Hidden Hometown Heroes: Traveling with a Mission: Diane Allens’ Adventures into Communities – and Hearts – of Need

by: Crissy Neville 

Diane Allen has a heart for missions. And this heart has taken Allen, a Harnett County, North Carolina native all over the world. As a registered nurse, Allen had seen her share of ailments and injuries working in hospitals, intensive care units, and both school and home health in her nearly 30 years on the job. However, in mission work, she found that true health comes from taking care of both the body and the soul. 

Allen did not participate in mission travel until her children were almost grown due to the many demands of working and raising a family. Her journeys began when her oldest daughter Amy was a senior in high school in 1996 and she was an Acteens leader at Coats Baptist Church. Along with two other Acteen leaders, some male chaperones and the group of high school girls, the trip was made to the Baptist Mission Center in the stockyards of Oklahoma City, an area known for poverty and crime.  Allen, along with the others took to leading Bible School, assisting with a medical clinic and food pantry ministry there like a desert to rain. They were thirsty to make a difference in the lives of others and to show the love of Christ to those they encountered at the Baptist Mission Center.  

The trip to Oklahoma was the first in what has been a 20 year plus run in missions travel both state-side and abroad. Going on mission trips, once and sometimes twice a year during that timeframe, Allen’s only hiatus was during her personal battle with breast cancer ten years ago when she was unable to travel. With the cancer treatments behind her, she jumped back into mission work as soon as she could, with increased zeal and purpose. In her Lillington home, Allen explained to OutreachNC’s Crissy Neville how she and others use missions for holistic ministry to address both the physical and spiritual needs of a hurting world. 

Crissy Neville: What leads you to use your personal time and finances to travel doing mission work?

Diane Allen: I feel like it makes a difference and as a Christian, I want to use my time and talents to help others. I do not want to get to the end of my life and feel like I have not made a difference in anybody’s life. I serve here at home too, through my church and in my community, any time I can. We are so blessed just to be the hands and feet of Christ. Another area of “missions” close to my heart is being actively involved in the lives of my seven grandchildren.

CN: Where has your desire to serve led you? All around the world? 

DA: Many places, yes indeed, but mostly Central America. After the initial Oklahoma City trip, I went on two trips with my husband, Jimmy, my son, Jeff, and the Baptist Young Men from my church to Lake Placid, New York, in 1994. My first international trip, however, was to Belarus in 1996 with ABRO, the American Belarussian Relief Organization and after that, there were eight treks to the Central American countries of Honduras, the Dominican Republic, Guatemala and the San Blas Islands of Panama over the last 12 years. The first trip to Guatemala was unique because my granddaughter Gracie and I went with my youngest daughter Jenni’s church out of Southport and we not only worked in an orphanage home for girls but also in a dump yard ministry. 

Yes, people there were actually living inside the grounds of the city dump. You can’t ever forget something like that; it makes you just want to go and do more the next time. 

This year my husband Jimmy and I accepted short-term missions staff positions in Israel at the Jerusalem Prayer Center.

CN: That must be very satisfying to have provided so much help to so many. You are a registered nurse. Is providing medical care your primary goal on the trips?

DA: You know, the medical help we give gets us, the mission team, in there and lets those we are serving know we care about them. That is how we can connect with them because we are meeting physical needs. However, when we leave we cannot assume their care or continue it, so the most important thing is to introduce them to Jesus Christ. We always have a dual purpose: health care and evangelism. We do as much as we can on the medical front and then try to connect them with local medical professionals to see that the care is continued after we leave. 

CN: You speak of a mission team. With whom do you travel?

DA: Most of my trips have been with my church, Coats Baptist Church, organized by the NC Baptist Men. I also have traveled with Northwood Temple Church in Fayetteville, via Mercy International. My friend, Sandra Wheeler, attends Northwood and she has often invited me on their trips. Sandra and I worked together with Harnett County Home Health, and have been friends and prayer partners for 40 years. My other main traveling companions are Jimmy and our oldest granddaughter, Gracie. The mission teams are made up of about 12 to 14 people, 

CN: What are some of the identified needs your teams have addressed?

DA: Both churches have inroads to the learning of particular community needs around the world, and then the teams go in and come alongside the full-time missionaries already at work in the field. To meet spiritual needs is of foremost importance for those who don’t know the Lord. We hold vacation Bible school for the community children on many trips, spend time in fellowship with the local people, hold worship services, and share the Gospel message with as many as we can. Many are reached and come to accept the Lord.   

The physical needs are many and that is evident by how long the lines are when we arrive and how far the people will walk to come to the clinic. 

I remember one man who walked six hours both ways to be seen. We treat things like scabies, parasites, poor nutrition, ear infections, stomach and GI problems, respiratory complaints, common colds, the flu, fevers, sore throats and such. Then there are those with more serious conditions like high blood pressure, heart problems, and even tuberculosis. We provide diagnostic exams and dispense over-the-counter medicine, along with prescription medications ordered by the team doctors, and give what immediate relief we can. Finally, we make the connections for their continued care. 

We will provide vision and dental care if we have qualified individuals with us in those fields. Dental and eye exams are given, teeth are cleaned and checked, and help is provided for problems. On the vision side, after patients are given eye exams we dispense reading glasses.  We cannot dispense prescription glasses unless we have an optometrist on the team.
Sunglasses are passed out on many trips such as in Honduras, where the sun exposure causes many to have eye damage.

Then there are needs for shelter. Construction teams do everything from build churches and houses to repair and improve existing structures. This can include painting, building handicap ramps, repairing storm damage, fixing roofs, etc. When we build houses they are simple cinder-block houses but the recipients are so grateful. When complete, we give the family receiving the house a Bible, a key, and a lock. 

I remember one new homeowner in Honduras shedding tears as he said, “Mi casa es su casa,” asking us to stay with him in his home if we ever returned to his country. It was simply beautiful.

CN: You are doing a lot of good, Mrs. Allen. Does anything stand out to you from any of your trips?

DA: How the Lord allows us to be a part of His work always stands out to me. Like in Oklahoma, we met a precious little girl named Debra who really touched our hearts. She was about 9 years old and had broken her glasses. Her family could not afford to buy her another pair. My husband and I wanted to help and made arrangements to pay for Debra’s glasses. The mission director agreed to take her to the eye doctor. A few weeks later, Bill called to tell us that when the optometrist met Debra, the Lord touched his heart for her in the same way He had touched our hearts. The doctor not only didn’t charge for Debra’s glasses but offered to start a free eye clinic in conjunction with the Baptist Mission Center. Bill and his wife had been praying for an open door for an eye clinic and the Lord had made a way for it all happen. 

CN: Are all your travels for missions? What about recreation and fun?

DA: I love vacations and I do take them, but if I had to choose between mission trips and personal vacations, I would choose mission trips every time.