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 an English transcript can 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

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. 

Photo of Onesphore Hakizimana

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

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

Scientific and Christian perspectives on animist 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 occult beliefs about where minerals can be found. 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

Animist beliefs are common among the miners, for example, the belief that there are ancestors who plead with the gods to open the earth for you so that you can find precious stones. Daily prayers and animal sacrifices are part of these practices.   

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 the animist approach to mining has an environmental cost. Ecosystems are destroyed as miners move from site to site, following the will of the gods. 

Geologist Isaac Daama will work with GBEEC Cameroon, the IFES national movement, to lead a science, culture, and theology group for students and researchers. Through lectures, workshops and discussions, the group will promote dialogue among Christians and those who hold other beliefs about scientific and biblical perspectives on these controversial mining techniques.  

— Isaac Daama recently completed a PhD in petrology and metallogeny at the University of Ngaoundere in Cameroon.   

Public engagement with a Christian approach to erosion control in the DRC 

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

In the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Johnny Ngunza will use his expertise as an architect, academic and founder of a local university to lead a project about the prevention and control of erosion in the city of Beni. During his pilot project research, Johnny found that GBU DRC, the IFES national movement, wants to help its students follow the biblical mandate to care for creation. But without practical programs in place, Christian students often don’t know where to start.  

Johnny’s project will involve a demonstration project on his university campus, involving bioclimatic architecture (buildings designed for the local climate), anti-erosion construction techniques and fast-growing vegetation with strong roots. The goal is to enhance the soil, improve the quality of the space and raise awareness about innovative, low-cost, sustainable methods that could be adopted city-wide. Workshops, field trips and a conference will train students and local residents in these techniques. The trainings will also promote the Christian perspective on creation-care and foster engagement with theology and big environmental questions.  

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

Empowering Senegalese students to be actors in their escape from poverty  

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 Albertine Bayompe Kabou suggests that religious beliefs (Islamic, animist and Christian) have a significant influence on poverty in her nation, 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

University campuses are a microcosm of Senegal’s economic challenges. Albertine conducted a survey to determine the root causes of poverty among students. In terms of theological beliefs, 25 percent of students believed in the animist belief that one can’t escape poverty unless a curse is undone, 60 percent of students believed in the “theology of begging” (some traditional Islamic schools in Senegal encourage students to beg) and more than 50 percent of students believed in prosperity theology (faith will increase your wealth).  

In collaboration with GBU Senegal, the IFES national movement, Albertine will organize a conference that will bring together biblical and social science perspectives on poverty. The goal is to help students understand the factors that perpetuate poverty, and equip students with ideas and strategies that will help them exercise their human agency in their own fight against poverty.  

— Albertine Bayompe Kabou recently completed a PhD in economics at Cheikh Anta Diop University, the leading university in Francophone Africa.  

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

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 will conduct a research project that will improve our understanding of the origin of humankind from a biblical, scientific and cultural (Dogon) perspective. Nou’s study will explore the similarities, differences and interactions between these three areas of knowledge. The project includes a literature review and surveys of cosmologists, anthropologists, pastors and other professionals. A seminar with GBEEM students will gather Christian students’ perspectives on the origin of humankind and also equip 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. 

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 and found that all respondents believed that science and religion are important topics that the academic life of the university must address. 

Photo of Faustin Dokui

Faustin will work with GBEEB Benin, the IFES national movement, to promote dialogue on theology and the sciences on his university campus. His project aims to encourage academics from all faith backgrounds to understand how theology and the sciences work together, and to equip Christian students and researchers to connect their Christian faith with their academic discipline. 

The project includes five training sessions for students in the national movement, with material drawn from the Logos and Cosmos Initiative training curriculum. Alongside this, each small group bible study group on Faustin’s campus will be equipped to run regular multi-faith, science and theology dialogue events.  

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

Harnessing science and theology to tackle student mental health in Côte D’Ivoire 

In Côte D’Ivoire, there are many pressures that contribute to mental health problems among university students: poverty, unemployment, and the experience of having grown up with the violence and human rights violations that came after that nation’s 2011 political crisis. In addition, the diversity among the student population (socio-economic, ethnic and religious) has led to divisions between students that accentuate mental health challenges.  

Photo of Nina Ble Toualy

Mental health has taken its toll on students yet there is little awareness about it, according to the results of a pilot survey of students conducted by graduate student Nina Ble Toualy. She found that 80 percent of respondents had at least one symptom of a mental health disorder without realizing it. Many students admitted that they thought mental health disorders were about madness. Eighty percent of those surveyed could not afford to seek counselling and many had never considered it as an option.  

Nina will collaborate with GBUCI Côte D’Ivoire, the IFES national movement, on a project with a three-fold purpose: to take stock of the mental health situation among students in her country; to raise awareness about mental health issues; and to highlight the complementarity between science and theology in addressing mental health challenges.  

Nina will conduct a more in-depth survey of students and a study of the existing mental health care available, and document her findings in a scholarly article. For students in her university department, she will organize an awareness-raising conference about mental health as well as mental health screenings, counselling sessions and Bible studies. In the longer term, she may organize mental health awareness-raising workshops for leaders of local churches and Christian organizations. 

— Nina Ble Toualy is a doctoral student in criminology at The University of Félix Houphouët-Boigny in Côte D’Ivoire. 

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.  

Photo of the LCI Latin America staff team

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