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Barbara Sunofsky: “Learn From Each Other”

By Gina Valencia

Photo by Monique Kuhlman

As a 7-year-old German refugee, Barbara Sunofsky remembers what it was like to be an outsider. “I had the ‘wrong’ clothes, ‘wrong’ food, didn’t speak English,” she said. “It’s probably why I’ve always had a heart for anyone that is ‘othered.’”

Barbara’s experience went beyond cultural shock as she learned to live and grow up in a new country, but her curiosity and bright smile always connected her to individuals.


Years later when she was a working unwed mom, she realized how much she enjoyed interacting with customers at her bank teller job.

When she married husband, John, they decided they wanted to ‘take church seriously,’ and became involved in an episcopal church. Through a joint rally event at the church, Barbara and John discovered Long Beach Christian Fellowship (LBCF).

One Sunday morning, they realized they would be late to episcopal church, so decided to attend LBCF, which had a later service time. “That was in 1994, and we never left,” she said.

They became more involved, leading small Bible study and marriage support groups in their beautiful Lakewood home. Eventually Barbara found a passion for pastoral care, enrolled in seminary in the early 2000s, and became a pastor at LBCF.

“When you get to know people, and listen to others’ stories, you connect,” Barbara said. “And we get to learn from each other.”

It was through one of the marriage support groups that Kathleen Tsuji met Barbara and John.

“Barbara is unique because she not only is there with love, but also is willing to say the tough stuff,” said Kathleen, who nominated Barbara. “She sees and understands people in such a way that she can give that ‘kick in the pants’ type of advice.”


Her involvement with small groups inspired Barbara to further her counseling reach by starting a coaching business. Although she officially retired last year from LBCF, she continues to stay involved as pastor emeritus and keeps busy hosting and running support groups for survivors of sexual abuse and other trauma. “Healing is a journey not a destination,” she shares.

And it certainly helps having the right support along the way. One of the most powerful things Barbara teaches as a healing tool in her small groups is for clients to use their story as a map and backtrack to the root cause. They concentrate on Narrative Focused Trauma, during a 9-10 weeks long, story-intensive small group. Members form a community, share their stories, and together with an insightful and empathetic guide, find their why and begin the work to heal that trauma.

“The issue is not the addiction; the issue is why. Look under the table,” she said. “It’s important to find people you trust; even I have my own story. But I’ve learned, you can’t take anyone further than you’re willing to go yourself.”


Given the heaviness of the countless stories she has compassionately listened to, and the ones she herself also endured, Barbara finds her center by doing activities she enjoys. She decompresses by cooking (“it’s my tranquilizer”); finds calm in gardening her tomato boxes; and enjoys spending time with family, friends, her 2 Maltese mix pooches, and stacks of good books. An avid reader, the 75-year-old proudly proclaims herself a life-long learner, her natural curiosity only always growing stronger with each story.



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