“The CCO’s ministry brought into focus a blurry faith and gave it contrast and detail and color that I had never experienced before,” says Linda Leon. “I made a commitment to Christ when I was in Kindergarten. I went to church regularly and I was raised by Christian parents, but without the CCO, I don’t know that I would have absorbed my faith and let that absorbed knowledge translate into my actions.”
Linda was a freshman at Malone College (now University) when she first connected to CCO staff there. Bonnie Jones was Resident Director on campus, and she invited Linda to participate in a Bible study in her apartment, convinced her to attend the Jubilee conference, and ultimately, recruited her to participate in the CCO-sponsored Ocean City Beach Project, a summer-long Christian leadership development program. Linda went to OCBP between her sophomore and junior years, and that’s where she met Jeff Leon, a Geneva College student who would later become her husband and partner in ministry.
“The Beach Project set me and Jeff up for a lifetime of learning and longing to be in community with people,” says Linda. “Ever since then, we have been trying to create and seek out opportunities for that to happen. I don’t feel complete without Christian community.”
The Beach Project, and the overall influence of the CCO’s ministry at Malone, also set Linda up with a desire to do ministry with college students herself. She and Jeff both joined CCO staff shortly after their 1993 graduations, and after ministering to students at Messiah College’s Philadelphia campus for two years, they moved back to Canton to reach out to students at Linda’s alma mater. Today, Linda serves Malone University as Director of Campus Ministries, and Jeff reaches out to student athletes there.
Linda, Jeff and their two children live in a house a mile from campus, purposely chosen for its proximity to campus and its situation in a racially-diverse neighborhood. They want to raise Abbi and Noah to appreciate the diversity of God’s creation to understand their place within it. “I need to remember that my children need to be discipled just like my students,” says Linda. “The CCO taught me that I fit into the biblical meta-narrative, that I’m a part of what God is doing in the world,” she says. This is a message that she hopes to convey to her children and her students as well.
Linda credits the CCO with her desire for vibrant Christian community, and also for making her a self-described “Bible nerd.” “I never think that I fully understand the biblical story,” she says. “There are layers of knowing, and I’ve learned from my involvement in the CCO’s ministry as a student and as a staff person that we need to know and re-know, apply and re-apply what we learn.”
Linda has many opportunities to share her love of Scripture—with her children, her students, and fellow church members. The Leons are active members of Christ Presbyterian Church, where Linda serves as an elder and facilitates the adult education ministry, helping to direct curriculum for Sunday school classes and retreats. Abbi and Noah are involved in the children’s ministry, and Linda and Jeff are helping one of the pastors to start a new class focused on young families.
“I learned from Bonnie Jones that the Bible is the lens through which we need to view all of life,” says Linda. “We need to hold the Bible in one hand, a newspaper in the other. I need to be in relationship with Christians who know me, who care about my kids, and for whom I have a place to ask questions and hold them accountable as well. What I do now is modeled on the wonderful things I experienced as a student. I am a student of faith, the Bible, and community. That has to be my posture forever. If I ever think I’ve fully gotten it, I’m completely off base.”