The Army has a unique lifestyle and culture. In this edition of Frontlines, Gavin Matthews spoke to Jacob Reuter about what being a Christian in the British Army looks like. Jacob spoke engagingly about how his faith helps him in his work; sharing his faith in the jungles of Brunei, and running evangelistic events for soldiers in England.
Solas: Hi Jacob, so please tell us about your job, and what your roles and responsibilities are?
JR: Hi! I Serve in the Life Guard Sqn within the Household Cavalry Mounted Regiment, the most senior regiment in the British Army. I am a Lance Corporal of Horse, a Junior Non-commissioned Officer. I began my time in the army as a Trooper but am working my way up through the ranks and taking on more roles and responsibilities as I progress. I began my soldiering within the Household Cavalry Regiment (the combat side of the Household Cavalry) and spent six years in various roles, such as driving and firing CVRTs (small tanks) and also dismounted reconnaissance within the jungles of Brunei and Belize. Since then I’ve been based in the Hyde Park barracks in London, which is the home of the ceremonial work of the Household Cavalry. This consists of riding and caring for the horses and parading in front of the Queen on state occasions. I am now about to start the farrier apprenticeship; which is the traditional blacksmith’s role of making and fitting shoes onto horses.
Solas: And of all those things, what do enjoy the most?
JR: That’s a hard question! I feel very blessed to be where I am, because in the Army you constantly work in very diverse teams of people, from all around the UK and the Commonwealth with all kinds of backgrounds. And all of these people get crammed together in confined environments where we have to learn to get on and live and work together. I also love being a Christian in that context, working out how I need to act and speak to demonstrate what I believe in. That’s a challenge, but it’s weirdly enjoyable! That’s not to say that it’s great all the time – but I have a hunger to serve God in that environment where I am serving the Queen.
Solas: And what are the challenges of Army life and how does being a Christian help you to deal with those?
JR: Well, being a Christian is both the hardest and easiest thing about being in the Army! The military is something of a magnifying glass on culture in the UK. Learning to stand firm in my Christian faith in that environment is a challenge. Then the job itself is challenging. The physical training required in the Army is hard. But I find my strength in knowing God’s sovereignty and can pray through trials. In a very tough PT session, I’ve learnt that I can make the most of the hard times by actually enjoying God more! There have been challenges when people have questioned my faith too – questioning why I try to stay true to it and the Bible, or when they ask what I think about controversial topics.
I came to faith in my first week in the Army so I’ve been learning on the job how to go about faithfully and lovingly answering people’s questions. Equally the times when I have felt hounded with questions have been the best opportunities to share the gospel and just tell people about Jesus. I don’t know all the answers to all the questions – and that’s OK, but I do want to leave people with the gospel; because if your heart is in the right place and you point them to Jesus -you’ve done what you can do!
Solas: And does being a Christian make a difference to the way you approach the work?
JR: In the Household Cavalry, particularly in the ceremonial roles, we have very early starts – I’m often up for work at 4AM! There’s a lot of repetition in the job too, kit-cleaning and so on. Some people say it’s like “Groundhog Day” and find it hard to keep the energy and enthusiasm going. So I deliberately pray that I will keep positive and be enthusiastic because it is too easy to slip into moaning and groaning about life. So when repetition gnaws, I remind myself that I am living for a bigger purpose than that. It’s hard – I’m human, but knowing that God is sovereign over all things and is working for my good even in this environment is great to remember. That then inspires me to do my best in the role.
Solas: You’ve mentioned that you are known as a Christian at work. How have your colleagues reacted to that?
JR: So, there’s been a big mixture of reactions! I’m intentional at being open about my faith, but not by shouting or wearing a big sign that says ‘look at me, I’m a Christian!” But I’ve found that communicating that I am a Christian clearly – and early on – when I meet new people makes it so much easier because then people know who I am which then opens opportunities for further conversations. When I was a new Christian in the Army I didn’t know much about good reasons for my faith or how to answer difficult questions. I wanted to share my faith with others and what I could say to people was, “anyone coming to church?” Since then, as I’ve matured in my Christian walk and in my career, there have been times when people have probed me about my faith – asking what I think about various topics. Some of those moments have been quite hard, but I’ve tried to use those times to further my faith, grow in my knowledge of how the Bible answers these questions to then be able to respond with a clearer answer in the future. Most of the questions that come up will be about heavy contemporary or political issues. People generally don’t ask what I think about Jesus, or the resurrection; but they might say, “what’s your view on abortion” or something. As I said, The Army reflects wider society and its concerns.
I’ve found more recently – with some of the younger lads coming through that there is a lack of knowledge of the basics of Christianity, like “who is Jesus?” And some of this younger generation are quite open to finding out, because they know very little about Christianity at all. So that’s led me to be able to share a lot with them. So, while my peer group tend to ask acute questions about big issues; the younger lads ask more general ones; such as ‘what is the Bible and where did it come from”?
Solas: Have these conversations about faith been spontaneous or have you intentionally set out to share?
JR: Well both really. When you first join the Army everyone goes to the first church service, and then it’s optional after that. So I could say to people, “who wants to come to the next service?” and sometimes people would, but even if they didn’t, it might start a conversation. Then whenever you do a course in the Army we start with an ice-breaker in which you stand up and introduce yourself to the group and “spin-a-dit” which means tell a short story about something interesting. So at the start of one course I felt really challenged to share that I was a Christian. I stood up and said “I’m a Christian, I’m not the padre so I don’t give out sweets, but if anyone wants to go to church on Sunday, speak to me.” There were a few chuckles and smirks but because I had got it out there – it led to some great conversations with some of the guys on the course. I’d always leave my door open, and people would pop in and ask me all kinds of questions about my faith. So, in answer to your question – both deliberate and spontaneous! I’ve been able to do some one-to-one Bible studies of John’s gospel with some colleagues as a result of some of these conversations too.
When I was posted to Windsor I met a chap called Steve Penny at church. Steve was an ex-Marine, training to become a SASRA Scripture Reader. I wanted to share my faith, and Steve wanted to help me, so we started a thing called “Beer and Burgers” where we’d invite our mates from camp to the pub for beer and burgers followed by a short talk or testimony and then chat and questions. That led to a midweek church service in the mess. I’m trying to get similar things going in London now.
In the Army, because we work, live and breathe in such close proximity to each other, there are just so many opportunities. If you have a Bible and it is out and being read, people will notice. When you are living on camp, if you keep your door open, guys will just come in and chat. On exercises we live even closer to each other. For example when I was in the Brunei jungle, living and breathing with those guys for weeks – it gave them all time to ask all kinds of questions. Yes – it comes with all kinds of banter and everything else, but being so deeply immersed with other people is just such an amazing and unique opportunity.
Solas: What’s your motivation to share your faith in the workplace?
JR: I love it! It’s not easy but I really love sharing my faith with other people. It is such good news – keeping it to myself would make no sense at all, I’m trying to grow and become more like Jesus and he shared God’s word. He shared God’s love and message with people around Him, and if I want to be like Him, I need to do the same. And I do love sharing my faith, I can’t say how much it really is good news.
Solas: What advice would you give to a young Christian entering the Army who wants to be faithful to Christ there?
JR: I’d say make sure you keep up your effort and enthusiasm. Don’t be half-hearted but immerse yourself in it. Get involved. Then wherever you are based, find a local church and go to it. Find other Christians who are in your work environment and understand it, meet up with them regularly and be open to pray for one another and read the Bible together. Read your own Bible, and be bold in your character and stay true to what you believe in while you are at work. Never forget that God is sovereign over all things, and share the good news with others whenever you can.
Solas: Thanks Jacob that’s great!