A boring extraordinary story of an everyday faith
I just love the brilliant Faith Stories series so carefully and powerfully written by the fabulous Naomi Reed. It reminds me that every person has a remarkable story to tell. The art is in the telling and that is where people like Naomi come in. She is able to ask great questions, listen carefully, remove the excess and hone the subject’s story into a personal narrative that keeps reinforcing God’s persistence, mercy and grace. Eternity readers love these stories – with good reason. They build our own faith, reminding us that God is indeed an interventionist benevolent being who wants the very best for us, and that is to be loved by him.
I’ve always thought I had a boring testimony. But you know what, it is not a competition. And Naomi’s Faith Stories have led me to think anew about my own faith journey, and I suddenly realised it is extraordinary.
Why? Because it started when I was very small, and children tend not to question some things. Life is just what is. And I think working for Christian organisations has perhaps made me think further about it. I mean, I know so many people whose fathers were ordained. And maybe even their grandfather had also been a minister. They, too, might be ordained. That has not been my life.
My parents were what was dubbed ‘C&E’ people. Not religious at all, but because we were living in a small NSW town in the 1960s, church was very much part of life and the town was divided between the Catholics and the Protestants. We were Protestants, but we did have some Catholic friends. And C&E, well, that’s when we were all taken to church – Christmas and Easter.
I was baptised as an infant on 25 March 1961, at St John’s Church of England, Mudgee, by Rev Vernon Hartwig. My baptism certificate is glued to the inside cover of the first Bible I received, along with my confirmation certificate. My parents gave it to me in 1969, and I have written the date inside, which is two days after my birthday, so I wonder whether I asked them for a Bible!
When I was about five, a big mission came to town. I remember a huge tent. A cartoonist. It was probably the very famous Christian cartoonist and illustrator Graham Wade, who went on to form Pilgrim International. (Wade also created comics for Bible Society Australia, the organisation I now work for.) And most of all, I remember learning a song that I have never heard sung anywhere since: Behold I stand, I stand at the door and knock (repeated), If any man hear my voice and open the door, I will come in.
Years later, I realised it came from Revelation 3:20.
God entered the door when I was five
I know, without a shadow of a doubt, that God did come in and inhabit that God-shaped hole we often talk about, at this mission. How do I know? Because I have been involved in Christian activities ever since. God called me to him as a five-year-old. I have never said the prayer that many Christians believe is mandatory to becoming a Christian. I have never felt I needed to because God has just always been there, deeply a part of me. Maybe that song was the invitation because those words have never left me. I don’t know.
And why is this remarkable? Why is this seemingly boring conversion so extraordinary? Because God claimed me for him as a small child and has never left me. And because I have pursued Christian involvement ever since even though none of my family had any interest.
God claimed me for him as a small child and has never left me.
I went to Sunday School in the country. When we moved to Sydney, I went to Sunday School at the local Church of England church, often on my own. I suspect other siblings might have accompanied me. Sitting up the front of church one Sunday, a visiting Bishop asked a question, and eager beaver Penny caught his eye, and gave the correct answer – “Jesus”. He sent me a Jungle Doctor book, with an inscription from him: “To Penelope Mulvey, for answering questions so well at Family Service St Martin’s Killara, F.O. Hulme-Moir, May 1970”.
I received Scripture Union notes. I sought confirmation as a 13-year-old and had to get special permission because you were supposed to be 14. I attended Scripture Union camps, and then Crusader camps (no boys, only girls). I became a junior leader on a Crusader camp. I was the student leader of Crusaders at school. While at uni, I organised a monthly Saturday Night group, as part of Crusaders, and illustrated the promotional flyers. I co-led the fellowship group.
As I grew older I was only allowed to attend some of these activities on the promise that I wouldn’t come home and accuse my parents of being ‘heathens’. When I was 19, Dad tried to talk me out of my faith, telling me that it was just a crutch and he had seen many people get sucked in by religion.
I met my husband of nearly 40 years when I moved to Canberra for my first job (working in the newsroom of the local radio station). He had relocated from Brisbane to finish his law degree. We met at a local Anglican church and were both involved in leading the youth group.
God had a plan for my life; I just didn’t know it then
I did not grow up in a family where prayers were said before bed. I was not a missionary kid or a clergy kid. And yet somehow, God had a plan for me as a five-year-old – I just didn’t know it. Is that not extraordinary?
What have I done since? I have volunteered at my church. I have been on mission committees. We have hosted church events at our home. I have occasionally preached. I have spoken at various events. I have led prayers. I have door-knocked. I have volunteered on Christian radio. I have travelled overseas to places in significant need with World Vision and AngliCORD (now Anglican Overseas Aid). I have made radio programs for women for Trans World Radio and community radio stations around Australia. I have worked for the Anglican Archbishop of Melbourne. I have worked for the Uniting Church Synod of VicTas. I now have the privilege of working for Bible Society Australia.
I can’t separate who Penny is without God because he has always been there.
I also have an interest in governance and am chair of Christian Media and Arts Australia and the Melbourne Prayer Breakfast. God keeps bringing people into my orbit, and so I get to walk and talk and have coffee with a range of wonderful men and women.
My faith story used to feel boring because I have never had a wild life and then a dramatic conversion. On the other hand, I have always felt that God is wrapped around my heart and soul and I can’t separate who Penny is without God because he has always been there. God has opened many doors for me to walk through. He has also slammed doors shut! He has had a plan for my life from before I was born. And he has one for you too, even if you are unaware of it.
I need the saving grace of our Lord Jesus Christ every single day because I am fallen, inadequate, distracted, unworthy. But thankfully, God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit sees value in me that I don’t see. I believe God has called me to love: “Faith, hope and love, these three abide. But the greatest of these is love.” 1 Cor 13:13
Thank you, Jesus, for coming into my heart all those years ago, and never leaving! Help me to love those around me, help them see their worth, and to point them to eternal hope.