Christian scholars gather in Chile to share challenges, cultivate vocations 

Christian scholars from more than eight countries across Latin America came together in January for a conference where they were able to share challenges and nurture their vocations.  

“It was a very special meeting because in most Latin American countries there are few spaces and opportunities for Christian professors and academics to share their challenges and dreams in the university context,” shares Sarah Nigri, former General Secretary of ABUB, the national movement in Brazil, who now serves as a mentor to LCI Catalysts. “Many feel alone and don’t have peers in the faith.” 

photo of speakers Pablo, Lorena, Deborah and Sarah
Pablo, Lorena, Deborah and Sarah

IFES’ vision of seeing Christians on university campuses thriving together in witness and whole-life discipleship applies not only to undergraduates but also to faculty members, researchers and graduate students.  

How can Christian scholars be empowered to engage with the university and bring their Christian voice and service into the conversations and culture of academia?  Scholars from Latin America have told the Logos and Cosmos Initiative that fostering a supportive network of peers is important in helping them live out their unique calling to the academy. But such opportunities for connection are often rare.  

Thirty-five scholars attended the two-day Christian Scholars Gathering, which took place in Chile. It is believed to be only the second such conference in the region, and the first took place almost a decade ago.  

“There were high hopes about bringing this community together, to exchange ideas, learn from each other and pray for each other,” Sarah says. “These hopes were not only met but exceeded! I have no doubt that we all came away strengthened to face the challenges of our contexts and encouraged to celebrate and cultivate the vocations that the Lord has given us.” 

photo of small group discussion
Small group discussion

The conference was the culmination of a project led by Chilean physicist Pablo Gutiérrez. As an LCI Catalyst from 2021 – 2023, Pablo partnered with GBUCH Chile, the IFES national movement, to develop a network of Christian scholars in his country. His plans for a national conference evolved into a regional gathering and he joined forces with regional LCI staff and a few other scholars to organize the event. 

“Christian scholars have a very specific call,” explains Pablo. “Events like this help to strengthen a network of scholars interested in integrating science and theology, each one from their own workplace.” 

“Participants appreciated the uniqueness of being together and the opportunity to discuss the challenges and joys of teaching and research with peers,” he says. “The image of the road to Emmaus comes to mind: two people on the road, discussing what happened, and then Jesus came along and gave them a new meaning.”  

The main talks were delivered by Vinoth Ramachandra, former IFES Secretary for Dialogue and Social Engagement, who invited participants to read his new book God’s calling and the university ahead of time.  

Participants also attended roundtable discussions on the challenges of being a Christian scholar (in the face of the “publish or perish” culture); pastoral challenges of Christian scholars (mental health, family, church and students); and the challenges faced by women in the academy. 

“The academic environment is often not receptive to children and families,” shares Sarah. “Because of the “machista” culture in which we live, academic women feel these difficulties more acutely than most men. At this meeting, we were able to talk about relevant topics, such as gender inequalities at university and the challenges of academic productivity.” 

In addition to being an LCI mentor, Sarah is a mother of two young children. She has a master’s degree in political history and hopes to resume her studies at some point.  

“For me personally, the scholars gathering was a remarkable meeting because I was able to travel with my family and meet and get to know other families who share a love for Jesus Christ, the student mission and the university.”  

Scholars connecting with students and staff too 

Gustavo Sobarzo, who helped organize the scholars gathering, explains that it was held in the middle of a week-long training event for student leaders and staff from IFES national movements in the Southern Cone sub-region (Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Paraguay and Uruguay).  

photo of scholars with Southern Cone conference participants
Scholars with Southern Cone conference participants

“We intentionally designed it this way to energize the interactions between the scholars and the staff and students,” he says. Gustavo is the Tier One Training Coordinator for the LCI in Latin America and IFES Subregional Coordinator for Latin America’s Southern Cone subregion– positions which he holds alongside his academic career as a professor of veterinary microbiology.  

“Both events had their own program but shared meals, devotions and free time,” Gustavo says.  

Sarah affirms that the set up worked well: “This strengthened the bond between professional academics and student ministry – something which is very precious.” 

Several members of the LCI community contributed to the training for national movement staff and student leaders. Gustavo and Catalyst Lorena Brondani led an Engaging the University workshop; LCI staff members Jouseth Moya and Alejandra Ortiz led a workshop about women in ministry; and LCI staff member Josué Olmedo led a workshop about vocation and work.  

One joint event that brought both gatherings together was the launch of Catalyst Lorena Brondani’s new book “Authentic,” which was published in January by Editorial Certeza. The book is the culmination of her LCI project from 2022 – 2023, in which she captured the stories of six Christian, Argentinian women in academia who have attempted to integrate their Christian faith, university careers and their relationships/family life. Find out more on Lorena’s blog.  

Lorena’s book launch

As part of their LCI-funded projects, several Catalysts in Latin America are already helping connect scholars at different levels. Lorena is leading a mentoring and research group for Christian “mother-scholars” from across the region. In November 2023, Deborah Vieira, held a conference for Christian scholars in Brazil, which attracted 150 students and researchers connected with ABUB.  See the LCI’s Latin America projects webpage for more information. 

In terms of region-wide gatherings and networks, Gustavo hopes that the momentum gained from the conference in January will continue.  

“I have a special calling to keep this going,” he says. “We are still working out concrete plans for the future, but we plan to have a few more online meetings. Our dream would be to make this into an annual meeting.” 

There is now an IFES Connect group for Christian researchers and teachers who are connected with IFES national movements in Latin America. For more information, visit https://connect.ifesworld.org/topics/40388/feed. 

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. 

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. 

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. 

Latest news: Project showcases and preparing for Year 3

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A screengrab of Lorena Brondani interviewing Paul Freston on zoom

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

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

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

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

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

Reflecting on these scriptures, Dr Ngarial said:

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

Preparing to scale up for Year 3 

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

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

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

Please pray with us: 

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

Photo gallery: theology and the sciences project snapshots

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

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

Explore Catalysts’ projects through 17 new videos

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

Screengrab from LCI project videos playlist on Youtube

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

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

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

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

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

Screengrabs of Latin American project videos on Youtube

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

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

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

Screengrabs of Latin American project videos on Youtube

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo of a woman speaking informally at the workshop

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

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

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

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

Ana Avila

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

New projects video gallery 

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

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

Diving deeper into theology and the sciences 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What’s happening now and next? 

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

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

Preparing to welcome another cohort 

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

Save the date for our project showcase events! 

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

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

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

Prayer points: 

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

Latest news: meaningful connections and projects picking up pace 

It was a rich time of learning and fellowship at the Logos and Cosmos Initiative’s first in-person training workshop in Francophone Africa, which took place in August. More than 30 participants met together in Bujumbura, on the shores of Lake Tanganyika in Burundi.  

After such a long season of online meetings, our Catalysts (participants) found it valuable to be together in person: connecting with others over a meal, for example, or having conversations that renewed their vision as Christian academics or helped them refine their theology and the sciences projects. They also had the opportunity to learn from – and engage with – eminent scholars from the region, who spoke on such topics as: the ecological dimensions of the Christian faith; how to develop research projects; and project management. 

Photo of a female workshop participant asking a question with a miccrophone

“It was wonderful to see the sense of family that has developed among the Catalysts in the Logos and Cosmos community,” said Dr Albert Chabi Eteka, Executive Director for the LCI in Francophone Africa. “Catalysts have told us that they came away from the workshop feeling equipped, galvanized and spiritually empowered.” 

Catalysts were joined at the event by seven LCI staff, several mentors and a number of GBUAF regional staff members, including Regional Secretary Dr Klaingar Ngarial. Many participants stayed on for the regional PANAF’22 conference, which took place in the same location immediately after the LCI workshop.  

Looking ahead, our Latin American Catalysts, mentors and staff will come together for an in-person workshop from 29 September – 2 October in Santiago, Chile. Dr Elaine Storkey, the English sociologist, philosopher and theologian, will give the two main talks. The workshop will also feature plenaries by Dr Rocío Parra, a lawyer who advises the Chilean government on environmental law, and Ana Ávila, a Mexican science writer who works for the Coalición por el Evangelio and the Templeton-funded initiative, Blueprint 1543. 

In the meantime, our Tier One Catalysts in both regions are currently taking the LCI’s 6-week long e-course, An Introduction to Science and Theology, which has been updated with new content on the importance of the humanities and has been contextualized for our Latin America region. To help them develop their own project ideas, these Catalysts are also starting to conduct analysis and reflection on their national movements, campuses, academic disciplines and the work of God in their own hearts. 

Sandra’s project in Mexico: Jesus is our peace and justice 

Our Tier Two Catalysts have been busy leading workshops, planning conferences, conducting research and developing new resources as part of their exciting theology and the sciences projects. 

In Mexico, graduate student Sandra Márquez Olvera organized her first workshop in July as part of her Opening paths to justice and peace project. Like many Catalysts’ projects, her project aims to tackle a very real problem in her nation: the violence and forced disappearances associated with Mexico’s so-called “war on drugs.” Through workshops, an academic forum and a research paper, Sandra’s project will open up a dialogue among university students about faith, justice and peace in Mexico and will equip them to take active steps as peace-builders.   

Photo of students and national movement staff presenting ideas at a workshop

Sandra’s project blog shares some of these testimonies from the 28 student leaders and workers from Compa Mexico, the IFES national movement, who took part in the three-day workshop in Mexico City: 

“I believe that we can do something to change the situation of injustice in the country, and it can be started from small actions,” said one cell group leader who attended.

At the end of the event, participants developed ideas and initiatives to respond to social violence even at the very local level of their university campuses. 

Photo of students and national movement staff sitting on the floor brainstorming ideas

“In a gray moment of global violence, Jesus is our peace and justice,” said Compa Mexico staff worker Maritza López. She co-led the workshop with Sandra and has personal experience of losing a university friend who disappeared four years ago. “I take many challenges away from this workshop to share with my students, professional friends, church and family. It has made me ask myself how we could replicate actions to build justice and peace in my state – Tabasco, Mexico. Thank God for the Logos and Cosmos Initiative and for the researchers who make the space in their life agendas to add to the lives of the students of our national movement.” 

Meet our Catalysts and explore their projects 

LCI Catalysts are currently leading 18 projects in 15 countries across our two regions. You can now read summaries of all of their projects on our new project webpages. There are also plenty of opportunities to hear from Catalysts themselves.  

In this 2-minute video, Marcio Lima, an architecture professor from Brazil, talks about his theology and the arts research program for students in ABUB Brazil. You can also read his thoughts about how the arts and the Chrisitan faith enrich one another in his Catalyst Perspectives blogpost. Lastly, you can listen to his interview on the recent Voices of IFES podcast episode about the LCI.  

Also in Latin America, Lorena Brondani from Argentina is interviewing remarkable Christian women academics and will tell their stories through videos and printed materials. Read her Catalyst Perspectives blogpost to learn more.  

Screenshot of a video of Marcio Lima talking

In our Francophone Africa region, watch this short video from geologist Isaac Daama to learn more about how his project is drawing together scientific and Christian perspectives on occult mining practices in Cameroon.

Screenshot of a video showing Isaac Daama talking

Please pray with us:

  • Thank God for the connections and learning that took place at the workshop in Burundi and pray for the upcoming workshop in Chile.
  • Praise the Lord for the positive reception that Tier Two Catalysts’ projects have had so far from students and leaders in their IFES national movements and from others in their local contexts. 
  • Pray for sustenance and energy for Catalysts as they continue to implement their projects. Many of them are juggling their role as a Catalyst with many other responsibilities. 
  • Pray for good partnerships and favor from authorities and collaborators as Catalysts continue with their projects.  
  • Pray for the mentoring relationships that Catalysts have with their LCI “advocates,” that trust will be developed, insights shared and friendships built.