Multiplication in Community: Investing in the Next Generation of Women Leaders
Chad Burchett | April 28, 2023
When Missie Branch and her husband William (Duce) planted a church in Philadelphia, they never thought they would leave. However, after a heartbreaking season of ministry, they were left praying that God would provide another ministry opportunity for their family. In his providence, God opened a door for the Branches to heal, learn, and serve in community at Southeastern.
Invited to the area by Southeastern’s provost and a local church pastor, the Branches decided to move to Wake Forest in 2013 for Duce to pursue his PhD in applied theology. When the Branches showed up at campus housing, Missie was amazed at the ways their Southeastern neighbors understood their situation, cared for them, loved her four kids, and served her whole family.
“We pulled into Southeastern housing and our neighbors — people we had never met — showed up at the door to help,” recounted Missie. “They helped us unpack the moving truck, they entertained and watched our kids, and they made sure we had what we needed. Someone might think that was an aberration, but over the last 10 years, life in the Southeastern community has been marked by that same care, sacrifice, and intentionality.”
Over the last 10 years, life in the Southeastern community has been marked by that same care, sacrifice, and intentionality.
As her family settled in, Missie was encouraged by the opportunities she had, as the wife of a PhD student, to connect with other women at Southeastern. Even though she was not taking classes in those early years, she felt seen, supported, and well-connected in the Southeastern community.
In the spring of 2017, Missie was asked to fill in for six weeks as an administrator in the Women’s Life office. In God’s kindness, her experience there reinforced her sense of connection and community as she began to disciple other women on campus.
“Working for Women’s Life allowed me to get involved with the mentorship program on campus, discipling women and connecting with people in the Southeastern community,” recalled Missie, “I was blessed to learn from the director of Women’s Life at the time, and see her heart behind what they were doing for women at Southeastern.”
After those six weeks, Missie was hired as the student events coordinator for the Student Life office, where God continued to bless Missie with opportunities to serve the community. When Southeastern created a new assistant dean of students to women position, Missie helped Mark Liederbach, dean of students, find candidates for the job. During that process, God moved Liederbach to offer Missie the position, and Missie accepted, becoming assistant dean of students to women and director of Graduate Life.
As Missie stepped into this new role, God used her to cultivate a culture of unity, discipleship, and deep theological reflection among the women at Southeastern. Excited to expand on what she had already experienced at Southeastern, Missie wanted to help other Southeastern women get connected and invest deeply in one another.
“I wanted to build on the heart Southeastern already had for ministry to women,” recalled Missie. “I wanted to see silos come down between different demographics and see a cohesive community form of beautifully diverse women who can bless each other through the ins and outs of life. Little by little, we began to see it — to have college students be in the same women’s events as seminary students, seminary spouses, and staff. Now they’re all just sharing about the goodness of the Lord and growing and learning together. This is so important because when you gather and are unified, you can go out unified — you can go out with one mission.”
When you gather and are unified, you can go out unified — you can go out with one mission.
Leaning into this common mission, Missie and her team launched Theological Huddles — a monthly Bible study series for women to gather, study God’s word, and discuss theology together. For Missie, these times allow women at Southeastern to go deep and to grow theologically in community. They also launched Coffee Talks — a regular event designed to offer women a space to discuss relevant topics from a gospel perspective. Through these intentional times of study and conversation, women around Southeastern have grown more connected and have flourished in open dialogue about God’s word.
As the Southeastern community grew, Missie and her team also recognized the need to expand the women’s mentorship opportunities on campus, equipping more women to mentor other women in the Southeastern community through the Multiply Her initiative. For Missie, this meant not only training women to be disciple makers but also connecting women in relationships within the local church.
“As we continued to mentor women, we would train them to be mentors and then eventually pair them with another woman in a mentorship relationship,” noted Missie. “We work hard to pair women who are from the same local church to honor the local church as the primary place for spiritual development. We come alongside the local church in that way by creating intentional opportunities and pathways for women to be discipled and to then disciple others.”
“As this disciple-making culture has grown, we’ve been challenging our mentors and mentees to evaluate how their relationships have pushed them to disciple, pray, read the word, and evangelize,” added Missie. “Doing this keeps these relationships focused and intentional, and it motivates mentees to become mentors as they reflect on how God has used their time together. The ripple effect has been beautiful.”
As a mentor in the program, Missie has been able to walk with women through various seasons of life and intentionally point them to Jesus. For Missie, one of her greatest joys is watching these women mature in their relationships with Christ — women like Vallerie Candor, a student and house system leader at The College at Southeastern.
“Vallerie sought me out during her sophomore year, and what began as a time for her to just talk things out has now developed into a discipleship relationship where we walk through life together and think about what the Bible says about the things she is facing,” commented Missie. “Now I am watching her disciple women in The College, and I’ve been able to encourage women to learn from and connect with her.”
For Vallerie, Missie’s openness to meet and her willingness to speak hard biblical truths into her life have been formative parts of her Southeastern experience. Through her relationship with Missie, Vallerie has learned what it means to grow in her walk with Christ and care for people in her community.
“Missie has not only encouraged me but also pushed me in ways that others have not,” commented Vallerie. “Missie has poured into me and called me out in love and has kept me accountable. I have been able to see her live out this idea of truly living to faithfully serve and deeply love others. God has used her so many times to encourage me during my time here at Southeastern.”
“My relationship with Missie has also equipped me to better serve others,” added Vallerie. “I have learned from her example, which has spurred me to attempt to be as intentional as she is for others. The Great Commission is about going and making disciples, but to do so, we must be discipled. I have been able to see Missie do that countless times in my personal life, and her investment has opened opportunities for me to serve others. I have taken so many lessons and truths from our meetings, and I have been able to encourage others in their walk with the Lord.”
The Great Commission is about going and making disciples, but to do so, we must be discipled.
Because of Missie’s intentional investment in her life, Vallerie has been equipped in community — not only as a mentee but also as a mentor. As Vallerie graduates this May, she carries with her a deep commitment to make disciples and serve others as Missie has served her.
For Southeastern alumna Anteneshia Sanders, her mentorship relationship with Missie complemented her training in the classroom and helped her connect with other women at Southeastern. Pursuing an MA in ministry to women, Anteneshia learned firsthand from Missie what it can look like to cultivate biblical community and disciple other women.
“My relationship with Missie allowed me to experience what I was seeking to provide other women through my degree,” recalled Anteneshia. “She always made space for me, made me feel seen, and was intentional with encouragement. There was a lot I learned in the classroom but so much I learned from Missie.”
“Missie always encouraged me to make time for Jesus,” recounted Anteneshia. “During a season when I was working full time and pursuing my degree, she did not let up in exhorting me to seek the face of Jesus. Missie also made it her mission to introduce me to other women like me. She hosted gatherings at her house and made sure everyone knew each other. Some of my dearest friends were made at those gatherings at Missie’s house, and I am forever grateful.”
Now using her training in Houston to create biblical and theological resources for the Church, Anteneshia is applying the lessons she learned in the Southeastern community and is doing so with a network of lifelong ministry friends from her time in seminary.
For Missie, these Southeastern women inspire her to persevere and remind her that God is always at work. As God sends these women out to serve and bless others, Missie is grateful to have played a small part in their formation here in the Southeastern community.
“One of the beautiful things about living in a community like this one is seeing God move in the lives of these women,” noted Missie. “Seeing what God is doing in their lives reminds me that he is moving. It reminds me to keep praying, keep pressing, and keep serving.”
One of the beautiful things about living in a community like this one is seeing God move in the lives of these women.
“As hard as it is to let these women go, being a Great Commission community means recognizing that it is a good thing to send them out,” commented Missie. “If you know that’s the goal, then you have to be strategic all along, even when that’s hard. This season of education may be a temporary holding ground, but it is integral to what God is doing to prepare them for his mission. As a Southeastern community, we are committed not to waste this time. That’s why in all of the conversations, prayers, and wrestling of life, we keep asking these women, ‘How are you going to carry this season with you into the next season God has prepared for you?’”