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Mary Flin, Executive Director, The Urban Ministry Institute (TUMI) of Topeka

Note: The article content below is from our newsletter archives.

An Amazing Christian Testimony

Mary Flin

With a glimmer in her eye and a keen sense of humor, Mary Flin knows no strangers.

Her vivacious storytelling abilities, attuned ear, and warm, welcoming way can make a person feel included and uplifted. Her compassion and love for people is genuine--but her love for the Lord is legendary. Lovingly nicknamed, ‘Saint Mary,’ she’ll be the first to tell you she’s far from perfect… but her friends will tell you, she is darn close to incarnate.

Forged through the fires and trials of her own life, Mary developed a selfless determination and drive to advocate for others. Her mother’s tragic death in a car accident was a devastating loss at a very young age. Her spirituous alcoholic father was already out of the picture and unable to care for her, so Mary was sent to live with her grandmother. It was during that time of searching through deep loss, that her grandmother helped her discover the church, and the church became her family.

Mary’s ‘legacy of faith’ ultimately launched, and the roadmap for her future work solidified during her studies in Bible/Christian Education and Counseling at Manhattan Christian College (Manhattan, KS).

There she built a strong foundation of understanding the Word, and her place in the world.
Group of TUMI members

She soon married and was cast in the traditional role of Preacher’s Wife, which she discovered boundaries placed on women leaders in the church at that time.

She focused her attention on her love for education, and the couple opened a Christian bookstore. For nearly twenty years, Mary was able to write curriculum, lead drama and theater groups for children, help needy families, and raise her baby daughter, while living in rural Kansas.

Heartbreakingly, her husband’s Cystic fibrosis cut his life short, and Mary found herself again sorting through her pain and loss. She suffered through a debilitating health battle, and was bed-ridden for several months prayed,

“restore my health to do what YOU want me to do.”

All the while in these times, God’s providence was evident to her.

“I had a compelling calling of following the Lord until I found where He is.”

Mary’s calling ultimately led her out of country living, to instead reside and work among the urban poor in the Central Park neighborhood of Topeka, Kansas. A 15-acre park with a pond set in the city’s Business District, Central Park is just southwest of the State Capitol building. Glimmers of past eras remain, where trolleys passed by Queen Anne and Tudor-style homes characterized the bustling neighborhood, and the Park was a major visitor destination in Topeka.

Group of people

However, neither the years nor nature have been kind, and whether it be the sprawl of suburbia that pulled residents away from Central Park or a devastating tornado that destroyed the neighborhood, what remains now is a city with one of the highest crime rates in America. Currently, 2023 is on pace to have one of the deadliest years in recent memory here, due in large part to illegal drug use and high gun violence.

Undeterred by the alarming statistics, Mary set up her home right next to the park, met her new neighbors, and found her Central Park ‘church home.’

With her love of building teams and connecting with people, she immediately got to work.

What she set out to do, including with her role as Executive Director of The Urban Ministry Institute (TUMI) of Topeka, has been to change the heart of the city; for the incarcerated, for the community. She goes into the jails to meet with inmates and inside the prisons and helps lead classes, where her student alumni total in the hundreds. She also offers courses at the TUMI office space for reentering citizens, and this in turn ministers to their families, to women and young mothers.

“If you train a big enough army, you can win,” and Mary is raising trainers to the highest level, so they can do anything God wants them to do, regardless of socio-economic factors.
Group of people

She is training leaders in the faith ‘army’ in the Bible to know Christ and become conventionally skilled. “Systemic change needs to occur in a new movement to validate church inside prison walls, and to view this as a cross-cultural ministry,” she remarks boldly. In Kansas, nearly 10,000 people are currently incarcerated, with black Kansans incarcerated in a ratio of 4:1 white.

“We need to understand what the gospel and good news truly mean. What the image of God is, what identity means.”

This drive for change and Mary’s love for education resulted in her recent ordination and endorsement with Christian Chaplains & Coaching, and her studying for a certificate in Trauma.

“People need mentorship, and our hearts desire to live intentionally.”

By learning chaplaincy and genuinely listening to each other’s needs, Mary sees a future path of possibility for herself as well as her students in reentry.

“Everything we do has the same mission, so our students can in turn evangelize those around them. Everything is under His reign, rule, and direction.”

Humble and modest in her humility, Mary seems to never stop working. In her personal time, she organizes Neighbor Night barbeques, provides the food, and coordinates the fixings.

Mary Flin sitting at a desk

She invites everyone to come with her to church and spends hours talking with some of the most under-resourced, seeing them truly as God sees them. She takes little credit for the results of her work helping improve the lives of thousands of people in the Central Park community she is serving.

Her neighbors and students all share stories of her impact and acknowledge Mary as the catalyst leading them along the way to restore their city and to be compassionate toward each other. Hearing their responses, Mary, with that gleam again in her eye, states: “It’s an awesome thing when people trust you with their dreams. God gets the glory.” She sums things up with her life verse motivation:

“Since my youth God, you have taught me, and to this day I declare your marvelous deeds.” (Psalms 71:17). Then she smiles and says, “Now let’s get back to work!”

Mary seeks to expand TUMI Topeka’s resources to provide more classes in jail, prison, and the community, and to develop new training programs in response to the needs of the urban church. For further information on her ministry and their needs, please connect with her at:


TUMI Topeka logo

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