Compounding Faith: Dr. Ross Jansen – van Vuuren
After his application, interview, and board approval, Dr. Ross Jansen-van Vuuren (PhD organic chemistry, University of Queensland 2012) has now officially joined the ranks of GSC as a new part-time scholar. He is a man who has studied all the elements, visited almost every continent, and nurtures a faith that compounds such things as apologetics, spiritual formation, evangelism and justice.
To be clear, Ross has been part of our fellowship for several years already. He was the catalyst and organizer of our 2019 conference on faith and scholarship at Queen’s University as well as the inspiration and lead for our 2021 national Zoom conference on friendship, faith, and academic life. A gentle, thoughtful and multi-talented scholar, we are delighted that he has sought to join our fellowship of academics.
Before becoming a Global Scholar, Ross was already a scholar with a global biography. Born and raised in Zimbabwe, teaching and doing graduate work in South Africa and Australia, then taking post-docs in Canada and Slovenia, and marrying a woman who grew up in Nepal, he has a sense for every continent on the planet except the South Pole. While he did not grow up in a Christian home, he grew into the Christian faith through his adolescence and now sees God leading his life across many borders. His extensive church involvement and curiosity to learn and grow in his faith have nurtured a deep consciousness of God’s presence, power, and passion for his creation. He is thankful to his home churches in Australia (St Lucia Bible Church) and Canada (Bethel Church Kingston) for grounding him in solid Biblical truth.
The Divine Bond
This sense of God’s activity in the world, exemplified in the life of Jesus Christ, animates his vocation in the discipline of chemistry. He has worked on papers and given presentations that delve into the wonders of God’s designs in chemistry. He has long-standing connections with Christian university groups such as the International Fellowship of Evangelical Students (IFES) and the Simeon Network (Australia). He speaks glowingly of his relationship with Christian physicist Ross McKenzie (University of Queensland) and Professor of Surveillance Studies David Lyon (Queen’s University), both mentors to Ross in the dynamics of faith, science, and life as a Christian academic.
Ross’ bond with Jesus Christ has since steered his research program. He has done lab work involved in developing a COVID antiviral drug; he continues to work on a probe that can diagnose Alzheimer’s disease in the early stages as well as a recyclable iridium catalyst; and he has also explored scientific solutions to the plastic pollution that litters our planet. Climate change and sustainability mark his vision for future research.
Ross’ faith is not a private matter for him. He bears witness to God’s love, not only in his commitment to church (he preaches regularly at the International Church of Ljubljana), and his research program, but also in his everyday interactions with strangers and colleagues. He describes his approach:
I am always upfront about being a Christian. I am a relational evangelist, and take time to get to know people, building trust and genuine relationships, before opening about deeper spiritual matters. I prefer one-on-one conversations where we can go deeper and discuss ‘big life’ issues.
He identifies himself as an extrovert and networker, a dedicated mentor for students, and we would add, a pretty good conference organizer, too.
The road has not always been smooth for Ross, as he first thought he would be a high school teacher but had to immigrate to Australia when Zimbabwe’s economy collapsed in 2007-2008. He gradually shifted to the world of higher education while living in Brisbane which he continued to pursue in Canada (2017-2021) while Julia studied towards her Ph.D in Rehabilitation Science at Queen’s University. He is now in Slovenia on a 2-year Marie Skłodowska-Curie EUTOPIA Science and Innovation Fellowship.
However, being a self-described global citizen also has its drawbacks: not only is it harder to build up roots and equity, but distance from family and home country can be alienating as one navigates new cultures in faraway places.
He sadly lost his mother in a car accident in 2010, while he was living in Australia. This sense of loss and displacement has given him and Julia a sensitivity to other alienated persons, and together they cultivate hospitality in their succession of humble accommodations.
Justice, not Just Us
Ross sees Christian witness extends to the arena of justice as well, and he often speaks of his shared vision with his wife, Julia. They see people not only as bundles of chemicals or sophisticated animals but as bearers of the image of God who are due the respect of creatures of “infinite worth” and special social responsibilities. He explains:
Having grown up in Zimbabwe (and Julia, Nepal), we are both aware of the disparities in the world around us. Despite the efforts by many NGOs and other organizations worldwide, this disparity seems to be getting worse, perhaps exacerbated by COVID-19. At the same time, we are very aware of God’s heart for the poor and vulnerable and our need to be active in supporting the poor and fighting injustice in the world.
He’s involved in the international Christian creation care agency ‘A Rocha’ and an AuthorAID WhatsApp journal club which supports science researchers in countries with less advanced economies. He is also a member of the Society of Christian Scholars, the American Scientific Affiliation, the International Isotope Society, and he follows Biologos, an initiative started by Francis Collins to help reconcile science with Christian belief. In sum, Ross is not only a highly skilled chemist, an accomplished scholar, and an earnest evangelist, but sees the wider scope of God’s kingdom, including its beauty: he is also an amateur artist/painter/photographer.
Ross fellowship in Slovenia will last for another 1.5 years. He and Julia hope to possibly return to Canada when he is done and settle into a university, if opportunities arise. With three post-docs and many publications, he should be a first-rate candidate for an ongoing academic appointment in Canada. This could then be the basis for future international academic cooperation and Christian ministry, given the extraordinary network he already has developed across the planet. However, they are both open to the Lord’s calling and have already sensed a deep need within Eastern Europe for the gospel amidst a dire shortage of Christian leadership and resources.
Ross’ life exemplifies the outrageous idea of missional Christian teaching and scholarship in global higher education. He has the right chemistry with us, and we look forward to our partnership in scholarship and ministry together.