Ashley Allen is not only a
self-starter; she ignites other things, as well.
Allen, 31, is founding
director of Embrace, the women’s ministry of the Baptist State Convention of
North Carolina (BSC). Embrace arose after a painful separation of Woman’s
Missionary Union of North Carolina from its BSC patron in 2007.
During the discussions that
led eventually to separation, BSC Executive Director-treasurer Milton A.
Hollifield Jr. said the BSC would have a women’s ministry emanating from the
Baptist staff building in Cary. A task force chaired by Phyllis Foy came up
with Embrace as a name and idea and Allen was enlisted from Texas where she was
finishing her PhD, teaching adjunctively in women’s programs and church administration
at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and working as a chaplain with
Marketplace Chaplains USA.
When Allen was asked to put
into words her vision for Embrace, she wrote that it would be based on the
Great Commission, with evangelism, missions and discipleship at its core, and
would engage older women to disciple younger women in a relationship encouraged
in Titus 2.
Her vision was strikingly
similar to the broad outline of the task force.
After Allen came on board in
August 2009 she quickly started visiting churches and associations to listen to
what women in the church were saying they needed. When she heard enough
questions about how to study the Bible, how to witness to friends, how to share
faith with their children and how best to support the ministries of their
church, Allen wrote a training manual.
She carried it on a two-week
blitz of regional meetings at which women learned how to start an Embrace
chapter in their churches. She answered further questions such as how to select
Bible study curriculum, how to teach the Bible and how to bridge age gaps.
She held a major training
session in October at Fruitland Baptist Bible Institute. Two more sessions that
will help ladies start Embrace in their churches are planned in 2011, including
April 15-16 at Apex Baptist Church and Oct. 7-8 at Mount Vernon Baptist Church
Embrace is not a program,
but a process to help local church leaders engage women in missions,
discipleship and evangelism.
“These ladies are hungry to
know how to do this and how to tailor it to their church,” Allen said. “They
want to know how to go out and minister effectively. I think having these
practical tools is what’s been lacking. They want to minister. They want to
look like Christ and share Christ with their family and co workers.”
Embrace training very
“Instead of saying, ‘This is
how you prayer walk,’ we had ladies that were assigned to a prayer walking
team,” Allen said. Trainers held a Muslim women’s “prayer tea” that teaches
ladies how to pray for Muslim women.
“I’ve been grateful for
pastors and directors of missions who have provided open doors to speak in
churches and who have welcomed Embrace in their churches,” Allen said.
Counting those churches
represented at meetings, or who download information from the Embrace site
online www.embracenc.org, about 250 have embraced the new women’s department.
She handles calls daily from women who say they are the Embrace leader for
their church, but who are still “under the radar” for not having attended a
Overall Allen said Embrace
is growing faster than she anticipated.
Allen from Texas
Allen grew up near Dallas,
Texas, and attended the First Baptist Church Academy. She is a journalism
graduate of University of Texas and worked briefly on a newspaper in Corpus
Christi before moving back to Dallas in 2001 to attend Southwestern Seminary.
While a college student she
started “Impulse” as a mechanism for upperclassmen to disciple freshmen. She
intended to study law and enter politics but an internship for a U.S. senator
convinced her otherwise.
Through a study involving
“Experiencing God” Allen realized that “serving Him” was what God wanted for
her life and after several days praying at a rural house of her cousin’s, she
felt perfect peace in setting her course toward full-time ministry.
A wise college minister
plugged her into areas to gain practical experience and she established a
mentoring program at Hyde Park Baptist Church in Austin. She enlisted women
mature in faith to mentor college girls.
After earning her master of
arts degree in Christian education at Southwestern, she served as a chaplain
with Marketplace Ministries before starting her doctoral work. The title of her
dissertation is “A study of selected factors related to mentoring in women’s
ministry leaders in selected Southern Baptist churches.”
She had no interest in
conducting doctoral research that would have “no bearing on the Kingdom,” she
said. “That would be a waste of time and resources.”
She trusted God and her
response led her to the Baptist State Convention to embrace a new women’s
“Women’s ministry is very
important,” Allen said. “Look at the challenges facing women today. It is
important to focus on every area of the body, women who are single, divorced,
married, struggling with infertility, struggling with toddlers, they need help
from God’s word. As we show them where and how to find that help, that will
have great impact on communities.”
“It’s been an incredible
year,” Allen said. “To see how God has moved, to see the growth that’s
occurred, at least from my perspective, it’s been neat and humbling.”
Just launched is a version
of Embrace called Girls Embrace Ministry, or GEM, specifically for girls in
“GEM is encouraging those
girls to go out and take their faith seriously,” Allen said. “High school and
junior high are such important parts of a girl’s life. They need to have people
come alongside and disciple them, but they also need to be faithful and share
Christ with those in the hallways and those who share a locker beside them.
“We want to see girls
involved in the ministry, to take ownership and take leadership in the
ministry, under the direction of adults, so when they are in college and
adulthood they are more likely to stay involved in ministry and in reaching
people for Christ.”
Embrace already has
organized an international missions trip for women to Argentina and a trip to
New York City. In Buenos Aires their work helped International Mission Board
missionaries Mark and Melissa Hobson start five Bible studies, which led just
recently to the start of a new church.
Allen intends to return with
another group to Buenos Aires May 27-June 4, 2011.
Contact Allen at
[email protected] or call her directly at (919) 459-5559.
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large church staff? Your gifts through the Cooperative Program support a staff
resource at the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina that exists to serve
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