When I met Gilianny, she was thousands of miles from her home in Brazil where she grew up on the Amazon. She would go on to study biology – the science of life – in college. You might think that Amazonian rainforest would be the perfect avenue for studying creation and life. Not so for Gilianny. She’d learn about the fullness of life from a boy named Noah.
With his mother and father by his side, Noah has endured Myelodysplastic Syndrome; a painful disorder that disrupts the production of healthy blood cells. He’s been intubated, and was once resuscitated after his heart gave out from receiving a flu shot. He’s undergone surgeries, blood transfusions, skin grafts, and today he is on dialysis for kidney failure. Most of us are not prepared for such a mission, but it seems to me Gilianny was made for answering this call.
Known as the lungs of the world, the Amazon rainforest is the most important healthcare worker on the planet; Producing 90 billion to 140 billion metric tons of carbon to help stabilize local and global climate. It also pumps about 7 trillion tons of water per year into the atmosphere and its forest recycles 50% to 75% of annual rainfall back into the atmosphere.
Gilianny speaks of Noah’s health like she speaks of her own faith. Not as a someone who has studied science but as someone whose heart has been transformed by something greater than herself. Her son and her faith are one in the same. “No matter what I am facing I now trust like never before.”
In sharing stories of Noah, Gilianny was sharing her love for God who gave him to her. Each battle they have fought is a testimony to God at work in their lives. And it shows in her smile. She is alive, fully and completely. Maybe that’s why the people at her Cross Fit gym call her “Joy Girl,” because she oozes light, hope, and joy even as life tries to steal it from her.
Her faith journey started after high school when her dad, a nurse in the Amazon, converted to Christianity. Halfway through her college career, Gilianny felt the call to be a missionary. While pursuing that call, she met her husband who was also a missionary. Not long into their marriage, Noah was conceived. When they discovered his abnormalities, they decided to move to Gainesville, Florida where she and I spoke.
Listening to her testimony, and about the challenges she faces on a minute by minute basis, I looked at my life, my ministry and mission, and wondered if I could do what this young mother does. What is her secret for life? She told me, “I always chose to believe and not lose hope.” That is some holy biology.
Despite centuries of in-depth exploration, that Amazon remains a mystical place that hides innumerable secrets.
Some other facts I learned about Gilianny include but are not limited to: she ate fried queso for breakfast this morning. And she was born on her mother’s birthday, a joke God played on her mom for personal reasons that I won’t go into.
We share the same faith, answer similar calls, and have both lived in Florida. Yet, it was the Amazon that felt connected us. Not many people get the chance to see the great mysteries of creation from such an amazing and divine point of view. She and I are lucky to know what it's like to swim in those wild, untamed waters.
More than a river, the Amazon is an important part of life as it winds its way from The Andes mountains of Peru and travels through Ecuador, Columbia, Venezuela, Bolivia, and ending in Brazil where it empties out into the Atlantic Ocean.
I went to Peru and spent a week on the Amazon River (in an old medical missionary boat). I remember hiking in the rainforest, among the giant kapok trees and lazy sloths, and feeling so small. It was there I realized that I was just a tiny part of the enormity of life. Yet whenever we connect with one another, like Gilianny and I did today, I realized how connected we really are to all of life. No matter how big or small, we are a part of the great ecological wonder of life.