Marina Prior isn’t shy about speaking on her decision to embrace Christianity more than 10 years ago.
This mother of three and well-known soprano star of Australian musical theatre has enjoyed an enviable run of successes over the past 25 years, with The Phantom of the Opera, Cats and Les Miserables, to name just a few. She has achieved widespread acclaim as a singer, actress and recording artist, performed concerts with many Australian symphony orchestras and is a regular performer at Melbourne’s Carols by Candlelight each Christmas.
From humble beginnings busking in Melbourne’s Bourke Street Mall to performing in front of thousands of people night after night, Prior’s career is a real “success” story.
But despite her success, acclaim and popularity, Prior is quick to point out her self-worth is not derived from her career. Sure it is important but it’s her relationship with God that makes her what she is and gives her the most joy.
“I’m not validated by my career—I’m validated by who I am in Christ,” she declared at this year’s Wesley Mission Easter Sunday service, where she shared her faith and involvement with Samaritan’s Purse, a Christian humanitarian aid organisation run by Franklin Graham, the son of elder Christian statesman Billy Graham.
Prior first made a personal decision for Christ when she was 13 years old.
“I loved it. Even as a tiny kid, I just really related to the gospel message,” she said, explaining that due to not being plugged into a wider Christian community, she had struggled to keep it going and eventually left Christianity.
“I didn’t come from a Christian home and around university age, I drifted away. Then ‘life’ got in the way.
“There is this parable—the seed fell into soil covered in weeds. I had lots of weeds—my career, my life, my everything— and it got choked out. “At the height of my career, I had everything but felt empty. I recommitted my life to God 10 years ago and it’s been the most extraordinary time of my life.”
Her husband, Peter Lowrey, who was also involved in musical theatre, became a Christian at the same time.
“He’d just finished a role in Mamma Mia and then went to Bible college.
“Our faith has given us an incredible depth of joy and experience in marriage and family. We see the generational blessing in our children. Our home is vibrant and spiritually alive and it’s reflected in our children’s lives.”
For Prior, being a Christian is more than just belonging to a particular religion: it’s living the faith you believe. “I really believe I’m called to be the salt and light in what can be a dark industry,” she explains. “My strongest witness is being who I am. I keep good relationships with people I work with, so I generally find people will normally ask, ‘Why is this working so well for you?’ I don’t go into a rehearsal room and start quoting proverbs! They can see that my life works and for so many people, life just doesn’t work.”
Having a faith that is engaged with the world and its problems is what Prior considers the most attractive aspect of any religion.
“Nonbelievers are attracted to Christians who incorporate faith into their daily lives. If they see people authentically living it out, they respond to it,” she says.
It’s this call to action as a Christian that led to her accepting the role as the Goodwill Ambassador for Samaritan’s Purse. Through the aid organisation, Prior has been able to really get involved in helping people in need, turning faith into works.
“I think sometimes it can be really overwhelming when you turn on the news and you just see so much... . There’s so much need in the world, and so much poverty... so much bad stuff that it’s easy to be overwhelmed and say ‘I can’t do anything.’ I feel in working with Samaritan’s Purse, I can do something for someone. I can’t do everything for everyone, but something for someone.”
Samaritan’s Purse is possibly best known in Australia and New Zealand for their Operation Christmas Child, a program where shoeboxes are packed with personal hygiene items, school supplies, clothes and toys, then distributed to needy children in Southeast Asia and our Pacific neighbours.
The shoeboxes provides an opportunity for people of all ages to be involved in a simple but hands-on project that has the power to transform a child’s life.
Earlier this year, Prior, along with her son, Campbell, featured in A Short Film About Shoeboxes, an online film to promote Samaritan’s Purse and Operation Christmas Child. In it, she tells of her experience going to Cambodia to help distribute the shoeboxes.
“I love giving gifts to my children but to see these kids with so little receive these gifts was just amazing and emotional.”
Operation Christmas Child builds relationships in communities, opening doors so that Samaritan’s Purse can help with other needs, such as providing safe drinking water by installing water filters and digging wells. It also builds schools, offers health care and provides vocational training programs for women.
“It’s essential that we care for the whole person by providing physical and spiritual aid to victims of war, poverty, natural disaster and disease,” Prior commented after her most recent visit to Cambodia.
“To see the joy on the faces of those being helped made me realise how important this work is and what a difference it can make.”
Speaking of her time in Cambodia, Prior says it was “one of the greatest, most enriching things” of her life, adding that she will continue to make further such humanitarian excursions.
“I’m very passionate about wanting to take our children as they get old enough. I want them to understand just how incredibly privileged they are to live where they live and that privilege comes with responsibility.”
And speaking to anyone who will listen, she says, “What I have learnt through being involved with Samaritan’s Purse is that we all have a responsibility to address poverty and we don’t need to feel helpless. Your prayers and gifts make a big difference.”
Talking Heads, ABC, June 4, 2007
“Don’t call me nice,” The Age, August 18, 2002