“I think if we can break women free from shame, they’ll have an easier time breaking free from sexual sin,” Joy Pedrow Skarka explains. An adventure-seeking millennial, she loves friend dates, Texas tacos, traveling adventures, and Florida beach time. Joy speaks about subjects on which some feel shame. Recently a young woman approached Joy after she spoke to high school girls at a youth conference and asked in a guilt-ridden voice, “Am I a horrible person because sometimes I think about having sex?” Joy answers hard questions on topics often considered taboo.
Joy’s ministry mantra, “creating spaces to free women from shame,” provides the focus for her multi-platform ministry and her doctoral dissertation research at Dallas Theological Seminary. Driven by the desire to see change face-to-face, Joy speaks at churches, seminary events, college retreats, and women’s groups. She especially enjoys discipling women through online and in-person small groups. She created her joypedrow.com ministry blog six years ago, and currently sends it to 3,000 email subscribers. The blog covers many topics including singleness, body image, pornography, sexual abuse, and sexual addiction.
Joy Pedrow Skarka.
Over 25,000 users have completed her Bible plan, “Freedom from Porn for Women,” co-created with Need Him Global, on the YouVersion Bible app. Passionate about the power of social media as a vehicle for sharing the truth, Joy interacts through multiple platforms including Pinterest and Instagram. She has written for Fathom, bible.org, Bible.com, XXXChurch, and the Dallas Theological Seminary Magazine. Her husband Zach said, “Joy cares deeply for people, especially the women to whom she ministers, and gets so excited when they find freedom through what she shares.” Many women across the country have expressed thanks to Joy for bringing truth and light to topics that relatively few speak about—like challenges related to sexual thoughts and brokenness, sexual abuse, sexual sin, and sexual pain.
Joy, an only child, grew up attending church with her parents. In high school, she felt the desire to serve as a pastor. She saw the brokenness in people and believed the church could help. She preached two youth Sundays at her home church, and members began calling her, “Pastor Joy.” At the time, however, she did not understand grace or the gospel.
On Joy’s third day of college, a classmate raped her. She spent hours in her dorm room crying. She felt alone and friendless. Joy began to read her Bible. Soon after, she attended a campus Cru gathering. For the first time, she connected with the gospel. Stunned yet grateful, she told the presenter, “I didn’t understand I could know God personally—or that he loves me and I don’t have to earn his love.” As the women of Cru discipled and mentored her, Joy actively pursued Jesus.
Yet feelings of shame continued to plague her. Joy searched for resources to help her gain clarity for healing. She read all the Cru curriculum she could find, though limited, on sex and women. Continuing in her research, she found few resources addressing women and sexuality. Joy realized other women, like herself, desired answers to questions on sex and shame. With a heart to help, in her senior year of college, she decided to write a blog.
“God, I want you to use my story so that it has a purpose,” Joy prayed. One summer, she served with thirty other college women in a Cru missions project. Over the next few weeks, she learned fifteen of the women—half of the thirty— experienced sexual abuse in college. Joy decided to share her own story with her teammates. One of the women who heard her story spoke the following fall at a large Orlando university event for sorority women. She stepped up onto the stage and told her sexual-abuse story. She shared how Jesus healed and redeemed her. That day more than a hundred women came to faith. After speaking, she called Joy to thank her. She said, “You went first, and because of you, I could share my story.”
Joy models the power of going first, to enable others to feel empowered. God continues to use her story to help women find their worth in Jesus and to exchange their shame for freedom in him.
About The Author
Cynthia Hester, a Dallas Theological Seminary graduate, MACE 2017, and DMIN doctoral student, currently chairs the Association for Women in Ministry Professions. She loves reading, beach walking, and lively conversations on current events, leadership, and the theology of women. Find her at cynthiahester.com and on Facebook and Twitter @1cynthiahester.