I love the brilliant Faith Stories series so carefully and powerfully written by the fabulous Naomi Reed. It reminds me that each person has a remarkable story to tell. The art is in the story and that’s where people like Naomi come in. She’s able to ask big questions, listen intently, weed out excess and refine the story of the subject. in a personal story that continues to reinforce 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 best for us, and that is to be loved by him.
I always thought I had a boring testimony. But you know what, it’s not a competition. And Naomi’s stories of faith caused me to think back to my own faith journey, and I suddenly realized that it was extraordinary.
Why? Because it started when I was very little, and kids tend not to question certain things. Life is only what is. And I think working for Christian organizations maybe made me think more. I mean, I know so many people whose fathers were ordained. And maybe even their grandfather had also been a minister. They too could be ordained. It hasn’t been my life.
My parents were what we called the “C&E”. Not religious at all, but because we lived in a small town in NSW in the 1960s, church was really a part of life and the town was divided between Catholics and Protestants. We were Protestants, but we had Catholic friends. And C&E, well, that’s when we were all taken to church – Christmas and Easter.
I was baptized as an infant on March 25, 1961, at St John’s Church of England, Mudgee, by the Reverend Vernon Hartwig. My baptismal certificate is pasted on the inside cover of the first Bible I received, along with my confirmation certificate. My parents gave it to me in 1969, and I wrote the date inside, which is two days after my birthday, so I wonder if I asked them for a Bible!
When I was about five years old, a great mission came to town. I remember a huge tent. Draftsman. It was probably the very famous Christian cartoonist and illustrator Graham Wade, who later formed Pilgrim International. (Wade also created comics for Bible Society Australia, the organization I work for now.) Most importantly, I remember learning a song I haven’t heard sung since: Behold, I stand, I stand at the door and knock (repeated), If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in.
Years later I realized it was from Revelation 3:20.
God walked in the door when I was five
I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that God came and inhabited this God-shaped hole that we often talk about, at this mission. How can I know? Because I have been involved in Christian activities ever since. God called me to him when I was five years old. I never said the prayer that many Christians believe is mandatory to become a Christian. I never felt I needed it because God was always there, deeply a part of me. Maybe that song was the invitation because those words never left me. I do not know.
And why is it remarkable? Why is this seemingly boring conversion so extraordinary? Because God claimed me for himself as a little child and never left me. And because I have pursued Christian involvement ever since, even though none of my family had an interest.
God claimed me for himself as a little child and never left me.
I went to Sunday school in the country. When we moved to Sydney, I attended Sunday school at the local Church of England church, often alone. I suspect that other siblings may have accompanied me. Sitting in the front of the church one Sunday, a visiting bishop asked a question, and the impatient 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 the Family Service St Martin’s Killara, FO Hulme-Moir, May 1970’.
I got grades from the League. I applied for confirmation when I was 13 and had to get special permission because you were supposed to be 14. I attended Bible League camps, then Crusader camps (no boys, only girls). I became a junior leader in a crusader camp. I was the student leader of the Crusaders at school. In college, I organized a monthly Saturday night group, Crusaders, and illustrated the promotional flyers. I co-led the fellowship group.
As I got older, I was only allowed to attend some of these activities with the promise not to come home and accuse my parents of being “pagans.” When I was 19, Dad tried to talk me out of my faith, telling me it was just a crutch and he had seen a lot of people get sucked into religion.
I met my husband of nearly 40 years when I moved to Canberra for my first job (working in the newsroom at the local radio station). He had moved from Brisbane to complete his law studies. We met at a local Anglican church and both helped lead the youth group.
God had a plan for my life; I didn’t know it then
I didn’t grow up in a family where we said prayers before going to bed. I was not a missionary child or a clergy child. And yet, somehow, God had a plan for me when I was five – I just didn’t know it. Isn’t it extraordinary?
What have I done since? I volunteered at my church. I have served on mission committees. We organized religious events at our house. I sometimes preached. I have spoken at various events. I led prayers. I went door to door. I volunteered at Christian radio. I have traveled overseas to places in need with World Vision and AngliSTRING (now Anglican Overseas Aid). I have done women’s radio shows for Trans World Radio and community radio stations across Australia. I worked for the Anglican Archbishop of Melbourne. I 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’s always been there.
I am also interested in governance and I am chairman of Christian Media and Arts Australia and the Melbourne Prayer Breakfast. God continues to bring people into my orbit, and so I can walk, talk, and have coffee with a range of wonderful men and women.
My faith story seemed boring to me because I never had a wild life and then a dramatic conversion. On the other hand, I’ve always felt that God is wrapped around my heart and soul and I can’t separate who Penny is without God because he’s always been there. God has opened many doors for me to go through. He also slammed doors! He had a plan for my life before I was born. And he has one for you too, even if you don’t know it.
I need the saving grace of our Lord Jesus Christ every day because I am fallen, inadequate, distracted, unworthy. But fortunately, God the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit see in me a value that I do not see. I believe that God called me to love: “Faith, hope and love, these three things remain. But the greatest of them 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 lead them to eternal hope.