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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Brazil: An answer to one professor’s prayer 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Creation care workshop
Mental health conference

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

Transitioning to Year 4 

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

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

What’s next after the Templeton grant? 

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

Please pray with us:  

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

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. 

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

Photo of Liliane Alcântara Araújo
Liliane Alcântara Araújo

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

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

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

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

Photo of workshop in Brazil
Liliane’s workshop

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Please pray with us: 

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

Catalyst Perspectives: architecture, erosion and creation care 

After studying abroad in the late 1990s, Johnny Ngunza felt called to return to the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) to help his country develop. Now an experienced architect, teacher and volunteer with his national movement, Johnny is committed to designing buildings and spaces that glorify God and are good for the environment. In this Catalysts Perspectives blogpost, he raises a question that goes beyond the architecture profession: how can we all live out our faith by caring for and improving our environment? Read on to find out how his LC I project is helping students and residents in his city to take practical action against erosion.  

Growing up in the DRC, I always admired my father’s friends who were building and public works engineers. I told myself that in the future I would do similar work to them. I went abroad to study in France and Morocco and began training as an architect. It was through my involvement with a student group in Morocco – part of the IFES family – that I felt called by God to return to my country and contribute to its development.  

Today, I seek to do this through my work as an architect and also as a teacher at a university that I founded, which is called Another Sound of Africa (ASAf). ASAf trains Chrisitan men and women in sustainable development, community development and environmental conservation.   

Through my work at this university I was already unconsciously engaged in a dialogue between faith and science. But when I joined the Logos and Cosmos Initiative in 2021, the training I received prompted me to completely rethink my commitment to the university and my profession. I’ve learned to consider my two occupations (architect and teacher) as priesthoods. I can express my faith through my architecture and be a witness for the Lord on my campus and through my profession.  

Photo of Johnny Ngunza
Johnny Ngunza

God as architect and gardener 

The bible describes God as an architect of creation and more specifically of the heavenly city described in Hebrews 11:16 and Revelation 21:2. God is also described as a gardener. In Genesis 2 we learn that “the Lord God planted a garden in the east, in Eden” and that God gave humans the mandate to care for and cultivate the garden.  

The question that has arisen for me in recent years is: how can we inhabit the earth in God’s way and care for our garden, the earth? 

Bioclimatic architecture 

As an architect, I believe that one of the ways we can do this is through bioclimatic architecture. This type of architecture takes into account the local climate conditions in order to reduce the building’s environmental impact. It is architecture that helps to reconcile humans with their local environment.  

What kind of habitat do I think there will be in heaven? I think it will be close to bioclimatic architecture. 

As an architect, I have taken up the challenge of introducing questions about our habits and customs in terms of so-called “modern” construction in my city, Beni. For example, in the past, in most traditional societies in Africa, houses were designed in harmony with the local climate and environment. They were often well designed for hot climates, for example by being integrated into their environment and having vegetation all around the house to provide natural ventilation. They were built using locally available materials – a wood or bamboo frame dressed with raw earth – making it possible to build extremely fast with a very limited volume of materials.  

Photo of the city of Beni in DRC showing greenery and traditional housing
Beni, DRC

But nowadays, everyone wants to have a “modern” house. Most so-called “modern” constructions are not adapted to our local environment. Modern housing has created a real gap between humans and their environment and can even contribute to the destruction of the natural environment.  

I am not arguing that we move away from modern methods to return to traditional construction methods. But I believe architects can borrow certain concepts from traditional construction, and we can use things like ceiling height, use of appropriate materials, building orientation and vegetation to make houses more comfortable for residents and better for the natural environment.  

Tackling erosion: a scourge in my city 

My interest in bioclimatic architecture led me to conduct research on landscapes and how they contribute to the development of peri-urban spaces (where town meets country) in my city, Beni.  

Beni is a city with less than one million inhabitants. Most people make a living through agriculture and we have an equatorial climate with a long rainy season.  Like many Congolese urban agglomerations, the city has expanded over the years but it has done so in an uncontrolled and unplanned way. The drainage networks and basic infrastructure have not kept pace in the new neighborhoods on the edge of the city.

Photo of an example of water erosion outside the gates of Johnny's campus where a patch of earth has been washed away
The result of erosion

Natural vegetation is removed during the development of these new quarters, making the bare soil more vulnerable to water erosion, which then leads to pollution, soil degradation, habitat loss and human property loss. 

My LCI project mobilizes Christians to fight erosion using innovative, green techniques. It involves a demonstration project on my university campus. The goal is to enhance the soil, improve the quality of the space and raise awareness about low-cost, sustainable methods that could be adopted city-wide. 

Over the last year, I have selected and trained 20 students from the local IFES national movement and involved them in a team that has been implementing a range of anti-erosion measures on campus including bioclimatic architecture, landscaping and construction, and planting vegetation to stabilize the soil.  

Through a series of workshops and innovation sessions, students have discovered and developed ideas, experimented and then used their new knowledge on the demonstration sites on campus. For example, they have built retaining walls and landscaped five gardens: an orchard and also market gardens planted with vanilla, cabbage, sunflowers, soy and passion fruit. Student volunteers in the project will receive part of the proceeds from the sale of these crops and the rest will be re-invested into small processing units for the university, for example to produce juice from the passion fruits and to make sunflower oil and soy flour.

Photo of students building retaining walls
Photo of a female student planting crops
Photo of three student planting cabbage, soy and sunflower plants

We are landscaping to fight erosion but all of this work is underpinned by the “cultural mandate” given to us in Genesis 2:15 to be wise stewards of creation. Through simple and practical actions, students have discovered that the gospel is not only about humans. It is about the whole of creation. 

It’s been a valuable opportunity for the students because before my project began, staff at the national movement told me they were committed to help their students get involved in creation care, but without practical programs in place, students often did not know where to start. 

Photo of the audience at a conference with Johnny speaking at the front
Community conference

In January, the students have been doing outreach among 30 families in three neighborhoods near the campus to help popularize our approach to erosion. This outreach culminated in a conference on January 28 in which we shared our approach with local residents and political and administrative authorities in the city.   

We want to invite others to discover God through creation, nature and architecture. 

Although we are only passing through this earth, this should not prevent us from reflecting on our way of life and our relationship with the environment where we live. This is part of our calling as Christians to take care of the earth  and through doing this, it will also strengthen our witness to others.  

So I ask you to consider: as a Christian, how can you improve the quality of the space in which you live, drawing inspiration from the Bible? 

Find out more: 

  • Watch a 3-minute video of Johnny discussing his project (video is in French, but English subtitles and transcript are provided) 
  • Follow Johnny’s progress with his project on his personal blog (in French but use your browser’s auto-translate function) 
  • Read about all 18 of our Catalysts’ projects on our project webpages 

Projects video gallery: 3 minutes with a Catalyst 

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

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

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

Erosion in DRC:  

Johnny Ngunza’s project 

Climate change in Guatemala:  

Johnny Patal’s project 

Mental health in Côte d’Ivoire:  

Nina Ble Toualy’s project 

Vaccines, values and truths in Brazil: 

Prisciliana Jesus de Oliveira’s project 

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

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:

Pilot projects explore some of the world’s most pressing challenges 

Environmental issues, poverty, war and public health were among the topics explored as Catalysts conducted pilot projects in January. 

The pilot projects are an important stepping stone toward the larger projects that Logos and Cosmos Initiative (LCI) participants are planning to lead on their university campuses in conjunction with their IFES national movement. Their projects are diverse in scope but share a common thread: to spark curiosity and wonder about theology and the sciences, and how they complement each other. The Catalysts’ projects will help students and scholars to connect the good news of Jesus with their academic disciplines, and inspire these young people to bring gospel-centred change to their universities, disciplines, the church and society.   

In Latin America, Sandra Marquez wanted to find out more about young people’s views on war, peace and justice in Central Mexico. Sandra said:  

“It’s a dangerous region. I surveyed more than 100 students and analyzed their responses based on their faith background and their level of involvement in the national student movement. The results raise questions such as: how we can work towards peace if we have no opinion on war and violence? How do different groups define justice and peace?” 

She plans to run workshops for university students that will draw together social science and theology around these issues that are so prevalent in central Mexico.     

Photo of Sandra Marquez
Sandra Marquez

Elsewhere across Latin America, other Catalysts’ pilot projects focused on ideas such as an online game to help bridge the perceived gap between science and faith, and the development of resources to help students make wise decisions about getting vaccinated. Another Catalyst is planning workshops that would bring together Christians and non-Christians to explore faith, science and sustainable development.  

Photo of students having lunch after cleaning up their campus
Students share a meal after cleaning up their campus

The pilot projects were a useful opportunity for Catalysts to test and refine their ideas. They will also be used in the selection process as Catalysts apply to advance onto the second year of the LCI program, which starts in April. Those who are successful will receive funding and support to run their full-scale projects over the next year. 

In the Democratic Republic of Congo, Johnny Ngunza ran a pilot project to help students in GBU, the IFES national movement, reflect on the biblical mandate for creation care (Genesis 2:15). He wanted to help them explore how this relates to health and erosion control within the university that he founded (Another Sound of Africa University, which was previously covered in Prayerline). After reflecting on Scripture, the students took part in a two-day gardening and clean-up project on the campus grounds. Johnny said:  

“I want to encourage students that nothing prevents us from thinking in the light of the Scriptures to find solutions to our problems and to show that major environmental issues can be dealt with in the light of Scripture without taking away from scientific rigor.” 

In Senegal, Albertine Bayompe Kabou surveyed 12 students to help understand the causes of poverty among students. The results revealed many factors: social-cultural, environmental, economic, psychological and religious reasons. Her results will guide the development of her upcoming project, which aims to help fight poverty while also sharing the light of the gospel. 

It’s no accident that some of the big issues that Catalysts have chosen to tackle are some of their countries’ most pressing challenges. A central pillar of the LCI’s mission is to equip young scholars and their national movements to bring theological and scientific perspectives together to address these kinds of challenges, and ultimately to help bring God’s kingdom here on earth.  

Before they designed their projects, many Catalysts took inspiration from the IFES Global Trends Report,  published in 2020, which identifies eleven global trends that are most likely to affect student ministry over the coming years. Last November, Catalysts worked in groups to explore one of these global trends and presented their findings at one of the LCI’s online workshops. 

Over the last few months, Catalysts have received valuable training in project management, collaboration with stakeholders and monitoring and evaluation – all designed to help them turn their vision into reality. But the emphasis has always been on both careful and prayerful planning.  

“In addition to all the training they have received, we have reminded the Catalysts not to forget to pray,” said LCI Curriculum Manager Dr Stephen Ney. “As with all our projects, we can put the blueprints for these projects into God’s hands and ask Him to refine them and use them to shape us.”