I wish you would all get a chance to meet Gary and Carole Allen. They are a retired couple from Mayfield, NY, with an intriguing story. Instead of spending their retirement years on the golf course or taking cruises, they spend a few months of each year working as missionaries in the Middle East.
I was fascinated every time the Allens would visit my church and talk about their mission work. Most memorable to me was the time Carole stood up on the platform and took the mic. “Please pray for my children and grandchildren when I am away,” she said.
As a mother of four myself, I thought, “Now that is a woman I can relate to,” and I never forgot her plea. I also wondered what would motivate a couple who could be taking it easy during retirement to spend half their time as missionaries in such a dangerous part of the world.
Gary and Carole agreed to allow me to interview them over the phone.
Their enthusiasm for their ministry was evident from the start. “We’ve always been the adventurous type,” Gary explained, “We’ve always had a lot of energy.”
“As long as we have physical strength,” Carole added, “Even with all this covid, we want to make our lives matter.” Then they proceeded to tell me their story.
Gary had a secular teaching degree and worked first in a public school. He had a growing desire to break out of the secular sector and began teaching at Perth Bible Christian Academy (PBCA) in Amsterdam, NY. He also became active in the bus ministry and in door-to-door evangelism. During this time Carole would occasionally assist at the school but put most of her energies into raising their children.
At Perth Bible Church, Gary and Carole had the opportunity to attend mission conferences where they responded to a call to foreign missions. Soon they were participating in short-term mission trips sponsored by the church. The Allens have been on trips to the Caribbean, China, and Africa, and spent over three years ministering through a church with the military in Puerto Rico.
When they returned from Puerto Rico, Gary went back to school to become an RN. He worked at the local hospital until retirement. Carole taught Spanish classes at PBCA and started working for the Mental Health Department per diem in a group home setting, a job which she loves and returns to when she is in New York.
When Gary turned 65, he and Carole were seeking direction for their retirement years. Their answer came in an unlikely way. a young man who had participated in the bus ministry so many years ago had grown up and become a missionary. He was back on furlough. “Come to the Middle East and join me and my wife in our ministry,” he suggested to the Allens.
It sounded like a wild idea at first. After all, of all the countries they had ministered in, they had never been in the Middle East, and they did not know the language. But God worked out the details.
They knew they would need good backing, so they signed up with a mission agency. They made an arrangement to work part of the year on the mission field, so the rest of the year they could be involved with their families and their local church. “It is a win-win situation for us,” Gary explained.
They first went to the mission agency’s “boot camp,” a two-week program at a training center in Texas. Then they began raising support.
“Raising support was so much easier since we were retired,” Carole explained, “we didn’t need health insurance, and we only raised half of what would have been needed because we support the other half from our retirement funds. So, we were able to get out onto the field relatively quickly – around 6 months, a much shorter time than most.”
Gary and Carole began their ministry in the Middle East with the attitude that they would minister in any way that God would allow. God has opened many doors for them to minister in a wide variety of ways and places, and their ministry has varied year to year.
When they first arrived, Carole and Gary were both excited and overwhelmed. “We were in a huge city, and we barely knew the language,” Gary explained.
They were warmly welcomed by the church where the young man from the bus ministry pastored, and soon became involved in the church’s programs.
The Allens found the people to be warm and open. “We just love on them, and they love us right back,” Carole explained, “We would teach English classes, and they would help us learn their language.”
The Allens would participate in street Evangelism side-by-side with the Middle Eastern believers. They would pass out digital literature in their language and would occasionally assist with a Gideon Bible distribution with a local pastor.
The Bible distribution was highly regulated, but he was occasionally approved to do it with the proper paperwork. The streets are just bustling with people -- millions of tourists and many refugees from different nations, which made this an especially effective outreach. The team would give out about 1000 Bibles a day, and they even gave out 1,400 on one day.
“It was so much fun to look out among the crowds and see so many red Bibles,” Carole said.
Carole and Gary also ministered at an international English-speaking church which they had to travel an hour and a half by metro, bus, and boat to get to. Though the commute was tiring, the Allens loved it because it gave them a chance to get to know the people. The Allens, with their fair skin and modern dress, stood out as Westerners, and many people would approach them and ask them questions about Christianity.
The international church had a tremendous outreach to refugees from several Middle Eastern countries. In the same building as the church was a clinic where Gary was able to volunteer as a nurse, while Carole helped in a Moms and Tots group, with arts and crafts, and in the kitchen. For a long time, they did this a couple of days a week.
Gary explained that each year brought its own set of joys and challenges. “Our first year on the field, in 2015, was memorable because we were learning the language and transitioning into the culture,” Gary said. They found a beautiful apartment in a historic part of the city overlooking the river. It was a wonderful setting in which to become acclimated to the country.
Their second year, in 2016, they had trouble finding an apartment and ended up in a rough neighborhood. One day Carole and Gary had stopped to get groceries on the way back from church. As Gary was carrying a bag of groceries in each arm, a man came up from behind and jumped him, trying to steal his wallet. While Gary was struggling to hold onto his wallet and get away, Carole, dressed in her Sunday best, sprang into action. With all the strength this petite woman could muster, she hit the mugger with the bag of groceries she was carrying. The stunned man let go and ran away.
By this time, the Allens had caught the attention of the local grocer and many of the neighbors. The police came and interviewed the Allens which added to the chaotic scene. By the time the police left, the Allens were acquainted with their neighbors. They marveled at how God used this event to break the ice within their community. Carole was now a hero, affectionately dubbed, “the bag lady,” and from that day on, they felt like they belonged.
The Allen’s third year was characterized by political unrest. One day when Carole and Gary were distributing digital literature with a team from a local church in the city square, they heard an explosion. Gary turned to Carole and asked, “Did you hear that?” Before she could answer, they heard sirens, and the square was filled with police cars, ambulances, and policemen carrying shields. Crowds of people poured into the square from an adjacent boulevard. Helicopters were flying overhead. In the swarm of panic-stricken people, many of which were weeping, the Allens and the rest of their team continued with their literature distribution. Finally, the police came and helped disburse the crowd.
They found out later that the commotion had been due to a suicide bombing which had taken place only a half a mile from where they had been in the square. Nine people had been killed. It was frightening for the Allens, but they were thankful that they and their entire team were not hurt. And it didn’t scare them away from coming back.
The Allens arrived in 2019 to discover that some of the ministries they had been involved in, including the Bible distribution through the Gideons, had been shut down due to violence. But God opened other doors for the Allens. Another mission agency approached them and asked them to help with their refugee program. They volunteered with this agency for the duration of their stay.
You can probably guess what happened in 2020. The Allens were back on the mission field for only six weeks when they were sent home due to the pandemic. Gary was quick to point out that the ministries they worked within the Middle East have gone online and people are coming to know Christ.
In Carole and Gary’s absence, one of their Middle Eastern friends was arrested and put in jail, which has added to their desire to return as soon as possible. They have been cleared to go back in September.
“First Corinthians 16:9 is the Bible verse that describes our ministry,” Carole said, “for a wide door for effective work has opened for me, and there are many adversaries.”(ESV)
“I want to praise God that He loves the people from the Middle East, and he opens doors. It is all God,” Carol added. “When things are hard, Christ becomes real.”
I realize that we can’t all jump on a plane and fly to the Middle East, but I leave you with a challenge to follow the Allens’ example of being willing and ready to share Jesus in whatever circumstance God puts you in.
*For more information about the Allens' ministry or to make a donation towards their support visit Give - Christar add Allen's ID #564