Northern Ireland

#Prayforjosh: Mystery behind County Down billboard revealed

billboard Image copyright Colin Maxwell
Image caption The billboard appeared at Holywood playing fields last week thanks to a mystery donor

A large billboard has been puzzling residents of a County Down town, and commuters on the main route between Bangor and Belfast.

The poster with the phrase #prayforjosh appeared in Holywood by the A2 within the last week.

It is part of a social media campaign supporting 13-year-old Joshua Martin, from Donaghadee, County Down.

Life took a dramatic turn for the teenager when he was diagnosed with cancer on Christmas Eve.

He was due to have an operation on his appendix at the Royal Victoria Hospital in Belfast.

However, doctors instead discovered and removed a large primary cancer and five smaller growths.

The news shocked Josh's family, but since his diagnosis they have received lots of support from people all over the world.

Image copyright Colin Maxwell
Image caption Joshua Martin gets involved with the social media hashtag about him that has been going global in recent weeks

It began as a hashtag on Facebook and Instagram by Bangor Elim Church, where Josh's father is on the pastoral staff, and has since gone viral.

The church's senior pastor, Gary Beattie, said he was amazed by how many people have supported Josh and his family so far.

"We were in total shock when he was diagnosed, and really the family just wanted support from people and to ask people to pray for Josh," Gary said.

'Phenomenal'

"It certainly isn't a campaign as such, we just put the hashtag on our Facebook posts to get some of our congregation thinking about him. We had no idea that it would take off.

"We would use social media quite a lot because we have quite a young congregation, and we've been posting updates about Josh from his family.

"The update was shared 948 times and it's been seen by over 79,000 people. It's absolutely phenomenal.

"We thought there had been a mistake, but you can look at the views and where they've come from, and there are people all over the world supporting him, which is great."

Image copyright Colin Maxwell
Image caption Classmates of Josh's at Bangor Grammar School created a poster to generate support for him

'Mystery'

But how did a social media hashtag lead to the appearance of the massive billboard?

Gary said that last week a mystery donor paid for the sign and it was erected at Holywood playing fields.

"We do not know where it came from, we didn't put it there, but it means a lot to have such support," Gary said.

There has also been a huge outpouring of support on Twitter for the Bangor Grammar pupil, with his classmates using the now-global hashtag for their friend.

As Josh's family and friends continue to support him in his recovery, it now seems there will be people all over the world will be following suit, thanks to the kindness of County Down strangers.

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