A BRITISH Army officer turned trainee priest has reached out to prisoners after finding God in Afghanistan.

Darlington-born Captain Rachael Phillips spent a “humbling” and “liberating” faith-sharing weekend with inmates at HMP Durham as part of her theology studies.

And a card-making activity led by Capt Phillips left many prisoners in tears after sharing Psalms written to loved ones.

The Catterick-based civil engagement officer also held a service in the prison’s chapel where she re-lived her experience becoming a Christian during her nine month tour of Afghanistan.

Capt Phillips said: “I tried to draw parallels between my life out there and life in a prison - the conditions I lived in, personal struggles I had, loneliness, restrictions to my liberty, and the contrast between the violent nature of war and the peace I found in Jesus.

“It seemed that they understood me and I spoke in a language they knew.

“It was liberating sharing my testimony in this way and I found bonds in a place I could never have expected.

“All weekend, my preconceptions were challenged. Whatever I expected, was not what I got.”

Capt Phillips currently balances studying for a degree in theology, ministry and mission at Cranmer Hall Theological Colleges in Durham University while serving as an Army Reserve.

And her time at HMP Durham will contribute towards the mission module of her course.

She said: “The response I got when I told prisoners that I was in the Army was very positive.

“Many wanted to shake my hand and thank me for my service, which was very humbling.

“I really felt that my experiences helped me to communicate with them.

“There was an ease with which our conversation flowed, which given the circumstances and the reason these men have been incarcerated, might seem surprising.”

The category B prison takes in criminals who are expected to try and escape, but do not require maximum security.

And a craft workshop to encourage illiterate inmates to make cards with coloured paper produced profound messages from reluctant writers.

Capt Phillips added: “Those who did write, however, produced such astonishingly beautiful and eloquent Psalms, that many in the room were reduced to tears. I for one was speechless.

“It completely changed my views on prisoners and how they understand God, not that I had too many carefully formed opinions on this to start with, but any ideas I did have were certainly challenged.

“The Bible literacy of some of the prisoners was outstanding. They could reel off chapter and verse and details of the stories I’d never noticed.”