Author Ashley Chesnut has had a love for God’s word since she became a Christian at six, and heard God’s call into ministry during elementary school.
Because her goal is to teach people about Jesus, she got a degree in middle school education because, as she said, “If you can teach middle schoolers, you can teach anyone.”
Chesnut went on to get a master of divinity degree from Beeson Divinity School at Samford University in Birmingham, and holds a certificate in biblical counseling from Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, North Carolina. After watching her parents live out relational ministry, she chose to pattern hers similarly.
“I look at Jesus and how Jesus made disciples and that influenced how I do ministry. Jesus had the Twelve and within that, the three, and I want to spend my life investing in the people that God has placed around me,” Chesnut said.
This relational ministry emanates both through her work with young adults at The Church at Brook Hills in Birmingham and her work as an author.
Writing came naturally to Chesnut: it’s a craft she enjoys and knows she’s good at. While in 3rd grade at her Christian school, she placed 3rd in a writing contest for grades 3-6. She also wrote the school play several years later.
‘Down in the ‘Ham’
Her first book came out of a love for families in Birmingham. Wanting to serve, she volunteered at Sav-A-Life Vestavia, but she felt God impress on her that she could also serve through the writing she enjoyed so much. God even used that volunteer opportunity to aid her writing — she met the illustrator for her book at Sav-A-Life.
“‘Down in the ‘Ham’ came out of a prayer of how God would want me to plug in and serve God in our city … . When I went downtown, I found a lot of young adults and young professionals and not a lot of families that were going downtown,” Chesnut explained.
She said the book became “a way to promote downtown by giving families an activity to do while they’re there so they would know what to see. So there’s a scavenger hunt element.”
There is an accompanying coloring book.
Chesnut’s next effort, “It’s Not Just You,” is a very different book for a very different audience.
“I wrote the book that I wish someone could have given me when I was first starting out doing college ministry and young adult ministry at Brook Hills,” Chesnut explained. “I was leading a college small group and had a majority of the girls I discipled at the time share with me about their sexual sin. It opened up a journey of how do I walk alongside young women who are struggling sexually.”
As with “‘Down in the ‘Ham,” God provided contacts through Chesnut’s ministry that helped get the book going. She worked as a camp staffer at CentriKid, a Lifeway ministry, for seven years. That led to becoming a women’s trainer with Lifeway Women, focused on connecting women to God’s word and each other. Staff at Lifeway helped her with an initial book proposal.
‘God of hope’
“I saw that the things that I was encountering with the young adult women at Brook Hills wasn’t just a local thing — it was common experiences, stories and struggles with women across the nation, from Iowa to California to Georgia,” Chesnut said. “And it wasn’t just young adult women. It was women of all ages in the Church. So, the book’s title is ‘It’s Not Just You.’ That’s what I want women to know — that you’re not the only woman that struggles with your particular genre of sexual sin.”
Part One of the book is, “How We Got Here: Why Our Sexuality is Broken;” Part Two is, “God’s Design for Sex;” and Part Three is, “How to Fight Against Sexual Sin.” Chesnut’s goal for writing the book is to give a foundation for women to understand sexual sin and realize they aren’t alone in the struggle.
“It’s important to realize that every person’s story has nuance, and a book cannot address every nuance of every person’s story,” Chesnut noted. “I would say I am giving someone tools and a framework to get started, but it’s helpful to have people to walk alongside you. There might be nuances of your story that you might need a counselor to help you work through, a recovery group to help you work through or just friends who can love you well and listen well.
“I think it’s just important to realize that a book is not going to be able to answer all your questions or give you every little step that you should take.
“[Writing this book] has reaffirmed that no matter how much brokenness is in the world or is in your story or in the story or the people that you are ministering to, we serve a God of hope. He is victorious and we fight from a position of victory as His children if we are Christ-followers. You’re not stuck.
“That doesn’t mean it’s easy. It doesn’t mean it’s instantaneous, but there is hope.”
“Down in the Ham — A Child’s Guide to Downtown Birmingham” and “It’s Not Just You” are sold at Amazon and other major book retailers.
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