We travelled to Bradford, UK and sat down with Arianna a few months back. she showed us around the grounds of Mercy UK. Shared about her career, her heart behind this program, and what keeps her going when times are tough.
Enjoy this beautiful interview, and Arianna’s story.
Tell us a little about yourself.
My name is Arianna Walker. I’m 43 (feel 23) married to my best friend for almost 25 years (yes, your maths is correct- I was a teenage bride!), mother to two amazing young men, CEO of Mercy UK, friend, leader, speaker, author, skier, horse rider, book worm, cheese lover, Jesus freak.
I am honoured to lead Mercy UK. We exist to educate leaders, equip individuals and empower churches- to resource the Church with the tools for living life in freedom and wholeness. We educate leaders through pastoral leadership training days, equip individuals through our residential homes for young women with life controlling issues and empower churches through our speaking engagements and our eight-week discipleship course called Keys to Freedom, which churches can roll out through their small groups. We firmly believe that the Church is the answer to the needs of our society and so we exist to strengthen the Church, to resource those within her and to help bring health and wholeness, so the Church can bring it to the world.
How did you start your career?
Growing up, I was never one of these people that knows what they want to do and then go ahead and make it happen. I wanted to be anything and everything from marketing executive to an air hostess to a business owner or a mounted police officer (yes, really!) I ended up going to University to do a teaching degree for no other reason than being offered a place, then taught for a couple of years before starting my own business and then working for the NHS as a project manager for a while before I got involved in pioneering Mercy UK.
I was 32 before I found what I wanted to do with my life and now when I look back I realise that the reason I could never answer the ‘what do you want to do when you grow up’ question, was because what I wanted to do didn’t yet exist! The fact is that God knows and the plans he has for your life are plans to prosper and not to harm you and now as I look back I realise that every aspect of my career up until now has contributed to me having the skills and experience that I needed for Mercy. God has weaved together the seemingly random strands of my haphazard career path and made a way for me to spend my time doing what I never knew I wanted to do until I was doing it.
Sometimes we put so much pressure on ourselves to have answers and plans and a chosen career that we get ourselves all in a tangle when we don’t really know what we want.
Who or what is one of your greatest inspirations and how did they impact you?
I feel like I should say someone really famous or massively inspirational, like Mother Teresa for instance (who I do admire of course!) but to be really honest, the person who has had the biggest impact on me and been an inspiration, and a constant source of encouragement is my husband, Matthew. He’s not a pastor or a minister, he’s not famous and knows nothing about ministry, but he’s my biggest cheerleader, he’s a brilliant business man and has helped me so much with the foundational elements of building an organisation up from the ground. He always tells me just to be myself and believes in me more than I believe in myself. Added to that, he makes my coffee every morning without which I could barely function! Marriage has a bad rep in this culture we live in, but I have to say that to me marriage is one of God’s best ideas.
What is one of the things you love most about your line of work?
My sister’s story has impacted my life like no other- I have seen first-hand the damage done by an enemy who comes to kill, steal and destroy. But I have also seen the mighty hand of God reach down into a pit of despair and rescue a tormented soul from certain death. And since then, I have been a witness to the process of freedom and transformation time and time again. Each person’s story might be different; different names and faces of the countless people our ministry touches but as a team we will never lose the awe, the sense of wonder and the gratitude for each and every time our precious Saviour enters into a divine exchange- a crown of beauty for ashes, joyous blessing instead of mourning and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair- what a God we serve!
What is one of the biggest challenges you’ve had to face?
Finding out that I’m not enough, I don’t have what it takes, my faith is too small for the task ahead, my skill too poor, my knowledge too small and so I will fail, without a shadow of a doubt. That was a scary revelation until I learned that it is precisely where God needed me to be- to understand that without Him I have nothing but with Him I have everything I need. The task ahead is too big for me but not for Him in me. I had to learn the actual mechanics of faith, the depth of His Grace and the power of my identity in Him. I’ve had to navigate the aloneness of being a leader of a pioneering organisation, whilst also being a Mum, a wife, a friend, a church leader, an author, a speaker, a woman. I am not enough. But He is. All this sounds so easy but it isn’t. So often we default to our own strengths and resources and the more we rely on ourselves the harder life becomes. For me it’s a constant decision to keep placing myself outside of my comfort zone, to keep making myself vulnerable to failure so I keep leaning on the one thing that will never let me down- His love.
If there have been times you’ve wanted to quit, what has kept you going?
Remembering why I started and remembering that the why of what we do will always beat the how. Building something that lasts, that grows can be an uphill struggle, full of setbacks and difficult obstacles in the way- over the past ten years I have had so many times where I’ve wanted to quit. I remember one particular difficult patch and then sitting in my office window looking out over the car park and seeing a father wrap his arms around his daughter who had just graduated our programme and I watched as her mother cried tears of joy at her daughter’s obvious transformation. I saw divine hope and joy in that family’s embrace and I remembered why I started. It was enough.
What has been one of your best experiences since launching Mercy?
Most definitely jumping out of an aeroplane at 15,000 ft to do a parachute jump and raising nearly £100k for Mercy. It was the best way to celebrate my 40th birthday! Next year I’m going to do a wing walk- pray for me…
How does your faith play a role in what you do?
One of the biggest areas of challenge over the years has been financing Mercy UK. I’ve had to learn the power of faith- learn that God does not respond to need (if He did, there would be no need in the world) but He always responds to faith.
Read the rest of how Mercy is funded here
What is one of the things you find particularly important for Christians to do/be today?
Two words: Authentic. Whole. And they are closely related. We need to stop pretending we have it all together, stop trying to hide our failings, our weaknesses, stop being reluctant to ask for help and covering everything over with the fake Christian “I’m fine, thanks” mask and just be real. Once we can allow ourselves and each other to be real about our struggles, our doubts, our fears and insecurities, we can begin the journey of wholeness and transformation. Authenticity is a precursor to transformation and what this world needs is a Church who is not pretending to be perfect but knows that in this imperfect world, filled with imperfect people and imperfect situations we have a perfect God that is transforming us through His perfect love.
We need to stop pretending we have it all together, stop trying to hide our failings, our weaknesses, stop being reluctant to ask for help and covering everything.