Marsali Ashley was born at Ryde Hospital in Sydney some years ago, to Cyrus and Etti Ashley. I say some years ago because my mum belonged to a generation where sharing one’s age wasn’t the done thing. Having been born some years ago the family moved from Sydney to the Hawkesbury River where she spent much of her childhood. My mum is the youngest of three children. Robert and Ken are her older brothers.
One of my earliest memories is of visiting my mum’s dad (my Granddad) in Sydney and him playing the bagpipes for us. It was a Scottish crazed family, hence my mum was given a Gaelic name, Marsali.
My mum’s mum died from cancer when she was 16. My mum soon left school and home to live in Sydney. In 1961 she moved to Melbourne where she lived with her grandmother and aunt. It was during the 60s that my mum started attending Mentone Baptist Church. She became a member and served in many different ways including with the youth and Girls Brigade and helping raise money for missionaries.
It was during those formative years that my mum decided to go to Bible college and serve overseas as a missionary. She looked back to those years with great fondness. My mum studied at MBI, today known as MST. Following the completion of study in 1969 she joined APCM now Pioneers in PNG. There are lots of acronyms here, FYI!
It was in Papua that my mum met a fellow by the name of John Campbell who was there for 12 months to help with building and engineering projects with the mission agency.
While both mum and dad originate from New South Wales, when returning to Australia for their wedding day they chose Melbourne. For as Sydneysiders eventually admit, Melbourne is better. The wedding was held at Mentone Baptist Church, with the great Alec White marrying them.
The plan was to then return to PNG after further training but God had other plans. In 1977 we moved to Wodonga where my Dad became a teacher at Wodonga Technical School.
My mum and dad have 3 children. Penelope and myself were born here in sunny Melbourne, and our baby brother Ian arrived just up the road from home at the Wodonga Hospital. Those 14 years spent in the country were pivotal for our family.
We have many fond memories of those years.
While dad taught us to shoot, mum cooked the rabbits for dinner. We would spend days out bush and wanderings on friend’s farms, collecting blackberries, mushrooms, apples, and the odd cow.
We loved our family holidays to Queensland and a highlight every year were our trips to Melbourne. My mum may have come from humble means but she also had expensive taste. We would lunch at Georges in the city (what was then Melbourne’s equivalent of Harrods). We would shop and enjoy a taste of the finer things that can be appreciated in this world. I suspect it was those visits that gave me a love for Melbourne, the city where we would all settle down to raise our own families.
We returned to Melbourne in 1992 to finish school, where we lived in Burwood and my mum worked in aged care. We attended Camberwell baptist church where I met Susan, and where my mum was reacquainted with Susan’s parents whom she first met 25 years earlier.
Our mum encouraged us to excellence whether it was with schooling, music, drama or sport. While some of her reporting of our achievements contained a touch of hyperbole, I know she was thankful to God and proud of us. Whether it is Penelope with her drama classes or Ian playing cricket and water polo or me learning how to iron a shirt.
I understand that my mum could be a little tricky at times. Like all of us, my mum had her flaws but the greatest gift she and my dad gave Penelope, Ian and I was the good news of Jesus. From the youngest age, I recall us going to church every Sunday. We often read the Bible together at dinner time and prayed. Mother would give words of encouragement to look to Jesus and trust him.
We are thankful to God that that’s what our mum and dad have done for us. To give us a love for God and his word is a life well lived.
Our mum was Grandma to 8 grandchildren: Harry, Archie and Imogen, Hannah, Beatrice and Heidi, Olivia and Jasmine. She was very proud of her grandchildren and in her final days, she spoke of her love for them and how proud she was of them.
We know mum is now alive in the presence of God and enjoying him forever; not on account of her own righteousness but Christ’s perfect sacrifice on the cross.
In her final weeks, we have been reminded of these words of the Apostle Paul,
“For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. If I am to go on living in the body, this will mean fruitful labor for me. Yet what shall I choose? I do not know! I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far; but it is more necessary for you that I remain in the body.”
The Christian cannot lose. It’s not because we are better or more deserving, but because mum trusted Jesus she is now with Christ, which is better by far. This is my Dad’s hope, and Penelope, Ian, Matt, Rachel, Susan and I share this hope. And I pray that it will be your hope also.