I went into labor with my daughter Leah on a waterbed at my friend Biana’s (bee-onna) house 35 years ago. I was watching the ‘Sound of Music’ and wanted to get to the end before I rolled myself over (slosh, slosh, slosh) and headed for the hospital.
Biana was very obliging, even though it was 11:30 at night. Even though it was her birthday.
She was in training to be a nurse, she had 3 children of her own by then; there really wasn’t much that would phase her.
We spent a good amount of time together in those raising-little-kids days. Our husbands co-owned a roofing business; we were the dispatchers, bookkeepers, business tax payers and accountants, all while juggling either a nursing baby or chasing toddlers and fixing p,b and j sandwiches. Our kids came to work with us; with Biana’s three children and my two, it was a crazy, busy time.
As I said, there wasn’t much that would faze Biana.
I can rarely remember a time where she raised her voice or lost her cool (and there many occasions to do so). What I remember is her calm demeanor and clear, level head, especially when it came to the business side of the business.
That partnership with our husbands/families came to an end and we went our separate ways. Although we lived in the same Central California town, our paths rarely crossed. We fellowshipped at church occasionally and heard via the grapevine that Baby No. 4 had been born.
When our husbands got together for a rare fishing trip, Biana and I would catch up. Life had become very difficult for her by then, but she never let on. There was a significant amount of verbal and mental abuse going on behind the scenes, it turns out, and we eventually received word that she and her husband had gone their separate ways.
Four children, single mom. Instead of giving up and feeling sorry for herself, Biana returned to college to complete her bachelor’s degree. She then went to work in our local public health department, helping new moms and the immigrant population that was inundating our city at the time.
We moved out of state not long after that and were out of touch for a number of years.
Fast forward to the advent of Facebook and the network of old friends reconnecting, circa 2006.
As we each weighed in with our family photos and status updates I was astonished to hear that Biana had gone to Africa…. AFRICA. To work with a ministry there called Faith Alive, helping mothers with AIDS and their orphaned children. She is on her ‘second tour’ now.
We are each, ahem, 60-something years old. We both have grandchildren. You would think life could be slowing down a bit. But no.
As I said, not much fazes Biana.
We began to communicate via email –me surprised at her bravery, and she with a ‘well, why not?’ response.
Faith Alive is in Jos, Nigeria. Nigeria—as unstable a place on the continent of Africa as ever there was.
Add to that the daily challenges of life in Nigeria, like this:
(from her April newsletter)
“The city is crowded and we all live very close to each other. Since we don’t have air conditioning in homes, and not many even have a fan, windows are always open this time of year. As a result, sleeping has been a challenge for me. Last night was the first night that I was able to sleep soundly for longer than 3 hours.
“It is not until 11 pm that things quiet down at night: after the days tasks are done at the neighbor’s homes (e.g. washing up dishes outside or using the outside toilet, which has a door that clangs shut), after the closing of the cafes, and after the final hollering of children for ma.
“This is one of the things I love the most about Nigeria – the rich communal lifestyle that is a result of the close proximity in which we live. When life takes place so close to others, relationships with neighbors and friends develop more naturally, and support for each other becomes the norm of life.
“A little difficulty sleeping at night and the development of new habits for daily life are a small price to pay for the benefits of closer friendships and experiences.”
She gets about 3-5 hours of sleep at night and it doesn’t dampen her love for the people and the ‘rich communal lifestyle.’ What a gift.
I was curious about Biana’s part in the work at Faith Alive—thinking nursing care of moms, dispensing with medications, health education and so on.
My jaw dropped when I read her casual response to my email question, ‘What exactly do you DO?‘
“Officially I am the Deputy Executive Officer of the Faith Alive Foundation – just a title for the org chart; actually am the assistant to the Nigerian CEO/Founder of the hospital. I don’t do any nursing, but my medical training gave me the background to be able to understand medicine, hospitals, etc. while I do administrative work for the foundation and hospital, which varies widely:
- mentoring/training their leadership team,
- financial oversight & helping their accounts department find ways to cut expenses and control costs, communicating with donors from USA & Britain,
- leading weekly prayer meeting once a month,
- sharing from the Word at daily staff/patient devotions sometimes,
- monitoring of patient and program data management & reporting to funders,
- supporting the coordinators of the social service programs as needed (job training, income generating ventures, HIV Support group, Celebrate Recovery),
- and generally leading things when the CEO is away, which is often.
“It’s been such a blessing to see the way that God has taken all of the different times of my life and used them to make me into someone he can use to serve here in Jos at this time, especially to see God bring to fruition the calling I felt to missions as a child, in high school, and at GA (a Christian community we were part of), in spite of some really heavy challenges and trials during those post-GA.
“Even the bookkeeping type things that I had to learn for roofing have come in handy. If I hadn’t gone through having to start over because of the divorce, and finish raising the kids on my own, helping them through some very difficult emotional/lifestyle issues as teens and young adults, I doubt I would have been able to begin to understand the abused women & kids & widows who have been victims of HIV and are struggling to survive and find hope again.
“It truly is not me that is able to do this work: out of my own abilities, I would be floundering and coming up short repeatedly. I think it is simply a gifting from God that I am thankful to be able to say ‘yes’ to when he calls.”
The added threat of Ebola is a very real concern these days. When Biana was in the States over Labor Day, she shared on Facebook there was tremendous need for even the most basic of PPE—Personal Protection Equipment—for the health care workers in their ministry. Thankfully, a significant amount of donations were secured and when she returned to Nigeria with much needed supplies, the staff there rejoiced.
Her last email to me before she returned at the end of the month brought tears to my eyes:
“We never know how God will meet needs and what kind of connections and new relationships He has planned for us.
“It’s a cool way to live, openly following Him, being as wise as we can but willing to take risks if he asks us to, and seeing God in action in, through, and around us in a way we don’t experience if we just follow a more traditional church-goer /participant way of life.
Yes, it is safe, but seems often to be more limited and
not nearly as much fun really.”
FUN. Well, there you have it. This 60-something heroine of the faith is serving others because it’s fun.
I am honored to know such a friend.
If you would like to email Biana with questions or encouragement, you can reach her at bgrogg at gmail dot com. Her home church in Fresno is accepting donations for support of Faith Alive. Financial gifts can be mailed to: Fresno First Baptist Church, 1400 E. Saginaw Way, Fresno CA 93704. Designate gifts for ‘Faith Alive/Biana.’
Linking (a little late) with Jennifer for Tell His Story