Getting to know you Rachel Graham

Being a vet was a childhood ambition. I never really thought of doing anything else. I grew up in a Christian home in rural Shropshire and came to faith as a child. I had very little Christian fellowship until I started University in Glasgow where I met many Christian students and started to attend church at St George’s Tron. I became involved in the Vet CU, helping to run it and reach out to fellow students through evangelistic events. I started to develop an interest in mission and thought that I might eventually go abroad to the mission field. However I found a job, got married and soon had a young family and it seemed that overseas mission was not God’s plan for me.
I worked in small animal practice initially in the North of England and then in Northern Ireland. If I’m honest I’d say that I always struggled with confidence, especially when it came to surgery. My career was not what I had expected it to be, and I constantly felt that I wasn’t as good as the others with whom I worked. It’s strange but I was much better able to trust God in other areas of my life than I was in my career.
I spent a brief spell in the Department of Agriculture before deciding definitely that it wasn’t for me. I then started up a house-call vet practice so I could work around school pick-ups. This was such a rewarding role as I had time with clients in their own homes and was able to build up strong relationships which led to opportunities to share the gospel.
Around this time, I had the opportunity to visit Ukraine to see the work that was going on in four small churches in the west of the country. I was moved and humbled by their faith and their ability to trust God in what were very difficult circumstances. It was only about 10 years after the fall of communism and the country was not in a good economic state, with many living on the poverty line. In the following years I returned many times and was asked to lead summer teams, taking people from Northern Ireland out to run children’s camps. I did this for ten years, also starting a similar ministry in a local orphanage and organising several lorries of humanitarian aid. Each time I went I took one of our children so that they would be part of what I was doing and to see the body of Christ serving people in need. God allowed me to take part in overseas mission in a way that I couldn’t have imagined, and enabled me to introduce others to mission with some entering full time into cross-cultural evangelism.
As the children grew and became more independent, I took on a few locum jobs. One turned into a long-term placement as I stayed about ten years! I began to help with their practice management and discovered that this was an area in which I felt totally at home. I love organising and getting things done but I also appreciated having the time to support other staff members and students helping when problems arose. I took on some teaching of Animal Management at a local Higher Education college and really enjoyed the interactions with the students and seeing their understanding develop. I think when we enter the Veterinary profession, we see it in very black and white terms with limited options. However there are other areas in which we can work, find fulfilment and be of value and allow God to use us.
Covid working was tough for the profession as you all know and towards the end of 2021 I felt very strongly that God had a different plan for me. I kept coming across Ephesians 2:10 ‘for we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.’ I even read it on someone’s jumper when they served me in a shop. I handed in my notice in November for the following March, to coincide with registration renewal. I had no idea what was coming, but God did.
On Feb 24th 2022 war broke out in Ukraine; I was heartbroken. It is the country I love with so many people so dear to me living there. Every time I watched the news, I saw places I knew. People piling onto trains in Lviv station, the square in Kiev and Przemysl, the Polish town just over the border where the refugees were arriving in droves. My heart was breaking and like so many others I felt hopeless. I started to ask God how I could help.
Initially the UK didn’t have a visa process for refugees but Ireland allowed free access. Through Christian connections in the Republic of Ireland I realised we could find homes for some refugees. We were asked to help a family of 7 who were fleeing via Slovakia. We got them safely to a home in the Republic. Then we helped their friends, and then some more. After a while the UK visa system opened up and we found homes and secured visas. We organised travel and safe places to stay enroute. I even rehomed a ‘refugee cat’ through a Polish vet nurse connection! More people volunteered to help us and we have now become a well recognised organisation receiving several requests daily. One of our refugees, Tanya, recently came to faith. She found our website by chance and ended up in Northern Ireland with a Godly lady who prayed and took her to Alpha. But we know she didn’t find us by chance. God had his hand on Tanya and led her to not just physical safety but eternal safety too.I often think of the verse in Esther 4:14 ‘For if you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance for the Jews will arise from another place…And who knows whether you have not come to the kingdom for such a time as this?’ I could never have imagined how my experience in Ukraine and my practice management experience could have come together, but God seemed to have it planned all along, right down to the date I hung up my stethoscope and turned my attention to Starfish.
We called our organisation ‘Starfish Ukraine.’ Like the boy throwing the stranded starfish back into the sea, we cannot help them all but we can make a big difference to some. We have placed over 400 refugees into homes and currently have over 50 requests, including one vet, for homes in the UK, but we have run out of hosts. Perhaps you would consider opening your home or using a property you own to help a family? You really could change a life.

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