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.”
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.