Gary Allmon found himself at wit’s end. Never before had he felt so much angst over the fact that his life was not how he wanted it to be. He had been arrested before, but the last straw was seeing his wife, Pat, get arrested as well.
The year was 1992, and each had been arrested on multiple drug and gun-related charges.
This was not his first criminal conviction. He first went to jail for armed robbery and other related charges at the age of 17 when he was tried as an adult for his crimes. Gary said he spent 61 months in state prison and “learned to be a hate-filled career criminal” while he was there.
“I was hateful, violent,” Gary said. “I had my own sense of morality, but it was considered immoral by most.”
He knew that his life could change when he went to prison for the charges he received in 1992, but he did not know whether or not the change would be positive. Nevertheless, something had to change, and Gary said his faith was what ultimately did transform him.
“It was out of all that that I surrendered to Jesus,” Gary said. “I was at the end of myself, and I had done all I could do.”
He’s not proud of his past now, but he likes to share it. It shows just how much he has changed, he said.
Ten years later, Gary and Pat Allmon are Christian missionaries who work to help meet the material needs of and share their faith with people in Chiapas, the southernmost state of Mexico.
Gary grew up in Cleveland but never attended church growing up. Pat grew up in Birchwood and attended church with her family until she was about 6 years old. However, her mother could no longer drive, and her father traveled on the weekends for work.
In 1993, tired of the cycle of crime and punishment, Gary became a Christian. Five months later, he was sentenced to 68 months in prison. He still “reaped what he sowed,” but his faith gave him hope for the future, he said. His sentence was shortened to 26 months when a firearms charges were overturned.
While he was in prison, he had already begun to study the Bible, even taking an 18-week theology course. It was during that time that Gary said he “felt called” to be a missionary to Mexico. He was able to get a Spanish-language Bible and began to teach himself Spanish by comparing it with the English version.
Pat eventually found faith for herself, and the couple shared the same goal of starting a ministry in Mexico.
“We came to the Lord in 1993,” Pat said. “We’ve learned a lot since then.”
Both recovered from their past mistakes and began working honest jobs. Gary worked as a mechanic, and Pat worked for various restaurants and factories. Meanwhile, Gary began interacting with local Hispanic groups to further improve his Spanish-speaking ability.
In 2009, the couple began making long-term trips to Chiapas, Mexico. They purchased a house there and currently split their time between living in the United States and Mexico, often staying in Chiapas anywhere from six to eight months out of the year.
The people they serve are very poor and isolated, Pat said. The couple focuses on meeting needs for things like food and giving them to people “in Jesus’ name.” Their view is that they must first earn the trust of the people they meet before they can have real discussions about faith.
The couple joins with Christians in the area to distribute bags of basic foods like dried rice and beans called “dispensas” to people in need. They also try to distribute over-the-counter medicines to people who are sick and provide transportation to doctors or hospitals if need be.
One of the ways they often share their faith is to host events they call “fiestas” in villages that offer free food and a music concert to attendees. Once everyone has been served food, they begin to talk about their faith from the stage in between songs.
“We’ve never had anyone spit out their food and walk out,” Gary said.
The couple also works with a local orphanage that provides food, shelter and education for more than 20 children.
Because of the increasingly frequent headlines about violence in Mexican border towns, the Allmons choose to fly to Chiapas rather than drive to avoid any trouble they might encounter on the ground. Gary said they do not worry much about their personal safety but admitted that Chiapas has its own share of problems.
“There is still some Christian persecution,” Gary said. “It’s a concern, and there are some areas we don’t go.”
One such place is a village not too far from the one in which the Allmons live while in Mexico. Citizens of that village have continued to carry on a longtime oath to kill any Christian that sets foot on their land. Many people from that region still practice the Mayan idol worship and witchcraft of their ancestors and are unwilling to break the tradition of threatening to kill outsiders, Gary said.
But Gary said he believes any of their work that is meant to happen will happen.
He recalled a little boy they met named Candelario who had been sent home from the hospital to die after being hit by a motorcycle and suffering a severe brain injury. The boy was paralyzed, unable to walk, feed or bathe himself. Gary and Pat provided his mother with supplies like diapers and powdered milk for him, but the couple soon had to return to the United States. They prayed and left. When they returned four months later, the boy was back on his feet playing soccer. Gary believes it was God who helped Candelario.
“He’s trying to show the people there that he’s real,” Gary said.
Despite the trouble they have encountered, they have seen other kinds of success as well. Over a thousand people have received meals and other necessities. About 200 people have become Christians. A team of Mexican ministers and volunteers continue the work they started when they are back in the United States.
The couple has two grown children and three grandchildren. Living in the U.S. allows them to spend more time with their family as well as raise money to support their ministry.
They attend Cornerstone Church of God but chose not to go through a specific denomination when starting their mission work. The Allmons receive support from their local church as well as churches from a variety of different denominations.
The Allmons said they are thankful for what their ministry has accomplished in Chiapas, Mexico, but do not keep all the credit for themselves.
“The most important thing is what God has done in us,” Gary said. “If it’d been up to my abilities, I never would have done anything.”
Pat said many people think they cannot accomplish positive things after they have a lot of negative things in the past. She begs to differ.
“You’re not disqualified for what you did in the past,” she said.
For more information about the Allmons’ work in Mexico, visit www.mexicoministrymission.org.