“And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night…” This is how the Bible Christmas story begins, and each of the nine children of Pastor Matt and Karlene Murphree, from the age of three, have Luke 2:8-14 memorized and the two youngest, ages 3 and 4, performed it as part of a special program for a Christmas social in Redmond this past week.
Since the Murphrees came to Salina to begin their ministry here almost ten years ago, Karlene has written and produced a Christmas program for their family to participate in. She plays the piano, the children ages 17-4 all sing, four perform on the violin and three on the cello; there are bells, candles, scripture recitations, photo presentations, lots of music and an incredible holy Christmas spirit.
The backstory to the program began when Karlene was just three years old, back in the day when telephones were connected to the wall, and she was growing up in a single-parent home with no religious affiliation. A local Sunday-school teacher would call the young girl two or three times each week to assist her in memorizing the scriptural passage in preparation for their church children’s Christmas program, and since then, through personal work and positive influences in her life, Karlene’s relationship with God blossomed.
“In my little child’s mind, I believed that by saying those verses over and over, I could know God,” said Karlene. “My family didn’t go to church except the Children’s Christmas program each year, so when we started our own family, I knew children at that young age could memorize the passage, because I did it, so we help each of our children memorize Luke 2:8-14 at the age of three.”
The children were also taught the discipline of practice and hard work from a very young age, as they started their musical talents very young, most also at the age of three.
“Our family runs on the theme of discipline and hard work,” said Pastor Matt. “That’s why we really got them into music, to teach them that practice is something we do every day. To put in the work. I feel like in the world today no one wants to work or put in effort, but we’ve really emphasized work, the discipline and responsibility and dedication. The boys now have their own lawncare business which they work very hard at, and I am so proud that the responsibility and discipline which we’ve tried to instill in them has blessed their lives. They do lawncare in the summer and firewood in the winter and have more work than they have time for. They’ve been very blessed through their diligence.”
The violinists have been taught by Marina Hallows, who still instructs them via zoom, and the cellists have local teachers. Their talents are displayed in both their church performances as well as through their participation in the Sevier Valley Orchestra.
It hasn’t been easy, but the children know that when they start something, quitting isn’t an option, and that with God, anything is possible.
Karlene remembers when one of the older boys were quite young and just starting the cello, the hand strength required was significant, and it frequently resulted in tears, so she suggested maybe they wait until her son was a little older and stronger, but he replied with, “Mom, when God has a job that needs to be done, I want him to reach into his toolbox to choose me.” They persevered.
The values of hard work and discipline are taught through the examples of the parents, as both Matt and Karlene give all they have to the community, their family, and their faith.
As a young child growing up in southwestern Wyoming, Matt’s homelife wasn’t ideal and one of his main goals in life was not to repeat his father/grandfather’s mistakes. He graduated from a small Christian college South Carolina and met Karlene as the two were both working education and ministry. The young family spent time in Florida and knew they didn’t want to raise their family in the city, so they visited several communities who were searching for a Pastor, and both felt Salina was the right place for them.
They’d been warned that small town communities could be “tough” on pastors’ wives and the couple was encouraged to do an internship prior to committing to time here, but they were immediately felt welcomed and knew their hearts had been knitted to the community and their church members.
The Murphree family chose to come to Salina because they felt that they could do “their thing” as a family, not just Matt doing “his thing” as a pastor and they consciously made the decision to “really be here” and become a part of the area. Matt began substituting and working as a custodian for the local schools and joined the fire department. Karlene’s joys in life are playing house and playing school, so she focused on joining homeschool groups and raising their family, and both say they followed the model of jumping right into the community and they’ve really found joy and contentment here.
“We were really welcomed with open arms, not ostracized,” said Matt. “It’s interesting, though we have different religious beliefs, we are still people and share conservative values. People understand our desire to serve and bless our community and we love it here.”
Homeschooling and reading are integral to the family’s day, and Karlene’s background in education has helped her in raising their family. She said reading, math, and practicing are the baselines of their day, and she said she reads to the kids a minimum of an hour most days of the month.
“I remember learning in college about research showing that as parents we talk at our children, but when we read, we are talking with our children,” she said. “It’s a totally different dynamic. It helps them feel loved and connected.”
Reading has helped the family connectedness in welcoming two new members of their family, as they were recently licensed in foster care.
“I know reading has helped with their attachment issues, their attention spans and their abilities to sit still,” she said. “If there’s anything I could tell a young mom, it would be just read!”
The decision to foster was made as a family, and Karlene said she looks at like she looks at a bowl of ice cream!
“A small bowl of ice cream is great, but a big bowl is better,” she said. “We decided as a family that we have enough love to give to a couple of kids who didn’t have any. Many people look at fostering as noble, but it is the biggest challenge we’ve ever faced.”
She said her two youngest, which she has to remind herself that she didn’t physically give birth to, are easy to love and they came into the Murphree family dependent on them for survival; however, she said it didn’t take long before the family realized that “we needed them more.”
“There are so many lessons they’ve taught us, and we’ve been stretched more than we ever thought possible, but we’ve learned there are lessons God wanted to teach us, in particular, that we’re not in charge,” said Karlene. “In the Bible, from Genesis through Revelation, we see that God gives his grace to the humble but resists the proud, and we’ve really learned to try and accept that we are not in charge.”
Though playing house and playing school are Karlene’s “fun”, she says her time of need is often, but she relies on God, who has promised that His Throne of Grace is open 24/7 and He is always willing to pour out His grace when we come and ask.
The Murphree family will be performing their Christmas Program throughout the next month at locations from Nephi to Ferron, and they and members of Salina’s Faith Baptist Church invite the community to enjoy their Christmas services Christmas Eve beginning at 6:00 p.m. at 165 South 400 East in Salina.