Human genome editing: moving the conversation from rightness to righteousness
In recent years, scientists have developed faster, cheaper, and more precise methods to edit genes of living organisms including humans. 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.”
Catalyst Álvaro Pérez, a biotechnologist from Ecuador, has a different view:
“I believe gene editing is the exercise of our God-given human creativity to love our neighbor as ourselves,” he explains. “Humans are created in God’s image (Genesis 1:26), so we have the ability to design. Understanding how nature works and modifying it allows us to have an active role in creation and not just be spectators.”
Nevertheless, the bioethical and theological aspects of this type of research should not be ignored. And Alvaro noticed there is a particular vacuum of research on the topic in the Latin American context.
Álvaro’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 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.
Researching the role of oral communication in the transmission of science, faith and culture
“Oral tradition still plays a big role in Burundian culture today,” explains Laurent Kayogera, a Catalyst who graduated with a bachelor’s in communications. “We express our feelings through music. Life lessons and advice are passed down to the younger generation through songs, riddles, fables and tales.”
One reason why oral tradition is so important in Burundi is that only 75 percent of the adult population is literate, and there is still a gender gap in literacy rates. But that’s not the full story, says Laurent: “Even educated people just don’t like to read that much. We do not have many libraries, even in big cities. People still enjoy listening to people sharing stories. They’d rather quote what someone else said rather than something they’ve read themselves.”
Laurent’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 has been used in order to extract lessons for improved communication in such areas as university teaching, churches and the IFES national movement.
“University students spend a lot of time listening to lectures but most of them don’t take the time for extra research using books, articles and the internet,” shares Laurent, who works as the training coordinator for UGBB, the IFES national movement in Burundi. “I hope my project will encourage students to adjust their learning style and conduct more independent research.”
Laurent’s study will involve surveys among students and staff at the University of Burundi and a one-day workshop. 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 which have lower literacy levels. The results of the study will be published in a scholarly article.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
Chronic diseases, science and religion: developing resources, promoting dialogue
In Christian circles, the debate on the bioethics of chronic disease and end of life care is often reduced to a rejection of euthanasia. But social work professor and disability rights advocate Dr Pedro Herrera says that Christian scholarship about these issues can go deeper. No Christian scientists have published research on therapeutic obstinacy: the initiation or continuation of medical actions that prolong a patient’s life when the patient is facing irreversible death. Furthermore, existing research has all been from a western perspective so there is a need for scholarship grounded in the Latin American context.
Aside from scholarship, practical help is needed. Pedro believes the protestant Christian community owes a debt to the chronically ill, to their families, to church members and to the wider community who seek guidance and answers about what the Christian view is on the pain of chronic and terminal illness.
Pedro will publish four scholarly articles exploring chronic disease through the lenses of science and faith including such topics as the rights of people with chronic illnesses, medical violence towards people with chronic illnesses, palliative care, thanatology (the study of death), and the role of carers and the church. Eventually, these articles will be developed into a fully published book.
Working with COMPA, the IFES movement in Mexico, Pedro will organize a book club and two workshops, which will focus on his articles and stimulate dialogue about these topics among Christian students.
— Dr Pedro Herrera teaches social work at the Autonomous University of Tamaulipas and is also a disabilities advocate and a volunteer with COMPA Mexico.
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.
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.
— 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.
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.
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.
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 will equip 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 will convene a multidisciplinary group of students who will participate in discussion groups, reading circles and practical projects in the university and wider communities. The project will develop 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.
Pablo’s project will tackle these needs by exploring how spirituality (the root of our virtues) impacts academic life. This area will be explored both in personal stories and from theoretical perspectives.
Working with GBUCH Chile, the IFES national movement, Pablo will develop a supportive network of Christian students and professionals working in academia. Through this network, he will capture and share audiovisual interviews with Christian academics discussing the points of connection between their Christian faith and academic careers. Finally, he will organize 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.
Areli Cortez’s project will create a learning space for students in COMPA Mexico, the IFES national movement. She will develop a course in which the biblical framework of creation, fall, redemption and restoration will help students understand their personal and social history. The course will bring 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 includes curriculum development and training for COMPA staff and volunteers who will deliver the course. In parallel, Areli will explore the same themes in an academic article that will be 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.
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 will provide 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 will extend her 2021 pilot project research into a full study. This will inform the development of a manual that will bring together perspectives from social sciences and the bible. It will be 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.
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 is a theology and the arts research program for Christian students who are involved with ABUB Brazil, the IFES national movement. It will promote the production of new research and meaningful artistic productions that are related to the biblical narrative arc. The program consists of a Fundamentals Course, followed by a public call for research/artistic production proposals, of which three will receive 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.
Isabela Pineda’s project has three axes: theology, aesthetics and artistic production in community. She will develop and deliver a free, digital learning module on the dialogue between art and theology in the Latin American context, and students will contribute to its production.
The module will be launched with two special events on a local university campus: an academic conversation in which panelists will discuss 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: