The Mother of Modern Missions?

by Abby Alleman on August 26, 2016


It was a Sunday morning. Sunshine filtered through the rose trellis by Lake Balaton. I stilled my heart and reflected upon the message I had just heard.

Three pioneers of the faith were highlighted. One of them was William Carey, considered ‘the father of modern missions’. When talking about his home life, it was said that his first wife went crazy then died.

Under the crimson buds of summer opening to the full light of day, it was this lost story, Dorothy Carey’s story, that pricked my heart. I grieved and shed a few tears. I asked God to show me more lost stories of women. I pleaded for their stories to be recovered.

And when I read more about William Carey’s behavior towards Dorothy, particularly how he left her pregnant with two small children in his first attempt to go to India, I wanted to tell him a thing or two.

I could not have known that a mere seven months later, I would be in the mental ward of a Hungarian hospital, my own story on the verge of extinction.

‘What does it profit a man to gain the whole world and lose his own self?’

Traditionally ‘the whole world’ has been interpreted as all one could want of the secular world. Things like fame, fortune, success, an entourage of servants, etc.

But what if ‘the whole world’ were the world of missions? In this way it can be said that William Carey gained the whole world, especially regarding his legacy and esteem. But did he lose his soul in the process, even for a season?

He lost the story of his wife. The wife of his youth. The one he had vowed to love, and according to the book of Ephesians, the one for whom he was called to lay down his life.

Then, the whole world lost her story. She was seen as unfit or selfish or crazy.*

But what if he waited, and she was won by his love and sacrifice?

William Carey was the product of his culture. At the time, it was assumed that a good wife would follow him. It was also assumed he would ask her to do so. Her status in society was considerably inferior to his. This left Dorothy with an impossible choice as she struggled to embrace the pioneer mission.

It is important to remember these factors.

But we are not living in his time. We live here and now. And women are considered equal to men. Marriage is a partnership. Yet our stories, especially those of wives, especially in the church and missions, can easily be lost.

When I reflect on these things, I know them intimately.

At the time of my hospital stay, we were living in a country for which we had endured a six year process just so we could be there. Our work with students was thriving. We had labored towards fluency in a very hard language. Our children were virtually bilingual. We were excited about the future.

And then, the unthinkable. I had what psychologists call a manic episode caused by lack of sleep and a later diagnosis of bipolar disorder. Essentially, I went crazy for a time.

I was in the hospital two weeks including three days in the ICU. As I recovered, many were saying we needed to return home to Pennsylvania for my healing and long-term care. It seemed like a death to all we had fought to keep, in other words, ‘the whole world’. Children pulled out of school. Loss of relationships that were just beginning and held so much promise. Leaving this life we had built through blood, sweat and tears.

But then, my husband came to the hospital one evening and said he thought we did need to return to the States. He had been listening to the song Lay Me Down and said that’s what he felt God was calling him to do.

In the year and a half that has followed, God has picked up both of our stories and is writing things beyond imagining. We miss our overseas ‘home’ and always will. But we are in the palm of God’s hand, safe in his clasp.

My husband has walked a road where he could easily have succumbed to bitterness for what my mental illness has cost him. But instead, he has let his own story be nearly lost in order to find this new, or redeemed, story with me. I have no doubt he will be honored for all eternity for his love and faithfulness to me.

We need to remember the lost stories. In particular, husbands, I speak clearly to you — yet with compassion. You must be the protectors, the guardians, of your wives’ stories. It is the greater part of all you will do, in close relationship to your love for God. And, in the end, what is gained will far outweigh the sacrifice.

For many a story will be found and lifted up as the crowning jewel of your life unto the glory of God.


*I do not know the true state of Dorothy Carey’s heart, but I do know she hasn’t been remembered kindly.

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About Abby Alleman

A farm girl at heart, Abigail (Abby) loves the surprising stories God writes. Since her first plane trip at the age of twenty landed her in Barcelona, Spain, Abby knew her life would never be the same. She holds degrees in both Math and Spanish and is a former high school teacher. She has served as a translator and short-term missionary in Latin America and inner city Philadelphia. But her most treasured journey is when her big dreams came crashing to the ground, when heartbreak and humility brought her home to her family, God and eventually right to her husband, Jared. They have worked with the student ministry of CRU for over ten years in both the U.S. and Hungary. She has three small kids and blogs her life and love of story at Abigail Alleman ( ).
  • William Carey has always rubbed me the wrong way. I too did further reading before we left for the field on Dorothy, and it broke my heart to know of all she lost and suffered. And it is definitely unfortunate that there are still instances where one spouse runs ahead in pursuit of “God’s will” while the other isn’t so sure. And agencies, even while aware of the issues, ignore them or overlook them just to have more people on the field. Oh man does this piece drudge up some issues that we experienced ourselves while we were deciding where to go and for the first two years there. But that’s another story for another day ????

    • Elizabeth Trotter

      Oh my goodness, Kim, thank you for saying so! His story always rubbed me the wrong way, too.

  • Missionary husband

    What are resources for further reading on the wives of all these famous missionaries? I’ve read Henry and Maria (or is it Hudson and Maria, I forget), which tries to flesh out his relationship with his first wife who died in China (that info was originally suppressed from his official biographies by the Victorian era guardians of his legacy). But yeah, clearly there are many important stories to tell here that have been overshadowed for far too long.

  • Elizabeth Trotter

    If Abby’s article has touched a place deep inside you, and you want to read more on the subject of “trailing spouses” (which is the name for the situation Dorothy was facing), I’ve written an Open Letter to Trailing Spouses and the People they’re married to, right here at A Life Overseas. That article also has a link to my personal story inside it. You can find it here:

    • Thank you for linking this. These days I’m feeling more like a trailing spouse than I ever intended – or want – to be. :/

    • Sorry I didn’t get the link within the article!!

      • Elizabeth Trotter

        Oh don’t worry about that Abby! I only thought of linking it because one of the comments was asking for more info on historical husband and wife pairs.

  • Marilyn Gardner

    Oh Abby- so much love and a grateful heart for you this day. What you have done here is courageous. Thank you

    • Thank you Marilyn. So glad you asked me to join the team 🙂

  • Oh Abby, thank you for sharing so bravely and courageously about this issue. Know that you are not the only one. I had a breakdown about a year ago, and I still haven’t gotten up the courage to share about it yet, but you really inspired me to do so. You are so right that we have to take care of our souls. I’m so glad your husband saw you as his first treasure and has walked this path with you. I know it has cost you all something to continue to get healing, but I know that will be worth it to. Thank you for being so authentic and for causing us to really think about these issues. As one fellow writer to another, I’d love for us to stay in touch with each other. Blessings and peace to you. xo

  • Thanking you and with you, having experienced something similar myself and seen so many others suffer likewise. Grateful for your wise, brave word here. I wish we felt like we could talk about this more, but I know your post here is a step in the right direction.

    • Elizabeth Trotter

      Sending you a hug Karen! Wish we could talk in person. But maybe we’ll just have to continue our private email conversations 🙂

  • Dalaina May

    Really beautiful. (I have always had a big distaste for William Carey’s story for the same reason.) I would really like to add that this story does not always go in this direction. Sometimes it is the husband who struggles or falls. Sometimes it is the WIFE who needs to lay down her dreams and her calling in a missions context for the sake of her husband and his needs. We rarely talk about what you’ve written here, but I think we far more rarely talk about it when it happens in the other direction. There are plenty of times when women must be the protectors, the guardians, of their husbands’ stories. Grace to you, and thanks for the touching article.

    • Elizabeth Trotter

      So true Dalaina! As always, your perspective is wise and true. I want you to know how much I value you as part of our community here.

  • Thanks for sharing this. I have thought about these women, and often times the children as well. It has never sat well with me. Another person that I respect but also really don’t is David Livingstone. In my opinion, he just shouldn’t have gotten married. He couldn’t always bring his wife with him nor his kids. I read that he always sent money to them but a Father is much more than a money giver. I don’t know their full story but it doesn’t sit well with me.

    My husband and I served in Myanmar for 1 year. We knew we were going for just a year but even that year was hard. I’m prone to depression and the instability of getting ready to go, going and then coming home was a lot. My husband is very nice because he moved back to our hometown with me, we purchased a home and I can be still and it has been a healing balm for my soul. I respect my husband a lot for slowing down with me so my emotions could heal.

    I hope you are recovered from your struggles. It’s a lot to go through.

    • Thank you for sharing!! I am realizing how many women has this similar view.

  • I was just talking with my mom about this yesterday. so sad and something I’ve noticed often in the women we’ve met. more often than I ever would have expected. eye opening.

    • Yeah Jenilee, it is true. May God in Christ break through every chain and His daughters be free!

  • Elizabeth Trotter

    Abby, I just want to say BRAVO girl! Thank you for sharing so candidly about a private, painful topic and for shining a light on what is often a dark, hidden place in missions. You have shown us what true love looks like. I hope many men will listen and be guided by your words.

  • Judy Haasdyk

    Wow Abigail, this is so good, thank you for writing so openly. My husband too gave up a career overseas (at least for now) when symptoms of OCD took me down. We both long to be working at what we feel is our calling, but know that healing is necessary first. I blog with my sister about perinatal mood disorders over at, and my last post was about my husband’s grace and support too. Aren’t we lucky girls?????

    • Yes we are Judy. That is so encouraging to hear. May God bless you as you bloom right where you are????❤️

  • Craig Thompson

    Thank you, thank you, Abigail, for sharing this part of your life with us. I’m sure it wasn’t easy to hit the publish button. We need to hear about this from many different voices but especially from someone who has gone through it herself.

    • Thanks Craig! Praise God he has been walking me through courageous vulnerability. Sometimes I want to stop shaking at this level but He reminds how it opens doors and into areas that must be talked about. Thanks again!

  • Vicki G. Reiner

    Yes, thank you, Abby. By sharing this part of your story, you give voice to others, men and women alike. I am a missionary whose story was lost, but by God’s grace, I am beginning to find my voice and share. There are many who need to here my voice, as well as yours, to give them courage to find their own. Thank you.

    • Amen Vicki!! Praise God you are finding your story…it will lead you home???? Keep making your voice heard!!❤️

  • Bravo, Abby. You touch a dark place in the legends and myths of missions, and you’ve done it well.

  • Amber Taube

    It is encouraging to read this. We have endured earthquakes, landslides, petrol and food shortages in our short time on the field. I ended up in the hospital once legit thinking I was having a heart attack. Fortunately, I began taking some medicines that have helped and we have been able to move on from that break down of sorts I had. My husband was a warrior for me through it all, and I am so thankful for that.

    • I am sorry for the troubles Amber but thankful you have such a husband:-)

  • Some years ago we were in the (closed) country where my husband grew up (not in missions) and he went, without my blessing, to talk to the principal about a job at the school there. He told me later he wondered why he went since I was so adamantly against it at that point. I think he was bitter about my complete rejection of living there (it is NOT an easy place for women, but he seems to think that since his mother and sister did it, I would be fine) and has been for many years. Change is hard for me and he sprung this on me while we were there in country.
    I have always supported missions and had visions of going to other countries so we will see what the future holds. But thank you for sharing this. I think I needed to hear that it was okay for me not to want to go to that particular country.

    • None of that is easy Krista. I am glad you could come here and find a place to encourage you. I will be praying!

  • czyk

    I have always weeped for William’s wife and have wondered how he could be so revered as such a man of God when he left his wife and children behind. God can use all things for His glory, this I know, but I appreciate your openness and vulnerability in writing this. May God lead you and your man of God and dear family into new unchartered territory. God bless

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