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. 

New video: What does integrating faith and academia look like?  

Watch our new video and discover how the Logos and Cosmos Initiative is equipping students and scholars to live out the good news of Jesus by integrating their faith with their academic discipline. Hear the perspectives of Catalysts who are leading theology and the sciences projects, LCI staff and IFES General Secretary Tim Adams.   

“Catch a glimpse of our Catalysts’ passion and energy by watching our new five-minute video,” says Professor Ross McKenzie, Leader of the LCI. “The stories featured remind us of the LCI’s core mission: equipping students and young academics to connect the Word to their worlds. I pray that you will be encouraged and challenged by it.” 

For resources and ideas on how to integrate your faith and your academic discipline, visit the LCI Get Involved webpage or the IFES Engaging the University webpage.  

Latest news: healing trauma in the DRC, connecting Christian academics in Brazil 

After months of diligent preparations, many of our Catalysts’ plans came to fruition recently in the form of workshops, conferences and courses. Through these events, Catalysts invited others from their university community and IFES national movement to join them in exploring how theology and the sciences can be brought together to understand and address pertinent challenges in their context. 

In the war-torn Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Sarah Obotela organized a one-day conference to raise awareness of the impact of conflict-related trauma on student mental health. 

“If we are not able to put an end to the war that the DRC has experienced for many years, let us at least take care of those who suffer the negative effects of the war,” she says.

Sarah is a Catalyst who is a sociology graduate student and staff member with GBU, the national movement in the DRC. 

The DRC has experienced decades of conflict and violence since it gained independence from Belgium in 1960. Today, fighting continues among more than 100 armed groups in the east where United Nations forces are struggling to keep the peace. Many citizens have migrated to more stable areas of the country but are left with the scars of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). 

In September, more than 40 students attended Sarah’s conference, held at the University of Kisangani. Participants heard from experts in theology, psychology and sociology. The event prompted some students to recognize and begin to explore the impact of trauma in their lives.  

“We want to help students affected by war to regain good mental health and to reintegrate into society by offering psychosocial and pastoral accompaniment in order to solve their problems of trauma,” Sarah shares.  

After the conference, Sarah and a team of volunteers from her IFES national movement followed up with participants who identified as having conflict-related trauma. They visited each of them personally, accompanied by psychologists and pastors, and invited them to a workshop where they could be supported further.  

“These visits allowed us to build relationships and gain their trust,” Sarah explains. “This project has been a beautiful adventure for me because it has allowed me to get in touch with vulnerable, wounded people, to listen to them, exchange with them, cry with them, and to feel and share the pain of their hearts. I have come to understand that my real mission is to be with these desperate people who need to see Christ in us.” 

Sarah feels like she’s found her calling but leading this project has also been a growth experience for her.  

“Sometimes it has taken individuals a while to recognize their trauma and to open up,” she explains. “This has taught me patience (one of the fruits of the spirit found in Galatians 5:22). But with patience, love and hope, along with the strategies I learned through my social work research, I’ve been able to earn their trust and win their hearts.” 

Earlier in her project, Sarah conducted interviews and surveys, and she is now developing the results into a scientific journal article. Her findings are expected to help the national movement in the DRC to minister to students in a more holistic way. 

Brazil: An answer to one professor’s prayer 

In Brazil, Catalyst Deborah Vieira organized a three-day “Colaboratório” (conference) on science and theology dialogue, which attracted 150 students and researchers connected with ABUB, the IFES national movement. Some participants attended online but many travelled from across this vast country to the city of Itajubá, where the event was held at a public university.  

Through workshops and reflections, the gathered scholars explored the intellectual virtues of doubt, curiosity and questioning. More than 30 researchers shared 5-minute presentations about their research, which was an opportunity to foster interdisciplinary connections and explore how to build bridges between one’s faith and academic discipline. 

On the final day, Deborah convened a working group to launch a network of Christian researchers connected with ABUB. Through brainstorming sessions, they defined goals for the network. These include developing a welcoming support network for researchers who want to live out Kingdom principles in their academic careers and to work collaboratively rather than competitively (as is often the case in academia). Through this, the network will encourage Christian scholars to be witnesses of Jesus at their universities and to create bridges between the knowledge generated at the university and the church.

Deborah was encouraged by the enthusiasm of those who attended and relayed the story of one professor who came away with renewed hope and ideas. 

“After the Colaboratório was over, a linguistics professor shared with me her desire to continue participating in the researchers’ network,” reports Deborah. “She told me that she has had a sticky note on her computer for some time with a prayer on it, asking God to give her ways to connect her work and her faith in community, because she was tired of being alone. And she said that the Colaboratório was an answer to this prayer.” 

Josué Penteado, a member of ABUB’s executive board who supervises Deborah’s project, also attended the Colaboratório. He says that building a network of researchers is something the movement has been dreaming about for some time now.  

“Deborah’s project is an excellent opportunity to put this idea into practice,” Josué says “Although this is only the beginning of our network of researchers, I believe that many fruits of this initiative will already be harvested. Over the coming months, we pledge to help Deborah organize the researchers’ network council.”  

Elsewhere across the LCI’s two regions, Venuz from Guatemala held a workshop about creation care and Catalysts Nina, Eustache and Geneviève hosted a mental health conference in Côte d’Ivoire.  

Creation care workshop
Mental health conference

Visit our projects webpages for short summaries of all our current projects. 

Transitioning to Year 4 

From February 1 – 28, we are accepting applications for a new cohort of Catalysts for the fourth and final year of our program, which will run from April 2024 – March 2025. Applicants from Latin America may apply on the portal on this webpage. Applicants from Francophone Africa will apply directly to the regional team.   

Meanwhile, many of our current Catalysts will be applying for LCI funding to either start their very first theology and the science project or to scale up and develop their existing project.  

What’s next after the Templeton grant? 

As we approach the final year of the LCI’s five-year funding, generously provided by the John Templeton Foundation, IFES leaders are currently discerning how to build on the momentum that the LCI has achieved in two IFES regions. They are exploring how the benefits of the LCI might be extended to other IFES regions. Stay tuned for further updates on what’s next.    

Please pray with us:  

  • Thank God for the many successful events that have invited students and scholars to engage more deeply with the relationship between their faith, academic discipline and the needs of their societies. 
  • Pray for discernment for IFES leaders as they decide how to continue helping students and scholars to integrate theology and the sciences for the glory of God. 
  • Please continue to pray that Catalysts would be able to overcome the political, practical and security challenges that come their way so that they may finish their projects well and achieve their intended goals by the end of March. 
  • Pray for wisdom for all the Catalysts who will be submitting project proposals in March. 

Latest news: tackling food insecurity, GEARING UP for CAMPUS events

Photo of Liliane Alcântara Araújo
Liliane Alcântara Araújo

Year Three is well underway, and Catalysts are forging ahead with their theology and the sciences projects.

In July, Brazilian Catalyst Liliane Alcântara Araújo led a workshop about faith and food security at her national movement’s regional holiday course. She was energized by the positive response from the 30 students and professionals who attended.  

“It was encouraging to see people from different backgrounds showing an interest in the intersection between food and nutrition security and faith,” Liliane says. “They asked a lot of questions and were very curious to know more about it.” 

The workshop (see right) was just the first step in her project. Liliane is now preparing to lead a four-month-long mentoring program in which she will guide selected students through theoretical foundations, Bible studies and the development of project proposals that respond biblically to the problem of food and nutrition security in their own contexts. Brazil is one of the world’s leading agricultural producers, but income inequality and the high inflation of food prices means that food insecurity has plagued millions of poor Brazilians, causing suffering and loss of life. 

Photo of workshop in Brazil
Liliane’s workshop

In the Democratic Republic of Congo, Johnny Ngunza, is taking the university out into rural communities. He is mobilizing students from his national movement and community members to provide agronomy training to residents. The training will help residents develop small gardens outside their homes that will increase the quality and quantity of their food supply.  This is crucial in the DRC’s insecure environment where fighting continues, and it is often not safe for residents to travel to their fields far from their homes.    

Demonstration gardens have already been planted in two villages; 150 households have been selected to participate in the project; and GBU staff have been trained and have selected student volunteers. One important aspect has been the cultural sensitivity with which they have initiated the project.  

Photo of residents receiving gardening supplies
Residents receiving supplies
Photo of a gardening demonstration plot in the DRC
Demonstration plot

“To train the target households, we selected local facilitators who serve as our interface with the local communities,” Johnny explains. “These are people such as teachers and local intellectuals who live in the villages, who speak the local language perfectly and who act as ‘transmitters’ during the training sessions. At the residents’ request, the work in our demonstration gardens is being monitored by local agronomists who live in the villages. We also made a point of contacting the traditional authorities to explain our vision for the communities.” 

While some Catalysts have already held events and activities, others have spent the last few months building the spiritual and scientific foundations of their projects, for example by conducting research, planning events, developing partnerships and taking training courses. All of this has helped them gear up for the coming months when their plans will come to fruition in the form of workshops, conferences, courses and mentoring schemes, as well as the development of scholarly articles. 

In Senegal for example, economist Dr Albertine Bayompe Kabou has taken a course in entrepreneurial mindset and transformational leadership that will equip her to coach a group of students in entrepreneurship as part of her project. She has also developed a partnership with a local NGO that will help the students in her project develop business plans that will turn their ideas into reality.  

Meanwhile, the new cohort of Catalysts that are progressing through the LCI’s training and development year have been busy conducting pilot projects in preparation for the full theology and the sciences projects that they may lead next year.  

Remember to check out our projects webpages for short summaries of all our current projects. 

Please pray with us: 

  • Pray for peace and stability in Catalysts’ countries and universities. A number of Catalysts’ universities have been closed recently due to political unrest.   
  • Pray for Catalysts’ projects, many of which have large events in the coming months, that they will transform students, universities, national movements and societies for the glory of Christ. 
  • Pray for wisdom for the Tier One Catalysts as they plan their projects for next year. 

Latest news: Project showcases and preparing for Year 3

In January, the Logos and Cosmos Initiative’s project showcases were a wonderful opportunity for friends and supporters to meet LCI Catalysts, ask questions and hear about the theology and the sciences projects that they have been working on for the past year. We were delighted to welcome approximately 100 people at each of these two regional online galas. The centerpiece of each showcase were the Catalysts’ project presentations, which brought their projects to life through live progress updates, photos, graphics and quotes. If you weren’t able to join us, you can watch the project videos that were shared at the events on our YouTube channel and you can see many of the photos shared at the event on our project snapshots photo gallery.

A screengrab from the Latin America gala held on zoom
Latin America Showcase

Deborah Vieira, for example, spoke honestly about the highs and lows of Emmaus, the theology and the sciences mentoring network that she has established in Brazil. She shared encouraging feedback from one of the participants: Bruna Gonçalves, a physiotherapy student, who has been mentored by Rafaela Roberto Dutra, a professional physiotherapist.  

“This project has been wonderful, I already knew it would be good, but it has surprised me positively,” Bruna said. “The studies are very deep and apply perfectly to what we have been experiencing in our daily lives. Rafaela is an excellent mentor. She always has wise words and is provocative and encouraging as well.” 

Deborah’s mentoring program links undergraduate students with mentors who are further ahead in their academic careers. She has trained the mentors and designed a curriculum based on what she learned last year at the LCI.  

A screengrab of Deborah Vieira presenting a slide at the Gala about her project

“It isn’t always an easy journey,” Deborah said. “We had some challenges because of the context of students nowadays: their schedules, the pressures of time, the impact of the pandemic and hybrid learning. Students are very tired and they don’t want to be in front of a screen anymore, so we are trying to provide alternative methods. And for some students, the articles and books we provided were too heavy. They couldn’t keep up so we have to rethink some of the material we will be using.” 

But as Dr Ross McKenzie, Leader of the LCI, pointed out in his address to the showcase events in both of our regions, experimentation, testing and revising is a natural part of the LCI projects.  

“We believe that the most effective learning and training happens when done in conjunction with doing,” said Ross. “Projects provide a means for Catalysts to apply what they are learning in their own contexts. The world is complex and producing positive change requires creativity, insight, experimentation, learning, and adapting. Projects provide a means to find out what works or does not work in specific contexts. This will help decide what projects might be scaled up to a national or regional initiative.” 

In the Francophone Africa event, Onesphore Hakizimana, a graduate student in animal sciences at the University of Rwanda, discussed his project titled Seeing God through animal sciences. 

“After being equipped at the LCI, I wanted to help other students in my field understand how to use animal sciences to answer big questions,” said Onesphore. “And I want to help them understand that the purpose of our academic studies is not just to get good marks or earn a degree but to learn about the wisdom of God through his creation.” 

Onesphore has designed and led a series of monthly Bible studies and debates at his university. In one Bible study, students studied the role of animals and human responsibility in Genesis 1:28. In another, they looked at the prophet Ezekiel’s inaugural vision (Ezekiel 1) and saw how important animals are in the sight of God. They also studied Genesis 2 and considered Adam’s role as “the first veterinarian” and creator of the first taxonomy of animals. 

Photo of students sitting around a table studying the bible
One of Onesphore’s Bible study groups

Each regional showcase also featured special guests who shared their wisdom and reflections on the relationship between theology and the sciences.  

At the Latin America showcase, Argentinian Catalyst Lorena Brondani interviewed Dr Paul Freston, Professor of Religion and Culture at Wilfred Laurier University in Canada and former professor of sociology at the Universidade Federal de São Carlos, Brazil. Dr Freston is a native of England and a graduate of Cambridge University. He is also a naturalized Brazilian, has lived and worked in Brazilian universities for many years and has been involved with the Brazilian IFES national movement.  

A screengrab of Lorena Brondani interviewing Paul Freston on zoom

Dr Freston shared pearls of wisdom for the young Christian academics who were gathered at the event. Reflecting on his long career, he discussed how he sought to integrate his academic work with his Christian faith:  

“I thought it was important to ‘walk with both legs’, for example by reading both Christian and non-Christian books and resources,” he said. “If we want to be a bridge between academia and faith then we need to make sure that both sides of the river on either side of the bridge are flowing at the same level in order to make the river flow. Many people don’t grow in both their knowledge of their academic discipline and their Christian faith, and some don’t develop a knowledge of faith that goes beyond Sunday school level. We must have a healthy combination of both. We must go forward in both areas.” 

A screengrab of attendees' faces at the Francophone Africa gala
Francophone Africa showcase

At the Francophone Africa showcase, Dr Klaingar Ngarial, Regional Secretary for this IFES region, spoke on the topic, The African University: From liberation to spirituality. Dr Ngarial discussed the need for African universities to be liberated from the grip of western models of training as well as the important role of the university as a place of spiritual liberation and transformation. 

He discussed Jesus’ mission of liberation (Luke 4: 18 – 19), the promise that “creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay” (Romans 8:21), and the command for Christians to “go home to your own people and tell them how much the Lord has done for you” (Mark 5:18-20).  

Reflecting on these scriptures, Dr Ngarial said:

“I suggest we see in the liberation by the Messiah a cosmic liberation, universal and therefore integrated into the university. Christ sends us back to promote this freedom in our universities. Through us, the Christian faith must come and inhabit the disciplinary spaces of our African universities to contribute to the liberation of these universities. To say it another way means that theologically we must know how to ‘speak God’ in and through our academic disciplines.” 

Preparing to scale up for Year 3 

Photo of the LCI Francophone Africa staff team
Francophone Africa staff team meeting in Benin

We are facing a number of transitions as the third year of the LCI program begins in April. Many of our Tier Two Catalysts who have completed projects this year have submitted proposals to continue their projects next year. Those who are selected to advance to Tier Three will have the opportunity to scale up their projects for an even greater impact at the regional and national level, and we are excited to see how some Catalysts will be forming teams to work together on these larger-scale projects. 

Meanwhile, our current cohort of Tier One Catalysts are finishing the final stages of the LCI’s training and development year. This month, many of them will be submitting projects for consideration for funding and implement from April onwards. At the same time, we are looking forward to welcoming a fresh cohort of Catalysts into Tier One in April.  

Please pray with us: 

  • Thank God for all the positive impact that our Catalysts’ projects have had on students, researchers, staff workers and members of the university.  
  • Pray for wisdom for the Catalysts and good partnerships as they plan projects that they will implement next year.  
  • Pray for wisdom for the selection committees as they decide which of the current Catalysts will advance to Tier Two and Three of the program, and review applications for our incoming third cohort, which starts in April. 

Projects video gallery: 3 minutes with a Catalyst 

What does Christianity have to do with erosion? What does the Bible have to say about the development of life-saving technologies? How can student mental health be approached from both a biblical and social science perspective? These are just a few of the issues and questions that Logos and Cosmos Initiative Catalysts are tackling in their theology and the sciences projects.

Watch the 3-minute videos below to hear four of our Catalysts discussing the projects that they are leading in their universities in partnership with their IFES national movements.  

Click the images below to watch each video. English subtitles are provided. If you click on the YouTube logo at the bottom of each video you can watch the video in full screen on our YouTube channel where you will find an English transcript beneath the video.  

Erosion in DRC:  

Johnny Ngunza’s project 

Climate change in Guatemala:  

Johnny Patal’s project 

Mental health in Côte d’Ivoire:  

Nina Ble Toualy’s project 

Vaccines, values and truths in Brazil: 

Prisciliana Jesus de Oliveira’s project 

We currently have 18 Catalysts who are leading theology and the sciences projects. Read about all of them on our projects webpages. 

Catalyst Perspectives: how art can speak to us about God, the world and ourselves 

In this Catalyst Perspectives blogpost, architecture professor Marcio Lima discusses how art can help reveal the mysteries of God, the human condition and its meaning. He also shares how his LCI project will nurture Christian students in Brazil to be agents of God’s kingdom through their research and artistic production.  

“But even before I learned to read, I remember first being moved to devotional feeling at eight years old. My mother took me alone to mass … on the Monday before Easter. It was a fine day, and I remember today, as though I saw it now, how the incense rose from the censer and softly floated upwards and, overhead in the cupola, mingled in rising waves with the sunlight that streamed in at the little window. I was stirred by the sight, and for the first time in my life I consciously received the seed of God’s word in my heart.”

— Father Zossima in The Brothers Karamázov, Fyodor Dostoevsky (1880)  

Can the arts reveal something about God, or the world or ourselves in a unique way? This is a question that has challenged me for some time. It seems to me that Russian author Dostoevsky answers this question in the affirmative. The excerpt above is a line from Father Zóssima, a character who is a spiritual guide in Dostoevsky’s book The Brothers Karamázov. The quote shows how the architecture, the light, and the dance of the incense smoke rising to the dome of the church were significant to the character’s religious experience.  

I share Dostoevsky’s view that the arts can contribute to an expansion of our knowledge of the world and of God, not necessarily through cognitive means, but through affective (emotional) ones.  

This is why I proposed a project for the Logos and Cosmos Initiative that explores the relationship between art and theology. I understand art as a profound manifestation of existence. It can speak to us about the world in a more intense way and can function as an instrument of knowledge. Art can make tangible – through the material – the highest attributes of the human spirit. In a sense, art shows human beings what it means to be fully human. 

Photo of a stained glass window in a church
A church in Mexico

My project consists of developing a research program in theology and the arts for students of ABUB Brazil, my IFES national movement. The program includes training, mentoring and research support. It will feature a foundations course focusing on the relationship between the arts and the basic Christian motif of creation, fall, redemption and restoration. After the course, we will have a mentoring program for students to develop a research project related to the arts, architecture and theology. Some students’ research projects may also include the production of artistic works.  

Photo of students listening at a workshop given by Marcio
Marcio’s recent workshop

In the meantime, as part of my project, I recently had the opportunity to lead a workshop (see left) for the ABUB national congress, where students explored the theme of art, justice and the kingdom of God.  

My whole LCI project is connected with the formation I received through the IFES community of students. 

Since I was a university student, this formation challenged me to try to relate my faith to my academic training in architecture. When I understood that being a Christian impacts all areas of life, I sought to develop theological and practical connections between my faith and worldview and my discipline.   

During my master’s degree, for example, I chose a topic that allowed me to discuss architecture from a human and transcendent point of view, looking for points of contact between these two subjects. When I was introduced to the Logos and Cosmos Initiative, I saw the opportunity to further develop these relationships and connect with a community of researchers who also have this commitment from their disciplines. It was an opportunity to continue the formation I received as a student, where I had already learned how our lives should not be dichotomous, but integrated by the knowledge and reality of God. 

However, this was all in sharp contrast to my Christian upbringing in a Pentecostal evangelical church. I grew up in an environment where we were presented with a gospel in which the secular (or material) life and the spiritual life were separated and didn’t need to be connected. It was like that dualistic vision, more Platonist than Christian, between the material world and the spiritual world, between the body and the soul. Although there was no opposition to science or to academic study, these areas were treated as secular aspects of life that had almost nothing to do with the spiritual life.  

At the Logos and Cosmos Initiative, myself and my fellow Catalysts are developing quite the opposite mindset: the understanding that there is no secular life and religious life.

The reality of God permeates the entire cosmos, all our life in its various manifestations. We are integrated beings. What fragments us is sin, provoking a dualistic vision that has damaged the way in which Christians relate, or even fail to relate, to science and the university. 

This integral vision even rejects a purely rationalistic reading of the human being. When we consider the wholeness of the human being, which in an Augustinian vision displaces the center of gravity of human identity from the brain to the Kardia (the Greek word for the heart and guts – the seat of our emotions), we recognize the importance of the arts in this process of understanding reality. The ability of art to disrupt the fabric of reality reveals to us more of the mystery of the human condition, as well as its meaning. 

This integral understanding of the human being that the Christian faith points to informs my work as an architect and academic.  

First, I can point to social injustices, in Brazil and also in Latin America where we see a large number of people who are homeless or live in substandard housing, without health or structural stability. In this sense, my work focuses on stimulating and sensitizing students about the need to get involved in low-income housing projects, in the improvement of degraded areas, in providing decent spaces for human existence, not only in terms of structure and sanitation but also from an existential and human point of view.  

The second aspect, to which I have dedicated myself more in recent years, is to understand architecture and the arts as a manifestation of what the human being is in all its depth. Our goal is to understand how the existence and essence of the human being is manifested through artistic languages and how they can be privileged means to understand the mystery of life.  

Photo of Catalyst Marcio Lima
Marcio Lima

Therefore, it is our duty as Christian scholars to seek these interfaces and show that the Christian worldview has much to contribute to the world, such as the development of a broader anthropology of the human being. We are challenged to see our work as scholars as part of God’s action for the renewal of the world, as agents of God’s Kingdom.  

My goal for my LCI project is for students to understand how the arts are part of our lives, and how the arts can reflect what restored relationships look like, both with God, creation and between humans. The arts are part of our reality as human beings made up of body, soul, reason, and emotion.  

Finally, my hope and prayer is that this project will contribute to the formation of students who are artists. My project’s goal is not that these Christian artists only make Christian-themed art to nurture their faith, but that – above all – they understand their role as artists who have faith and produce art for the good of the world. Not a production created as a sub-culture or enclave, but art created for the life of the world. As Christian philosopher James K. Smith1 puts it: 

“…not art that simply augments piety, but art whose infusion of faith invites a wider world to imagine why it is possible to believe – art that invites any and all human beings to confront the vortexes of hunger and longing we call ‘soul’ (…) I am fascinated and inspired by those writers and sculptors whose God-possessed imaginations create works that capture both their neighbors and their fellow pilgrims.” 

— Christian Philosopher James K. Smith

Those of us who are artists, architects, and writers are invited to give the reason for the hope that is in us (1 Peter 3:15), in an imaginative, creative, and poetic way. This is our challenge! 

Marcio Lima is a professor of architecture and urban planning, and is also studying for a PhD in modern religious architecture University of São Paulo in Brazil. He has been involved in ABUB Brazil for the past 10 years, first as a student and now as a volunteer staff worker.

Find out more:

  • Follow Marcio’s project’s progress on his personal blog 
  • Read about all 18 of our Catalysts’ projects on our project webpages 
  • Watch a 2-minute video of Marcio discussing his project (video is in Spanish but an English transcript provided) 
  • Listen to the recent Voices of IFES podcast in which Marcio was interviewed about his project and his experience as a Catalyst. Video and audio is in Spanish but an English transcript is provided. 

ENDNOTES

1Smith, James K. “For the Good of the World” on Monergismo.com

Arts, architecture and theology: hear more from Catalyst Marcio Lima 

The Logos and Cosmos Initiative’s Tier Two Catalysts have started running projects in their universities that spark curiosity and wonder about theology and the sciences.  

Catalyst Marcio Lima is a Professor of Architecture and Urban Planning at the University of São Paulo in Brazil. He is developing a theology and the arts research program for Christian students who are involved with ABUB Brazil, the IFES national movement.  

As Christians, the narrative arc of creation, fall and redemption is the lens through which we see the world. Marcio’s project explores such questions as: What if we looked at this biblical narrative through the arts and vice versa? Would we understand more about God, the world and what it means to be human? Find out more in Marcio’s 2-minute long video below.  

At the Logos and Cosmos Initiative, we talk a lot about “theology and the sciences.” It is no accident that we use the plural term, “sciences.” We use this term to mean a range of academic disciplines, including not only the natural sciences but also the social sciences and the arts. Our Tier Two Catalysts, who are currently running inspiring projects, are from a diverse range of 13 different academic backgrounds. 

Marcio’s video is in Spanish with English subtitles. An English transcript can be found below. 

English-language transcript of Marcio’s video: 

Hi! I’m Marcio Lima. I live in São Paulo, Brazil. I am an architect and professor of architecture. I am one of the catalysts of the Logos and Cosmos Initiative. The goal of my project is developing a research program in theology and arts for university students.  

What led me to work on this topic was the need to explore the relationship between the artistic language and the religious experience. We start from the assumption that the arts lead us to relate in an intentional and intense way with the physical, emotional, and imaginative characteristics of a human. They enable us to get involved in activities which create meaning and thus contribute to integrally shape the human being. That is the reason we ask ourselves: do the visual arts and architecture reveal in a unique way something about the knowledge of God or about the world or about ourselves?  

From this perspective, and knowing that the answer to this question is positive, the proposed project seeks to explore how the arts contribute to the expression of what we know about the world and about God. Our hope is to prepare students to establish connections and promote dialogue within the academic world about the existing relationship between the arts and faith.  

I am currently drafting the theoretical basis of the course to be offered in September. After the course, we will have a mentoring program for students. They will have to develop a research project related to arts, architecture, and theology. We believe that the project will have a positive impact by opening a more poetic way of understanding faith and reality and increasing meaningful artistic productions, since our vision of God and reality transforms the way we see and act in the world. Thank you very much! 

Seeds of transformation: LCI featured on podcast 

Brazilian Catalyst Marcio Lima and the LCI’s Latin America co-coordinator Alejandra Ortiz were recently interviewed for a Voices of IFES podcast episode all about the Logos and Cosmos Initiative. It was a Spanish-language episode but read on for the English transcript. 

During the conversation, Marcio shares about both his career path and spiritual journey, and how his faith nourishes his academic work and vice versa. Marcio is a Professor of Architecture and Urban Planning at the University of Sao Paulo. You can also learn about his LCI project: a theology and the arts research and mentoring project for students from his IFES national movement. 

Alejandra, Co-Coordinator for the LCI in Latin America, explains more about LCI’s vision, how the program is strengthening IFES national movements and what’s on the horizon. We are grateful to Jorge “Toto” Bermudez, General Secretary of CBUU Uruguay and Regional Communications Coordinator, for hosting this episode.  

Listen to this episode of the Voices of IFES podcast wherever you usually get your podcasts. For example, it can be found here on Spotify. 

Watch the video of the podcast recording below (video is in Spanish with English subtitles). 

Read the English transcript of the podcast below. 

English-language transcript of the Voices of IFES podcast episode about the LCI: 

Toto: Welcome to Voices of IFES. I am Jorge “Toto” Bermudez. Today I will be the host. I serve as general secretary of the movement in Uruguay, Comunidad Bíblica Universitaria, and I also coordinate Communications for the IFES Latin America regional team.  

Today we are joined by Alejandra Ortiz and Marcio Lima Junior. Both are part of the Logos and Cosmos Initiative. Ale is the Co-Coordinator of the Logos and Cosmos Initiative in Latin America, and Marcio is a Catalyst at the LCI and a professor of architecture and urban planning. 

Welcome, Ale, Marcio. Thank you for joining us on Voices of IFES. We wanted to have you on the podcast to talk about the Logos and Cosmos Initiative, which is one of the ministries of IFES, and which is quite recent. 

Ale, Marcio… Could you please introduce yourselves quickly? Then we will have more time to go deeper with each of you. Ale? 

Ale: Of course. It’s a pleasure to be here with you…  

My name is Alejandra Ortiz. I live in Tijuana, Mexico. I serve with COMPA part-time, the national movement here in Mexico, and with the LCI as co-coordinator. I am married to Abdiel and have two girls. 

Toto: Thank you very much Ale. Marcio? 

Marcio: Hello everyone. It’s a pleasure to be with you. I am Marcio. I live in Sao Paulo, Brazil. I am an architect, professor of architecture, and I am earning a doctorate in History and the Foundations of Architecture. I also participated as a student of the national movement University Bible Alliance of Brazil (ABUB) and… I am a volunteer advisor. 

Toto: Great. Thank you very much for joining us today. We are going to have a really interesting talk, getting to know each other a little bit more, and especially about the LCI. So… Ale, you are a member of the Logos and Cosmos Initiative team, can you tell us a little bit more about this initiative? And why was it created? 

Ale: Sure, yes, gladly.

The Logos and Cosmos Initiative equips young Christian academics from the national IFES movements to carry out projects that awaken and provoke wonder in both the sciences and theology and the relationship between the sciences and theology.

Then, through the LCI, we offer Catalyst training, mentoring, funding also for their own personal formation and to lead initiatives at the university and in collaboration with the national IFES movements. The Logos and Cosmos Initiative is largely funded by the John Templeton Foundation, which provided the funding for five years of this initiative in Latin America and French-speaking Africa.  

Toto: How nice! 

Ale: Well, the projects that are being developed bring together theological and scientific perspectives to address challenges, well, very pressing challenges that we have like… mental health, poverty, climate change, this dissociation that exists between academic disciplines and Christian faith within universities and movements, and it’s the Catalysts that are carrying out these projects.  

Toto: How interesting, how necessary it sounds for our context here in Latin America! Now… You have mentioned Catalysts more than once. Who are these Catalysts? 

Ale: Yes, yes, yes, yes. “Catalysts” is the name we use to designate the people who participate, that is, those who have applied to a year of the initiative and have been selected to be part of a cohort.

We call our participants Catalysts because we believe that they are key people who are producing changes in thinking about science and faith within their movements, their universities… And also, generating seeds of transformation for good processes in our mission contexts.

Toto: Yes… Very appropriate, very appropriate. And… Speaking of Catalysts… Marcio, you are one of those Catalysts! Can you share with us what led you to participate in the Logos and Cosmos Initiative? 

Marcio: Yes, of course. I am a Catalyst. I heard about the LCI through the national movement, and when I saw this opportunity to further develop knowledge about science and theology, I said to myself that it would be very interesting, very nice all this, because I knew something from the national movement, from the student community, but I saw this opportunity to further develop these issues within the university.  

Toto: That’s good! That’s great. And tell me Marcio, in this last year participating in the Logos and Cosmos Initiative, how has it been for you? Is there anything that impacted you in a special way? 

Marcio: Yes, of course.

The first year was a very good experience. The intellectual formation we received allowed us to be introduced to different authors, to explore the dimensions of science and theology. To learn how these two areas need not be opposed and disconnected. Because we understand that the reality of God impacts all things and Christ is reconciling all these things to himself. 

Toto: Uh-huh. 

Marcio: So, we understand that as Christian academics we have to look for these interfaces, to show that our worldview has a lot to contribute to the world… And I think one thing that impacted me a lot is from the point of view of developing a broader anthropology of the human being. 

Toto: Aha. 

Marcio: And another aspect that was very striking to me. The care of the program in developing a Christian life and a wise spirituality, since we are not only a brain, but a complete being that has feelings, and we were created to relate with God. So, the program encouraged us to listen to God’s voice to guide us on this path of research, work and personal relationships. We were also challenged to see our work as scholars as part of God’s action for the renewal of the world and as agents of God’s kingdom and participants in its history. In this sense, I am reminded of a class offered to us by Professor Sarah Williams, which dealt with the dimension of spirituality in academic work, and it was very impactful! 

Toto: How interesting, isn’t it? This question of academic life as work, but the academic as a spiritual person, also needing to cultivate his spirituality. How nice to be able to think about the development and challenges of both! This question throughout your life, right? Thinking about the space where you grew up, in the church… Also, in the space where you were formed, Marcio, in the university and even in the student ministry, the concepts about science, academia, and about religion, about faith and how they were linked, not always, I imagine, went in the same direction as the way they are working in the Logos and Cosmos Initiative. Have you noticed any difference, in that sense, in what you had heard in your formative years and the proposal of the Logos and Cosmos Initiative?  

Marcio: Yes, I think I can speak from two points of view. One from the formation in the national movement. I see the Logos and Cosmos program as a continuation of my formation within the evangelical student community, right? Because I already knew how our life should not be dichotomous, but that we should integrate everything as knowledge and reality of God. However, in my religious upbringing, as a child, I grew up in an environment where there was a distinction between secular or material life and spiritual life. We were presented with a gospel in which these two dimensions of human life are separated and where these two spheres need no connection with each other. It was like this dualistic view, more Platonic than Christian really, between the material world and the spiritual world, between the body and the soul.

In my religious upbringing, although there was no opposition to science, to academic study, faith and science were treated as two distinct areas, one of secular life and one of spiritual life. However… What we are developing in the Logos and Cosmos program is quite the opposite, it is the understanding that there is no secular life and a religious life. The reality of God permeates the whole cosmos, our whole life in its various manifestations. Since we are indivisible, it is sin that fragments us. Therefore, we do not need to have a dualistic vision, but a holistic vision, connected to this reality between science and university. 

Toto: How reassuring I imagine it is for academics, for those of us who develop the intellectual life, to be able to think about our lives in this way, in a holistic way! It is liberating, it is hopeful because it also makes us think of all the things that God can redeem in us and through us. As you were saying before, Marcio, you are a professor of architecture, of urban planning. You are doing a doctorate in history and fundamentals of architecture and urbanism at the prestigious University of Sao Paulo. What is it that led you to train in this area? 

Marcio: Yes… I think it is a sense of vocation, and… Before studying architecture and entering the university, I had a previous training in pedagogy. So, when I entered the university to study architecture, I also intended to dedicate myself to teaching. That became clearer to me, when I came to understand that God distributes gifts and talents so that we can serve the Kingdom and people. Based on this, I understood that this would be my way of acting, considering my personal inclinations, my academic background… It is an opportunity to serve the kingdom of God and people. 

Toto: That’s good, that’s good! Because at times we may have some tensions that are not necessary, don’t we?  
When the Lord really wants to strengthen that for which we feel a vocation, for which we have an inclination and that which really makes us feel fulfilled also in the development of our work and our intellectual work. Now Marcio… Thinking of you as a professor in your field, I am interested in knowing a little more, that you go a little deeper in this that has already been mentioned, in how your faith nourishes your work and also now, vice versa, how academic work can nourish faith.  

I guess… Not everything is a garden of roses. In some moments tensions appear, conflicts appear, what are those tensions, those conflicts that you have had as a Christian in your context? 

Marcio: Yes… Of course, it’s never a [rose] garden [a piece of cake]. But we keep cultivating this garden so that things can be seen. But… I think I can speak in two different ways. I see faith as shaping my work as a teacher and as a scholar.  

The first is related to social injustices. In Brazil and in Latin America we see a large number of people who have no house to live in or they live in their homes without light or structural stability, for example. In that sense, my work focuses on stimulating and sensitizing students about the need to get involved in, for example, popular housing projects, in the qualification of degraded areas, in providing decent spaces for human existence, not only structures and sanitary facilities but also in the existential and human aspect.  

Just today… I was reading a phrase of a contemporary architect, an Uruguayan, who said that: “some houses do not have a single sign of having been made as a whole, thinking that they could be inhabited by men capable of talking to the stars”. In this sense, the second aspect to which I have dedicated myself most in recent years is to understand architecture and the arts as a manifestation of what the human being is in all its depth. Our goal is to understand how the existence and essence of the human being is manifested through artistic languages and how they can be privileged means to understand the mystery of life. I understand the arts as something that leads us to participate intentionally and intensely in the physical, emotional, and imaginative characteristics of the human being. And I also believe that architecture is a written book and that there is a profound relationship between architecture and worldview, how those who built [those structures] understood the world.

The question I ask myself is whether architecture and other artistic languages can point us in a unique way to knowledge of God or the world or ourselves. Whether these languages can speak to us about these issues. And… the difficulties that I see in the university is that many times this topic of faith is a topic that is thought of as an intimate, private, subjective forum… And that it should not be dealt with in the university. But I see that it is totally the opposite because the university is the environment to ask all the discussions, questions, even questions related to faith and worldviews.  

So… sometimes there is blockage in people, but when you talk in a way that you can understand, that gives you an academic form, it is possible to dialogue. 

Toto: How interesting, thank you very much, Professor Marcio Lima, because we can really see your passion! This way of looking at architecture, one, as someone outside this area would say “the purpose of architecture is to provide us with sustainable housing and little else”. But how much more there is in this approach between architecture and the arts! I loved what you were saying about seeing them as a language and listening to what they can tell us about God, that we can also say through them to our fellow human beings, to other human beings… That we talk about things that have to do with the kingdom of God. What a beautiful vision! We are getting into this Logos and Cosmos Initiative, we are beginning to understand that it is a vision that encompasses the whole university, the way of linking ourselves with the academic work.  

 Ale… I would like you to tell us a little bit more about the current status of the Logos and Cosmos Initiative, what is coming up in the short and medium term. 

Ale: Of course. Look… In March 2022, we started the second year of the Logos and Cosmos Initiative, and in April a new cohort of Catalysts for both level 1 and Catalysts for both level 1 and the Catalysts that advanced to level 2. So now… We are now with Catalysts who are in their first year training and developing a project at this first level, and the Catalysts who are in level 2, in their second year, are carrying out projects that link their own academic discipline with the needs of the national movement. And [they] are in full action, in this second level, second year. And well…  

This year we will also have our first face-to-face meeting, in September, in Chile. A consultation for all the Catalysts of both levels, for the mentors, for those of us who work in the initiative… Very excited to see each other, to learn together, to listen to each other. And well… Again, in February of next year we will be calling for the third year of the initiative, to start again with a cohort and some Catalysts from level 1 and level 2 would advance to the next level if that were the case. 

Toto: Uh-huh. How nice, how nice the prospect of meeting face to face, of being able to embrace, to put body to those faces that one sees in Zoom or in other conference media! But above all to be able to share the table, to be able to continue generating links, friendships! And undoubtedly enhancing, without a doubt, what the different works are, right?  

You mentioned the link between the Catalyst and the national movement because listening to the experience, one could get the idea that this is something developed by some in the academic world, something very separate, right?  

How have the Catalysts been working in this sense with the national student movements of IFES? How can we see the benefit of the Logos and Cosmos initiative for the movements as a whole, beyond the Catalysts? Has there been any experience, any reaction from the national movements in this sense, Ale? 

Ale: Yes. I love your question Toto because… Actually, this has been one of the most important things for us at the moment we have been carrying out the initiative.

From the very inception of the projects, from the moment of thinking about them, we have tried to ensure that the Catalysts are in dialogue with their national movement, with their local movement, in conversation with regional workers, with the general secretary, with student leaders and also trying to see how the Catalyst’s own academic discipline, their own concerns also respond to the needs of the movements, how to enter into dialogue with this.

We have sought that the projects respond to the needs of the national movements, very specifically and in accordance with each national movement…  We have seen very nice things, for example… Some student movements are entering into conversation with things that are happening in the university or even with some authors who talk about issues of interest, based on the initiative of the Catalysts to bring issues to the table! 

Toto: That’s good. 

Ale: One example here, in Central America, is a Catalyst that is working on climate change and care for creation and is going to do this together with the students of their national movement. Also… We are seeing, for example, in Chile, that a network of Christian professors and academics is being generated from the Catalyst’s initiative, and it is something that the national movement itself had wanted to reactivate and had not been able to. So, we are seeing these type of projects and initiatives of the Catalysts that are directly benefiting the national movements.  

An Ecuadorian Catalyst who is developing a training module for her movement on the arts, which is her area, her academic discipline… These are some of the examples of how national movements are benefiting through the LCI. 

Toto: That’s great! That’s great, Ale! Well… And since we have a Catalyst here with us, we will take the opportunity to ask you Marcio: what is the project you are carrying out? Can you tell us a little more about it? 

Marcio: Yes, of course.

My project aims to develop a research program in theology and the arts for students of the national movement. The program consists of training, mentoring and support for the students’ own research. It will then feature a foundation course that will focus on the relationship between the arts and the basic Christian motif of creation, fall and redemption. This is intended to provide further theological, historical, and philosophical foundations to the links we find between the Christian faith and the arts.  

I am now in the final phase of compiling the bibliography, which will allow me to begin the process of writing the theoretical framework of the course that will be offered for the entire movement, for all those interested. After the course, we will have a mentoring program for the students. They will have to develop their own research project in which they will relate arts, architecture and theology. At this moment, I am also preparing a workshop for our national ABUAB congress that will talk about an aesthetics of the eschaton: arts, justice and the kingdom of God. 

Toto: That’s great, that’s great! I thought I understood that this workshop that you will be giving in September will be open to students from the neighbouring country, Uruguay, who would like to participate… But we’ll talk about it later, Marcio. Don’t get nervous, it’s not necessary to clarify it now [laughs Marcio and Ale].  
But how interesting! Are you going to be doing those tutorials yourself, or how will that part of the project implementation be? 

Marcio: Yes, of course, Toto, we can talk… and open this workshop for all Latin America. And yes… We will continue to talk about this. So, yes… I am going to teach this course on the fundamentals, and I am going to do the mentoring. This year the tutoring will be limited because we only have one tutor, which is me… So we have a call for students to submit their projects for me to do an evaluation and those that are selected will get these tutorials with me. 

Toto: That’s good. Marcio, how could we be praying for you, thinking about this project? 

Marcio: I am glad Toto that we are all a community that continues to pray for each other. For this, I ask you to help me in prayer, asking God to give me grace and wisdom to develop this proposed project, and to pray for my health. I need health to continue with all this, with this agenda. 

Toto: Very well. We take note and we will be accompanying you…  
And our friends who are listening, surely also, so that this project may have an impact and be of great blessing for many, without a doubt. And Ale, how can we be praying for you? For the team? For the ministry of Logos and Cosmos? 

Ale: Yes, thanks for the question. Well, for me…. In a particular way, for wisdom and strength and reactivity also, to be co-directing this project with Josué Olmedo here in Latin America… For the beautiful challenge we have, and in particular for life here with two small daughters while I continue working in the ministry… And for the team, well… As I said, we are co-directing this project with Josué, here in Latin America, and also in the executive team are Gustavo Sobarzo in Chile and Jouseth Moya from Ecuador. So, pray for us and for the face-to-face consultation that we are organizing in Chile, in September of this year, for all of us who will be there both as mentors and Catalysts. 

Toto: Very good. We take note and ask the Lord for health, wisdom and grace for Marcio and for wisdom for you and Josué as coordinators of the project in Latin America, for family life, that it may continue to be sustained, for the teamwork, the work in COMPA’s ministry, and of course for Gustavo, for Jouseth, we ask the Lord to strengthen them, to bless them. And in a very special way, we pray for this face-to-face consultation in Chile, which we are sure will be a celebration and a celebration. But, to tell the truth, I am a little envious that I will not be able to be there in September with you. But well… I hope to see photos, videos… and to be able to follow this meeting.  

Hey… One last question for Ale: how can the friends who are listening to us get involved with the work of science and theology that the Logos and Cosmos initiative is doing? 

Ale: Sure. Well look… You can visit our LCI website which is lci.ifesworld.org/en. There you can check our blog, you can click on one of the registration forms also to subscribe to the Maravillas newsletter. And well… In February 2023, we will open another cohort of Catalysts, there will be another selection process stay tuned! And… Finally… Very important also, you can take the “Engaging the University” course that opens now in October because this is one of the requirements, for example, to be able to apply to the LCI next year in 2023.  

Toto: This course is an online course, free of charge, which is on the IFES platform, right? 

Ale: That’s right! This same course that opens in October of this year and that opens every year really.  

Toto: A course that, if you’re not interested in participating and going deeper into the Logos and Cosmos Initiative, it’s worth doing anyway because it’s going to give you a platform or at least help you to start thinking about this how to connect academic life with spirituality, with your area of science and how to serve from there. Thanks for joining us! It was so interesting to hear a little bit more and learn about the Logos and Cosmos Initiative! I hope you have a good idea, or now at this point, a little more information about the Logos and Cosmos Initiative, the people involved, the dreams, the challenges. If you want to be part of it, don’t hesitate to go to the website that Ale told us about: lci.ifesworld.org/es. It is in Spanish, there you will be able to read the blog and also subscribe to the Maravillas newsletter that will update us, four times a year, a little of what is happening. Thank you Ale, thank you Marcio, thank you friends for listening to us! Don’t forget to subscribe to hear more about Voices of IFES and share this episode with anyone you think might be interested in the Logos and Cosmos initiative. God bless you! 

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