The Day I Met Barbara


Dear Diary,

Pinch me! I am in Uganda, Africa!! That this is real, let alone possible, is way beyond amazing! Even if I had a bucket list, going to Uganda would not have made it to such a list. Not even in a wild dream could I have imagined I would go there, let alone have such a life-changing experience while I was there! (Yes, I know that sounds hackneyed, but it truly was just that!!)  

Now to Him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to His power that is at work within us…        Ephesians 3:20

With apologies, Dear Diary, for a sorry lack of expressive words to share my heart, this is how this incredible day went!

I was with the EWT mission team in Lira, Uganda, on our way to Jireh Children’s Home to meet the Ugandan EWT Staff and the children who live there. I was so excited to meet the EWT Staff about whom I had heard such incredible reports. But, most especially, I was excited to finally meet Barbara, a five-year-old little Ugandan girl whom I have the privilege and joy of sponsoring through the EWT Child Sponsorship Program. 

I was excited, but I was also apprehensive! I’ve never been a mom so I wasn’t sure how to act when I would meet this little girl who had suffered such deep losses and trauma at her tender, young age. And how would she react to me? What if she didn’t like me? What if I scared her? Fear was trying to crowd out my excitement and joy… But God!

For God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power, love, and self-discipline.

2 Timothy 1:7

As our van turned off the highway onto the dirt road leading to Jireh House, we saw a small crowd that had gathered up the road. As our van got closer, it was clear that the children, village people, and staff from the children’s home had come out to greet and welcome us! They were all running alongside our van, cheering wildly, waving tree branches, and making their distinct happy African sounds! Wow! It was as if Jesus Christ Himself was arriving with us!

Then I spotted Barbara! For me, she stood out in the excited crowd – a shy little girl with an almost smile waiting to form on her little face. I couldn’t wait to meet her for real!

As we stepped out of our van, our entire mission team was swept up by the welcoming crowd – there were enormous embraces for all of us! Then we were taken hand in hand, arm in arm, up the dirt entry road, our procession moving with joyful noises toward Jireh House. No language skills were needed. Love was spoken there! Love for us and love for Jesus! They love, love, love Jesus and they show it! The joy of the Lord is truly real in these wonderful people!

But let all those rejoice who put their trust in You; let them ever shout for joy, because You defend them; let those also who love Your name be joyful in You.   Psalm 5:11

Then my moment came! I was introduced to Barbara! She was shy and quiet – but then so was I at that moment! She made a slight polite curtsy-like bow to me. I extended my hand and she took it - and didn’t let it go. The house staff person told her that I was her Auntie Penny, whom she already knew from letters and pictures I had sent her previously. I have no recollection of the words that were shared at that moment - but it was a deeply emotional meeting for me.


It was a moment in my life that I can pinpoint as pivotal and life-changing. I never was a mom, but I now had a marvelously wonderful little girl! I picked her up in my arms, kissed her, and hugged her with all my overflowing heart – and she hugged me back! With her still in my arms, I carried her to the welcome ceremony that was prepared for all our mission team! Barbara and I were becoming “us” from that moment on.    

In just the short time I spent with my little girl in Uganda, I found Barbara to be an incredible mix of sensitivity, intelligence, vulnerability, and steel. The trauma of singularly caring for her mother, who eventually died of HIV in her little four-year-old arms, was starting to ease because of the love and care and life at Jireh House.

He gives power to the weak and strength to the powerless.  Isaiah 40:29

Barbara was part of the showstopping children’s welcome presentation that was presented the day we met. She was shy but fearless to sing and perform with the other children, remembering all her lines and delivering them with poise. By the end of the night, we were with each other most of the time because that’s where we wanted to be. She had my heart – as well as my two bracelets that just fascinated her! 


The days I was able to spend with Barbara, I loved getting to know her as an active and delightful little girl; who runs and laughs and plays with all her friends at Jireh House; who has a smile that comes right up from her toes; who is strong-willed yet obedient; who learns so fast and is constantly curious! It was very hard to say goodbye to this wonderful child of God! But I will go back whenever the Lord sees fit to privilege me to do so! In the meantime, I will savor the incredible memories, remember the hugs and pulls to come play with her, and be the best Auntie Penny I can be to her as she becomes all that God has designed her to be!


 “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”     Jeremiah 29:11

Written by Penny Dunovsky


Betty McLelland