Part 5: Joyful Grannies

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4

On we walked, with our young guides reassuring us that it was close by. Sophie had a picture of the house in her head– a rectangular house with two front doors and a round children’s hut off to one side. When we entered a clearing and were pointed toward a house, Sophie said, “This looks different. I don’t know if this is it.”

Julianna Family (4)

Little children stood in front of the house looking at us curiously, and soon a couple of ladies appeared as well. We said Julianna’s dads name again and they said he wasn’t here. We still weren’t sure if we had the right spot, but then an older lady spotted Julianna and burst into tears, shouting and running into our midst and hugging and kissing Julianna. A younger lady ran into the house and quickly emerged with an album.

The album I’d sent to them from America years ago full of pictures of Julianna.

This was most certainly the right place.

Then the pandemonium began.

Someone told us first that the lady kissing Julianna was a grandmother on her dad’s side, but later dad said his mom was not living, so we think now it may have been an aunt. Another lady, a neighbor, kissed Julianna with equal enthusiasm. Children ran to get Julianna’s father and sibings, and now Julianna’s step mother hugged and cried over Julianna.

People ran into the house to get chairs, and insisted we sit down in the shade under the trees while we waited for Julianna’s father to come from the fields.  When finally he did come, I don’t think I have seen anyone happier this side of heaven.

Julianna Family (10)
He hugged her and then raised his hands to praise God for the gift of her presence.

Julianna's Dad


When Julianna’s grandmother, the mother of her mother appeared, sobbing hysterically, I was immediately in tears too. She couldn’t stop looking at Julianna’s face and hands.  Oh the tears. Oh the joy.

grandma (640x480)

Julianna Family (5)
The boy in the photo above is Julianna’s older brother. His joy was a quieter one, but I think he was just as happy as anyone.

Julianna Family (14)

The crowd grew as more and more family and neighbors appeared. I had brought my computer so I could show a video of Julianna playing the guitar and singing. I knew that she might be subdued when meeting many strangers, so I wanted them to get a glimpse of the real her– a child who actually is far from subdued.  Everyone pressed close to glimpse the video.
Watching a video

In a bit we gathered family in the front of the house to try to get some pictures. The crowd pressed in, and I got a piece of paper and tried to write down names of actual family, so we could maybe later identify people in the pictures.
SO many people

This photo shows many of her relatives, with her sister Bruk just arrived and hugging her.
Julianna Family (3)

And here is much of her family, except for some sisters close to her age who had not yet arrived.

Julianna Family (8)

This photo is of Julianna’s great grandmother on her mother’s side. What a gift, to see so many generations together.

great-grandma (640x480)

Back under the tree in the shade again, Julianna’s smaller sisters arrived.
Julianna Family (6)

Hana (in the brown top) is a year or so older than Julianna, and Conjit (in white and pink) is probably another year older than her. Julianna’s father was radiant with happiness to see so many of his children together.

Julianna Family (12)

Soon it was evident that preparations were being made to feed us. Sophie and I were both concerned that they might be killing animals, and making more of a production than they could really afford, and we wondered if we should leave. But we had come from such a distance that I couldn’t bear to leave so soon. And then I was told that they were cooking corn. This seemed to me like a reasonable feast with it being corn harvest season.

We settled in to stay awhile longer. Soon corn was brought out to us– tougher than American corn, but fairly sweet. We quickly began copying Hana’s way of eating the corn, picking it off the cob kernel by kernel. Julianna’s dad gave a joyful speech, and then the uncle did. With the help of the translator, I was able to tell Julianna’s dad thank you and to pray for all the assembled family and neighbors.

They wanted to hear Julianna’s voice, but she was shy. So we thought of questions to ask her, and soon she warmed up, telling people about her life in America. The crowd was huge by now, but any time she spoke, everyone went silent, hanging on her every word.

Julianna’s grandma asked if she could bring her some milk, but we told her that would not be good for Julianna’s tummy. They coaxed us to eat more, and Sophie said we’d be expected to eat all the corn. But when Hana saw Julianna was struggling, she snatched the ear of corn out of Julianna’s hand and set it back on the table. I broke mine in half and gave it to a couple of the little children.

Finally it was time to go. We slowly and reluctantly gathered our things together and walked back toward our van. Many hugs were shared at the van door before we all waved goodbye. Oh, it was hard to leave. But what a blessed visit it had been.

Julianna has many, many people who love her on both sides of the world.


  1. Just beautiful! I’m enjoying following along on your trip. Thanks for sharing!

  2. Priscilla says:

    Love the photos! Thanks for sharing.

  3. So Beautiful! What a joy for you all!

  4. Wow! What an amazing experience for everyone involved.

  5. Made me cry lots of tears…Oh, how I love reunions!

  6. Ron and I both cried tears of joy as I read this to him.

  7. Mary!!!! How do you leave? Oh how I wish you had more time with them. So did the father and kids live elsewhere? And how Julianna come to be adopted buy not the other siblings? It’s ok if it’s too personal, just something I’m trying to understand as I’ve seen it in other families too. Her father’s face is priceless. And the grandparents. The love is pure joy too see.

    • Julianna’s mom died 2 weeks after she was born and the family tried to find ,someone who was willing to nurse her. They really wanted to keep her But they weren’t able to find someone to nurse her, so to keep her from dying they gave her to Dr. Mary, who found a foster mom to care for her until she could bring her to the orphanage in Addis.

      • Wow. Crying. I’m very interested in this, too- I’m emailing you some questions because they just felt too personal to put om the blog…

  8. I can’t get over the JOY. What an unbelievable gift for all of you.

  9. Just beautiful. A day none of them will ever forget

  10. I took a similar trip with my 13 year old Ethiopian daughter this summer. It was such an amazing and overwhelming experience. I look at your daughter in thsse pictures and think of mine and how brave they are to do these visits and embrace families on both sides of the world as you mentioned. So much beauty out of heartache. God writes amazing stories.

  11. Wow. I’m busted wide open. Thank you for sharing this with us. Love and hugs all around. xoxoxo

  12. Seeing the photos of the relatives is wonderful but it is also great to catch some glimpses of your expressions….utter delight and joy is written all over your face too!

  13. Gloria Eki says:

    What a wonderful gift to you all! Tears running down my face while reading of this reunion!

  14. Mary-oh my goodness!!! What a journey…!!!
    As. one of your early readers and fans…I am so happy to be reading this tonight. What an amazing trip… Your words and pictures brought tears to my eyes. You capture such an incredible moment for your Juliana and everyone who was there. I love the photos of you as well. Such an amazing mother you are… A true inspiration. Thank you so much for sharing. Xoxo Janet

  15. This might be my favorite post of ever.

  16. Oh wow, this is so beautiful and emotional!!

  17. This is just such a wonderful post, story and experience for all of you – praise God! Tears rolling down my face, I just can’t imagine what it must have been like for all of you. What a brave, wonderful girl you have – so strong; can’t imagine what she’s feeling. Prayers for the rest of your trip to be safe and joyful.

  18. Jennifer H says:

    Mary, I’ve been following all of your posts from Ethiopia and I’m so excited for your family! I can’t imagine how this visit could have ended any better! What a blessing that you were able to locate her family and were welcomed with overwhelming love and excitement. This day must rank up there in the best days of your life. I can only pray that you will be able to find relatives for your two oldest daughters, too.

  19. What a fabulous day. I’ve never met a single one of these people, probably never will, but I still teared up from those pictures. There’s not a doubt in the world who her father is, is there? She looks so much like him! I’m sure she will never, ever forget that experience.