About Rachel Farmer-Reay

Freelance writer and communications professional

What kind of legacy?

What an incredible man and what an incredible legacy. The internet has been flooded with glowing tributes following the death of Billy Graham yesterday. The black and white images of a man with a distinctive hairline and a smart suit brought back memories of my childhood, where Billy Graham was something of an icon.


Billy_Graham_My parents both discovered a life-changing Christian faith in their twenties. They both attended a church youth group and my father made his commitment at a big rally in Kent, along the lines of a Billy Graham gathering, but on a smaller scale. A British evangelist and author, called Roy Hession, gave an alter call and my father responded. Meanwhile, my mother decided to follow Jesus Christ after reading that famous booklet ‘Journey into Life’, handed to her by a Christian friend. Thank God for that. They went on to have five children and brought us up in a loving Christian home. Billy Graham and his sermons stood in stark contrast to the popular culture of the 60s and 70s. Our home reflected similar values, yet as a child I sometimes struggled with this.

Growing up I had the sense that our family was different… even a bit odd. We dressed up and went to church on Sundays, while other friends were out in the park. We were often told we couldn’t do things or shouldn’t because “we’re Christians”. Instead of going to ‘Brownies’ I went to Scripture Union Bible classes in a nearby village – they were actually lots of fun, but I thought at the time I was missing out and there was no uniform! Early in the mornings we’d find my mum and dad praying together in the room beside the kitchen before dad went to work. I’d hover or tiptoe through, making sure I heard my name being mentioned, along with my brothers and sisters. They prayed for each of us by name every day. What a legacy they left. They weren’t perfect, but they certainly created a solid Christian foundation for us all to build on, if we chose to.

I know I didn’t appreciate what they gave me at the time. I fought against it and rebelled in countless ways and yet somehow I couldn’t shake it off.

It was quite a few years later, when I shared my story of faith with its ups and downs that I realised how privileged I was to have parents who taught me to read the Bible and pray and set me on a Christian path. I grew up knowing the God of the Bible as a friend and a personal saviour. This was their greatest gift to me.

I wonder what legacy we will leave for our children and others? It probably won’t be like Billy Graham’s, but I hope we have given our children a Christian foundation to build on, wherever that path leads.

Today I’m feeling thankful for my parents, who went ahead of Billy Graham to that heavenly address, and who shone for Christ just as brightly in the Reay household.

mum & dad

Mum and Dad on honeymoon



True stories

If someone asked you to tell a story, what would it be? Would it be a well-known fairy tale, a mystery or perhaps a thriller? It might be a heart-breaking tragedy or a love story with a happy ending… but would you choose something that really happened or would you make it up?


As a child I loved stories. I read them and I wrote them, so it was no surprise I ended up as a journalist. That has involved listening to other people’s stories and re-telling them in an interesting way, or sometimes piecing together a story from lots of different viewpoints and sources. I can’t forget some of the best newspaper stories I’ve written including the sad ones like the toddler twins with a rare and incurable disease who died holding hands or the funny ones like the vicar on a run with his dog being tossed into the river by an overprotective cow.

Stories captivate us. We want to find out what happened next or understand why something has happened. We get drawn in by the characters and if it’s a good book they become important to us and we think about them even when we’re not reading the story.


I’m in the process of making up a story… writing fiction. The trouble is the characters aren’t behaving quite as they should and there’s a problem in the plot. Hopefully, I’ll get it sorted soon. But as I pour over my plans and struggle with sentences and speech marks, I’m realising the best stories are playing out all around me.

Working for Scripture Union International over the past year I’ve heard many moving and inspiring stories from around the world. These are true stories of how lives have been transformed through an encounter with God. One was about a 14-year-old girl who fled from the fighting in South Sudan into Uganda. She lost her parents, saw terrible violence and just escaped with her life. On the road into Uganda, she was helped by a woman from her village who agreed to adopt her as part of her own family. They moved into one of the huge displacement camps in Northern Uganda. But because of the girl’s terrible experiences and the way she had to work so hard to look after the woman’s younger children, walking miles to fetch water, she became bitter and angry. She blamed the woman for her hardship and all that had gone wrong in her life. She decided to take her revenge. She made plans to poison the woman or one of her children. Before she could put her plan into action she wandered into a meeting in the camp being run by Scripture Union (SU) volunteers. They were talking about forgiveness and about God’s love and they sang songs too. As she listened something amazing happened to this young girl. She realised what she’d been planning was wrong and she began to cry. She didn’t go ahead with her deadly plans. Instead she asked for forgiveness and her life was transformed as she began to see her situation in a new light.

It’s so good to know that God’s ‘Big Story’ is also ours and there really is a happy ending!

You can listen to more stories from SU Uganda and other parts of the world here.

The three ‘wise’ women?

Who’d have thought three women in saris would have caused such a stir on Christmas Eve….

As if there wasn’t enough excitement this year with all the family together in our new Devon home, some special Indian gifts were handed out on Christmas Eve. Our daughter, who had just returned from four months volunteering in Northern India, was hopping from one foot to the other keen to hand out her long planned presents.
“Let’s do the Indian presents now, before we eat?” She suggested.
Her brothers frowned… “It’s not Christmas yet…”
But she wouldn’t be put off and there was dressing up involved.

A few minutes later three ornately embroidered saris were laid out beneath the Christmas tree,  gold thread glistening under the fairy lights, amidst ‘oohs’ and ‘aahs’ and ‘thank you – how beautiful’. The next step was for three of us to dress up in them, which involved a lot of careful folding and draping and fixing a few well placed safety pins. Some time later we paraded down the stairs in our finery and enjoyed a delicious meal together.

We usually attend midnight mass on Christmas Eve and this year we were planning to join the little parish church in the village. However, due to clergy staffing problems, the 11.30pm service had become a 9pm event and suddenly we were in a rush.
“We can’t go in saris!” Someone exclaimed as others pulled on coats and boots and set down half full glasses of wine.
“Why not?” said the driver – who does a lot of dressing up in uniforms for his day job.

And that was how it happened. Scooping up our colourful skirts, we piled into the minibus still slightly unsure about the wisdom of our attire on a dark December night in deepest Devon. On arrival outside the church we managed to negotiate the stone steps towards the lantern lit pathway to the church. Another family all wearing bobble hats arrived at the entrance at the same time and looked slightly surprised to see us in our finery.
“We’re Indians!” I said in explanation, which confused people even more and made everyone giggle (or was it just the wine?).

As we traipsed into the candlelit church and filed into pews, there were plenty of smiles and whispers of admiration.
“I didn’t know it was fancy dress…” Someone behind us mumbled.
Even the vicar announced she was looking forward to finding out about the mysterious costumes after the service and then spent the rest of the time dropping her books, announcing the wrong carols and searching for her sermon notes in a very thick bookmarked folder.

At the end of the service there just wasn’t time to explain to everyone why we’d worn saris, although our in-house chaplain had already announced we were ‘the Three Wise Women from the East’, which left people even more confused.

By Christmas morning the saris had long been folded away and we headed down to the beach clasping bottles of fiz and smoked salmon sandwiches to join in the traditional ‘Christmas at the Beach’ celebrations with the locals. As we met more of our neighbours in a huddle beside a ruined tower, sheltering from the wind, one lady said how much she had enjoyed the Christmas Eve service.
“But what was very strange,” she said, confidentially, “some people came dressed in saris. They looked lovely, but I don’t know what it was all about.”
It certainly was a mystery. And a much-discussed event for the village.
I chuckled into my glass, as someone sidled up and said, “It was you in the saris wasn’t it?”

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Some garbled explanation was begun, but minutes later another kind of costume became the focus of attention as some of our children and their friends stripped down to bikinis and boardies and ran into the freezing grey water. There were shouts and cheers from the Champaign swigging onlookers. There’s nothing like a Christmas Day dip in the sea!

Now, the big question for 2018 is, what shall we wear to church on Christmas Eve?


A taste of travel


This gallery contains 8 photos.

Are you a traveller at heart? Do your feet itch to take off on adventures? Do you follow the path of planes as they disappear into the blue, wishing you were flying off somewhere? Sometimes that’s me.. Almost two weeks … Continue reading

A cup full of surprises

It’s a word that either brings joy and excitement or trepidation and wariness – depending on your perspective.

I like surprises… well I like ‘good surprises’ like a bunch of flowers, an unplanned evening out or unexpected visitors at the door.

On one particular birthday I arrived home from work to find the drive lit up with fairy lights and a large pair of knickers decorating the front door… I knew something was up. When I stepped inside I saw a large group of friends, some from far away, who were all grinning at me as I stood by the open front door. It was unexpected and there was lots of laughter, except I felt a bit work weary and in need of a change. I was ushered upstairs where clean clothes were waiting and it was the start of a lovely Bridget Jones themed party that helped take the edge off turning 40.

Out sailing last week, it was also drawing towards the end of a long day. We’d set sail mid morning and the wind was strengthening. It was still a few miles to go before we would arrive at the safety of our next port and the bows of the boat were dipping and crashing through the waves. The sea that had been calming, seemed to be building up for heavier weather. Suddenly a dark shape caught my eye as it disappeared under the boat, then another and another and out across the other side two dolphins jumped in unison their bodies glistening in the late afternoon sunshine. We smiled and laughed – it was a lovely surprise and helped us on with the last leg of the journey.

Sometimes it’s the little things like this that surprise me. They offer a glimpse of joy when I’m not expecting it.

I’m constantly surprised by the beauty of the sea and the changing coastal scenery around our home where there always seem to be unexpected views and finds, from abandoned boats to useful bits of driftwood. Today was no exception. sea viewOn a walk to the beach I’d been keeping an eye out for colourful painted rocks hidden around the island. One ingenious army wife came up with the idea of painting some rocks and leaving them in various locations for children (and adults) to find… it’s called Thorney Rocks and has its own Facebook page. Coming across the hidden gems now makes walking round the island even more engaging as we wonder what surprise rocks we’ll spot in unusual places.

I didn’t notice any rocks this morning, but sitting down amongst the pebbles watching the receding tide I spotted something yellow and ‘unpebbly’. It turned out to be a tiny teacup. I don’t know what made me look down or how it got there… I suppose it must have been left by a forgetful fairy after a beach tea party!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Anyway it was a good surprise, but easily missed. If I’m not careful surprises pass me by because my head is so full of ‘to do’ lists and issues I don’t have time to look around and see them. They may not be the gob-smacking surprises that leave me gasping for air, but they are the kind of unexpected sights or detail that prompt a smile and offer a glimpse of joy.

P.S. If you’ve lost a tiny yellow cup the size of my thumbnail do get in touch, I have it safe. It is currently part of the beach treasure trove on the bathroom windowsill…


Who’d marry a soldier?

Guess who?
… Makes friends easily, adaptable, well travelled, independent, decorator, gardener, mechanic (when necessary), single mum (frequently), tough, fiercely loyal, wry sense of humour, expert gin & tonic maker, resilient, always hopeful – a lover of life.

My dictionary definition of an army wife, in case you hadn’t guessed.
I’m proud to be one of this diminishing breed, whose other characteristic is being a ‘pack animal’. Army wives are there for one another. When the going gets tough they stand alongside each other’s families supporting one another, sometimes emotionally but also practically.

Some of my best friends are either army wives or ex-army wives. The experiences we went through together as we waited anxiously for news from war zones or coped with being a lone parent far from our families, drew us close. Those bonds aren’t easily broken. That’s why writing a book with one particular army wife was the natural thing to do.

I first met Brenda Hale when she was a Sergeant’s wife while we were posted in Germany and our husbands were on an operational tour in Northern Ireland. Our children were born within a few months of each other. Brenda put me to shame in exercising back to fitness after giving birth and supported me in trying to run chaotic Sunday school sessions at the church on the barracks. In those years, although we worried for our husbands on operations in Belfast and Bosnia, I could never imagine what lay ahead.

One sunny August morning in 2009 I found my husband hunched at the foot of the stairs, shocked by the sudden death of a great man and a good friend. Neither of us could believe that this giant of a man had been taken away and his family left devastated. The harrowing news stories on the death of more soldiers in Afghanistan had become more personal than ever.

Some days later sitting at a table in an airport I still couldn’t take in the fact that the woman beside me had lost the love of her life, the father of her children and her best friend. How could this have happened?

It’s been a privilege to retrace the journey which the Hale girls have been on, through writing I married a soldier with Brenda. As she says, we’ve shared both tears and laughter as she has recalled wonderful moments, along with the most painful times.

If you’re looking for an inspirational read that gives you a real picture of life for army families, you’ll enjoy I married a soldier published by Lion Hudson. It tells the true story of how one very special army wife found a way through an event that threatened to crush her. This is a story of hope and faith beyond grief.

What’s in a name?

I never liked my own name when I was growing up. Other friends’ names seemed much ‘cooler’ and less old fashioned. I knew Rachel was a name in the Bible and that didn’t help. I wished I had a name like Mandy, Sally or even Jackie and worst of all I didn’t even have a middle name. I guess my parents ran out of ideas by the time they got to number five! So upset by this omission, I gave myself a middle name and for a few years I was ‘Rachel Mandy Reay’ – if anyone asked. To cap it all one teenage boyfriend told me my surname didn’t have enough syllables to be respectable. His was Buchanan!

Giving out or choosing names is a big responsibility. As I grew up Rachel didn’t seem such a bad name – I got used to it. Over the years I have puzzled over names for pets, followed by the joy of picking names for our own children. This was even more complicated as the names had to be agreed by two of us and they mustn’t include names of former boyfriends or girlfriends…

One thing I’ve never done until recently is give a name to a house. All our homes had numbers, although the last one also had a name. It was called ‘The White House’ – not because it had large pillars or an American flag but because it was painted white. But after we’d sandblasted the paint back down to red bricks the name didn’t fit anymore, so we just stuck with the number.

This Spring after a long search we bought a new home in Devon. It’s not a new house, but it’s new to us. It isn’t even a house really – it’s a barn. After several weeks of trailing back and forth and working on the garden and setting up the furnishings, we often referred to it as ‘the Barn’ and we could have simply called it that. But we wanted to invest a little more of ourselves, our hopes, dreams and history into this home, which we hope will be a place to welcome friends and family and even strangers.

We had several evenings of brainstorming names and batting them around for views from the family. ‘Farmer’s Den’ was ruled out early on and so were many popular ‘seaview’ options. After all it is a barn so we decided that should be in the name. We talked about our dreams and what was at the heart of all the journeys we’ve been on so far as a couple and as a family. We love wild places and wild activities, we like space and freedom and we love God. When the name was first mentioned it was so obvious, we knew it was right. Wild Goose Barn was chosen.

Why Wild Goose Barn? Here’s a bit of thinking behind the name, with thanks to a diligent researcher Simon Farmer.

Wild geese are inspiring birds. They can live to 30 years or more. They travel huge distances in migration and are often seen in ‘V’ formation. Geese are flocking birds reflecting a sense of community. This is something we’ve been enjoying in this special part of Devon with the local village, the church and the friendship in the Dolphin Inn. It was here we met a friendly agricultural engineer who came to help us with our ageing mower, while others passed on tips about the best wild swimming spots and generally made us feel at home.

When a Goose flies, its wings create ‘uplift’ for the bird following. By flying in a ‘V’ formation the whole flock actually adds 71% greater flying range than if a bird was on its own. Whenever a Goose falls out of formation it suddenly feels the drag and resistance of trying to fly alone and so quickly gets back into formation to take advantage of the lifting power of the Goose immediately in front. When the lead Goose gets tired it rotates back into the formation and another Goose flies at the point position. Finally, while geese fly in formation they make quite a noise sometimes as they honk from behind. This isn’t just a random noise but these sounds are their way of encouraging those up front to keep going and keep up their speed.

Devon has wild geese passing through and shortly after choosing the name we spotted a flock of geese flying in formation one evening. We watched as they changed course and flew directly overhead to continue their journey towards the sea into the setting sun. It was almost as if they were giving us a fly past of approval.

In the old days domesticated geese would have been kept around the barn. The Greylag is the ancestor of most domesticated geese. It is the largest and bulkiest of the wild geese native to UK and Europe.
‘Greylag’ either means “grey-legged” or “grey-laggard”, that is late, last or slow to migrate, or in other words, a loiterer or as we like to think just plain ‘laid back’.

Living near the sea, we’ve become accustomed to a deep sense of rhythm, especially the daily ebb and flow of the tide. And in the surrounding countryside the changing seasons are a part of life too, as farmers plough the fields, scatter seeds and gather the harvest. Migrating birds, nesting swallows all lead to this same sense of rhythm.

The Wild Goose is a symbol going back to Celtic times. In 500 AD the Celts developed a strong sense of spiritual rhythm living by the sea in places like Lindisfarne on Holy Island in Northumberland, Iona in the western isles of Scotland, parts of Wales, Ireland and the South West. And it was here in Iona and then Lindisfarne that Christianity first came to the British Isles. The Wild Goose in Celtic Christianity is traditionally aligned to the Holy Spirit although it can’t actually be proved. It is said, “The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.” (John 3: 8). In Celtic tradition unlike the dove of peace, the wild goose fired up the mind and soul with song and dance and reveries of beauty. The Wild Goose is all about a spirit of adventure.

We hope Wild Goose Barn will live up to its name and be a place for coming together while offering a base for exploration and adventure. We’d like everyone who stays to receive a renewal of inner strength or ‘uplift’ as they gather with friends and family for adventures along our beautiful wild coastline.
To find out more or if you want to book a stay click here.