Connecting ministry and math
When Leah Foster was young, she and her father often went outside and looked up at the stars. Their time together made her see the world more deeply, and those moments under the night sky have helped her learn to build her faith and defined the person she has become today.
“We’d look at the stars, and I would point and say, ‘What’s that? What’s that?’ He didn’t like not having answers for my questions,” Leah says. “So he started getting into astronomy, and then so did I. We soon got a telescope and starting seeing the stars more closely, and we’d look at the sun with a filter and marvel at God’s creation and what an amazing gift from God it is.”
It wasn’t until Leah reached her junior year at Providence Christian Academy in Lilburn that she realized there was a theological name for using the order and logic of the universe to explain and defend one’s Christian faith. That a-ha moment came when she took an independent-study apologetics course.
“Apologetics, or defenses of faith, is something I’ve been interested in since I was very little, but I never knew it had a name. The logic, order and reason in the universe has always made sense to me, and finding a subject, apologetics, that deals with just this was fascinating,” she says. “I was hooked. Knowing why you believe what you believe can be used to help people come to Christ, and that’s just a really incredible thing.”
Leah also had loved mathematics since sixth grade, and a high school AP Calculus course solidified her desire to pursue mathematics in college. When she came to LaGrange College three years ago as a freshman, Leah declared math as her major as soon as she could.
“When I graduated high school I wanted to be a math teacher or go into ministry as a preacher, though that dream has changed some,” says Leah, whose minor is religion. “Either way, I knew I wanted to major in math. I had been told by pastors and youth ministers to major in something besides religion if you’re planning on going to seminary since you will receive your theological training there anyway.
“And frankly, I love math. I love the order and the reason and solidity behind it.”
While one might consider religion and math to have no common threads, for Leah, they fit perfectly with each other.
“One day my freshman year I was walking across the quad between the library and the dining hall and had a realization: I want to be an apologist,” says Leah, who grew up Methodist and continues to attend a United Methodist church. “I don’t know quite what that will entail still, but I had a dream, and math fits perfectly into that.
“I didn’t really transition from math to apologetics. By the way I see the world, the two are the same. The things I study in math describe the order in the universe which I believe an intelligent God put into existence.”
She says mathematical principles can be found in nature, including the Fibonacci sequence, which is the sequence where the first two numbers are 1s, and every later number is the sum of the two previous numbers. This pattern manifests itself physically in spiral seashells and patterns in leaves, flower petals, seeds, pine cones and more. Another principle found in geometric patterns in nature is the Mandelbrot set, which is a mathematical set of points whose boundary is a distinctive and easily recognizable two-dimensional fractal shape.
“To me, seeing the sequences that show up in this fractal and in other parts of nature just shows me that God designed it all and that he left almost fingerprints,” she says. “So when I study math I really see God, and it strengthens my faith.”
Leah says her math professors at the college have been a wonderful support team for her because as Christians who have chosen to devote their lives to teaching mathematics, they understand the connection between ministry and math, as do her religion professors.
“I’m able to have conversations with them about how math relates to God and how I can use math to spread the gospel, as well as how the representation of mathematics in nature points to God,” Leah says.
Leah is one of the college’s 24 Servant Scholars, a group of academically gifted and highly motivated juniors and seniors chosen through a competitive application and interview process to learn how to become caring and ethical leaders in their communities. The 12 juniors have a community internship in LaGrange, and Leah has been using her mathematical skills to help the local Salvation Army compile and research local demographics and other data for its five-year plan so the Salvation Army church can better serve its community. She also served last year as editor-in-chief of the LaGrange College student newspaper, The Hilltop News, and now serves as a writer and copy editor. She also is a member of the Honor Council.
In addition, she served an academic internship in summer 2013 at the Atlanta-based Ravi Zacharias International Ministries. Its premise is “helping the thinker believe, helping the believer think.”
“That slogan really encompasses apologetics because we want to help those who really want to understand the world, but might not be Christians, who might not even believe in God,” she says.
“We want to show them that you can use your mind and that the Christian faith, the Christian world view, Jesus Christ, all makes sense.
“And then for the believer, we want that person to understand why you believe what you believe, and then from there you can better spread the gospel because you have reasons for why you believe what you do.”
Leah says her internship solidified for her that apologetics will play a role in her future.
“God has given me an analytical mathematical mind, and that is a gift,” she said, “and since I want to spread the gospel, the internship has showed me how I can do that. I plan to attend seminary while maybe getting a job in mathematics while I’m there. My future from there may include writing a book.
“But no matter what, someday I hope to use math, my experience in writing with The Hilltop News, and my love for God, people, and apologetics to be able minister to others.”