“Never shall we fail!”
The haunting strains of De La Salle’s alma mater song filled the cavernous hall of San Antonio (Forbes Park) church on this October afternoon. It was the funeral Mass for Michael Powell Joseph, Jr. and many in the congregation then present, with clenched fists raised, sang the song proudly in honor of one of La Salle’s illustrious sons. For Mike’s life – his animo – testified to the “Never shall we fail!” spirit of his alma mater.
Who was Mike Joseph, Jr?
A dyed-in-the-wool La Sallian, Mike was born and grew up in an upper middle class family in San Lorenzo Village, Makati to Mike Sr and Grace Joseph. His grade school and high school were spent at La Salle (Taft and Green Hills). During his college years at DLSU, Mike, like many teenage kids then, got involved with dangerous drugs. His substance abuse led his parents to “exile” him to Bacolod City and to complete his university studies at the University of St La Salle Bacolod as well as for him to be away from his BI friends. Still, the habit didn’t leave him until that one fateful night in Victorias.
The Don Bosco chapel in Victorias (about 15 kilometers north of Bacolod) featured a wall-to-wall and floor-to-ceiling mural of the Last Judgment. At its center, with a fiery red-and-orange backdrop of the flames of hell, was an image of “The Angry Christ”. On this particular evening, Mike and some of his friends decided to do their pot (marijuana) tripping session in the chapel, with the Angry Christ staring down at them. The image seared Mike’s conscience and, on his way, found himself resolving to reform his ways and quit his drug abuse. This miraculous turnaround marked Mike’s conversion and his acceptance of Jesus in his life.
The new Mike Jr.
Fast forward to the late 70s. Mike became involved with the charismatic renewal that was beginning to sweep the Catholic Church then. Soon enough, he became a leader of a covenant community, “Ang Ligaya Ng Panginoon Community”, where his parents and siblings were also members. He led the community’s music and worship and preached the gospel. He gave retreats and did mission work for the community.
In 1977, Mike moved out of his family home to join a group of single men from the “Ligaya” and live in a single men’s household in San Juan. Their goal was simply to support one another in living out the Christian way of life. Later on, they began exploring the possibility of living single for the Lord in a life of consecrated celibacy.
It was also around this time, as Mike received more invitations to give talks and conduct retreats to young people in campuses and parishes, that he developed a growing conviction to work with and help young people give their lives to the Lord in radical discipleship. It was time for him to pay forward and especially help troubled kids find their way back to God and His ways.
A vision and mission is born
Sometime in 1979, during a break at a retreat in the Ateneo, Mike and this author (himself an Atenean) were discussing a book that he had just finished reading. The book’s author, Loren Cunningham, was the founder of Youth With A Mission (YWAM), a worldwide evangelistic movement of youth missionaries. In the book, Cunningham was describing his vision of “waves upon waves of young people, fired up in missionary fervor” being “washed on the shores of many lands” to spread the Good News of salvation. As Mike watched the students passing by, he exclaimed: “Imagine, Francis, if all these young people gave their lives to the Lord and became radical disciples, they will literally turn this campus upside down for Christ!”
Inspired by this vision – a challenge really – the two friends set out to work. They started talking to the youth members of their community (Ang Ligaya Ng Panginoon) and encouraged them to start meeting with their friends and classmates in their schools. The meetings became regular and small “action groups” were formed. These groups gradually grew in number. Mike and Francis “federated” them into one evangelistic movement and thus was born, in November 1980, the “Christ’s Youth In Action” (CYA).
Today, some 40 years later, CYA – as a campus movement dedicated to spreading the Gospel and making disciples of young people – is found in some 40 university campuses across the country. Its reach has even spread to Malaysia, New Zealand, Australia and Singapore. Over 450,000 young people have been touched by CYA’s work over the years. Presently, 2000 young people count themselves as active members of the movement, serving as campus missionaries and conducting retreats, prayer meetings, discipleship and leadership training, works of mercy and social missions, classroom presentations, sports activities, conferences and other youth-oriented evangelistic events. There are over 118 full-time staffworkers around the country who serve and lead the movement.
In February 2017, some CYA alumni organized and staged a golf tournament in honor of its founder. Dubbed the Mike P. Joseph Jr (MJJ) Golf Cup, the open golf tournament sought to raise funds for CYA’s mission and sustained operations. This year, in its third edition, the golf tournament was held at the Orchard Golf & Country Club, drawing well over a hundred participants from around the country. Events like this assure CYA not only of its ability to pursue its mission among young people but to expand its reach as well.
“Never shall we fail!” as Mike himself would have lustily sung. For the success of CYA’s work among the youth over the years testify to God’s faithfulness to His call to CYA and the continued support of many for its work and mission.
[Note: Would you be interested in sharing Mike’s vision and be a partner-in-mission of CYA? If you are, contact Mich Judit at firstname.lastname@example.org]