“Penny, Not Even a Nickel, Just a Penny”
October 19, 1929 – February 20, 2012
This greeting was made hundreds of times as Penny would introduce herself to a new friend. Since she never met a stranger, everyone was a friend. This salutation would generally provoke a laugh and Penny had added another person who accounted Penny as “my friend”.
She was hardly bigger than a penny when she was born a 2 ½ pound preemie on October 19, 1929 the day the stock market crashed. She was blessed to have been born into the humble, Christian home of Samuel and Lula Wunnerburger. Their love for the Lord produced nine outstanding Christians. I was particularly blessed to become part of this large family who loved and followed Jesus. I was part of their number for sixteen years and never witnessed anything which would tarnish the name of Jesus. Penny was considered by this her family as the cream of the crop.
I never heard one single member of them call her by her nickname. It was always “Lurene” or aunt Rene. When they referred to Lurene or Aunt Rene it was always with fondness and love.
Penny’s first bed was an apple crate which was placed on the door of their large cookstove in the kitchen. Her family would heat stones and place them in the apple crate. God in his wonderful grace helped Penny survive a severe winter in their little wooden home, near Austin Texas.
At the age of five she travelled around 300 miles from the hill country of Texas to the cotton fields of west Texas, in a covered wagon. She and her mother with her smaller brother and sister slept under the wagon. The rest of the family slept under a tarp which had been thrown over a small tree. Her father and older siblings worked odd jobs as they travelled in order to feed the family. Penny caught a cold which developed into double pneumonia and spent one month in the hospital at San Angelo, Texas.
At the age of twelve she was wonderfully saved in Mason Texas. When she was seventeen she surrendered to go as a missionary to Mexico. It was during this time Penny experienced something which influenced her for the rest of her life.
It was Hunger
On more than one occasion the family had no food to eat. It was during one of the darkest days of depression which America ever experienced. It was not uncommon for her parents and others to go several days without food. Penny remembered becoming ill when she finally had food to eat.
This later caused her to start a food bank through her church when she lived in Irving, Texas. Later, when I became Pastor in Bernalillo , NM she started a food bank, and at her funeral some thirteen years later a report was made that an average of 27,884 pounds of food had been distributed every month for 13 years. In addition to families in and around Bernalillo they now give food to six Indian reservations. Hundreds of people have been influenced to accept Christ.
During our sixteen years of marriage Penny and I attended many home mission conferences where struggling missionaries would present their needs. It was not uncommon for Penny to write eight to ten checks ranging from $25 to $100. When we returned home it would take two or three months to get over her compassionate giving. Her heart would be touched by these sacrificial servants of God as we attend two or three suck meeting a year. In addition she was an ardent tither and missions giver through her church.
As we travelled she often would rejoicingly praise the Lord for his goodness. She could not get over the blessing of the Lord in her life and on our ministry. She would often exclaim,
“Just think of all the things that God allowed me to do. All the wonderful people I’ve got to meet! Oh, how I praise God that he has allowed me to travel in all the beautiful states (37 in all) see the beauty of Canada, Mexico and the Philippians. If I was only 10 years younger, I would go to the Philippines as a missionary, But the best part is the hundreds of souls we have gotten to see saved.”
Penny was faithful in visiting people for the Lord way past her 82nd birthday. The last time she went out with her visitation partner, Katie Allison, was five Saturdays before her promotion to heaven February 20th.
She loved and prayed faithfully for her family every single day. There were 54 people on her prayer list plus her pastor and church family. She was defiantly a prayer warrior. The prayer retreat she started for women while she was a missionary in Mexico will have its 21st Annual meeting in September, 2012. Penny went to Mexico as a missionary after her first husband died when she was 62 years old.
There were two unusual answers to Penny’s prayers. i was one of them! My first sweetheart and wife went on vacation to heaven after we had been married for 41 ½ years. Since I immersed myself in preaching I was a happy single man who never considered remarriage. That is, until Penny taught two groups of women to keep a prayer journal and pray for Particular requests by name. She called that “Praying Retail, not Wholesale”.
I had no idea that at a mother daughter banquet at Central Baptist Church in Amarillo, Texas that Wanda Casias had the women give Penny a gift. The gift was a pair of men’s pants. Penny was instructed to put the pants on her bed posts and ask God to fill them with a husband. Penny agreed to do that if the women would pray specifically that God would fill the pants with Dr. James Wilkins. The ladies got out their prayer journals and wrote, “God, fill Penny’s pants with Dr. James Wilkins.” Wanda got the group in Mexico praying, “Fill Penny’s Pants with Dr. James Wilkins.”
I didn’t know anything about this. I had not seen Penny in almost two years. I had never thought of her in a romantic way. At the close of a seven day fast God placed Penny in my mind in such a way that I called her. Within a short time we were married. We went on a honeymoon which lasted 16 years. Then she got her work done here on earth and went on vacation in heaven. She expects me to join her soon.
Generally each week Penny would get in her car and drive around the community, stopping in front of people’s houses to pray for them. This no doubt contributed to the 300 plus conversion we witnessed in the 2 ½ years while pastoring in Bernalillo, NM.
The shocking answer to one of her prayers, came shortly after we were married. The Southside Baptist Church in Arlington, Texas had just been locked out of their property. God had moved on my heart to help them recover the church property. I heard of a Southern Baptist layman, by the name of Mike Yal who may be willing to help. I needed $10,000 to be able to give FDIC who had repossessed the property as a down payment in order to buy the facility back from them. I approached Mr. Yal and after prayer he graciously consented to five me the $10,000.
When he asked me who I wanted for him to make the check payable to I asked him to represent New Testament Ministries and buy of the property and put the deed in his companies name, Which he did.
When the he church was unable to make the $2500 per month payment . God gave Mr. Yal the ability to make the payments for a year. By that time Penny and I were married and Southside Baptist had called me as pastor.
I presented M. Yal a plan where he would place the title back into the church’s name. The plan was for me to find 50 churches or individuals to give me $50 per month for one year which would generate the $2500 mortgage payment. It was a joyful day when we were able to pay the first mortgage payment made by the church in five years. The church was unable to make a mortgage payment for three years because FDIC had lost the mortgage papers. The church had legally stopped foreclosure for about one year. Then Mike Yal had made the payments for a full year. Five full years without making a payment. During that period God had used his facilities to educate 150 school children and save hundreds of souls. All of this was truly a miracle in itself but there was even a greater miracle to come. In Penny’s prayer journal there was one request which seemed unlikely to ever happen. Her request was, “Dear Lord, Send someone to pay the whole mortgage off.”
Mike Yal and his and his sweet wife, Valarie were the top producers in the Dominos Pizza Corporation. God moved on their heart to go into full time ministry. Mike was able to sell several of his pizza places. He called me to come by his office. He said he had good news for me. The good news was in the form of a $217,560 check which answered Penny’s prayers and paid off the mortgage in full.
I believe by relating these few facts about Penny you can see how fortunate I was that God gave her to me.
She suffered with poor health the last three years of her life. Even though she suffered severe pain at time she was faithful to church and to the visitation program. The last soul she won in personal work was when she was 81 years old (about a year before her departure).
Penny suffered the effect of Alzheimer’s for over three years. The way we dealt with that horrible illness may help someone else. First, we did not give in to the disease. We trusted the Lord, if it be his will that he would heal her. We put legs in our prayers by having her continue her Christian service. She continued going visiting in the homes each week, weather permitting. She continued to travel with me to the extent she had to have a nurse on our last three week trip to the West Coast.
Each day I would have her read audibly four chapters from God’s living Book, the Bible. Each night I would spend at least one hour playing some game in which she would exercise her mind, which she generally won.
Thanks to God’s goodness and mercy she was able to communicate and live a happy life until the last week of her life.
During times when she was suffering pain she went on to the church services. She would say, “I can hurt at church as well as I can hurt at home.”
She believed that her main job was taking care of and pleasing her husband. Regardless of how she felt each morning she would get up, put on a beautiful dress. put her make-up on. She said she was an ambassador of Christ and the wife of Dr. James Wilkins. In her last few months she suffered with Alzheimer’s and was almost totally dependent on someone else to take care of her. God gave me grace to do so. In fact He helped me to count it all joy to do so.
But Penny had a problem. She realized that she was going to die and who would take care of me?
About two weeks before she died as she worried about that. God in His goodness gave me a simple little illustration which calmed her concern. I said, “Penny when you go to heaven you will pass from down here where we are time creatures, into heaven where there is no counting of time. It will be like the people at our church. The husband drops his wife and family off at the church’s front door and then drives to the rear parking lot to park the car. When you get to heaven go on in and hug your mom and dad. Hug Sammie (her 19 year old who was murdered) Hug John and Wanda, (her two best friends who were martyred in Mexico). Tell them, “Jim just went to park the car, he will be here in a couple of minutes. God impressed the truth to her heart and she never worried again.
The night she died she seemed unconscious. I bent over her and whispered, “Honey, don’t fight it, its is ok, I’ll be there with you soon.” About ten minutes afterwards she opened her eyes, looked at me and was gone.
The little 2 ½ pound preemie had proved to be a blessing to everyone she had met. I can hardly wait for the judgment Seat of Christ in order to see the rewards she will be given by her Saviour for the years of faithful and compassionate service.
Penny would often say,
“If you miss meeting me,
You have missed little,
If you miss meeting Jesus,
You have missed EVERYTHING!”
At 12:35 AM on Monday February 20, 2012 Mrs. Lurene “Penny” Wilkins went to be with the Lord.
Mrs. Wilkins had long been battling Alzheimer Disease.
Dr. James Wilkins has asked that instead of sending flower arrangements, a donation be given to the Valley Bible Baptist Church Building Fund. All donations that are received will be used to complete the new church auditorium. Valley Bible Baptist Church will dedicate a section of their new building in honor of Mrs. Wilkins with a plaque celebrating her life and all the wonderful things she did. Dr. and Mrs. Wilkins would sacrificially give to the building fund and (Mrs. Wilkins) desired that through its completion many souls would be saved.
To give a donation please contact contact Valley Bible Baptist Church at:
Valley Bible Baptist Church – Pastor Brian McMath
56 Arroyo Seco Circle
Espanola, NM 87532
The “Donate Button” located on the right of this page.
(Please specify “building fund”)