Not striving alone: wise counsel sets Catalysts up for success 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Meeting for the very first time 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A highly enabling program 

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

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

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

— Dr Bonnie Jacob, independent review of the LCI

Advocates walk alongside  

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

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

Photo of Professor Valentin Ngouyamsa
Professor Valentin Ngouyamsa

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

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

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

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

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

Always a joint venture 

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

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

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

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

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

Photo of Álvaro Pérez
Álvaro Pérez

Wise counsel program-wide 

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

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

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

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

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

Seeking favour from the gods to find precious stones: watch Isaac’s video 

Projects are at the heart of the Logos and Cosmos Initiative (LCI). We equip young Christian academics to lead projects in their universities that spark curiosity and wonder about theology and the sciences. Many of our Catalysts’ projects tackle pressing issues and challenges in their local and national contexts, such as environmental sustainability, poverty and violence. In Cameroon, geologist and LCI Catalyst Isaac Daama is leading a project about animist mining techniques. 

Science tells us that the distribution and location of mineral deposits is a function of geological processes that took place over millions of years ago. But in mineral-rich Cameroon, occult practices are often part of the artisanal mining process. Artisanal miners, who are usually poor, disadvantaged individuals, use hand-tools to dig for gold, diamond and other precious stones. Many of them believe that daily piety and sacrificing animals to the gods will lead them to success in their mining.  

Isaac is collaborating with GBEEC Cameroon, the IFES national movement, to lead a project that will draw together scientific and Christian perspectives on these controversial beliefs and practices.  

Watch the 4-minute video below to hear Isaac explain more about his project. The video is in French but English subtitles are available. An English transcript can also be found below. 

English-language transcript of Isaac’s video

Welcome to this video! I’m Isaac Daama, Tier 2 Catalyst for the Logos and Cosmos Initiative in Francophone Africa.  

My topic is about beliefs and practices among artisanal miners in northern Cameroon. This topic started from a simple observation during multiple opportunities to go on field trips with mining companies that were looking for gold. I realized that there was a group of artisan miners who base their prospecting on a firm belief in deities, who they believe are the gods of these metals and that sacrifices always have to be made in order to access these metals. Many questions have been raised about their practices because even if these rituals that they do are controversial according to scientists – or even according to the local Christian population – one cannot deny that sometimes their methods are still profitable. Miners who employ this technique find a lot of minerals, on the scale of the gold content in the province, in general. 

And at the university, we have a lot of debates about their methods because we know that today, with the methods of mining geology, we can’t necessarily achieve the results that these miners have. But shouldn’t we question their methods to know whether, perhaps, their method can be a scientific method? But perhaps, let’s say, it is not like modern science, in the sense that it is not formal science, it is not theorized knowledge. And so, we decided to focus on this question. But then it was a matter of collecting data in the field.  

The data consisted of doing interviews with the miners, even when we were not able to do video interviews with them because the miners think that filming would discredit their methods. In addition, they work in an illegal context. Despite these obstacles, we were able to collect a set of data that will now help us to analyse these practices through workshops and public conferences, where many experts will also contribute their views on this. 

But our ultimate goal is to give a Christian perspective on this activity because it is becoming the most popular activity because of the fact that on the agricultural level and everything, these are areas that are very disadvantaged, so today it is this mining activity that is much more popular.  

The miners I have interviewed worship these gods instead of the God who created everything. It’s a bit like the experience of the apostle Paul in Greece. In their idolatry, Paul was able to find the “unknown god”. Maybe we should ask ourselves today: what are these metal gods the miners are talking about? 

So here are so many questions, reflections that we want to carry out within the framework of this project. In the long run, if my project is accepted onto Tier Three of the LCI (next year), I plan to develop my findings into a scientific publication in which experts – theological, anthropological, sociological, and geological, contribute their expertise and help us to better define this practice. Thank you for watching.  

Projects in Francophone Africa

New projects for 2023 – 2024

Researching the role of oral communication in the transmission of science, faith and culture 

Oral traditions are part of the African way of life but they’re particularly important in Burundi, where only 75 percent of the adult population is literate, and there is still a gender gap in literacy rates. Burundi has a rich oral tradition in which history, culture and life lessons are passed down through the generations through tales, fables, riddles, dances and music. 

Photo of Laurent Kayogera
Laurent Kayogera

Laurent Kayogera’s project will investigate the contribution of oral communication in the transmission of science, faith and culture in Burundi. His research will explore the advantages and limitations of how oral communication is used in order to extract lessons for the future, for improved communication in such areas as university teaching, churches and UGBB, the IFES national movement in Burundi.  

Laurent’s study will involve conducting surveys among students and staff at the University of Burundi and a one-day workshop on the contribution of oral communication in scientific, theological and cultural training. He will also interview experts in culture and anthropology and representatives from organizations which seek to promote and preserve the Burundian language and culture. Finally, he will interview church leaders to explore how oral communication was used by missionaries during colonial times to share the gospel with Burundians and how pastors are trained today, particularly in rural areas with lower literacy levels. The results of the study will be published in a scholarly article. 

— Laurent Kayogera holds a bachelor’s degree in communications and is the training coordinator for UGBB. 

Learning from the Mousgoum people’s approach to ecology and construction 

Finding more sustainable construction methods in the face of the global environmental crisis has never been more relevant. In Cameroon, traditional building methods using mud and straw have often been rejected in favour of “modern” methods using imported concrete. But graduate student Bernard Kola argues that the Mousgoum people’s dome-shaped mud huts could be an environmentally savvy model for Cameroon more broadly.   

Photo of Bernard Kola
Bernard Kola

Soil is an abundant, affordable, locally available and renewable building material which helps regulate the temperature and humidity inside the building, leading to a more comfortable home and increased energy efficiency.  

Bernard’s project will raise awareness about the advantages of these traditional construction methods and promote the idea of Christian creation care. He will conduct a research study to learn more about these building techniques. The results will then be shared in a series of workshops and conferences on his university campus, provoking dialogue about science, faith and culture.  

— Bernard Kola is a PhD student in mechanics, materials and energy at the University of Manoua in Cameroon. He also works at a renewable energy research centre and volunteers with GBEEC, his IFES national movement. 

Investigating the role of religion in the geography and development of central Benin 

Religion affects people’s lifestyles, symbols and rhythms, which, in turn, are inscribed upon the landscape. Yet geographers have often paid little attention to the role of religion. 

Photo of Camille Yabi
Camille Yabi

Christian geographer Camille Yabi says that in his home country of Benin, Christians and Muslims coexist peacefully, but little research has explored how religion has structured the territory. National development policies and strategies fail to mention the role of religion. In addition, Camille says that the way that black Africans were evangelized in the past has left them with a form of Christianity that is “ghettoized.” Christians are discouraged from engaging in dialogue between their faith and their environment and culture (including traditional African religions).  

Camille will conduct a cultural geography research project at the intersection of faith and environment. Through fieldwork, literature reviews and archival research, he will explore how Christians have had an imprint on the design and development of space in central Benin. The area of study includes communities with many places of pilgrimage and Christian worship. Camille will be assisted in the research by a group of students from GBEEB, the IFES national movement, who will receive training in research ethics and methods. 

The results will be shared with the scientific community, churches and the national movement through two public conferences, and will be developed into an article for a scientific journal.  

— Camille Yabi is studying for a master’s in geography and environmental management. He is also an advisor to GBEEB and formerly served as General Secretary. 

Making E-learning work for Francophone Africa: anthropological and theological reflections 

Online and hybrid courses became mainstays of education across the world during the pandemic. And even before Covid, MOOCs (Massive Online Open Courses) had become popular in higher education. Despite e-learning’s advantages in terms of accessibility, flexibility and cost, educators are beginning to research its advantages and disadvantages, but so far these studies have only been in a western context. Few studies have examined e-learning in the African context. Those that have done so have focused only on the technical difficulties and not on the cultural and anthropological aspects.  

Photo of David Mouandjo
David Mouandjo

Training expert David Mouandjo aims to find out how e-learning can be made to work effectively for French-speaking African students. He is interested in such questions as: how can e-learning be used for discipleship and character formation? How can e-learning take into account diverse learning styles? And how can e-learning be brought in line with African anthropological approaches to training? 

David will conduct a research study which will provide an anthropological and theological reflection on e-learning within GBUAF, the IFES Francophone Africa region which includes 19 national student movements.  

His study will involve theoretical research as well as an evaluation and review of IFES’ existing online courses in the region, including interviews and surveys with instructors and participants. The findings will inform the production of guidelines which will be shared with regional and national leaders. The results will also be applied to IFES’ French-speaking Engaging the University course.  

— David Mouandjo is the national manager for training, leadership development and scripture interaction for GBEEC, the IFES national movement in Cameroon. He is also studying for a PhD in theology. 

Psychosocial and theological approaches to the mental health of students traumatized by war 

The Democratic Republic of Congo (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 of the country where United Nations forces are struggling to keep the peace.  

Photo of Sarah Obotela
Sarah Obotela

Catalyst Sarah Obotela estimates that more than 80 percent of the population is impacted by the conflict, either directly or indirectly. Many have migrated to more stable areas of the country but are left with the scars of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).  

Through interviews and surveys, Sarah will conduct a research study investigating how the trauma of war has affected the mental health of students in her city, Kisangani. The city has been a hub of higher education and research since the 1950s, but experienced violence from 1960 until the early 2000s. Her study will include such issues as gender differences and intergenerational trauma.  

Affected students will be offered a listening session with a psychologist and will also be invited to a debate for victims and their families to discuss the issues and challenges around coping and integrating into society. Sarah will publish her results in a scientific journal article and will also organize a conference with African experts in conflict, psychiatry and sociology. At the national level, her findings are expected to help the national movement to minister to students in a more holistic way.  

— Sarah Obotela is studying for a master’s degree in sociology, works as an assistant to a sociology lecturer and works part-time for her IFES national movement.  

Climate change and biodiversity: understanding perceptions, promoting creation care 

Climate change induced by human activity is now a global reality, recognized by the vast majority of scientists and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). One of the major consequences of climate change is the loss of biodiversity. According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), climate change is a threat to almost one fifth of species that are under threat of extinction and are included on the IUCN’s “Red List.”. Biodiversity is currently being lost at a rate 1,000 times the natural rate (UNESCO).   

Photo of Sambo Ouedraogo
Sambo Ouedraogo

Christian ecologist Dr Sambo Ouedraogo says that in Africa, it’s not just scientists and politicians that have a key role to play in tackling climate change: culture and religion are also important forces to be considered. He believes many Christians need to understand that their faith is rooted in the earth and that Christians can honour God by valuing and preserving creation.  

The goal of Sambo’s project is to promote a Christian approach to creation care. He will conduct a study, surveying leaders of churches, Christian organizations and UGBB, the IFES national movement, to understand more about Christian values and attitudes towards climate change and biodiversity conservation. He will work with a master’s student and several undergraduates who will receive training in theology and science. He will publish his findings in a scientific journal article.  

Finally, Sambo will promote Christian approaches to creation care by organizing a national conference on this topic, in partnership with UGBB, and publishing a best practice guide.  

Dr Sambo Ouedraogo recently completed a PhD in plant biology and ecology and is now a teacher-researcher at the Norbert Zongo University in Burkina Faso. He also serves on the board of directors of his national movement. 

Expanded projects continuing from last year (2022 – 2023)

Christian and scientific perspectives on controversial mining techniques in Cameroon 

Science tells us that the distribution and location of mineral deposits is a function of geological processes that took place over millions of years ago. In contrast, in mineral-rich Cameroon, many artisanal miners hold traditional African religious beliefs about where minerals can be found. Their practices involve animal sacrifices and prayers to plead with the gods to open up the earth for them. Artisanal miners are usually poor, disadvantaged individuals who use hand-tools to dig for gold, diamonds and other precious stones. It is risky, dangerous work and they sell their finds on the black market.  

Photo of Isaac Daama
Isaac Daama

These practices are a matter of debate among university researchers: some believe it is a cheap technique and that it is an “African science.” But this approach to mining has an environmental cost: ecosystems are destroyed as miners move from site to site, following the will of the gods. 

In partnership with GBEEC, the IFES national movement, geologist Dr Isaac Daama is leading a project that draws together scientific and Christian perspectives on these controversial mining techniques. 

In 2022-2023, Isaac interviewed artisanal miners as part of his fieldwork for this project. His research informed his series of lectures, workshops and discussions at his university campus to promote dialogue about these traditional methods.  

In 2023 – 2024, Isaac is continuing his research by interviewing miners and university-training geologists about their beliefs about these mining practices. He will publish his findings in a journal article. Isaac and his team will also conduct a campaign to raise miners’ awareness of the risks of their work to their health and the natural environment. At his university, Isaac will host a training course to equip students in science-theology dialogue and will organize two discussion workshops to encourage students and researchers to have a balanced and respectful view of the traditional African beliefs they have grown up with whilst also recognizing their limitations.  

— Dr Isaac Daama is assistant professor of geology and mining at the University of Ngaoundere in Cameroon.   

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

Architecture, culture and creation: landscape recomposition strategies for habitat improvement 

Soil erosion is one of the problems that accompanies Africa’s urban transition—the development of peri-urban areas where the city meets the countryside. Erosion leads to pollution, soil degradation, habitat loss and human property loss.  

Photo of Johnny Ngunza
Johnny Ngunza

In the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) in 2022 – 2023, Johnny Ngunza used his expertise as an architect, academic and founder of a local university to lead a project to prevent and control of erosion in the city of Beni. In partnership with GBU, his IFES national movement, Johnny mobilized students and residents to implement anti-erosion techniques, inspired by the Christian call to creation care.  

The project trained 20 student volunteers who transformed a demonstration plot on Johnny’s university campus. They built retaining walls, landscaped the plot and planted cash crops, such as vanilla and cabbage, that stabilized the soil and provided a source of income for the volunteers and for the future of the project. Through community outreach events, these low-cost, sustainable erosion-control methods were shared with residents and civic leaders. 

While working with local residents, Johnny discovered that their most pressing priority was poverty and lack of food. So, in 2023 – 2024, he has shifted his project’s focus to food security. In an effort to take the university out into rural communities, the project will mobilize students from the national movement to provide agronomy trainings to help residents develop small gardens outside their homes that will both prevent erosion and increase the quality and quantity of their food supply. This is crucial in this unsecure environment in which it is often not safe for residents to travel to their fields far from their homes.  

Johnny will also host workshops at his university to promote dialogue on science, Christianity and culture and will write an article for a theology journal about how these three perspectives relate to the issue of landscape development.  

— Johnny Ngunza is an architect, working as a lecturer and researcher at a university he founded in the Democratic Republic of Congo. 

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

Empowering students to escape from poverty through entrepreneurship 

Senegal is poor partly because of its reliance on agriculture, vulnerability to climate variations and failed development policies, but religious attitudes also play a role. Research conducted by economist Dr Albertine Bayompe Kabou suggests that religious beliefs (Islamic, animist and Christian) have a significant influence on students’ mindset and actions related to poverty and can be an important lever in supporting people to be agents of change in their own exit from poverty.  

Photo of Albertine Bayompe Kabou
Albertine Bayompe Kabou

Albertine is working with GBU Senegal, the IFES national movement, on a project which is empowering students to be actors in their own escape from poverty.  

In 2022 – 2023, she organized a conference in which students learned about the environmental, social, economic and religious factors that perpetuate student poverty and discussed strategies for their own fight against poverty.  

Based on her expertise in economics and her own personal experience, Albertine believes that entrepreneurship is a key tool in fighting poverty and preparing students for life after university. Throughout her own student career, Albertine was involved in entrepreneurial activities including beekeeping and market gardening. Yet many university students mock those who get involved in such activities and believe that work that isn’t office-based is only for the less educated.   

In 2023 – 2024, Albertine’s project will seek to change attitudes about student entrepreneurship and empower students to use their God-given talents and training through entrepreneurship. She will conduct a study investigating the role of religious education in inspiring entrepreneurship and exploring which models of entrepreneurship are best suited for students who need to balance this work with their studies. She will coach a group of students in entrepreneurship. Lastly, she will share the results of her study with students in a conference at her university.  

— Dr Albertine Bayompe Kabou holds a PhD in economics and is a university lecturer in Senegal. 

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

Harnessing science and theology to tackle student mental health 

In Côte D’Ivoire, there are many pressures that contribute to mental health problems among university students: poverty, unemployment, experiences of violence and human rights violations during the nation’s 2011 political crisis; and divisions among students due to socio-economic, ethnic and religious differences.    

Mental health has taken its toll on students yet there is little awareness about it. In 2022, graduate student Nina Ble Toualy conducted a pilot survey of students and found that 80 percent of them had at least one symptom of a mental health struggle without realizing it.  

Nina is collaborating with GBUCI, the IFES movement in Côte d’Ivoire, on a project that draws together biblical and scientific perspectives to promote good mental health among students at her university.  

In 2022 – 2023, Nina conducted a study to better understand the situation; organized awareness-raising seminars and a conference for students and churches; and partnered with mental health NGOs to provide free counselling and mental health support to students. Alongside this professional support, Nina trained Christian students to provide peer support and equipped volunteers to lead Bible studies and debates about mental health.  

In 2023 – 2024, Nina is continuing her project and is collaborating with two other LCI Catalysts: Eustache Hounyèmè and Geneviève Guei. This year’s activities include a study on anxiety and depression, exploring how genetic and environmental factors contribute to these conditions. The findings will be developed into a scientific article. Nina and her collaborators will work with professionals and students to provide free mental health support that takes into account the African and university cultural context and helps students build resilience. Lastly, she will organize a conference in which the national movement and university authorities and groups can explore how to create a culture of prevention.  

Photo of Nina Ble Toualy
Nina Ble Toualy
Photo of Eustache Hounyèmè
Eustache Hounyèmè
Photo of Geneviève Guei
Geneviève Guei

— Nina Ble Toualy is a doctoral student in criminology at The University of Félix Houphouët-Boigny in Côte D’Ivoire. She is collaborating on the project with Tier Two Catalysts: Eustache Hounyèmè, a PhD student in genetics and molecular biology and Geneviève Guei, a PhD student in Conflict and Peace Management. 

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

Concluded projects from 2022 – 2023

Equipping animal scientists to be agents of change in Rwanda 

Feeding the world’s rapidly expanding population is one of the global challenges of the 21st century. Global food insecurity currently affects more than a billion people. Animal science—the study of domestic livestock care and breeding—plays an important role in meeting this challenge. It can help find innovative and efficient farming methods which are much needed in the face of land, water and energy scarcity, especially in developing countries. 

Onesphore Hakizimana

Graduate student Onesphore Hakizimana’s project aimed to create awareness among students, academics and professionals in the animal science field about the mutually enriching relationship between their discipline and Christianity. He worked with GBUR Rwanda, the IFES national movement, to lead a series of discussion groups, debates, and workshops on his university campus and developed a toolkit containing written materials and videos. All the project activities combined scientific, theological and development perspectives with an African perspective on animals in order to equip students and researchers to promote food security and fight poverty in Rwanda.   

— Onesphore Hakizimana is a graduate student in animal sciences at the University of Rwanda. 

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

Promoting dialogue on theology and the sciences among students and researchers in Benin 

Graduate student Faustin Dokui conducted a survey of graduate students, teachers, and staff – from various faith backgrounds – at his university to understand what  common questions they have about how religious and scientific fields interact. 

Photo of Faustin Dokui
Faustin Dokui

Building on his findings, Faustin worked with GBEEB Benin, the IFES national movement, to train students on Benin’s university campuses as dialogue leaders in theology and the sciences. The training explored the value of university studies and the specific contributions of each discipline from a Christian theological perspective,  

The project included five training sessions for students in the national movement, with material drawn from the Logos and Cosmos Initiative training curriculum. Alongside this, Faustin developed materials to equip each small group bible study group on his campus to run regular bible studies about science and theology.  

— Faustin Dokui recently completed a doctorate in animal resource management at the University of Abomey-Calavi in Benin. 

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

The origin of humankind: interactions among scientific, biblical and African cultural perspectives 

Understanding the origins of humankind and our place in the cosmos has been one of society’s big questions since ancient times. The debate about whether Christianity and biological evolution are compatible is well known but in Africa, there are also cultural perspectives on these big questions. 

Photo of Nou Poudiougo
Nou Poudiougo

In Mali, the Dogon are an ethnic people group with their own languages, religious beliefs and knowledge about the cosmos. According to Dogon creation mythology,  the god Ama created all matter in the universe. Today, some Dogon have become Christians or Muslims. 

Working with GBEEM Mali, the IFES national movement, biologist Nou Poudiougo conducted a research project that helped improve our understanding of the origin of humankind from biblical, scientific and cultural (Dogon) perspectives. Nou’s study explored the similarities, differences and interactions between these three areas of knowledge. The project included a literature review and surveys of cosmologists, anthropologists, pastors and other professionals. A seminar with GBEEM students gathered Christian students’ perspectives on the origin of humankind and also equipped them to engage in constructive dialogue on this topic. Nou will present his findings in a scholarly article. 

— Nou Poudiougo is an assistant professor of ecology at Bamako University in Mali. 

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

Latest news: projects underway, new Catalysts and in-person meetings 

Year Two of the Logos and Cosmos Initiative began in April and we are excited to now be working with even more young change-makers from across Francophone Africa and Latin America.  

We have welcomed a new cohort of 23 Catalysts into Tier One (our training and development year). Meanwhile, 18 of last year’s Catalysts have had their theology and the sciences projects selected for implementation and are now in Tier Two.

Catalysts’ projects have begun 

Catalysts’ projects are now well underway. Many of their projects tackle pressing issues and challenges in Catalysts’ local and national contexts, such as environmental sustainability, poverty and violence. 

Geologist Isaac Daama is leading a project about animist mining techniques in Cameroon. Occult practices are often part of the artisanal mining process, in which individuals use hand-tools to dig for gold, diamond and other precious stones.  

“I have been conducting field work at mining sites in northern Cameroon, interviewing miners about their beliefs,” Isaac said. “This mining is risky, dangerous work and they sell their finds on the black market.” 

Photo of Catalyst Isaac Daama interviewing miners

“What is interesting is that some of these miners believe that there are ancestors who plead with the gods to open the earth for you so that you can find precious stones. Daily piety and animal sacrifices are part of these practices. This approach is very controversial for modern science (mining geology), and requires a structured discussion and analysis in order to bring a Christian perspective to the understanding of this phenomenon and its issues.” 

Isaac’s findings will inform the next stage of his project. He will collaborate with GBEEC Cameroon, the IFES national movement, to lead a science-culture-faith group for students and researchers on his university campus. Through lectures, workshops and discussions, the group will promote constructive dialogue among Christians and non-Christians about scientific and biblical perspectives on these controversial mining techniques. The aim is to explore how both approaches can lead to an integrated management of mining resources and the environment. 

In Brazil, Deborah Vieira is planning to launch a science and theology mentoring network in which students from ABUB Brazil, the IFES national movement, will be connected with a mentor who is further along in their academic journey, for example Christian graduate students, professors and researchers. Deborah is selecting a series of readings, gathered mostly from her experience at the LCI, which will then be shared among the mentors and students in a series of six training sessions.  

Workshops, in-person gatherings and staff news  

We began the year with online workshops in April in both regions. In Latin America, Dr Jorge Sobarzo, a Christian psychiatrist from Chile, spoke about mental health and faith (watch his talk – in Spanish – here). In Francophone Africa, Dr Augustin Ahoga, former regional secretary, spoke about African religions (which includes approaches to culture, history and science) as the foundation for science and theology dialogue.  

A screengrab of an online workshop in Latin America
Photo of the LCI Latin America staff team meeting in person

We are honoured that Dr Ahoga, who has degrees in economics, theology, anthropology and pedagogy, has joined our Francophone Africa team to lead our mentoring program for Catalysts.  

Looking ahead, we are thankful to be planning some in-person meetings this year. In April, our Latin American staff team (see left) met together in person for the first time in Tijuana, Mexico. Both regions are planning in-person workshops for Catalysts in August and September/October this year.

Pray with us 

  • Thank God for the new Catalysts who have joined us and for the Tier Two Catalysts who are starting their projects  
  • Pray for Catalysts’ projects to have a transformative impact on students, universities, national movements and wider societies – all for God’s glory 
  • Pray for the Francophone Africa staff team and Catalysts as they gather for their first in-person training workshop in August. They will meet for the three days prior to the regional (GBUAF) Pan-African conference, PANAF’22, taking place in Burundi. 

Laying the foundations for catalysts to bring change

A diverse cohort of students and scholars– all of them passionate about applying their Christian faith to their academic discipline – joined IFES’ new Logos and Cosmos Initiative (LCI) in April. Since then, these 36 “catalysts” have benefited from a transformational program of mentoring and training. 

So far, the catalysts have taken part in three online workshops, two e-courses and journeyed together through an online training platform that connects participants from 22 countries across Latin America and Francophone Africa. The goal is to equip these young leaders to run projects that will foster dialogue between theology and the sciences in their universities and local contexts. 

For seismologist Jonás De Basabe, who you may remember from this October edition of IFES Prayerline, the Introduction to Science & Theology e-course was particularly impactful this year.  

“The course gave me the tools to understand the relationship between my faith and academic work, and challenged me to analyze this relationship from a biblical perspective,” said Jonás, who is from Mexico.  

“It left me with a sense that we can meaningfully contribute as Christian scientists to our church and society,” Jonas said. “It also encouraged me to let my academic research be more inspired by the values of the kingdom of God.” 

Photo of Jonas De Basabe
Catalyst Jonás De Basabe from Mexico

For some, it was being part of a learning community that has been most powerful. 

“Being part of the LCI made me realize (as Elijah did) that I am not alone in this journey,” said Deborah Vieira. She recently completed her master’s in literature and now volunteers with several art initiatives with ABUB, the national student movement in Brazil.  

“I was encouraged that there are other Christian students desiring to delve into the Word of God and science in such an intense way so that not only the testimony of their work and experience can testify to Jesus, but the scientific production itself too.” 

In addition to learning about theology of science and biblical hermeneutics, the Logos and Cosmos Initiative is an integrated program. It trains catalysts in the knowledge, skills and character needed to thrive in whole-life discipleship, which includes their academic lives.  

Photo of Deborah Vieira
Catalyst Deborah Vieira from Brazil

Photo of Isaac Daama in graduation regalia
Catalyst Isaac Daama at his recent graduation

Isaac Daama, a geologist from Cameroon, says his studies through the LCI helped him succeed in his recent, six-hour-long PhD defence: it helped him to be a good listener. John Stott’s advice about attentive listening in his book The Contemporary Christian stayed with Isaac long past the assignment he did on this book in May.  

“This chapter taught me how to really listen to what my questioners and respondents were saying,” Isaac said. “It helped me be fully open to them and to not be quick to defend myself or stress my point.” 

Isaac now plans to apply to be a researcher and teacher at his university. “I believe this is where God is calling me for mission,” he said. “My training at the LCI has equipped me sufficiently to engage there as an academic, ready to fully interact with the university for its transformation.” 

His PhD may be complete but, Isaac continues to progress through a personal development plan as part of his training as a catalyst. Top of his list is developing his English skills since Cameroon’s official languages are English and French.  

“If I want to be excellent in my discipline, English is a must,” he said. “My university environment is more and more bilingual so it will also help me to better dialogue about my Christian faith.” 

The catalysts are now on the cusp of an exciting new phase: planning their first projects. Most recently, the catalysts have been conducting field research, pilot projects and consultations with their national movement. Their projects, which could take the form of conferences, publishing initiatives and scholarly networks, will launch in Spring 2022.  

Isaac, for example, wants to start a science and theology group on his university campus. “This ‘cell’ will incubate Christian students for an inclusive, prophetic, constructive dialogue for the glory of Christ,” he said.  

While the current catalysts will apply to progress onto the second year of this five-year program in Spring, the LCI will also be accepting applications for more catalysts. Applications open on 1 February 2022 on the LCI website.   

Please pray with us for the Logos and Cosmos Initiative and the catalysts: 

  • Thank God for the catalysts and their passion to live as disciples of Jesus in their academic communities 
  • Pray for wisdom for the catalysts as they plan their projects and for fruitful collaborations with their national movements 
  • Pray that God would draw the right candidates to apply for the next phase of the program