Posted by Craig Borlase on 11 September 2017

Meet the former British soldier now fighting to see churches become more generous.

Rachael Phillips was taking risks long before she was a Christian. At 19 she bought a one-way ticket toSri Lanka to see how she could help after the Boxing Day tsunami. When she was 22 she served on her first tour of Afghanistan, enduring horrendous experiences that she would struggle to cope with for years to come. In 2012, she was back in Helmand Province, once more risking her life for her fellow soldiers in the hope of bringing peace. So perhaps it is hardly surprising that when she finally decided to give to Jesus whatever remained of her life, to promise to devote herself to obedience and sacrifice in pursuit of her Saviour, she was willing to embrace some drastic changes. 
“Three weeks earlier I’d made some other big promises to my brand new husband. When we got married he thought I’d stay in the army for aperiod of time, then leave and hopefully get some well-paid job and we’d have a comfortable life. I had to tell him, ‘You know this Christianity thing that I’m involved with? I think that maybe one day I might end up being a vicar’.He was naturally pretty surprised, but he’s been great about it.”
Giving up a promising career so quickly – and for such a low-paying alternative –wasn’t a whim or a guilt-driven response. It was precisely the kind of thing that happens when generosity hasbeen sown into a life over many years. In Sri Lanka, where Rachael lived with a Muslim family while she volunteered as a teacher among devastated communities, she learned how religion can permeate every aspect of life. 
Rachael Philips 4.1
Her first tour of Afghanistan gave her plenty of opportunities to ask life’s big questions, 
“But I obviously wasn’t ready to listen. And God in his infinite patience waited another few years and finally I was ready.”It was on her second tour, sitting in a church service held in a shipping container, that Rachael’s eyes were finally opened to the fact that the universe was not created by chance, but by God himself. “It was a sort of frightening, overwhelming, emotional experience. I felt really big and important because God loved me so much, but I also felt very tiny and insignificant because God also made all the stars and everything else I’d ever known.”
All these experiences, as well as countless others, combined to shape Rachael’s faith. They gave her an appetite for putting words into action and for taking risks.      
 
“My personal response to my faith certainly impacts my job, and there are two words that describe my relationship with God: obedience and sacrifice. That’s how I interpret what it means to follow Jesus.”
Having embarked upon a theology degree, Rachael was forced to put obedience and sacrifice into action again when a lack of funds meant she had to put her studies on hold at the end of the first year.   In need of a job, she ended up working for the Diocese of Durham, encouraging churches to be more generous. Her experiences have opened her eyes to two matters in particular. 
“I’ve been thinking a lot about what the offering means and how in some churches we’re a bit too British about it. It’s all a bit secret, taking place quietly during the offertory hymn. In other churches it’s celebrated and is more than just paying subs. I’ve learned how it’s so clearly linked to the Eucharist which follows it. When we get to give it’s a representation of how much we love God and how much he sacrificed for us in Jesus. When I started taking that seriously, seeing it not as a collection but an offering, there was no way I could go back to putting loose change on the plate. That was massive. 
“Then there’s the fact that generosity is an ongoing conversation. I don’t think we ever peak in our generosity. I don’t think it’s like Super Mario where we reach the final level and get the gold stars. I hope I’ll always be reviewing what I give, and I hope that I’ll always challenge myself. 
“I talk about this day in and day out. I preach in churches and visit PCCs. If I thought the conversation was over for me and I was just telling other people what to do, that would be a massive shame and a real sham. I think that when I go and speak to people and the clergy, I hope they’re all listening, myself included.”
You can follow Rachael’s blog at thegenerousgivingproject.wordpress.com, and read more about her reflections on faith and the armed forces at frontlinefaithfulblog.wordpress.com

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