Q&A with a Catalyst: a dream for good governance 

According to the African Union’s Peace and Security Council, most of the violent conflicts and crises facing parts of the African continent are rooted in inadequate governance. LCI Catalyst Moustapha Ouedraogo’s dream is to propose a model that will shape what good governance looks like in his home country, Burkina Faso. Read on to find out more about Moustapha’s experience so far in Tier One of the LCI – our training and development year. Moustapha is studying for a PhD in sociology of organisations and governance and also works for UGBB, the IFES national movement in Burkina Faso. 

Photo of Moustapha Ouedraogo
Moustapha Ouedraogo

1. What made you decide to apply to the LCI? 

It was hearing the testimonies of Catalysts that encouraged me to apply, particularly the testimony of Dr Sambo Ouedraogo (learn about Sambo’s LCI project here). Listening to him, I realised that this program could help me answer two fundamental questions in my life as an African Christian intellectual: How can we reconcile science with faith and culture? And how can I, as a Christian intellectual, influence higher education with biblical values?  

2. What do you hope to gain from the program? 

I believe this training will enable me to approach scientific research topics in a different way, and to respond better to big issues in my country, particularly the development of good governance in Burkina Faso. I hope that the LCI will provide me with the tools I need to conduct high-quality research on this.  

Developing good governance is absolutely vital in order to promote peace. social cohesion and sustainable development. The African Union’s Peace and Security Council (PCS) has confirmed that most of the violent conflicts and crises facing parts of the African continent are rooted in inadequate governance (PSC 766th meeting; 2018).  

My dream is to propose a model of governance that will help shape what governance looks like in both the state and the church in Burkina Faso. 

3.            How have the first few months at the LCI been? 

The first few months of the program were fantastic. There were moments of deconstruction, construction, discovery and paradigm shifts. Online workshops have provided us with the opportunity to hear from Christian intellectuals who are very knowledgeable in their fields. We also had some very exciting reading assignments on books that deal with cultural, theological and scientific realities in French-speaking Africa. In addition, we have conducted research, taken part in Bible studies and engaged in dialogue between catalysts through online discussion forums. 

During these various sessions, I learnt countless things. Firstly, this work helped me to sharpen my ear as a Christian intellectual so that I can better listen to my environment in order to identify the real problems and their causes with a view to finding appropriate solutions. Secondly, I got to know myself better as a Christian intellectual. Thirdly, the LCI has enabled me to discover more about the importance of dialogue between science and faith and how to build bridges to encourage this dialogue.  

4.          Has anything stood out to you? 

One thing that really caught my attention was Christian identity and science. Reading the book Science and Faith: A Course Manual for French-speaking Africa (Science et foi: Manuel de cours pour l’Afrique francophone; Zegha Maffogag; 2017) made me realise that my identity has been shaped by several factors, including my Christian faith, my culture and my academic studies. I became aware of how often I experience tensions caused by conflicts of values. This book, together with my research assignments and an LCI seminar about traditional African religions and the science-religion dialogue, helped me develop the skills needed to build bridges between science (and my academic discipline), faith and culture. I am now working to identify areas of tension between these three dimensions of my life with a view to building bridges so that these relationships are a source of richness rather than tension.   

5.           What is the situation like among Christians in your country regarding science and Christianity?   

In church contexts, the relationship between science and faith is largely viewed as conflictual. For many pastors, the university and the church are two different terrains. What we learn at university is seen as worldly and intended for business. As a result, those of us who are pursuing academic careers are rarely invited to contribute our academic expertise to strengthen believers and the church in Burkina Faso. 

However, in my IFES national movement, science and faith are seen as complementary. We draw elements from science to build students’ faith, just as we draw resources from our Christian faith to influence certain perceptions of science. For example, for my master’s thesis in development project management I focused on UGBB as a case study. I have also written a scientific article on the crisis of governance in Burkina Faso in which I proposed Nehemiah’s model of governance as an alternative for rebuilding the country in the context of the security and humanitarian crisis.  

6. Can you tell us a bit about the pilot project that you will conduct in preparation for developing a theology and the sciences project at the LCI? 

Since August 2015, Burkina Faso has experienced both a security and a governance crisis. These different crises affect all dimensions of life. They have resulted in more than two million internally displaced persons (IDPs) and loss of life. The church has also been severely affected by church closures, persecution and the murder of Christians and pastors. Politically, there have been four coups in the space of eight years. Faced with this reality, it is vital that we find a solution that makes it possible to transform these security and governance crises in a sustainable way. My pilot project will involve surveys to understand more about student perspectives on this topic. It is titled: “The contribution of science, faith and culture dialogue in the transformation of the governance crisis in Burkina Faso; Perceptions of students at Joseph Ki-Zerbo University.” 


Read more about Moustapha’s academic journey in this IFES Prayerline blogpost from 2020. 

VIDEO: Harnessing theology and science to improve student 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 as one of the major challenges of our time. The pandemic has only made the crisis more acute. In developing countries such as Côte D’Ivoire mental health is aggravated by poverty, violence and human rights violations. 

How can Christians respond?  

Nina, a graduate student from Côte D’Ivoire, is now in her third year as a Catalyst with the Logos and Cosmos Initiative (LCI). She is leading a project that draws together biblical and scientific perspectives to promote good mental health among students at her university. Learn more in the 5-minute video below. 

In 2023 – 2024, a total of 19 Catalysts are leading theology and the sciences projects in collaboration with their IFES national movements. Each of them receives funding, mentoring and training from the LCI and many of their projects seek to tackle big issues in their communities such as biodiversity, gender-based violence and health education around vaccinations. Explore our full range of projects on the LCI projects webpages.

This video is in French, but English subtitles are provided. An English transcript can be found below the video. 

English transcript:

[Text on screen] The world is facing a global mental health crisis among young people. 

[Text on screen] How can Christians respond? 

Nina: In Ivory Coast there are many people with mental health problems. This year, in the third trimester we became aware of three students who committed suicide. There were also two cases of failed attempts. 

[Text on screen] Catalysts in the Logos and Cosmos Initiative are leading projects that are tackling pressing challenges.   

[Text on screen] Nina’s project: “Harnessing theology and the sciences to improve student mental health.” 

[Text on screen] Ivory Coast 

Nina: My name is Nina Ble Toualy. I am a doctoral student in criminology. My interest in the subject of mental health arose from various meetings that we have had on the university campus. Last year, we had ten people, ten students who were committed to psychiatric institutions.  

There are many factors. There’s the pressure of achieving well in your studies, lack of housing, lack of food. In addition, there is the diversity within the student population, whether it’s socio-economic, ethnic or religious, which often leads to divisions. 

Not to mention that we’ve been through a political crisis that has led to a lot of divisions, a lot of deaths, a lot of violence as well. 

The Bible tells us that human beings are body, soul and spirit and theology allows us to see that for human beings to thrive they need to remain in touch with both their environment and with God. 

Theology allows us to provide treatment in a holistic way. 

Mental health disorders are inner wounds that have been memorized in the unconscious and in the cells of the individual. And it is this inner being, through theology, that we can holistically treat individuals.  

The aim of the mental health project is to promote the health and psycho-social well-being of students. Specifically, we studied the contributions of theology to the issue of mental health problems. 

We also studied the contributions of our African culture as well as the various taboos associated with this subject. It is important to understand that in Africa there is little awareness about this subject. And we have tried to do assessments and set up a psychological unit to be able to help students who suffer from these kinds of problems. 

I have received, through the Logos and Cosmos Initiative, training, follow-up, and funding, human and material support. The LCI was at the heart of this project. 

In terms of activities, we had a conference. After the conference, we held a seminar on mental health and we also held a seminar with churches.  

The impact of this project was massive. 

We were able to reach more than 45 people through the distribution of brochures and through seminars and conferences. 

At the psychological level, we were able to support 14 people who continue to be supported by a psychologist and a pastor who helps them. 

Our universities have an opportunity to help students, to be able to give them social and psychological help. 

But we have to admit that there is a lot of work ahead of us. 

There’s still a long way to go. 

Now, at the university level we want to find out how these disorders are transmitted, and how we can put in place a program for building resilience to help students acquire the ability to adapt based on their relationship with the Lord. And to be able to overcome difficult situations. 

The fight for mental health is a commitment both civic and theological to join God’s plan which is to care for creation in all its dimensions, to bring his creation closer to him.

For the Lord has challenged me on this mission of caring for vulnerable people, people troubled with mental health problems, people who need to be listened to, who need to be supported and people who need to be loved. 

Latest news: Year 3 projects launched, new cohort welcomed 

Year Three is now well underway. After a rigorous selection process – involving internal and external reviewers – 23 of last year’s Catalysts have been chosen to advance to the next tier of our program which means they will receive funding and support to implement their theology and the sciences projects. In April and May, they spent time carefully refining their projects based on feedback received as part of the selection process.   

Screengrab from an online workshop showing participants'' faces

Catalysts in Tier Two are now launching their very first projects. Meanwhile, those in Tier Three are scaling up their projects from last year, aiming to have an even greater impact at the regional and national level. In the Democratic Republic of the Congo, for example, Johnny Ngunza, whose anti-erosion project was covered in our last newsletter, has widened the scope of his project to include food security (see photo of one of Johnny’s volunteers above). In an effort to take the university out into rural communities, the project will mobilize students from the IFES national movement there to provide agronomy trainings to help residents develop small gardens that will increase the quality and quantity of their food supply.   

In April, we were excited to welcome a new cohort of 20 Catalysts: 10 from Latin America and 10 from Francophone Africa. They began their theology and the sciences training with online workshops (see photo above) in April and are now progressing through their personal development plans. This foundational year is designed to develop the potential of these young academics, continuing to build their skills, character and knowledge, preparing them to lead future projects in their universities.  

Our Catalysts range from graduate students and university researchers or teachers to national movement staff and professionals. You can meet a few of them by reading this short interview with new Catalyst Mónica, a forestry engineering and agriculture student from Costa Rica, and by reading this glimpse of two new projects: human genome editing in Ecuador and researching the role of oral tradition in Burundi. Also, see the end of this blogpost to see the titles of all of our Catalysts’ current projects.    

Graphic with numbers about the LCI

Sharing learning worldwide   

Our program may only be active in two regions but one of our goals has always been to raise up a new generation of  thought leaders who will have a catalytic effect, stimulating new discussions about the relationship between theology and the sciences, particularly in the Majority World. This August, some of our Catalysts will have a unique opportunity to live out this call when they attend World Assembly, the IFES quadrennial conference.   

Photo of LCI staff member Alejandra Ortiz speaking at World Assembly 2019
LCI staff member Alejandra Ortiz speaking at a past World Assembly

More than 25 Catalysts and LCI staff will join approximately 1,000 participants at this global gathering in Indonesia. Delegates will include students, staff, graduates, board members and supporters from more than 150 countries and territories.  

Several Catalysts have been invited to lead seminars or appear in videos during the conference, sharing practical examples and ideas of how they are engaging with their discipline to address pressing needs in their contexts. Catalysts will also be on hand at the Engaging the University booth in the exhibition space to share what they are learning at the LCI with interested delegates.    

All current projects at a glance 

Francophone Africa 

New projects 

  • Climate change and biodiversity: understanding perceptions, promoting creation care (Burkina Faso) 
  • Psychosocial and theological approaches to the mental health of students traumatized by war (Democratic Republic of the Congo) 
  • Biblical perspectives on the Mousgoum people’s approach to ecology and construction (Cameroon) 
  • Investigating the role of religion in the geography and development of central Benin 
Photo of a student volunteer inspecting sunflowers growing as part of Johny Ngunza's project
Sunflower harvest in DRC
  • Making E-learning work for Francophone Africa: anthropological and theological reflections (Cameroon) 
  • Researching the role of oral communication in the transmission of science, faith and culture (Burundi) 

Expanded projects continuing from last year

  • Architecture, culture and creation: landscape recomposition strategies for habitat improvement (Democratic Republic of the Congo) 
  • Empowering students to escape from poverty through entrepreneurship (Senegal) 
  • Harnessing science and theology to tackle student mental health (Côte d’Ivoire) 
  • Christian and scientific perspectives on controversial mining techniques (Cameroon) 

Latin America 

New projects 

  • Breaking bread: exploring the relationship between theology, food and nutrition security (Brazil) 
  • The environmental crisis: moving students from reflection to action (Guatemala) 
  • Chronic diseases, science and religion: developing resources, promoting dialogue (Mexico) 
  • Mental health and faith: new tools and training for student ministry (Mexico) 
  • Theological, scientific and bioethical approaches to human genome editing (Ecuador) 

Expanded projects continuing from last year

  • Empty truths and values: forging a dialogue between theology and life-serving technologies (Brazil) 
  • Equipping students to be agents of peace and justice in Latin America (Mexico and El Salvador) 
  • Developing a network to equip Christian researchers for theology-science dialogue (Brazil) 
  • Launching a research and mentoring group for mothers at the intersection of science and theology (Latin America) 
Image of health promotion poster in Brazil
Health promotion poster in Brazil

Please pray with us:  

  • Thank God for the 43 Catalysts that have committed to being part of the LCI in Year Three and for all the advisors, consultants and mentors who have provided input on their projects  
  • Pray that Catalysts’ projects would be fruitful: stimulating new conversations about theology and the sciences, strengthening campus witness and helping bring God’s kingdom on earth.  
  • Pray for safe travels for those attending World Assembly and for an enriching time of fellowship and learning for all.   
  • Pray that at World Assembly Catalysts would inspire others to take their next steps in engaging with their discipline and transforming their universities, disciplines, churches and societies for the glory of Christ. 

From genome editing to oral tradition: A glimpse of two new projects  

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. 

Photo of Álvaro Pérez
Álvaro Pérez

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

Photo of Laurent Kayogera
Laurent Kayogera

“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. 


For more information about all of our Catalysts’ projects, visit the LCI projects webpages or see a list of all current project titles listed in our July 2023 Latest News blogpost.

Latest news: Project showcases and preparing for Year 3

In January, the Logos and Cosmos Initiative’s project showcases were a wonderful opportunity for friends and supporters to meet LCI Catalysts, ask questions and hear about the theology and the sciences projects that they have been working on for the past year. We were delighted to welcome approximately 100 people at each of these two regional online galas. The centerpiece of each showcase were the Catalysts’ project presentations, which brought their projects to life through live progress updates, photos, graphics and quotes. If you weren’t able to join us, you can watch the project videos that were shared at the events on our YouTube channel and you can see many of the photos shared at the event on our project snapshots photo gallery.

A screengrab from the Latin America gala held on zoom
Latin America Showcase

Deborah Vieira, for example, spoke honestly about the highs and lows of Emmaus, the theology and the sciences mentoring network that she has established in Brazil. She shared encouraging feedback from one of the participants: Bruna Gonçalves, a physiotherapy student, who has been mentored by Rafaela Roberto Dutra, a professional physiotherapist.  

“This project has been wonderful, I already knew it would be good, but it has surprised me positively,” Bruna said. “The studies are very deep and apply perfectly to what we have been experiencing in our daily lives. Rafaela is an excellent mentor. She always has wise words and is provocative and encouraging as well.” 

Deborah’s mentoring program links undergraduate students with mentors who are further ahead in their academic careers. She has trained the mentors and designed a curriculum based on what she learned last year at the LCI.  

A screengrab of Deborah Vieira presenting a slide at the Gala about her project

“It isn’t always an easy journey,” Deborah said. “We had some challenges because of the context of students nowadays: their schedules, the pressures of time, the impact of the pandemic and hybrid learning. Students are very tired and they don’t want to be in front of a screen anymore, so we are trying to provide alternative methods. And for some students, the articles and books we provided were too heavy. They couldn’t keep up so we have to rethink some of the material we will be using.” 

But as Dr Ross McKenzie, Leader of the LCI, pointed out in his address to the showcase events in both of our regions, experimentation, testing and revising is a natural part of the LCI projects.  

“We believe that the most effective learning and training happens when done in conjunction with doing,” said Ross. “Projects provide a means for Catalysts to apply what they are learning in their own contexts. The world is complex and producing positive change requires creativity, insight, experimentation, learning, and adapting. Projects provide a means to find out what works or does not work in specific contexts. This will help decide what projects might be scaled up to a national or regional initiative.” 

In the Francophone Africa event, Onesphore Hakizimana, a graduate student in animal sciences at the University of Rwanda, discussed his project titled Seeing God through animal sciences. 

“After being equipped at the LCI, I wanted to help other students in my field understand how to use animal sciences to answer big questions,” said Onesphore. “And I want to help them understand that the purpose of our academic studies is not just to get good marks or earn a degree but to learn about the wisdom of God through his creation.” 

Onesphore has designed and led a series of monthly Bible studies and debates at his university. In one Bible study, students studied the role of animals and human responsibility in Genesis 1:28. In another, they looked at the prophet Ezekiel’s inaugural vision (Ezekiel 1) and saw how important animals are in the sight of God. They also studied Genesis 2 and considered Adam’s role as “the first veterinarian” and creator of the first taxonomy of animals. 

Photo of students sitting around a table studying the bible
One of Onesphore’s Bible study groups

Each regional showcase also featured special guests who shared their wisdom and reflections on the relationship between theology and the sciences.  

At the Latin America showcase, Argentinian Catalyst Lorena Brondani interviewed Dr Paul Freston, Professor of Religion and Culture at Wilfred Laurier University in Canada and former professor of sociology at the Universidade Federal de São Carlos, Brazil. Dr Freston is a native of England and a graduate of Cambridge University. He is also a naturalized Brazilian, has lived and worked in Brazilian universities for many years and has been involved with the Brazilian IFES national movement.  

A screengrab of Lorena Brondani interviewing Paul Freston on zoom

Dr Freston shared pearls of wisdom for the young Christian academics who were gathered at the event. Reflecting on his long career, he discussed how he sought to integrate his academic work with his Christian faith:  

“I thought it was important to ‘walk with both legs’, for example by reading both Christian and non-Christian books and resources,” he said. “If we want to be a bridge between academia and faith then we need to make sure that both sides of the river on either side of the bridge are flowing at the same level in order to make the river flow. Many people don’t grow in both their knowledge of their academic discipline and their Christian faith, and some don’t develop a knowledge of faith that goes beyond Sunday school level. We must have a healthy combination of both. We must go forward in both areas.” 

A screengrab of attendees' faces at the Francophone Africa gala
Francophone Africa showcase

At the Francophone Africa showcase, Dr Klaingar Ngarial, Regional Secretary for this IFES region, spoke on the topic, The African University: From liberation to spirituality. Dr Ngarial discussed the need for African universities to be liberated from the grip of western models of training as well as the important role of the university as a place of spiritual liberation and transformation. 

He discussed Jesus’ mission of liberation (Luke 4: 18 – 19), the promise that “creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay” (Romans 8:21), and the command for Christians to “go home to your own people and tell them how much the Lord has done for you” (Mark 5:18-20).  

Reflecting on these scriptures, Dr Ngarial said:

“I suggest we see in the liberation by the Messiah a cosmic liberation, universal and therefore integrated into the university. Christ sends us back to promote this freedom in our universities. Through us, the Christian faith must come and inhabit the disciplinary spaces of our African universities to contribute to the liberation of these universities. To say it another way means that theologically we must know how to ‘speak God’ in and through our academic disciplines.” 

Preparing to scale up for Year 3 

Photo of the LCI Francophone Africa staff team
Francophone Africa staff team meeting in Benin

We are facing a number of transitions as the third year of the LCI program begins in April. Many of our Tier Two Catalysts who have completed projects this year have submitted proposals to continue their projects next year. Those who are selected to advance to Tier Three will have the opportunity to scale up their projects for an even greater impact at the regional and national level, and we are excited to see how some Catalysts will be forming teams to work together on these larger-scale projects. 

Meanwhile, our current cohort of Tier One Catalysts are finishing the final stages of the LCI’s training and development year. This month, many of them will be submitting projects for consideration for funding and implement from April onwards. At the same time, we are looking forward to welcoming a fresh cohort of Catalysts into Tier One in April.  

Please pray with us: 

  • Thank God for all the positive impact that our Catalysts’ projects have had on students, researchers, staff workers and members of the university.  
  • Pray for wisdom for the Catalysts and good partnerships as they plan projects that they will implement next year.  
  • Pray for wisdom for the selection committees as they decide which of the current Catalysts will advance to Tier Two and Three of the program, and review applications for our incoming third cohort, which starts in April. 

Photo gallery: theology and the sciences project snapshots

Over the last year, 18 Logos and Cosmos Initiative Catalysts in 15 countries have dedicated themselves to drawing together theology and the sciences in a variety of ways in their campuses and communities, ranging from practical actions and research to dialogue and training. Their projects are at the heart of the LCI, but what do they look like practically? It has been said that a picture tells a thousand words so check out the photo gallery below to see a selection of project snapshots.  

You will see that anti-erosion landscaping, a Christian vaccination campaign, free mental health services for students and workshops on peacebuilding are some of the diverse activities that Catalysts have been leading with their national IFES movements. In addition to the photo gallery below, you can read summaries and watch videos about the full range of Catalysts’ projects on our projects webpages.  

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 

Explore Catalysts’ projects through 17 new videos

What theology and the sciences projects have our Catalysts been leading over the last year? Seventeen newly-published videos provide you with the opportunity to explore the full breadth of our Catalysts’ projects, ranging from the arts and gender to poverty and climate change. Spend a few minutes hearing each Catalyst discuss their project. This new series of short videos can be found on our YouTube channel and on our Francophone Africa and Latin America projects webpages.  

Screengrab from LCI project videos playlist on Youtube

As you will see from the videos, many Catalysts are collaborating with their IFES national movements to lead projects that address pressing issues in their local contexts. Economist Dr Albertine Kabou, for example, discusses her project on student poverty in Senegal in her 2-minute video.  

“The goal of my project is to equip students to understand the factors that prevent them from moving out of poverty, but also to offer them more solutions,” Albertine said.  

Albertine (pictured top left) has made great strides with her project since it began in April 2022. In November, almost 60 participants attended a conference that she organized at her university about the environmental, social, economic and religious factors that contribute to poverty among students. Her conference brought together diverse speakers including experts in economic development and entrepreneurship, a university academic, a Christian pastor and an Islamic Imam. Early in 2023, Albertine will be leading two debates at other universities in Senegal, in which students will discuss ideas and strategies for their own fight against poverty. 

As Albertine’s project demonstrates, many Catalysts are drawing together scientific and biblical perspectives in order to better understand and tackle specific problems where they live. In other videos, Isaac Daama explains his project about artisanal mining practices in Cameroon, Sandra Márquez talks about her project on peace and justice in Mexico; and Johnny Patal discusses his project on climate change in Guatemala.  

Some Catalysts have taken a different approach with their projects: choosing to focus on training and mentoring in order to have a multiplier effect in their national movement. Their goal is to equip Christian students to engage in dialogue about theology and the sciences, and help them understand how they can integrate their Christian faith with their academic studies or research.  

Screengrabs of Latin American project videos on Youtube

In her video, Deborah Vieira (pictured on the 4th image to the left) explains that she responded to a need that she identified after conducting surveys among students in ABUB Brazil, her national movement.  

“One of the needs that students raised the most was the feeling of loneliness at the university,” Deborah said.

“This loneliness is both a product of this post-pandemic period and the lack of peers for students to talk to about their research or their faith or both. That’s why I designed a project called The Emmaus Project, which is a mentoring network. The idea is to have mentors who are further ahead in their academic career … who will walk alongside undergraduate students who are engaged in scientific research.” 

Screengrabs of Latin American project videos on Youtube

In other videos, you can hear Marcio Lima talk about his theology and the arts mentoring program in Brazil; listen to Onesphore Hakizimana discussing his project that is equipping Christian students who are studying animal sciences in Rwanda; and learn about Faustin Dokui’s series of trainings for the national movement in Benin. 

Visit our Francophone Africa and Latin America projects webpages to browse all videos by country and topic, and see the videos alongside short project summaries. 

All videos have English subtitles. If you view the videos on our YouTube playlist, you will find transcripts in French, Spanish and English (as relevant) beneath each video.  

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

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

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

Photo of a woman speaking informally at the workshop

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

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

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

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

Ana Avila

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

New projects video gallery 

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

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

Diving deeper into theology and the sciences 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What’s happening now and next? 

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

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

Preparing to welcome another cohort 

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

Save the date for our project showcase events! 

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

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

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

Prayer points: 

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

Projects 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.