Ariana Fuller – United States (Utah)
A place at the table for the human family
Ariana Fuller was facing her first Christmas away from her family while serving as a missionary in Madrid, Spain. A married couple invited her small band of volunteers—young people from Italy, Finland, Venezuela, Brazil, Spain, and the United States—to a delicious multi-cultural holiday dinner on Christmas Eve with small gifts for each guest. Ariana’s was a small harp in honor of her harp playing. They all sipped tea afterwards, sneaking tiny sugar cubes into each other’s tea cups and talking about their different holiday traditions—her first sobremesa. Literally over-table, the word refers to chatting around the table after a meal, a custom in Spain to extend the enjoyment of friends and family for hours afterwards. “What is special about sobremesa is that at a table everyone is equal,” Ariana says. The night became her favorite Christmas, and she went on to experience the same peaceful joy many more times.
“I sat down with people from Africa, Europe, South America, and got to know them as human beings with diverse, rich, and beautiful, nuanced lives,” she says. “I was able to listen to their struggles, hear their victories, cook with them, pray with them, laugh with them, and grow to love them.” Extending the spirit of sobremesa to the whole world has become her dream.
As a volunteer, Ariana worked with new volunteer women, helping them learn the values of the program, and as a Sister Training Leader, assisting them in “learning the language, motivating them to work hard in understanding and serving others, addressing individual needs, and encouraging them in their tasks. “For me,” Ariana says, “the most important aspect of my position was the opportunity to work with and bring together volunteers from multiples countries under the same cause.” She served and coordinated volunteers from the United States, Spain, Peru, Ecuador, Argentina, Venezuela, Colombia, and Brazil. Her group served people in Madrid as well as immigrants from Nigeria, Romania, Switzerland, Italy, China, Guatemala, Paraguay, Chile, Cuba, Morocco, and more. The experience of helping one particular individual has left a lasting impact.
Val, a Romanian immigrant, came to Spain with five Euros to his name. A promised job had fallen through, leaving him homeless, on the streets, and alone in a country where he couldn’t speak the language. Ariana’s group invited him to come to a sponsored activity and learned that his parents and baby brother had been killed in a car accident, orphaning Val at age eleven, though his younger sister was adopted. The missionary group helped him find a job, a place to live, process his paperwork, and begin learning Spanish. “From Val, I learned that you need to believe in people. In fact, sometimes all anyone needs, is someone to believe in them,” Ariana says. Their belief gave him the confidence to meet and overcome challenges. “When other people saw that we believed in him, they started believing in him as well. Val’s favorite word in Spanish became esperanza, meaning hope.” His esperanza became contagious. What Ariana felt during her time in Spain was deep compassion as well as excitement and hope.
She remains in contact with many of the volunteers she trained and people she served, especially Val. Upon graduation with an undergraduate degree, she plans to attend law school to prepare for public service positions and gain knowledge of international law and conflict resolution. Ariana understands the challenges, that it is easier to be motivated by “fear of the other, fear of what is different, fear of change,” and how hard it is to let love motivate people to see the value of diversity. Yet her desire to help is stronger. She is determined to help people—help the immigrant, the refugee, the orphaned, the unemployed, those with criminal histories, the outcasts—to represent them, to provide opportunities, and realize a better life.
She hopes to continue the work she started in Spain by promoting criminal justice reform, becoming a lawyer and lawmaker to promote justice for all people, running for public office, working for and/or starting a non-profit employing social entrepreneurship and innovation, and working internationally to promote global consciousness and appreciation for all cultures.