Seeking favour from the gods to find precious stones: watch Isaac’s video 

Projects are at the heart of the Logos and Cosmos Initiative (LCI). We equip young Christian academics to lead projects in their universities that spark curiosity and wonder about theology and the sciences. Many of our Catalysts’ projects tackle pressing issues and challenges in their local and national contexts, such as environmental sustainability, poverty and violence. In Cameroon, geologist and LCI Catalyst Isaac Daama is leading a project about animist mining techniques. 

Science tells us that the distribution and location of mineral deposits is a function of geological processes that took place over millions of years ago. But in mineral-rich Cameroon, occult practices are often part of the artisanal mining process. Artisanal miners, who are usually poor, disadvantaged individuals, use hand-tools to dig for gold, diamond and other precious stones. Many of them believe that daily piety and sacrificing animals to the gods will lead them to success in their mining.  

Isaac is collaborating with GBEEC Cameroon, the IFES national movement, to lead a project that will draw together scientific and Christian perspectives on these controversial beliefs and practices.  

Watch the 4-minute video below to hear Isaac explain more about his project. The video is in French but an English transcript can be found below. 

English-language transcript of Isaac’s video

Welcome to this video! I’m Isaac Daama, Tier 2 Catalyst for the Logos and Cosmos Initiative in Francophone Africa.  

My topic is about beliefs and practices among artisanal miners in northern Cameroon. This topic started from a simple observation during multiple opportunities to go on field trips with mining companies that were looking for gold. I realized that there was a group of artisan miners who base their prospecting on a firm belief in deities, who they believe are the gods of these metals and that sacrifices always have to be made in order to access these metals. Many questions have been raised about their practices because even if these rituals that they do are controversial according to scientists – or even according to the local Christian population – one cannot deny that sometimes their methods are still profitable. Miners who employ this technique find a lot of minerals, on the scale of the gold content in the province, in general. 

And at the university, we have a lot of debates about their methods because we know that today, with the methods of mining geology, we can’t necessarily achieve the results that these miners have. But shouldn’t we question their methods to know whether, perhaps, their method can be a scientific method? But perhaps, let’s say, it is not like modern science, in the sense that it is not formal science, it is not theorized knowledge. And so, we decided to focus on this question. But then it was a matter of collecting data in the field.  

The data consisted of doing interviews with the miners, even when we were not able to do video interviews with them because the miners think that filming would discredit their methods. In addition, they work in an illegal context. Despite these obstacles, we were able to collect a set of data that will now help us to analyse these practices through workshops and public conferences, where many experts will also contribute their views on this. 

But our ultimate goal is to give a Christian perspective on this activity because it is becoming the most popular activity because of the fact that on the agricultural level and everything, these are areas that are very disadvantaged, so today it is this mining activity that is much more popular.  

The miners I have interviewed worship these gods instead of the God who created everything. It’s a bit like the experience of the apostle Paul in Greece. In their idolatry, Paul was able to find the “unknown god”. Maybe we should ask ourselves today: what are these metal gods the miners are talking about? 

So here are so many questions, reflections that we want to carry out within the framework of this project. In the long run, if my project is accepted onto Tier Three of the LCI (next year), I plan to develop my findings into a scientific publication in which experts – theological, anthropological, sociological, and geological, contribute their expertise and help us to better define this practice. Thank you for watching.  

Projects

Equipping young Christian academics to lead theology and the sciences projects is at the heart of the Logos and Cosmos Initiative.  

We currently have 18 “Tier Two” Catalysts who are collaborating with their IFES national movement to lead projects in 15 countries across two regions: Latin America and Francophone Africa.

Each project is designed to spark curiosity and wonder about theology and the sciences and how they complement one another. Many of the projects tackle immediate challenges in Catalysts’ local and national contexts, such as student mental health, poverty, climate change, food security, and gender-based violence. 

Current projects are taking place from April 2022 to April 2023. At the end of this period, Tier Two Catalysts may apply to advance to Tier Three, in which they will have the opportunity to scale up their projects for an even greater impact at the regional/national level.  

Click below to read short summaries of all our Tier Two Catalysts’ projects:  

Projects in Francophone Africa

Equipping animal scientists to be agents of change in Rwanda 

Feeding the world’s rapidly expanding population is one of the global challenges of the 21st century. Global food insecurity currently affects more than a billion people. Animal science—the study of domestic livestock care and breeding—plays an important role in meeting this challenge. It can help find innovative and efficient farming methods which are much needed in the face of land, water and energy scarcity, especially in developing countries. 

Photo of Onesphore Hakizimana

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

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

Scientific and Christian perspectives on animist mining techniques in Cameroon  

Science tells us that the distribution and location of mineral deposits is a function of geological processes that took place over millions of years ago. In contrast, in mineral-rich Cameroon, many artisanal miners hold occult beliefs about where minerals can be found. Artisanal miners are usually poor, disadvantaged individuals who use hand-tools to dig for gold, diamonds and other precious stones. It is risky, dangerous work and they sell their finds on the black market.

Photo of Isaac Daama

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

These practices are a matter of debate among university researchers: some believe it is a cheap technique and that it is an “African science.” But the animist approach to mining has an environmental cost. Ecosystems are destroyed as miners move from site to site, following the will of the gods. 

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

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

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

Soil erosion is one of the problems that accompanies Africa’s urban transition—the development of peri-urban areas where the city meets the countryside. Erosion leads to pollution, soil degradation, habitat loss and human property loss.  

Photo of Johnny Ngunza

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

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

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

Empowering Senegalese students to be actors in their escape from poverty  

Senegal is poor partly because of its reliance on agriculture, vulnerability to climate variations and failed development policies, but religious attitudes also play a role. Research conducted by economist Albertine Bayompe Kabou suggests that religious beliefs (Islamic, animist and Christian) have a significant influence on poverty in her nation, and can be an important lever in supporting people to be agents of change in their own exit from poverty.  

Photo of Albertine Bayompe Kabou

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

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

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

The origin of humankind: interactions among scientific, biblical and African cultural perspectives 

Understanding the origins of humankind and our place in the cosmos has been one of society’s big questions since ancient times. The debate about whether Christianity and biological evolution are compatible is well known but in Africa, there are also cultural perspectives on these big questions. 

Photo of Nou Poudiougo

In Mali, the Dogon are an ethnic people group with their own languages, religious beliefs and knowledge about the cosmos. According to Dogon creation mythology,  the god Ama created all matter in the universe. Today, some Dogon have become Christians or Muslims. 

Working with GBEEM Mali, the IFES national movement, biologist Nou Poudiougo will conduct a research project that will improve our understanding of the origin of humankind from a biblical, scientific and cultural (Dogon) perspective. Nou’s study will explore the similarities, differences and interactions between these three areas of knowledge. The project includes a literature review and surveys of cosmologists, anthropologists, pastors and other professionals. A seminar with GBEEM students will gather Christian students’ perspectives on the origin of humankind and also equip them to engage in constructive dialogue on this topic. Nou will present his findings in a scholarly article. 

— Nou Poudiougo is an assistant professor of ecology at Bamako University in Mali. 

Promoting dialogue on theology and the sciences among students and researchers in Benin 

Graduate student Faustin Dokui conducted a survey of graduate students, teachers, and staff – from various faith backgrounds – at his university and found that all respondents believed that science and religion are important topics that the academic life of the university must address. 

Photo of Faustin Dokui

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

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

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

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

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

Photo of Nina Ble Toualy

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

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

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

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

Latest news: projects underway, new Catalysts and in-person meetings 

Year Two of the Logos and Cosmos Initiative began in April and we are excited to now be working with even more young change-makers from across Francophone Africa and Latin America.  

We have welcomed a new cohort of 23 Catalysts into Tier One (our training and development year). Meanwhile, 18 of last year’s Catalysts have had their theology and the sciences projects selected for implementation and are now in Tier Two.

Catalysts’ projects have begun 

Catalysts’ projects are now well underway. Many of their projects tackle pressing issues and challenges in Catalysts’ local and national contexts, such as environmental sustainability, poverty and violence. 

Geologist Isaac Daama is leading a project about animist mining techniques in Cameroon. Occult practices are often part of the artisanal mining process, in which individuals use hand-tools to dig for gold, diamond and other precious stones.  

“I have been conducting field work at mining sites in northern Cameroon, interviewing miners about their beliefs,” Isaac said. “This mining is risky, dangerous work and they sell their finds on the black market.” 

Photo of Catalyst Isaac Daama interviewing miners

“What is interesting is that some of these miners believe that there are ancestors who plead with the gods to open the earth for you so that you can find precious stones. Daily piety and animal sacrifices are part of these practices. This approach is very controversial for modern science (mining geology), and requires a structured discussion and analysis in order to bring a Christian perspective to the understanding of this phenomenon and its issues.” 

Isaac’s findings will inform the next stage of his project. He will collaborate with GBEEC Cameroon, the IFES national movement, to lead a science-culture-faith group for students and researchers on his university campus. Through lectures, workshops and discussions, the group will promote constructive dialogue among Christians and non-Christians about scientific and biblical perspectives on these controversial mining techniques. The aim is to explore how both approaches can lead to an integrated management of mining resources and the environment. 

In Brazil, Deborah Vieira is planning to launch a science and theology mentoring network in which students from ABUB Brazil, the IFES national movement, will be connected with a mentor who is further along in their academic journey, for example Christian graduate students, professors and researchers. Deborah is selecting a series of readings, gathered mostly from her experience at the LCI, which will then be shared among the mentors and students in a series of six training sessions.  

Workshops, in-person gatherings and staff news  

We began the year with online workshops in April in both regions. In Latin America, Dr Jorge Sobarzo, a Christian psychiatrist from Chile, spoke about mental health and faith (watch his talk – in Spanish – here). In Francophone Africa, Dr Augustin Ahoga, former regional secretary, spoke about African religions (which includes approaches to culture, history and science) as the foundation for science and theology dialogue.  

Photo of the LCI Latin America staff team

We are honoured that Dr Ahoga, who has degrees in economics, theology, anthropology and pedagogy, has joined our Francophone Africa team to lead our mentoring program for Catalysts.  

Looking ahead, we are thankful to be planning some in-person meetings this year. In April, our Latin American staff team (see left) met together in person for the first time in Tijuana, Mexico. Both regions are planning in-person workshops for Catalysts in August and September/October this year.

Pray with us 

  • Thank God for the new Catalysts who have joined us and for the Tier Two Catalysts who are starting their projects  
  • Pray for Catalysts’ projects to have a transformative impact on students, universities, national movements and wider societies – all for God’s glory 
  • Pray for the Francophone Africa staff team and Catalysts as they gather for their first in-person training workshop in August. They will meet for the three days prior to the regional (GBUAF) Pan-African conference, PANAF’22, taking place in Burundi. 

In their own words: reflections on the LCI’s impact so far 

From transformed thinking to humbly cleaning toilets, the Logos and Cosmos Initiative’s impact on Catalysts (participants) has been wide-ranging. The Catalysts are growing in the character, knowledge and skills that they need to lead inspiring science and theology projects. How do we know?  We asked them to complete a survey in March when the first year of the program drew to a close.   

Their responses are a powerful demonstration of how God is using the LCI to develop these young leaders, and how God is using them to bless others.  

Read on to hear more from Catalysts and IFES national movement leaders. You can also spot clear themes through our word clouds: graphical representations in which the size of each word represents how frequently it was used in the survey responses.   

Developing Godly Character 

We asked Catalysts how the LCI has helped them grow more like Jesus. Humility and listening came up as major themes, as the word cloud below illustrates.  

Graphical representation of words used in Catalysts survey responses about character development

Many Catalysts reported that they are now able to more lovingly engage in dialogue with those who hold different beliefs, especially when it comes to theology and the sciences.  

“I have become more humble in listening to others, even when they think differently from me.”  
– Areli Cortez, a history graduate student from Mexico 

Maturing in this way will help them collaborate with their national movements to run their science and theology projects over the next year: 

“The constant invitation to consider the needs and opportunities in the national movement, and the emphasis on negotiation skills have been a space for me to grow in humility through active listening.”  
– Isabela Pineda, an architecture student from Ecuador 

The training prompted some Catalysts to take bold steps to serve others on their campuses and beyond: 

“I decided to apply the teachings we received on humility by cleaning the toilets at my institution every week.” 
– Valentin Ngouyamsa, a lecturer from Cameroon 

“Through the LCI, I have seen the fruits of the spirit in my life: a greater compassion for others and a deep desire to help those in need. I have acquired the ability to take risks and this led me to rescue a lady found in a gutter until she was fully healed in a hospital in my country.”  
– Nina Ble Toualy, a criminology graduate student from Ivory Coast 

Applying new-found knowledge 

Learning about theology and the sciences, and how they can go hand in hand, is one of the pillars of the LCI’s training. We asked the Catalysts about the knowledge they have acquired and how they are applying it (see word cloud below). 

Graphical representation of words used in Catalysts survey responses about knowledge gained

Many experienced a change in mindset: 

“In my thinking, the idea of a conflict between theology and science has disappeared. It’s been replaced with the idea that one can be a scientist and a Christian.”  
– Souabou Togo, a lecturer in communication and expression from Mali 

“Through my training, I was able to understand that faith has much to give to science in terms of social, moral and ethical issues.”  
– Leonardo Luna, an electronic engineering student from Brazil 

The Catalysts also appreciated considering science and theology issues within their cultural context.  

“In the LCI, we had the double challenge of looking at the different sciences, seeking to understand them from a Christian and a Latin American perspective”   
– Marcio Antonio de Lima Junior, an architecture professor from Brazil 

Several Catalysts said the training enabled them to feel better equipped to talk about their faith and their discipline.  

“I was able to use a geological process called fractional crystallization to explain the redemptive work of Christ on the cross to my lab colleagues.”  
– Isaac Daama, a geologist from Cameroon  

Skills with a positive impact 

For LCI Catalysts, developing skills like teamwork and project planning is just as important as spiritual formation and learning about theology and the sciences. We asked them how the skills they have gained have impacted them. Their answers are illustrated in the word cloud below. 

Graphical representation of words used in Catalysts survey responses about skills gained

“The LCI helped me learn the importance of including field research in the process of designing a project. It was really important to understand if my project is something that people need rather than me trying to convince someone that they need something. In this way, I won’t have a dominant and colonial stance, but a more collaborative and constructive one.” 
– Deborah Vieira, a recent literature graduate and volunteer with ABUB Brazil 

“I have improved my literary publications, and my passion for science and theology has grown miraculously. I have advanced as much in the use of a laptop as in the preparation and direction of my lectures.”   
– Innocent Niyongabo, a Catalyst from Burundi who now works for the LCI 

“I learned to plan and evaluate ministries and projects. I have learned to work smart and set goals in my daily life. And now I understand the power of teamwork: Alone, I am not enough.” 
– Onesphore Hakizimana, a graduate student in animal sciences from Rwanda 

National movement leaders share their view 

Our survey also asked general secretaries of IFES national movements to share how Catalysts are contributing to their ministry. 

Tiémoko Coulibaly, General Secretary of GBEEM Mali, had this to say about working with Catalyst Nou Poudiougo, who is an assistant professor of ecology: 

“Through the LCI, Nou is blossoming and making an impact on academia, the church and society. He is also helping the national movement realize its vision. Nou is becoming more involved in the GBU ministry and the project he is working on will engage our students.” 

A general secretary from a sensitive country in Latin America shared this about working with their Catalyst: 

“I can already see benefits of the Logos and Cosmos Initiative. Our Catalyst has been able to motivate and involve students and other professionals in science and theology issues and has proven to be a useful resource for the national movement.” 

Looking forwards 

The full survey results, which have been analyzed by IFES’ Ministry Impact Team, will guide the Logos and Cosmos Initiative leaders as they adjust and run the program going forwards.  

We’re pleased to report that many of the Catalysts quoted above have been accepted onto Tier Two of the LCI’s program – the phase in which they will implement their theology and the sciences projects on their university campuses. Meanwhile the LCI has just welcomed a new cohort of 23 Catalysts into Tier One, who are just starting their year of training and development.  

Catalyst Perspectives: No More Double Life 

After growing up in the aftermath of the Rwandan genocide against the Tutsi1, Onesphore Hakizimana enrolled at the University of Rwanda with hopes of becoming a doctor. But God had different plans for him. In the second blogpost in our Catalyst Perspectives series, Onesphore explains how he said goodbye to his “double life” and is discovering the richness of God through his graduate studies in animal science.  

I went to university to find myself. I wanted to become a doctor. But human medicine wasn’t available on my campus so I had to study animal science instead. Disappointed, I asked myself: “What is this subject going to contribute to the great life that I dreamed of?” 

I soon came to realize that I was using academics for selfish gain. Through my involvement with GBUR Rwanda (my national student movement), I learned that the purpose of life is to serve God and to live for him alone.  

My perspective changed but I was still left with the problem of a dichotomy, or divide, between my studies and my faith. I viewed my academic studies purely as something which gave me the opportunity to be on the university campus and witness to students. I didn’t know how to glorify God through my studies.  

After graduating, working as a GBUR campus staff member only added fire to my problem. Once again, I saw this dichotomy in the discipleship we were doing. We told students that to live is for Christ but we didn’t show them how to do that practically. 

God challenged me. Jesus said “Go and make disciples of all nations.2” But did he mean for us to do that by bringing people into the four walls of the church or a Christian meeting? Reading the Parable of the Talents in Matthew 25 also made me realize that God gave each of us a ministry according to our abilities. Everyone is a full-time minister for the Lord. 

I decided to go back to university to earn a master’s degree in animal science and to learn how to serve God through my academic work – although I still didn’t know how to do that.  

Photo of Onesphore Hakizimana
Onesphore Hakizimana

When I heard about IFES’ Logos and Cosmos Initiative (LCI), I celebrated that this was an answer from God. I became a Catalyst in 2021 and we started with a course called “Engaging the University.” I discovered that if my old self has died and “Christ lives in me3,” then it means that when I am on the campus, it is as if Christ is on the campus in order to reach the people he loves. And more than that, we can redeem science and its outcomes for the Lord. 

As an animal scientist, the creatures I study were created to glorify God. When I study them, I can see that science itself has a way to express God.”  

An article by Christian philosopher Nicholas Wolterstorff4 introduced me to the idea of developing a Christian mind. As Christians we have “the mind of Christ5”, enabling us to see the created world through the eyes of Christ. As Christian academics, if we are both studying the Word of God and immersing ourselves in our discipline then we will be able to discover the richness and wisdom of God embodied in creation. We will be able to draw out the treasures of God hidden in our academic discipline and then use these insights to bring created things back into their original purpose.  

My view was also broadened by John Stott’s idea of double listening6 – listening to both God (through scripture) and to the cries of the world around us. Our role is to connect those two voices through our discipline so we can answer the needs of the world around us.   

In this way, science can help us follow The Great Commandment (loving God and others). When God created the world, he didn’t reveal everything to us. But he gave us analytical minds that we can use to study the world and find answers that will help to restore creation and help it flourish.  

Photo of Onesphore Hakizimana weighing a chick

As an animal scientist, the creatures I study were created to glorify God. When I study them, I can see that science itself has a way to express God.  

The book of Genesis describes how God created animals and told humans to rule over them and subdue the earth. People rely on animals for food, livelihood and companionship. I can use my expertise to manage animal breeding and animal performance so we can provide food for people at a time when we are facing global challenges such as land scarcity, food insecurity and a growing population. For example, for my master’s thesis, I researched how to use insects as a food source for poultry. My thesis was considered by the Rwandan Ministry of Agriculture and this year, they are going to adopt it as a way to feed their animals.  

Connecting my academic discipline and my faith has also helped me with The Great Commission (making disciples). I am able to bring out the wonder of God that I find in my discipline and show it to my fellow students. I can talk to them about faith in a language they understand. While studying genetics, I talked to one of my friends about God and he became a Christian.  

Over the next year, my project for the LCI will be to work with my national movement to lead a series of workshops and debates on the topic: Seeing God in Animal Sciences. This will inspire and create awareness among students, ministers, and professionals about how God can reveal himself through any discipline and how we can redeem our disciplines. My hope is that my project will equip Christian students to discover their God-given calling to use their academic work to reach their fellow students and transform their communities by restoring the creation.  

We were all put here to work in the garden of God’s creation. How can you change your perspective on your work or academic discipline? How does your area of expertise connect with your Christian faith? What are the treasures of God hidden there? 

ENDNOTES

2Matthew 28: 19 

3 Galatians 2:20 

4 Wolterstorff, Nicholas (2019) “In This World of Wonders: Memoir of a Life in Learning” WM. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co. 

5 1 Corinthians 2:16 

6 Stott, John (1992) “The Contemporary Christian: Applying God’s Word to Today’s World” Chapter 6: The Listening Ear. 

Catalyst Perspectives: Are Christianity and science opposed? 

In the first blogpost in our new Catalyst Perspectives series, PhD student Albertine Bayompe Kabou from Senegal shares how her perspective on the relationship between Christianity and science has evolved.

Albert Einstein once said that “science without religion is lame, religion without science is blind1.” But for me, I grew up with the idea that science and religion are opposites. My father is a retired teacher and I’m from a Catholic family so my studies were always on one side and going to church was on the other side.  

This dichotomy was reinforced when I went to university. Academics there said that Christians didn’t like science, based on the trial of Galileo2. The Italian astronomer was tried and condemned by the Catholic Church for promoting the theory that the earth revolves around the sun. I later discovered that Galileo was a believer and his discoveries were not a contradiction between science and the bible but between science and interpretations of the bible. 

Evidence was another issue that came up at university. People said: “Have you seen God? Do you have evidence?” Science is based on the observation of things. But those things did not appear by chance. They are created by God. And I have come to believe that God is the master of science. 

“Do you know how the clouds hang poised, those wonders of him who has perfect knowledge?”
(Job 37: 16)

The Bible tells us that God is the one whose science is perfect. The book of Job says: “Stop and consider God’s wonders. Do you know how God controls the clouds and makes his lightning flash? Do you know how the clouds hang poised, those wonders of him who has perfect knowledge?” (Job 37: 14-16) 

Should we say that the one who has perfect science (God) is also against it? No! On the contrary, the Word of God encourages us to seek understanding by relying on Him. Proverbs 8:10-11 says: “Choose my instruction instead of silver, knowledge rather than choice gold, for wisdom is more precious than rubies, and nothing you desire can compare with her.” 

I came to Christ as an undergraduate but everything changed for me during my PhD when I encountered Impact, the IFES group for researchers in Senegal. Here, I was finally told that I could glorify God by serving him with my studies. As an economist, I had always wanted to honour God with my research but I didn’t know how. 

My perspective on faith and science changed even more when I joined the Logos and Cosmos Initiative (LCI) in 2021 as a “Catalyst.” It was a love affair right from the very first course we did, called “Engaging the University.” The course caused me to review my position vis-à-vis the university and life on campus.  

It’s important to understand that in my context when a young person says they want to go to university the first thing they hear is “Be careful!”. University is a synonym for corruption and parents worry that their children will be corrupted by bad influences. 

Photo of Albertine Bayompe Kabou
Albertine Bayompe Kabou

So when I started university, I had this attitude that I would just go to my classes and then go back home. And that’s it. I tried not to be in contact with anyone else. 

When I read a John Stott book3 as part of my LCI studies and learned about his idea of “double listening” – listening to both scripture and the world around us – it was a huge change for me. I said to myself: “Albertine, you have to start listening to the university, you have to be in contact with the university and start making your contribution. You have something to give to the university.” 

John Stott’s idea of double listening inspired the topic of my project for the LCI, which is about poverty. 

Photo of Cheikh Anta Diop University of Dakar
Cheikh Anta Diop University of Dakar

In collaboration with my national student movement, GBU Senegal, I plan to conduct a study to help understand the root causes of poverty among students. There are a lot of struggles students face at my university – Cheikh Anta Diop University of Dakar (pictured left). These include poverty and delays in scholarship payments, and a recent report4 found that some poor students prostitute themselves to cope with poverty. 

In the development of many poverty eradication strategies, the state does not involve the people concerned. So I want to consult the students themselves and then equip them to be agents of change in their own exit from poverty.   

My study will include questions about students’ economic situation and also about their life and religious beliefs. In Senegal, Islam is the main religion and traditional Quranic schools called “Daaras” are known to encourage a culture of begging5 among their students.  

I will also examine attitudes towards poverty that are part of the African ancestral tradition, in which people engage in rituals to worship their ancestors or other deities. For example, I will see if there are students who believe that their poverty is caused by a curse and that they can’t change their situation unless the curse is undone.  

I believe we need to understand other people’s faith traditions: if we are called to be light, then first of all we have to understand the darkness around us. 

After I have completed my study, next year I plan to organize a conference that will bring together students as well as experts on theology, economics, sociology and entrepreneurship, to discuss strategies to combat student poverty. 

The bible talks about both economic and spiritual poverty. My project will aim to fight poverty while also sharing the light of the gospel. God says he is the refuge of the poor. I believe this reality will be a way of comfort for people who are poor, to know that someone – that a big God – is taking care of them. 

ENDNOTES

1 Einstein, Albert (1950) “Out of My Later Years” Philosophical Library Inc. https://books.google.com/books?id=Q1UxYzuI2oQC&pg=PA26#v=onepage&q&f=false 

3 Stott, John (1992) “The Contemporary Christian: Applying God’s Word to Today’s World” Chapter 6: The Listening Ear. 

4 Maïmouna, Ndiaye (2021) “The sources of student prostitution” (Report at Cheikh Anta Diop University in Dakar, Senegal) 

5 Human Rights Watch report (2010) “Off the backs of the Children: Forced Begging and Other Abuses against Talibés in Senegal”https://www.hrw.org/report/2010/04/15/backs-children/forced-begging-and-other-abuses-against-talibes-senegal#; Wikipedia article on “Daaras” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Daara 

PHOTO CREDITS

Clouds Photo by Stephanie Klepacki on Unsplash

Photo of Cheikh Anta Diop University of Dakar: Rignese, CC BY-SA 3.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

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.” 

Laying the foundations for catalysts to bring change

A diverse cohort of students and scholars– all of them passionate about applying their Christian faith to their academic discipline – joined IFES’ new Logos and Cosmos Initiative (LCI) in April. Since then, these 36 “catalysts” have benefited from a transformational program of mentoring and training. 

So far, the catalysts have taken part in three online workshops, two e-courses and journeyed together through an online training platform that connects participants from 22 countries across Latin America and Francophone Africa. The goal is to equip these young leaders to run projects that will foster dialogue between theology and the sciences in their universities and local contexts. 

For seismologist Jonás De Basabe, who you may remember from this October edition of IFES Prayerline, the Introduction to Science & Theology e-course was particularly impactful this year.  

“The course gave me the tools to understand the relationship between my faith and academic work, and challenged me to analyze this relationship from a biblical perspective,” said Jonás, who is from Mexico.  

“It left me with a sense that we can meaningfully contribute as Christian scientists to our church and society,” Jonas said. “It also encouraged me to let my academic research be more inspired by the values of the kingdom of God.” 

Photo of Jonas De Basabe
Catalyst Jonás De Basabe from Mexico

For some, it was being part of a learning community that has been most powerful. 

“Being part of the LCI made me realize (as Elijah did) that I am not alone in this journey,” said Deborah Vieira. She recently completed her master’s in literature and now volunteers with several art initiatives with ABUB, the national student movement in Brazil.  

“I was encouraged that there are other Christian students desiring to delve into the Word of God and science in such an intense way so that not only the testimony of their work and experience can testify to Jesus, but the scientific production itself too.” 

In addition to learning about theology of science and biblical hermeneutics, the Logos and Cosmos Initiative is an integrated program. It trains catalysts in the knowledge, skills and character needed to thrive in whole-life discipleship, which includes their academic lives.  

Photo of Deborah Vieira
Catalyst Deborah Vieira from Brazil

Photo of Isaac Daama in graduation regalia
Catalyst Isaac Daama at his recent graduation

Isaac Daama, a geologist from Cameroon, says his studies through the LCI helped him succeed in his recent, six-hour-long PhD defence: it helped him to be a good listener. John Stott’s advice about attentive listening in his book The Contemporary Christian stayed with Isaac long past the assignment he did on this book in May.  

“This chapter taught me how to really listen to what my questioners and respondents were saying,” Isaac said. “It helped me be fully open to them and to not be quick to defend myself or stress my point.” 

Isaac now plans to apply to be a researcher and teacher at his university. “I believe this is where God is calling me for mission,” he said. “My training at the LCI has equipped me sufficiently to engage there as an academic, ready to fully interact with the university for its transformation.” 

His PhD may be complete but, Isaac continues to progress through a personal development plan as part of his training as a catalyst. Top of his list is developing his English skills since Cameroon’s official languages are English and French.  

“If I want to be excellent in my discipline, English is a must,” he said. “My university environment is more and more bilingual so it will also help me to better dialogue about my Christian faith.” 

The catalysts are now on the cusp of an exciting new phase: planning their first projects. Most recently, the catalysts have been conducting field research, pilot projects and consultations with their national movement. Their projects, which could take the form of conferences, publishing initiatives and scholarly networks, will launch in Spring 2022.  

Isaac, for example, wants to start a science and theology group on his university campus. “This ‘cell’ will incubate Christian students for an inclusive, prophetic, constructive dialogue for the glory of Christ,” he said.  

While the current catalysts will apply to progress onto the second year of this five-year program in Spring, the LCI will also be accepting applications for more catalysts. Applications open on 1 February 2022 on the LCI website.   

Please pray with us for the Logos and Cosmos Initiative and the catalysts: 

  • Thank God for the catalysts and their passion to live as disciples of Jesus in their academic communities 
  • Pray for wisdom for the catalysts as they plan their projects and for fruitful collaborations with their national movements 
  • Pray that God would draw the right candidates to apply for the next phase of the program  

The passing of a global scholar – Dr. Jean Bieri

It is with great sadness that we announce that Dr Jean Bieri (1955 – 2021) passed away in September at his home in Montreal, Canada. Originally from Congo, Jean was an internationally educated scholar with a passion for both physics and theology. He developed a foundational e-course for the Logos and Cosmos Initiative: An Introduction to Science and Theology.

Here, Dr Stephen Ney, Curriculum Manager for IFES’ Logos and Cosmos Initiative (LCI), reflects on Dr Bieri’s legacy.

We mourn the loss of Dr Jean Bieri, not just to us and the LCI, but to his family, friends, colleagues, IFES, and to the global church. In many ways Jean embodied the characteristics that we hope our catalysts will develop: focused on Jesus, deep in God’s Word, generous in offering his considerable intellectual gifts and accolades fully in service to God and God’s people, multi-cultural, committed to our institutions of higher learning, and adept at working cross-culturally.

Over the past year, Jean played a vital role in the LCI, both by mentoring one of our catalysts, a young Congolese scholar, and by designing a 5-week e-course on how the sciences and Christian theology intersect and can interact. In this course, which we plan to keep using for years to comethe clarity of Dr Bieri’s thinking, and the patience of his teaching are evident. His students express gratitude for the careful input he has given them. In the LCI we will miss him greatly, and have trouble imagining how we’ll find anyone like him!

Although Jean had a very impressive CV, he was humble, gentle, and unassuming. He had no interest in being in the spotlight, but in spotlighting what is true. At LCI we are very thankful for the significant contributions he made in such a short time. But we lament our loss.

To learn more about Dr Bieri’s scholarship and ministry, read his obituary on the Global Scholars Canada website.