Seeds of transformation: Project Showcases update 

Jeremiah 29:7 calls us to “seek the peace and prosperity” of our communities. At the LCI Project Showcases, more than 20 Catalysts presented some of the creative ways that their projects are sowing seeds of transformation in their societies– from food security to biomedical advances.  

Almost 100 guests attended each of the Logos and Cosmos Initiative online “galas” – one for Latin America and one for Francophone Africa. Catalysts shared the latest news on their theology and the sciences projects, including how they are inviting others from their IFES national movements to join them in bringing the shalom of God to their communities. Both Showcase events also featured our new video overview of the LCI.  

Projects that serve the whole community 

One aspect of the presentations which piqued the audience’s interest was the fact that several projects serve or involve students and faculty from multiple faith backgrounds. 

“Among the people we provided mental support to, it was a mixed group,” said Sarah Obotela from the Democratic Republic of Congo. “Most of them were non-Christians.” 

Sarah is leading a project that supports students who have experienced conflict-related trauma in the DRC. 

A screenshot of participants at the Francophone Africa gala

“When you’re talking about students who have experienced war-related trauma, you can’t necessarily divide them up by religion – they’re all victims,” she said.  

Similarly, a team of three Catalysts from Côte d’Ivoire noted that their project has provided free counselling to students who are Christians, Muslims or those that follow traditional African religions.  

Likewise, Dr Albertine Bayompe Kabou from Senegal reported that evangelical Christians, Catholics and Muslim students have participated in the entrepreneurial training offered by her project. The goal is to help students find innovative ways to get out of poverty. A dozen students have received training in transformational leadership, entrepreneurial mindset and social entrepreneurship, and have been coached in developing business plans and securing investment.  

At the Latin American Showcase, Álvaro Pérez from Ecuador was asked about how interested researchers are in joining conversations about science and religion.  

A screenshot of Álvaro Pérez  presenting a slide about his project

Álvaro, who is leading a project about the bioethics of human gene editing, explained that he has been pleasantly surprised by the reaction his project has received from faculty members at his university, particularly those who don’t follow Jesus.  

“An Atheist professor, who teaches bioethics at my university, was very open to participating in a video interview and speaking at a discussion event where two other Christians were on the panel,” Álvaro said. 

“At the event, we were able to look for common ground from different perspectives. We came together to promote the use of these kinds of therapies to treat disease. At the end of the discussion, the conclusions were the same among the three speakers, for example the need for effective regulation from ethics committees on research involving human genome editing.” 

Echo our prayers for further gospel-change 

The Project Showcases’ theme of “Seeds of Transformation” conveyed how Catalysts’ projects are beginning to impact their universities, IFES national movements and wider communities. Yet we recognize that the issues that many Catalysts’ projects are tackling are huge and complex. The full outcome of these projects may take years to come to fruition.  

We invite you to join us in praying that these seeds of transformation will grow and bear fruit for the glory of God’s kingdom, and that more students and academics will be inspired to use their academic disciplines to share the love of Christ and help their communities flourish.  

We hope you will be inspired to echo some words of prayer spoken at our Project Showcase events. 

David Bahena, Associate General Secretary of IFES, closed the Latin America showcase in prayer, saying: 

“Father, thank you for the work of your spirit, Lord, awakening interest, restlessness and providing creativity. Thank you, Lord, for awakening a new generation that longs and desires to walk with you in the academic and university world. Help us Lord, to serve in the fields of knowledge to which we have been called, to seek the transformation of our society, to seek a deeper understanding of the problems that we are addressing. And help us Lord to transmit this to the student movements. We pray that every dimension of our reality and our work will be permeated by you and that we will seek to bear witness to your grace and love. Amen in Jesus’ name, Amen and Amen.” 

Professor Valentin Ngouyamsa from Cameroon, one of the LCI’s advocates (mentors), served as emcee for the Francophone Africa event, and closed with these words of prayer: 

“Thank you for the wonders that you are doing through this program. Lord, we know that you are the builder, and we trust you to continue building the people that we are and that you keep using us as a cornerstone in this program to be able to impact universities. We pray that you renew the strength of the Catalysts …and that you give them wisdom to complete their projects. May your will be done in all of this. Amen.” 

For more information: 

  • Watch the 5-minute video about the LCI that was shown at the Showcase events  
  • Visit our projects webpages for summaries and videos about Catalysts’ projects 

New video: What does integrating faith and academia look like?  

Watch our new video and discover how the Logos and Cosmos Initiative is equipping students and scholars to live out the good news of Jesus by integrating their faith with their academic discipline. Hear the perspectives of Catalysts who are leading theology and the sciences projects, LCI staff and IFES General Secretary Tim Adams.   

“Catch a glimpse of our Catalysts’ passion and energy by watching our new five-minute video,” says Professor Ross McKenzie, Leader of the LCI. “The stories featured remind us of the LCI’s core mission: equipping students and young academics to connect the Word to their worlds. I pray that you will be encouraged and challenged by it.” 

For resources and ideas on how to integrate your faith and your academic discipline, visit the LCI Get Involved webpage or the IFES Engaging the University webpage.  

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Brazil: An answer to one professor’s prayer 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Creation care workshop
Mental health conference

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

Transitioning to Year 4 

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

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

What’s next after the Templeton grant? 

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

Please pray with us:  

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

Not striving alone: wise counsel sets Catalysts up for success 

“Plans fail for lack of counsel, but with many advisers they succeed,” says Proverbs 15:22. What difference does wise counsel make for Logos and Cosmos Initiative Catalysts as they lead theology and the sciences projects on campus? 

“My project has been enriched by so many people with profoundly diverse backgrounds and experiences,” says Lorena Brondani.  

One source of support that Lorena has benefitted from is the input of two project consultants. She admits that she was not sure what to expect when she first met with project consultant Karen Hice Guzmån. On paper, they have different academic backgrounds and contexts. Lorena is a PhD student in social communication based in Argentina; Karen originally trained in horticulture and lives 5,000 miles away in the USA. But when they met on Zoom, they quickly discovered that they share a mutual passion for mentoring Christian women in academia, a theme which runs central to Lorena’s LCI project. 

Photo of Lorena talking to Karen on a zoom call, also with interpreter Pilar present
From top left: interpreter Pilar, Lorena and Karen

“It was amazing to learn about the Women Scholars and Professionals (WSAP) ministry that Karen leads at InterVarsity, and how God called her there to mentor other women,” explains Lorena. “We also share an interest in providing and generating resources for Christian women scientists.” 

Karen has spent more than a decade empowering women through WSAP, a ministry initiative of InterVarsity Christian Fellowship, the IFES national movement in the USA. With Karen’s advice, Lorena found that she has not had to “re-invent the wheel” on some aspects of her project.  

“Karen’s willingness to stay connected with me and the materials she shared with me enabled me to see what I can apply from her ministry in my own country and national movement,” Lorena explains. “I am tremendously inspired by the work of the WSAP ministry, because it has been organizing forums, book clubs and activities for several years, and these helped me to think through my project.”   

Photo of the book cover of Lorena's book: Authentic
Lorena’s new book

In 2022 – 2023, as part of her project, Lorena captured the stories of six Christian women in academia in Argentina and published them in a series of short videos and a book, Auténticas. Diálogos con mujeres académicas, seguidoras de Jesucristo (Authentic: Dialogues with Women Academics, Followers of Jesus Christ) which will be published by Editorial Certeza Argentina in January 2024. 

Lorena gained the idea after reading a book that Karen recommended to her, Power Women: Stories of Motherhood, Faith, & The Academy (InterVarsity Press, 2021). 

“That book was a real find for me,” says Lorena. “This book, and my own experience of motherhood, inspired me to write my own book, for my own context. It was important for me to write a book in Spanish because there are few biographies of Christian academics in my country, let alone in Latin America.” 

This year, as part of her project, Lorena is leading a mentoring and research group for Christian “mother-scholars.” The books, journal articles, videos and websites that she learned about through her project consultants have helped her compile this list of resources on motherhood, family life, feminism, faith and academia for the ten women participating in her group.   

Lorena’s story is not unusual. LCI regional staff ensure that each Catalyst is matched with one or two project consultants. 

Meeting for the very first time 

In Cameroon, geologist Dr Isaac Daama’s project on controversial mineral mining techniques has been strengthened by the guidance of Rev. Dr Ebenezer Blasu, Research Fellow at the Akrofi-Christaller Institute of Theology, Mission and Culture in Ghana.  

In mineral-rich Cameroon, many artisanal miners hold traditional African religious beliefs about where minerals can be found. Their practices involve animal sacrifices and prayers, asking the gods to open up the earth for them. For the last two years, Isaac has been partnering with his IFES national movement to lead a project that draws together scientific and Christian perspectives on these mining techniques. 

“Dr Blasu has really helped me to understand the foundations, objects and symbols of traditional African religions,” says Isaac. “Thanks to him I understood that the term “animism” is a pejorative term for these religions, since it was a label used by white colonialists who used this term without trying to understand the spiritual practices of traditional African religions.”  

This year, Isaac is continuing his project by interviewing miners and university-trained geologists about their beliefs on these approaches. He is also hosting a training course and discussion workshops at his university about theology, science and the culture of traditional African beliefs. 

“Dr Blasu suggested that I write a scholarly article based on my research, and suggested some courses that I can take,” Isaac shares. 

In January, Isaac will travel to Ghana to take a course on primary African religions at the Akrofi-Christaller Institute where Dr Blasu is based. Whilst there, Isaac will be able to receive Dr Blasu’s input on his journal article, which has been accepted for publication in the Journal of African Christian Thought. Isaac is excited as it will be his first time meeting Dr Blasu in person. 

Photo of Isaac interviewing artisanal miners at a mining site
Isaac interviewing miners

 “Dr Blasu has become like a father to me,” he explains. “We talk or email quite often and I receive a lot of advice from him.” 

A highly enabling program 

Project consultants are just one of many different sources of support that Catalysts are provided with to help them succeed with their projects. A recent external mid-term review of the LCI, described it as “a highly enabling program in which [Catalysts] have several levels of support available to make the journey easy and to find motivation and encouragement.”  

Those were the words of Dr Bonnie Jacob, an independent consultant that the LCI commissioned to conduct a comprehensive review of the program. Her review won’t be finalized until 2024, but her preliminary report, submitted in June 2023, commended the LCI for its support of participants.

“The number of people who speak into Catalysts’ lives and support them in different aspects is incredible. The Catalyst does not have to strive alone.” 

— Dr Bonnie Jacob, independent review of the LCI

Advocates walk alongside  

As soon as they join the LCI, Catalysts are assigned an advocate, a mentor to walk alongside them in their learning journey and to assist them as they design and deliver their projects.  

Professor Valentin Ngouyamsa from Cameroon, for example, is a sociology professor who participated as a Catalyst a few years ago and has continued his connection with the LCI by serving as an advocate. He currently mentors Sarah, a sociology graduate student from the Democratic Republic of Congo, and he has been instrumental in shaping her project right from the start.  

Photo of Professor Valentin Ngouyamsa
Professor Valentin Ngouyamsa

“To help Sarah find a feasible theme, I asked her to look around and observe her environment and tell me what she saw,” he says. “She told me about the permanence of war in her country, so I suggested that she explore the impact of war on young people.” 

From there, the two of them worked together on Sarah’s proposal for her project, which draws together psychosocial and theological approaches to the mental health of students traumatized by war.  

“I helped her define the objectives, activities and scope,” shares Valentin. “And I provided scientific input and helped ensure that her proposal fit with the objectives of the LCI.” 

Sarah’s project was approved by the LCI for funding and implementation. This year, she is leading a research study, hosting awareness-raising events and providing practical mental health support for students in her city.  

“I believe the role of an advocate is to provide scientific, psychological and spiritual support to the Catalyst,” says Valentin. “It can mean calling them to encourage them, praying with them and for them, being available and approachable, and if necessary, providing constructive criticism.” 

Always a joint venture 

Catalysts are deeply embedded in their IFES national movements, and their projects are always joint ventures with the national movement. For this reason, once they begin their project, each Catalyst forms a project team, which includes the general secretary, and students and volunteers from the movement.  

This is something that encouraged Álvaro Pérez when he began his first project earlier this year on the bioethics of gene editing.  

“This is going to be hard work, but I won’t be alone,” he said. “I have the support of several collaborators and volunteers.” 

Working with the national movement in Ecuador, Álvaro’s project will promote dialogue about bioethical and Christian perspectives on human gene editing. It will include an academic forum; a scholarly article; and the production of a video interview with an expert in the field.   

“The general secretary of my national movement has agreed to provide advice on the content of the academic forum and the video interview,” explains Álvaro. “I will also have the support of the communications team, a logistics coordinator and volunteers.” 

Photo of Álvaro Pérez
Álvaro Pérez

Wise counsel program-wide 

Photo of Ana Ávila speaking at an LCI workshop
Ana Ávila speaking at an LCI workshop

Catalysts aren’t the only ones benefitting from wise counsel. The LCI program itself is also designed with feedback and accountability in mind. The LCI has about a dozen independent external advisors who provide input on the program in general and on individual Catalyst projects. All of them have significant experience in academia, science and theology discussions, and leading projects funded by the John Templeton Foundation. 

They provide advice to the LCI leadership, and some have shared their expertise by teaching at events. For example, for the last two years, Argentinian academics Dr Ignacio Silva and Dr Claudia Vanney have taught a seminar for Catalysts in Latin America on the epistemology and history of science and religion. In 2022, Mexican science writer Ana Ávila spoke at a workshop for Catalysts about writing at the intersection of science and the Christian faith. In addition, some of these external advisors review Catalysts’ project proposals as part of our rigorous selection process, and several are serving as Catalyst project consultants this year.   

“We emphasize community and collaboration,” says Professor Ross McKenzie, Leader of the LCI. “Catalysts are not isolated individuals but part of communities: the LCI community, their IFES national movements and their universities. And we hope that this will help their theology and the sciences projects to be the very best that they can be.” 

  • Read more about Lorena’s project on her blog.   
  • Read summaries and watch short videos about Catalysts’ projects on our projects webpages. 

World Assembly: a unique opportunity for learning and exchange 

Catalysts who attended IFES World Assembly described it as “an embrace from God,” “a space of rest and renewal,” and an opportunity to be “filled with energy and motivation to continue with my project.” Approximately 30 LCI staff and Catalysts travelled to Indonesia in August to attend IFES’ quadrennial conference. They joined more than 800 delegates – students, staff, board members and guests – from 162 countries who came together to be inspired and equipped to be resilient witnesses in the university and beyond.   

World Assembly was truly a unique opportunity for learning and exchange – both between our two regions and with the rest of the global IFES fellowship.  

During the five-year lifespan of the Logos and Cosmos Initiative, meeting in Jakarta was the first – and probably the only – occasion when a selection of Catalysts and LCI staff from Francophone Africa and Latin America could come together in-person. Many Catalysts found it helpful to hear different perspectives on common challenges, find synergies among their projects and discuss the seeds of ideas that may grow into future collaborations. 

Photo of LCI panelists speaking at an event on creation care
Creation care panel

“I was encouraged to know a little more about how Catalysts from Francophone Africa understand creation care, how they contextualize it in their universities and how they use their academic skills for it,” says Johnny Patal.

Johnny is assisting with an environmental project in Guatemala and you can find out more in this 5-minute video

Beyond the LCI, Catalysts were able to make valuable connections with a diverse range of people from across the world. Many came away with new perspectives and ideas that may transform how they implement their theology and the sciences projects.  

Deborah Vieira from Brazil, for example, had an enriching meeting with Dr Denise-Margaret Thompson, a professor and entrepreneur from Trinidad and Tobago, who delivered a plenary talk. They discussed the upcoming conference on theology-science dialogue which Deborah is hosting in November in partnership with ABUB, the IFES national movement in Brazil.   

“Denise had many rich ideas and was a source of inspiration,” shares Deborah. “She encouraged me to set aside a session in our conference for a celebration among black students and academics. I have planned this into the program and it will be led by Fabiana Alves, who is a staff member with ABUB and a Tier One Catalyst.” 

Dr Sambo Ouedraogo, a Catalyst and ecologist from Burkina Faso, also gained new insights for his project.   

Ed Brown’s talk about creation care gave me a boost for the subject I’m tackling in my project, which is the conservation of biodiversity from a Christian perspective,” Sambo explains. “His talk, and the discussion he had with me after my presentation on the creation care panel discussion, gave me a picture of other challenges linked to this theme that I need to consider in my current and future investigations.” 

Finally, World Assembly was an opportunity for Catalysts to fulfil the LCI’s goal for them to serve as thought leaders who stimulate new discussions about theology and the sciences, particularly in the Majority World. Both current and former Catalysts spoke at panel discussions, seminars and plenaries, were featured in videos or engaged with delegates who visited the LCI booth in the exhibition space. This gave them plenty of opportunities to share concrete examples of how they are engaging their faith and their academic discipline, and to inspire others to do the same.  

“We thank God for the contribution that Sandra Marquéz was able to make on issues of peace and justice at World Assembly through the different spaces she participated in,” says Mary Olguin, General Secretary of Compa, the IFES national movement in Mexico. “It was undoubtedly a significant contribution and an opportunity for growth for her as well.” 

Photo of Sandra Marquez with fist in the air
Sandra Marquéz

Another Mexican Catalyst, clinical psychologist Dr Elías Coreas Soto, was invited to share a testimony about his project, which will equip Compa staff with new trainings and resources to help them care for students’ mental health. (Watch his testimony in this video at the 4:25 mark).  

Dr Elias Coreas Soto speaking at World Assembly
Elías Coreas Soto

“It was an incredible experience,” Elias reports. “Never in my life have I spoken in front of such a large audience. I received good feedback from people from other regions. I hope I have contributed to an awareness of God’s interest in blessing us in all areas of our lives, including our emotions.” 

In addition to Catalyst contributions, several LCI staff were invited to speak at plenaries and seminars, providing biblical teaching and big picture perspectives on how to engage with the university. For example, Timothée Joset delivered a plenary talk, together with Prarthini Selveindran from FES Singapore, titled: The university as our context. And Josué Olmedo, unpacked Psalms 105 and 106 at a morning plenary talk (in Spanish). 

Photo of Josue Olmedo and Innocent Niyongabo speaking at a seminar
Seminar about LCI

More than 25 people attended a seminar in which LCI staff Innocent Niyongabo and Josué Olmedo presented the LCI as an expression of God’s mission in the university and a model that could be adapted by other IFES regions or national movements. Participants learned about the vision, approach and structures that underpin the support that the LCI provides to its Catalysts. There were also opportunities to take part in small group discussions about integrated mission and to ask questions about how the LCI works. 

“The LCI is just one small part of IFES,” said Professor Ross McKenzie, Leader of the LCI. “World Assembly provided a collage of the beauty, diversity, and vision of the people and programs in the global fellowship. It was valuable for members of the LCI to have this experience so we can have greater synergy with the wider IFES community. I believe this is key to lasting impact.” 

Photo of Ross McKenzie having lunch with Catalysts
Ross with Catalysts

Continuing his reflection on the event, Ross shares: “Personally, attending World Assembly gave me greater clarity about the strengths and weaknesses of the LCI, and how we can work towards increasing its effectiveness in enhancing discussions about theology and the sciences among university students in the Majority World.” 

For more information about all of the projects mentioned in this blogpost, visit our projects webpages

Read an overview of World Assembly in this IFES Conexión blogpost. 

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

Photo of Liliane Alcântara Araújo
Liliane Alcântara Araújo

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

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

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

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

Photo of workshop in Brazil
Liliane’s workshop

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Please pray with us: 

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

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.