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.” 

photo of speakers Pablo, Lorena, Deborah and Sarah
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.” 

photo of small group discussion
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).  

photo of scholars with Southern Cone conference participants
Scholars with Southern Cone conference participants

“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. 

Awe and wonder: science, humanity and Jesus 

What theological clues does Psalm 8 provide about the creator, the creation, the dignity of humans, the value of science and the person of Jesus?  

Gustavo Sobarzo explains more in this blogpost, which has been adapted from a talk he gave to young scholars at the Logos and Cosmos Initiative (LCI). A veterinary doctor by training, Gustavo has spent more than 15 years as a professor of veterinary microbiology while also serving with the IFES national movement in Chile, first as a staff worker and later as General Secretary. He now serves as the Tier One Training Coordinator for the LCI in Latin America. He lives in Santiago, Chile. 

I have always loved Psalm 8. It is one of the psalms that I learned by heart from a very young age. It helps me express the feelings of awe and wonder I experience when I think about God and his relationship with us. 

We know that this psalm was written by David but we don’t know much about the circumstances. However, it certainly tells of a king who recognises God’s lordship over his own authority. It gives us some interesting theological clues about the creator, creation and how we can understand them both.  

Awe and wonder at God and his creation 

What strikes you most about God’s creation? Have you ever seen something that simply blew your mind and made you marvel at the immensity of God? 

It has happened to me many times. But there are three memories that stand out: 

Once I was flying from the north of Chile to the capital, Santiago. It was night, and out of the window I could see the mountain range, the altiplano or Andean plateau, illuminated by the lightning of a thunderstorm. I was overwhelmed by my smallness and the beauty of the spectacle. 

Photo of Gustavo Sobarzo
Photo of baby feet

The second time was during the birth of my three daughters. As I held them in my arms, I was moved by the beauty of each little creature coming into the world, knowing that she was first born in the very heart of God.  

The third was when I studied to become a veterinarian and microbiologist. My studies involved unravelling God’s truth written in life itself. I praised God as I learned about genes, protein synthesis, the functions of bacteria and animal cells, and so on. And I continue to be amazed by my discipline as I teach microbiology and work in the lab.  

What are your moments of awe and wonder? When have you seen or understood something that prompted you to praise the Lord for what he has done? 

David gives us voice here, and sings in verse 9, “how majestic is your name in all the earth!” 

The glory of the Lord is spread throughout the earth, throughout the universe, in all that we see and all that we do not see. 

Believers and atheists alike are perplexed as they observe creation. What a blessing it is for those of us who have the gift of faith to be able to give an explanation, or rather a face, to the one who allows us to witness so much wonder. 

Science as a way of knowing God 

For David, in verse 3, what triggers his praise is the observation of the heavens, the moon and the stars. It reminds us how important it is to observe creation! It tells us about God. The author clearly distinguishes the creation from the creator and is not tempted to praise the creation itself.  

One of the central ideas that Catalysts (participants) learn about in their LCI training is that to do science is to know and to better understand the world created by God. God likes us to be involved in scientific research and discoveries. Scientific research is not contradictory to believing in God. 

Over the last century or so, an artificial struggle has been proposed between science and faith, as if the two were incompatible. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Psalm 8 – A psalm of David 

1Lord, our Lord, 
    how majestic is your name in all the earth! 
You have set your glory 
    in the heavens. 
2 Through the praise of children and infants 
    you have established a stronghold against your enemies, 
to silence the foe and the avenger. 
3 When I consider your heavens, 
    the work of your fingers, 
the moon and the stars, 
    which you have set in place, 
4 what is mankind that you are mindful of them, 
    human beings that you care for them? 
5 You have made them a little lower than the angels and crowned them with glory and honour.  
6 You made them rulers over the works of your hands; you put everything under their feet: 
7 all flocks and herds, 
    and the animals of the wild, 
8 the birds in the sky, 
    and the fish in the sea, 
    all that swim the paths of the seas. 
9 Lord, our Lord, 
    how majestic is your name in all the earth! 

There are many of us scientists who are Christians, and for us, being involved in science is a way to honour our creator.  The scientist and the theologian have much in common. While the theologian performs an exegesis of the scriptures, to know God and his work better, many Christian scientists performs an exegesis of creation, for the same purpose.  

Photo of gloved hands holding petri dish

The dignity of humans 

This psalm addresses a central, very relevant question: What are human beings?  In verse 4, David asks the Lord: “What is mankind that you are mindful of them, human beings that you care for them?” 

When we look at the universe, we are nothing but specks of dust. Have you ever felt this way when you were a child? David’s question is a fair one. And I love the way he answers himself through his dialogue with the Lord. 

Even if human beings are so insignificant in appearance, there is something special about us as God’s creation. God made humans a little lower than an angel. Other versions of the bible say that the Lord has made humans a little lower than a god.  

People are the reflection (image) of God on earth. What does that mean? A physical image? No. It refers to how God has invested men and women with authority over all the rest of creation. To be stewards.  

Unfortunately, the mandate to “rule over” creation has often been misunderstood.  Sin has made us into broken images of God. Instead of stewardship and care we have destroyed creation. In addition, we have dehumanised our fellow humans in every way, forgetting that we are all images of God. 

The world pressures us to depersonalise ourselves. To transform us into numbers, into consumers, into possessable objects. Children in their mothers’ wombs are reduced to mere cells. The elderly are thought of as burdens. The imprisoned are deprived of all hope. 

That is why it is a tragedy that in our Latin American countries, children are turning into criminals, into beings trained to kill and to get whatever they want at any cost. It is a tragedy because they are also the image of God. They are also the ones for whom the Lord paid with blood on the cross. In allowing this, our sin – as a community is very great.  

A prophetic psalm 

Psalm 8 also has a prophetic dimension. In verse 2, David says “Through the praise of children and infants you have established a stronghold against your enemies, to silence the foe and the avenger.” 

This speaks a great truth. Children, the very ones that today our society is displacing and forgetting, were of no value in biblical times. What a child said would be of little or no importance, yet it is from the children that deep praise arises.  

And then the psalm speaks about the Lord’s enemies. This psalm was fulfilled when Jesus triumphantly entered Jerusalem. Matthew 21:15-16 describes how the chief priests and teachers of the law were indignant when they saw children shouting praises to Jesus in the temple courts. In response, Jesus quoted verse 2, saying: “Have you never read, ‘From the lips of children and infants you, Lord, have called forth your praise’?’” 

Just as the psalm foretold, it was the children who put the educated to shame.  

Later, the author of Hebrews refers to verses 6-8 of this psalm as well, to highlight the sovereignty and the humanity of Jesus: 

In the second chapter of the book of Hebrews, the author also quotes Psalm 8, saying: “…we do see Jesus, who was made lower than the angels for a little while, now crowned with glory and honour because he suffered death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone.” 

The author of Hebrews uses the passage to affirm Jesus as the quintessential human being. Jesus, then, is the prophetic fulfilment of Psalm 8.  

Questions and projects 

  • Are you in awe of God’s power in creation or in your own life? Do you recognise him as Lord of all? 
  • Do you perceive yourself as “a little lower than an angel”? Are you aware of how valuable you are to God, or do you find it hard to believe this truth? 
  • Do you perceive those around you as images of God? Are you able to see the dignity and value of each person? What would help you do it better? 

Many of the realities discussed above are reflected in the projects that young scholars in the LCI are leading in their university in partnership with their IFES national movements. These Catalysts are bringing together theology and the sciences in projects which aim to aid our understanding of God’s creation, while also promoting the dignity of every human being and helping creation – including our societies – to flourish. Find out more about last year’s LCI projects here and view our projects photo gallery here. Look out for more details coming soon about new projects starting in June.  

Photo credits: Lightning storm photo by Josep Castells on Unsplash; Baby feet photo by Marcel Fagin on Unsplash; Petri dish photo by Adrian Lange on Unsplash

Latest news: Another “first”, project videos and diving deeper

The Logos and Cosmos Initiative celebrated another “first” at the beginning of October when Catalysts, mentors and staff gathered in Santiago, Chile, for the first in-person training workshop in Latin America.  

Times of reflection, celebration and interacting with inspiring role models were just a few of the many ways that Catalysts deepened their learning and relationships during the three-day event. Many Catalysts reported that the workshop reaffirmed their calling to the academy and several commented on the beautiful sense of community at the LCI.  

Photo of a woman speaking informally at the workshop

“The highlights of the workshop were the encounters that deepened relationships among mentors and catalysts, and the opportunity to share stories around the table,” said Alejandra Ortiz, Co-Coordinator for the LCI in Latin America. “We enjoyed conversations about vocation, worldviews, the academic challenges in Latin America, and life in general. We had a good time celebrating what God has done in our lives through the LCI in terms of formation, maturity and projects that are blessing IFES national movements and ultimately helping to bring God’s kingdom in Latin America.” 

Three female speakers shared their personal experiences of working at the interface of science and the Christian faith. 

Mexican science writer Ana Ávila (right) spoke about writing at the intersection of science and the Christian faith and encouraged Catalysts to be communicators and influencers at this interface. She also led a practical workshop, sharing tips about writing creatively about science and theology. Ana is a clinical biochemist who works for the Coalición por el Evangelio and the Templeton-funded initiative, Blueprint 1543. She is also one of the LCI’s external advisors. Read more about her work in this BioLogos article. 

Dr Rocío Parra, a lawyer who advises the Chilean government on environmental law, spoke about her experience as a woman, a Christian, a mother and a scholar, and led a workshop about Christianity, creation care and public policy. 

Ana Avila

Dr Elaine Storkey, English sociologist, philosopher and theologian, spoke about her decades-long career as a prominent university academic, author and media commentator. Dr Storkey, who joined the event online, also gave a talk about how the Christian faith helps us to understand and work to overcome violence against women.

New projects video gallery 

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.  

See our video gallery blogpost to watch a selection of short videos of four of Catalysts discussing the projects that they are leading in their universities in partnership with their IFES national movements. You can also click the image to the left to view the video playlist on our YouTube channel.   

Diving deeper into theology and the sciences 

Alongside delivering exciting theology and the sciences projects with their IFES national movements, our Tier Two Catalysts are continuing their learning by taking part in month-long academic seminars. The seminars, held online, allow Catalysts and their mentors to dive deeper into theology and the sciences topics that are relevant to their context.  

For example, in October, Latin American Catalysts took part in a seminar on epistemology and the history of science and religion, led by two Argentinian academics, Dr Ignacio Silva and Dr Claudia Vanney.  Both are external advisors to the LCI. 

“This seminar helped me to learn about the complex relationships between science and the Christian faith (and other faiths) in my country and in Latin America,” said Lorena Brondani, a Catalyst from Argentina. “In my own academic work, it has invited me to think in an interdisciplinary way. The session on the ‘most important intellectual virtues for the dialogue between science and religion’ allowed me to reflect on my own intellectual strengths and needs.” 

In Francophone Africa, Catalysts and mentors recently took part in a seminar series titled The African Christian Intellectual. The five-week module, led by Dr Augustin Ahoga, was designed in response to the shift in Christianity’s centre of gravity from the West to the Global South. In light of this, the seminar aimed to help African Christian academics to discover themselves and the responsibility that God has entrusted to them, and included comparisons of African, biblical, and scientific views of the world. 

As Dr Albertine Bayompe Kabou, an economist and Catalyst from Senegal explains, the seminar gave Catalysts a new perspective on both their LCI projects and their everyday lives.  

“Thanks to this seminar, I’ve understood that if I want to reach my potential, I need to take into account my ‘hybridity’ – I’m African and I’m Christian,” Albertine said. “Putting Christ in the centre, I need to embrace my hybridity so that I can understand my context and find solutions to its challenges. For my project in particular, the seminar will help me to analyse more deeply what poverty means to an African so that I can ultimately intervene more effectively.” 

After the seminar, Catalysts such as Nou Poudiougo from Mali, felt released to engage more constructively with their culture of origin.  

“This seminar has allowed me to remove certain barriers that prevented me from appropriating my culture and benefiting from certain advantages of the African culture,” said Nou, who is from an ethnic people group in Mali called the Dogon. “For example, the Dogon have been organizing the annual Ogobagna Dogon Cultural Festival for seven years. I have never been there because I thought that it was not a place for Christians. Thanks to Dr Ahoga’s course, I’ve changed my perspective and I now plan to go there with my whole family to participate in the festival in January.” 

What’s happening now and next? 

From workshops and courses to research, our Tier Two Catalysts are now deep into the implementation phase of their theology and the sciences projects. Check out the LCI’s project webpages to read about the full range of Catalysts’ projects.   

Meanwhile, our current cohort of Tier One Catalysts continue to progress through the LCI’s training and development curriculum and they are also designing projects that they will submit for consideration for funding and implementation next year. After the excitement of our in-person events, Catalysts will continue to meet for workshops and seminars online for the remainder of the LCI’s year, which concludes at the end of March.  

Preparing to welcome another cohort 

In February, we will begin accepting applications for a new cohort of Catalysts for the next year of the LCI program, which starts in April 2023. The application portal on the LCI website will open Feb. 1 and close on Feb. 28. Please do spread the word among anyone from Latin America and Francophone Africa who you think may be interested. It is strongly recommended that applicants complete IFES’ Engaging the University (ETU) e-learning course before applying to become a Catalyst. Note that Part 1 of this course can be completed online anytime but Parts and 2 and 3 begin on 30 January 2023. See the ETU website for more information. 

Save the date for our project showcase events! 

In the New Year, we will be inviting you to the Logos and Cosmos Initiative Projects Showcases. These are two online Gala events that will celebrate the impact of our Catalysts’ projects in their universities, as we mark the half-way point in the LCI’s five-year program.  

  • The Latin America Gala will be on Saturday, January 21 at 4pm GMT.  
  • The Francophone Africa Gala will be on Saturday, January 28 at 6pm GMT.  

Email us here if you would like to receive details of how to join in with one of these events.

Prayer points: 

  • Thank God for the rich time of learning and connection at the Latin American workshop in Chile 
  • Please continue to pray for our Catalysts’ theology and the sciences projects, many of which include large-scale events in the coming months. 
  • Pray for wisdom for the Tier One catalysts as they plan their projects for next year. 
  • Pray that God would draw the right candidates to apply for the next phase of the program. 

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