On a warm Wednesday morning this March, MAI’s Ramon Rocha strolled with Joseph (a pseudonym) to witness the first book festival in this closed country of Asia. Hundreds of uniformed school children lined the sidewalks in front of book stalls flanking an urban mall. Under a large covered tent, crimson-robed Buddhist monks clustered on chairs beside high schoolers to glean wisdom at an author’s book launch. More than 2,000 readers perused and purchased titles each day. Joseph’s help coordinating the 11-day event had paid off.
“I want to push people to love reading,” Joseph said. As a child, he was forced to repeat several grades and endured his classmates’ cruel teasing as he struggled to read and write. He finally became an accomplished reader thanks to his younger sister’s daily tutelage.
A passion for words and languages has fueled Joseph’s pursuits ever since. After mastering English, at age 25 he launched Hosanna Translation Services. Since then the business has translated dozens of children’s books, theological titles, Christian living and UN health materials.
Last year Joseph’s story detailing his hardship learning to read was published as You Can Read, a bilingual literacy coloring book for kids by Firefly Publishers. Christian publishing is illegal here, but the 36-year-old father of three regularly shares his faith on Facebook with 5,000 “friends,” careful not to criticize readers’ beliefs.
Joseph’s parents, ardent Buddhists, once threatened to disown him. Despite their disapproval, he decided to follow Christ after accompanying a friend to church at age 15. He has pursued Jesus since then, albeit down a rocky path.
A flourishing youth ministry today stems from Joseph’s dating troubles. Love and sex are taboo topics in this culture, so when he and his girlfriend of three years succumbed to sexual temptation, they had nowhere to turn. The guilt-ridden couple wanted to marry, but lacked funds. When she became pregnant, the couple prayed for solutions. They considered abortion but, “We decided to do the right thing,” Joseph said. They borrowed funds for the wedding and an apartment deposit.
Today Joseph and his wife aim to break the cultural silence by leading two-day relationship workshops with churches. Other counselors help respond to thousands of questions on their popular Facebook page. “We tell youth that God always gives second chances to repent. It’s never too late to start anew,” he said.
Young and old alike can hear the Good News via Joseph’s current project, the country’s third international Gospel music festival this November. A founding organizer, he says bands from multiple nations will perform before at least a thousand guests each day at an outdoor venue. Although public preaching is forbidden from the stage, “we believe that Jesus Christ can work in non-believer’s hearts through music,” he says.
A message of grace also permeates Joseph’s forthcoming book for singles, “Healthy Relationships and Pure Living: 99 difficult questions about love and sex.” He requests prayer for its publication and his newest project—the founding of a Christian printing house. “I know many local authors whose writing is ready to print and inspire readers,” he said.
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