Mary Lederleitner and Tom Mallon

Hitchhiking after Urbana

Mary Lederleitner became a Christian during the summer between high school and college in 1981 while selling books door to door with her brother. Her first semester in college would challenge her new faith. “I understood the salvation message and I had become a Christian but I had gone to college then, and I was getting so many mixed messages from people. Was the Word of God really true?”

Mary’s brother, Tom, was in the middle of business school at Harvard when he heard about Urbana 81 from some friends in Boston. He decided to go to connect with a missions organization he hoped to support after business school.

From his time with Mary that previous summer, Tom felt that perhaps Mary would one day be called into ministry of some kind, so he invited her to go with him and offered to pay her way. It would prove to be a hefty investment in the Kingdom as Urbana 81 was a pivotal experience for both.

Getting to Urbana, they carpooled with some people they had never met before. Getting back, Tom went by bus and by hitchhiking.

Mary would also embark on her own meandering journey in the years following Urbana 81.

Three Shifts

Mary credits Urbana with producing three important shifts in her life. “I left Urbana 81 first with a real steadfast assurance that I really could trust the Word of God. That changed everything.” recalls Mary. Second, Urbana 81 brought Mary to the realization that though she had accepted Christ, she hadn’t made Christ her Lord. She remembers thinking “I understand salvation and he’s changed my life, but there are whole parts of my life that still haven’t been surrendered to his lordship.”

Finally, Mary left with a strong sense that someday she wanted to work in missions, but had no idea how long it would be or what the journey would look like. As it would turn out, Mary wouldn’t officially start missions work until after Urbana 96.

Changes in Financial Aid

Mary finished her freshman year, but due to some significant changes in her financial aid, wasn’t able to continue college the next year. “I moved home for a year and then I looked for a less expensive school to go to. I ended up in Tennessee. I went to school for a year and ran out of money again, and then worked a year and went back. It seemed like it was taking forever. I had a lot of school debt I had to pay off.”

She graduated with a degree in Spanish, which at that time didn’t leave her with many employment options. “I had paid for college by waiting tables at Bob Evans restaurant and so the only job I could get when I graduated was as a Bob Evans restaurant manager.”

The chain transferred her to Cincinnati where she spent a year working every weekend and holiday and had a difficult time getting involved with much of anything, including church. She realized things weren’t going to get better without some additional training so she started taking classes at night to prepare for a CPA exam and got a job at the IRS.

Tax Collector by Day, Pastor by Night

“So I was a tax collector during the day, and then I finished my course work and I got my CPA. But at night I got a second job at my church. It was a large Presbyterian church at the time and I was paid as staff running singles’ ministries.”

Eventually she was able to pay off her debt and save up enough money to go back to school. “I just had a feeling that I needed to get more training before I went overseas.” She went to Wheaton College’s graduate program in Intercultural Studies and left grateful and equipped for the road ahead.

Mary has since spent the first part of her missions career throughout countries in Asia with Wycliffe Bible Translators. She currently serves as a consultant on the Leadership Team of the Wycliffe Global Alliance and is a missionary-in-residence at the Billy Graham Center. In July 2013, she will become director of the Center’s Institute for Cross-Cultural Training. Mary’s experiences in accounting and missions have helped her author Cross-Cultural Partnerships: Navigating the Complexities of Money and Mission (InterVarsity Press, 2010).

Building a Business

Tom, on the other hand, didn’t feel called to the mission field at Urbana. Already feeling a call to business, Tom left Urbana 81 “called to do what I could to resource missionaries, financially or in any other way that we could.”

Tom graduated in the spring of 1982 and worked in commercial real estate over the next 13 years. In 1995, he and two partners started a surgery center business. After four years, Tom sold his interest in the business and started Regent Surgical Health, a company that owns and manages outpatient surgery centers.

The first two years of starting a business can be incredibly difficult, requiring long hours and a lot of emotional capital. But it was during this demanding season that God led Tom to take on additional responsibility as leader of the active missions team at his 4,000-member church.


“Every day when I woke up I would ask myself, ‘Who am I going to short-sheet today, because I can’t get everything done?’” Tom recalls. “I used to just say, ‘Okay, today it’s my family’s turn, they get less of me. Today it’s my church’s turn, they get a little less of me. Today it’s my company’s turn, they get a little less of me.’ And then I would focus on what I felt God wanted me to do that day and I would do it the best I could. I wish he could have made two of me at the time, but I just did the best I could with the two hands that he gave me.”

Mary adds, “It was almost like he just saw the whole reason he was succeeding in business was to help missionaries. That’s really how he’s viewed being a business person. Trying to have integrity in his business but also being able to help so many missionaries. I can’t even count the number that count on him regularly, call him regularly, talk to him regularly…”

“I found my niche in this industry in surgery centers and I love working with doctors.” Tom says. “It’s given us the freedom financially to do a lot of things we wanted to do; I get to do a missions trip, usually a missions trip a year. This year I got to do two of them.”

New Year’s Eve

Looking back on Urbana 81, Mary says “I’ve had a number of experiences since then that have been beautiful, but that was the most beautiful communion service I have ever attended in my life. I remember it vividly. I don’t know exactly how to explain why. I think it was just the Spirit working, and I think it was the genuine passion of so many people that really wanted God to be glorified in their lives.”

Mary was surrounded by other participants willing to do whatever God wanted them to do. “It’s not very often that you get to see eighteen- to twenty-thousand people together and there’s that level of commitment and dedication and consecration to Christ.” she says. “It was really profound. It was very deeply meaningful to me.”

Tom and Mary left Urbana 81 with a strong sense of God’s call on their lives. For Mary, it was a call to missions work that wouldn’t be fulfilled for another 15 years. For Tom, it was a call to support missions for the rest of his life. But for both, it was a call that has guided their trajectories ever since.

Until it Comes to Pass

“The advice I would give students at Urbana,” Mary says, “is don’t be discouraged if it takes a while to see what you feel God is calling you to do to come to pass, you know? He put something in my heart that New Year’s Eve and it took many, many years before I saw it come to pass. But it never left me. It was always there. There were so many things that could have derailed me, but somehow every time I would question it, God would just affirm it even though it looked like it was never going to happen.”

Looking back on what God has done so far, Tom says, “It’s been a wild ride. We’ve just had so many moments where we’ve both sat down and said, ‘Can you believe God did this with us? To us? For us? By us?’ It’s been…it’s been amazing.”

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