It’s special for women in ministry to take a break from family and ministry responsibilities and gather for a time of teaching, fellowship, fun and rest. Space and freedom to share our stories, joys, pains, disappointments, and exciting moments with other women who are also serving Jesus in Japan help us process and understand our situations better.
This year in March, JEMA facilitated three retreats for women in ministry: Tokyo, Sapporo, and Kobe.
Tokyo—Okutama Fukuin no Ie
Seventy women traveled from as far away as Miyagi and Hokkaido for our two-night retreat. Our time together was spread over three days and rich with activities. We had three worship and input sessions. They each began with praise and worship led by Bethany Chang, a talented, godly worship leader from southern California, who joined us for the second year in a row. The theme song she chose—“Where You Go,” by Ian Nagata—spoke what we feel:
So where You go I will go
Where You stay I will stay
Where You lead me I’ll remain
Though our lands we may leave
To each promise we cling
In Your presence we find our home
On the second afternoon there were numerous free time options in which to enjoy time together. Two workshops were also offered: “Facing Adversity with Resilience” by Judy Steier of Barnabas Ministries and a writer’s workshop by our speaker, Liz Curtis-Higgs. Throughout the retreat private counseling was available with Arleen Yee or Chris Lau.
The highlight of this retreat is often the teaching. We were blessed to have Liz minister to us. She often speaks to much larger groups, in the US and in 15 other countries. She has written 35 books including historical fiction, children’s literature, and studies on women in the Bible.
Her topic centered on 1 Kings 10 and the Queen of Sheba’s visit to King Solomon. Liz explored why the Queen made such a long, arduous journey, laden with gifts. We learned that the Queen approached Solomon boldly and asked him hard questions. His answers to all of her queries gave her an awareness of his greatness. Liz pointed out that he was amazing because of the true God in him who gave him wisdom about everything. She reminded us that God doesn’t love us because we’re good, wealthy, or intelligent but because God treasures and highly values us as his children, whatever our status.
We said goodbye to two of our long-time retreat participants who are retiring. Wera Laschenko, who started with the Swiss Alliance Mission and later joined OMF, ministered in Japan for 26 years. Anki Kulberg from Sweden will have been in Japan as a church-planter for 35 years when she leaves next year. Her advice to new missionaries is, “When it’s the hardest to keep going, wait. Don’t make any decisions about leaving at that time but give God time to work things out.”
Sapporo—OMF Hokkaido Center
Although the temperatures were colder (-6˚C), weather snowier, and the group smaller than in Tokyo (30), the fellowship at the one-day retreat was warm. The women who gathered represented a variety of situations: new missionaries still in language school, English teachers, wives of Japanese pastors and businessmen, and international university students or their wives. For some, this is the only English spiritual input and fellowship they get all year. Kesia Pain, the main leader of the group said, “We have a desire that our ladies are fed spiritually in such a way as to sustain them when they return home.”
Attendees enjoyed fellowship in English, finding new friends and encouragement in their faith walk, time to draw away from everyday life to listen to God, and Bible teaching from a woman’s point of view. Studying the lives of the women of old as well as sharing our unique problems and emotions with each other can richly help us with our own life situations.
Liz’s topic was “Embrace Grace” and she used the story of the prodigal son and the father’s deep love to portray the power of grace. The father’s love was not contingent on the son’s obedience, success, or good choices. Even after he had turned his back on that love and landed in the pit, his father’s love remained strong. Liz shared her own story of being at the bottom of the pit. When she finally realized how far she’d fallen, God was waiting with open arms to receive her as his child and to shower her with his grace.
A component of all of Liz’s talks was the way she helped us laugh. She told us many stories from her own life and speaking engagements where things didn’t turn out as planned.
Kobe—Kobe Union Church
This was the third year we’ve held a one-day women’s conference in Kansai, begun by Erika Grabowski. She confessed that she began the year thinking she only had “five loaves and two fish” to bring to God and that even if they had only five people come, they would hold the conference and trust God to help them with the expenses. She had faith that God would work and help with the many details. However, way beyond her expectations, 73 women gathered for the day.
It was an exciting time filled with singing, Liz’s teachings on “Embrace Grace” for four sessions, break-out times for small group discussions, and a delicious lunch. The room was filled with much laughter, music, and heart-to-heart talks stimulated by Liz’s questions at the end of each session. What a gift from God to everyone who attended.
Someone noted that as missionaries we count it a blessing to serve, preach, teach, and give of ourselves. These days we can get good teaching online but there is a different connection that happens when you interact with people face-to-face. You can ask questions, interact, have two-way conversations that stimulate our faith and help motivate us when our zeal wavers.
Once again, we were reminded that we’re not alone, we can’t do ministry and life in Japan by ourselves but instead we need each other. How thankful we are for this little taste of heaven every spring.
Edie Town is on the JEMA Women in Ministry Leadership Team. She has an English Tea shop in Ōme that runs as a “Business as Ministry.” She’s lived in Japan for 27 years with her family.