BJ and Mary Leonard both graduated from LCC in 2006 – BJ with a degree in Youth Ministry and Mary with a degree in Bi-Vocational Missions with an emphasis in Urban Ministry. Mary went on to complete a certificate in TESOL (Teaching English as a Second Language) from LCU in 2009 and BJ completed a Master of Divinity from LCU in 2010. BJ also completed a certificate in Urban Youth Ministry from Fuller Theological Seminary in 2011 and a Doctor of Ministry in Global Missions from the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in 2022.
BJ and Mary have been married 16 years. They have four children: Hannah (11), twins Lydia and Mia (9), and Dominic (6). BJ and Mary have fostered and/or provided respite for 12 children over the past six years and their youngest child was adopted from the foster care system.
While in college, BJ started QUEST, a ministry to unreached youth in Lincoln. BJ and Mary met at LCC while volunteering at QUEST and then led the ministry together for seven years.
In 2010, BJ and Mary moved to Decatur, IL where BJ has served for the last 13 years as the Missions Pastor at First Christian Church of Decatur. Along with being one of the church’s pastors, BJ leads FCC’s missions endeavors both globally and in the community of Decatur. Facilitating FCC’s global missions partnerships has included leading 13 short-term mission teams to Kenya. FCC’s community missions include an after-school program for students from a local elementary school and other various community partnerships like the JumpStart back-to-school Clinic and the Night to Shine prom event for individuals with developmental delays. In 2013 FCC adopted an inner-city neighborhood in Decatur. Through the blessing and support of the church, the Leonard family has lived and ministered in that neighborhood since 2016, seeing God’s powerful work in reaching people and transforming lives.
Although BJ is still on staff at FCC, the Leonard family is transitioning and preparing to move to Kenya, where they will serve as missionaries with CMF International. They will be training Kenyan disciple-makers, church-planters and missionaries. The Leonards will be the third generation of missionaries from First Christian Church to serve in Kenya. They will be joining the Kenya Church Catalyst team, working country-wide with our teammates and national partners.
Their current ministry in the community of Decatur is uniquely challenging because it takes place both inside the established church and with people in the community who are not yet part of a church family. Their ministry is one of great investment and little fruit that is immediately visible. Seeing people from the community come to faith and be transformed is one of their greatest joys. BJ and Mary reflected, “In many ways, we have been blessed over the past 20 years to pursue and experience both pastoral ministry and urban outreach ministry concurrently. While there are moments of challenging paradox there are also moments of great harmony between both aspects of God’s dynamic Kingdom.”
They added, “It has been a pleasure to minister as a family. Living in our neighborhood allows our children to participate in mission as family life spills over into how we engage with our neighbors. As a family, we can welcome people into our home and share our faith. In the same way, doing foster care has been a family decision and commitment as we see the parallels between hospitality, doing life together, and all of us growing in our faith.”
In preparation for their transition to Kenya BJ and Mary said, “We are excited to move to Kenya. God is raising up a new generation of workers for His harvest throughout East Africa and we feel called to be a part of encouraging and training those workers. We are sad to leave our friends and church family in Decatur, but trust that God has called us for a purpose in Kenya and is equipping those who will remain in Decatur and carry on the work there.”
Mission work in Kenya may seem disconnected or completely different from what the Leonards have done up to this point, but in many ways everything goes back to QUEST and their time in Lincoln.
Their classes at LCC/LCU revealed to them God’s heart for missions and QUEST was a tangible way to join that mission. Through the interweaving of education and practical ministry in college and seminary, they developed a burden for the unreached, confidence in Scripture’s ability to speak into life’s toughest circumstances, skills in contextualizing the Gospel across cultural lines and they also witnessed the power of training the next generation of disciples. There are core principles of God’s redemptive work in every place they have had the opportunity to minister in, from the busy city streets to the daunting expansion of the African bush.
There has been beauty as a reflection of God’s image in each person and culture and there has also been brokenness because of sin and death. The Holy Spirit leveraged their education and experience to minister as kingdom workers in whatever context He has called them to. They are looking forward to the opportunity to serve in Kenya in the coming years.
To learn more about BJ and Mary’s ministry in Kenya and to partner with them, visit: www.cmfi.org/bmleonard