. 

Watch a 2-minute video about Isabela’s project from 2022:

Footnotes:

2 Global Peace Index Report (2021), produced by the Institute for Economics and Peace: https://www.economicsandpeace.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/06/GPI-2021-web.pdf