The Lonely Journey of Women in Ministry

 
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When my husband, Damian, and I entered into church planting, we were too excited to consider any negative emotions or possible hardship. We were the kind of people who wanted to see every sickness healed and every sin defeated but failed to see and trust God’s bigger story in the midst of suffering.

With less than 1% of the Japanese population declaring themselves to be Christian, we praised God for each conversion and loved watching God move in people’s hearts. Unsupported by an organization, we established various businesses as a way of providing for our staff and ourselves. Each month, we witnessed hundreds of unbelievers passing through our building and socializing with members of our small Christian community.

We presumed our plan was working until the day our business partner quit, taking a large number of clients and a portion of our income with him.

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During the months that followed, I felt disillusioned with God and with church. As the news of our troubles spread, the sense of betrayal became overwhelming. I realized how lonely life as a pastor’s wife can be.

On the outside, I remained strong, but inside I was screaming, “God, get me out of here!” My momentum dropped, my pioneer spirit cracked, and hope slipped from my heart as I recalled other pastors’ wives who were also struggling to stay afloat.

…hope slipped from my heart as I recalled other pastors’ wives who were also struggling to stay afloat.


As the darkness became increasingly unbearable, my inner voice protested, “God, I did everything I could do for you. How could you let this happen to me?” I realized church planting had become about my own effort and not the gospel. The gospel became something I preached to others, but not to my own heart.

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But in my time of need, God brought Parakaleo into my life.

Parakaleo’s mission is to come alongside women in church planting and create a relational space for them. There, we can experience a robust gospel that frees us to embrace our truest identity. It trains us with tools to coach our own hearts in the gospel and, in turn, bear the fruit of that in our marriage, family, friendships, and the church.

During my first Parakaleo retreat in Singapore, I relearnt the freedom of just being me — God’s beloved daughter. It was a profound experience that not only opened my eyes to the depths of the gospel, but reawakened my compassion for others and enabled me to freshly embrace the role God has for me.

As the first Japanese woman exposed to Parakaleo, I journeyed with them through virtual cohorts, leadership training, and apprenticeship to become equipped to bring these gospel tools to other women in Japan.

Japanese culture places huge expectations on authority figures — a pastor’s wife is no exception. While many church planters network together with other like-minded pastors, the wives are often left out. Like our husbands, we need someone to come alongside us and invite us into repentance, faith, love, and obedience to God.

And our journey is not uncommon.

As Christians, we all have moments when we succumb to our own expectations––moments when the truth of the gospel leaks out of our hearts. But when we band together, we can restore the gospel into our hearts and allow it to help us grow. When we assist one another, we better understand our own stories within God’s bigger story of grace.

Please pray for the wives of church planters everywhere, and for our humble beginnings in Japan as we try to provide these women with the support they need to flourish.


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About the Author

After growing up in Japan, Utako lived in the U.K. for six years before graduating from Bible college and marrying her husband, Damian. They returned to Japan in 2002 and spent the next thirteen years church planting in Shikoku. In 2017, Utako and Damian moved to Nagoya to lead Grace City Church. Utako currently serves as a Parakaleo trainer and group leader, and works with the "Joy of Japan Center" (a ministry which focuses on church planting and church revitalization).

 
Utako Grateley