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. 

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. 

Frail shoulders, big God 

It was a big calling. Nina raised her head from her prayerful position.  

“No, Lord, that is too big for my frail shoulders.” 

But the idea didn’t go away. Instead, God is using a new IFES initiative to bless and propel the passion he has been nurturing in her.  

Nina has a vision for her country. When she looks around at the criminal justice system in Cote d’Ivoire, she sees so many problems – overcrowding, poor treatment, and poor rehabilitation processes. She knows there is a way to redeem this broken system using her studies in psycho-criminology and theological practices. 

“I seek to contribute to the development of Africa, to develop a network of criminologists who bring solutions and answers to the broken criminal justice system, particularly in Cote d’Ivoire, to be able to open an institute of criminological expertise which will serve the whole of West Africa, where prisons are a real misery. I have always wanted to achieve these objectives, and for that I have committed myself to scientific research.” 

The goal of Nina’s research is to highlight the link between prison overcrowding and criminal careers and to propose a method of in-custody treatment that will help prisoners reintegrate into society and reduce the numbers in prison.  After writing her research plan, Nina still felt that she lacked the mentorship to guide her research along biblical and theological lines. So, Nina applied to be a catalyst through the Logos and Cosmos Initiative. 

The Logos and Cosmos Initiative is a new program from IFES which equips students, staff, and academics in Latin America and Francophone Africa to fund and carry out projects in the university which foster dialogue between theology and the sciences.  Nina was selected for the first cohort and will have the opportunity to be a part of scholarly networks and conferences, curricula and training events for campus fellowships and to publish study guides and articles. Participants are called “catalysts” because of their unique potential to bring gospel-centred change to their societies and universities through their studies. 

Although Nina felt the calling was too big for her, the Logos and Cosmos Initiative is an answer to prayer. 

 “[It is a way to] show through my research… that the solution to the crisis of criminal justice is not found in the construction of bigger prisons, but in Jesus.”  

Nina hopes that through her time with the initiative she will learn how to better integrate theology into her studies, to speak coherently on issues relating to faith and science, and to be able to share the good news through literature and social development work. 

As Nina embarks on this project, she asks that we support her in prayer. 

  • Pray that God will give her an open mind and new understanding of who he is. 
  • Pray that she will gain a new perspective on her field and how she can use it to share hope. 
  • Pray that she will see hearts brought to the Lord through her research, her witness, and the project she will run at the university. 
  • Pray also for the other 35 catalysts who are also participating in the Logos and Cosmos Initiative this year.