Ariela, 28, is from Ushuaia, Argentina, the southernmost city in the world.
At the age of 15, God placed missions on her heart. “It has been a God-process with me. He told me I would go to the least reached, so I knew that would be my focus,” shared Ariela. “I chose my professional career with that in mind. I knew I’d work with vulnerable, at-risk kids and children with disabilities.” In fact, since childhood, she’d had a desire to specifically work with people from Myanmar.
After earning her degree in child psychology, she asked God: “What now?” A friend randomly told her about a group working with refugees in the Middle East, and she went on a short-term trip there.
“That was when I realised God had called me to work with the most vulnerable kids in the world: refugees,” Ariela declared.
As she began to pray about opportunities, the Rohingya refugee crisis in Bangladesh had just begun. Part of one of the fastest growing refugee crises in history, the Rohingya are a Muslim people group from Myanmar. More than 800,000 men, women and children fled on foot into neighbouring Bangladesh, due to what the UN has called an ‘ethnic cleansing’.
Soon, working with the Rohingya became Ariela’s primary focus.
In 2018, Ariela boarded a plane to the UK, where she planned to get a visa to Bangladesh and then spend six months serving the Rohingya there.
But God had other plans.
Due to restrictions outside of her control, Ariela was unable to serve directly with Rohingya refugees. Her first two months involved a lot of prayer and waiting, until one night she asked God: “Please, either let the permissions appear, or show me a way out, because I don’t think I can stay here waiting without doing the job I came here to do.”
The next day, Ariela received a message from the OM office in Argentina, asking if she’d consider serving refugees in Serbia or Greece. “I’d never thought about that, but I felt like it was God’s answer to my prayer from the night before,” Ariela explained. “So I decided to go to Greece.”
On her first day in Greece, Ariela was invited to join a group of women and families at a local beach. “We were on a tourist beach with long sleeves and coverings, and we even taught them to swim. It was a lot of fun,” Ariela remembered. “That day, I realised that God had redirected me to meet up with people from the Middle East. There were a lot of similarities in our cultures, and I felt like I could relate to them.”
Ariela spent two months in Greece volunteering with different ministries. “I went to a church where they did local outreaches like giving out lunches twice a week, handing out clothes, helping with paperwork, etc. That place was amazing. I also helped with kids ages three to five while their parents were in English class. Twice a week they did a devotional there and we saw some amazing things.
“These refugees came from countries where Christians cannot openly share the gospel. But in Greece, there is more freedom to talk about God. They came to the gospel instead of the other way around,” said Ariela.
When her time in Greece ended, Ariela went to Serbia to serve at a camp near the Croatian border. Most of the refugees there were from Iran, Afghanistan, Nigeria, Pakistan and Somalia.
“We were able to talk with them and share Jesus’ love with them,” Ariela remembered. “We were in a refugee camp, so we couldn’t have official meetings. But they would ask us: ‘Why are you doing this for us?’ We were able say it was because Jesus loves them. I had some really good talks with the people there.”
Ariela especially connected with a 16-year-old girl from Iran who was waiting with her family to go to Germany. “She was worried because her brother was trying to cross the border and travel to Germany, which can be dangerous.” Ariela recalled. “This girl came to me and said: ‘I want you to pray for my brother because I know Jesus listens to the Christian people.’ I said: ‘Yes,’ but I knew this was God saying to me: 'You need to talk with her, because her heart is open to hear of me.’
“I developed a good relationship with her and gave her the Gospel of John. One day she said: ‘You are a really good person. I want to be Christian, just like you. But I want to be in a better place. So when I get to Germany, I will find a church.’
“It was really difficult to leave her. She was incredibly smart and had learnt English just by talking with people. Because she’s a refugee, she couldn’t go to school and her dad couldn’t work. They were stuck in time. They had dreams just like everyone, and they struggled with not having a future there.
“They were from Iran, which is one of the top 10 nations for persecuted Christians. It’s really hard for people from Iran to hear the gospel and also for people to convert. They could go to jail or even be put to death. The fact that they are in Europe meant they were in a safe environment where they could hear the gospel and even see a Bible for the first time.
“My prayer is that she will find a real hope for life, because they are hopeless without Jesus, but also that they will be in a better physical place where her father can work, and she can go to school.”
Back in Argentina
Needless to say, Ariela’s trip didn’t look anything like she’d imagined. She ended up going to seven different countries in seven months, including attending a training for disaster response in Germany. While she didn’t get to serve directly with the Rohingya, Ariela said: “I sensed God saying: ‘Right now this door isn’t open to you, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t in the future. Right now the door is open to speak to refugees in Europe. When the war ends, the refugees will stop coming, and it will be harder to get to them.’
“I get this feeling like God is not going to put me in one place for my whole life. He is trying to teach me to be flexible and trust that He is in control. It’s about learning how to rest in Him.”
Now back in Ushuaia, Ariela is preparing to return to Serbia, this time as a long-term worker. “There are so many opportunities to serve at the camp. And recently I heard that even a few Rohingya have come through there!”
When God placed missions on her heart at the age of 15, Ariela had no idea the turns her story would take. The same was true for when she left Argentina for Bangladesh. But through every surprise and each new challenge, God was with her every step of the way—writing a much greater story than she could ever imagine.