Chilliwack's oldest community newspaper has parted ways with its editor, Paul Henderson, after he posted a series of tweets mocking Christian prayer requests for a toddler fighting for his life after nearly drowning in Cultus Lake.
Chilliwack's popular Cultus Lake became Cam and Natalie Hope's nightmare on June 1, when their 3-year-old son, Azaryah, was airlifted to hospital after nearly drowning at the family hotspot.
The toddler remains on life support.
Approximately 16 hours after the incident, Cam Hope took to his personal Facebook page to update family and friends about Azaryah's condition.
According to the post, while Azaryah had a heartbeat and most of his vitals were stable, there was still concern about his breathing and cognitive abilities returning to normal.
The Hope family is Christian, and Cam asked his family and community to pray for their son.
"I am humbly asking anybody to willingly fast and pray with me. It will be two more days before they intend to take him off life support to see if he's ready to breathe on his own and test his brain function. I thank you for all of the prayers you guys have already been praying. Lord, may they be united as one as you and I are one so that the world would believe that you sent me."
While public support began to pour in from many who read these posts and learned about Azaryah's condition, Henderson, a prominent voice in the community took another approach.
"You know what does absolutely zero to help a toddler who might die because he/she is being attended to after a drowning incident at Cultus Lake? Praying nonsense..." wrote a seemingly triggered Henderson, who was still the editor for Chilliwack Progress at the time.
Lead pastors of Abbotsford's Hope City Church, Jake and Jenni McGrew, Azaryah's great aunt and uncle, made a prayer request for their great nephew also.
A GoFundMe page created by Pastor Jenni, #PrayForRyah, was set up to help offset the costs of Azaryah's self-employed parents to be close to him during his recovery. Pastor Jake also took to an online prayer wall calling for others to join in urgent prayer for the child.
Even after online outrage was levied at Henderson, he doubled down:
"Instead of this superstitious nonsense, let's spend our online energy supporting emergency first responders in the non-magic real world. That's the ONLY thing that will save him."
In a statement to Rebel News, Pastor Jenni, who had previously publicly thanked the first responders and hospital staff for being supportive and "doing everything they can for Azaryah," she said she finds the timing of Henderson's statements surprising and unhelpful.
Pastor Jenni also noted that the comments could have been very hurtful if they had allowed them to penetrate. Instead the family offered prayer and empathy to Henderson, “Clearly, he's been through a lot of hurt and pain in his life. Hurt people can hurt people.”
Azaryah's parents also say they wish the best for Henderson as someone living life without faith.
Though Henderson continues to defend his comments online, Rebel News reached Henderson for comment Saturday:
"I'm mortified about what happened to this child, and I would apologize if I knew who to apologize to, but I do not. To be clear, and I know you will take everything I say out of context to fulfill your far-right fake news shit show, but I would apologize for being insensitive, not about being truthful. Prayer is for those praying, only. Every religion. I stand by how nonsensical prayer is when we should focus on reality and first responders such as firefighters, paramedics, police, and SAR."
"We're really just believing for a miracle and for full life over him," Natalie tells Rebel News.
While the boy remains on life support, on Saturday, according to his father, he was making progress toward recovery.
“He was able to open one of his eyes, and part of his eye, he was moving his right arm a bit so I was excited I was holding his arm and praying as he was coming to,” Cam said in a Instagram video further explaining that the child was put back on sedation after to rest before trying again.
But even prior to that encouraging milestone, the Hopes believe God's hand had already been working to heal Azaryah.
“I found him, pulled him out and started doing CPR and there was a firefighter who just happened to be at the hall that night in the area that was able to come and take over for me. And he was only there to receive a reward for reviving a man that was dead for over 7 minutes. And he brought my son's heart back to life,” Natalie explained while choking back tears.
Natalie added that whilst being airlifted in the helicopter one of the men working on her son noticed her Bible and asked if he could pray for her. "He prayed with me over my son's body," said Natalie.
Additionally, the driver of the ambulance was named “Godkin.”
Finding symbolism in that name is linked to the couple's reflection of the name they chose for their firstborn.
Azaryah means "Yahweh has helped" in Hebrew. This, coupled with their family last name "Hope," leads the couple to believe that their son will rise and walk again, and that when he does, his story will serve as a “testimony of the goodness of God through people's faith.”
Henderson said he finds nothing hateful in calling out “nonsensical behavior" and further acknowledged that his comments were insensitive. However, in his comments to Rebel News, he managed to sneak in another pot-shot at people of faith:
"I get that, and I am sorry, honestly. I don't like to hurt anyone's feelings. But when will the Christian 'prayer' folks who attempted a cultural genocide against the Indigenous peoples of these lands apologize for the horrors they inflicted on a people, terrorism that resonates through generations. But, yes, some Christians were offended by me mocking prayer? Let's get some perspective."
The Hope family is still calling for prayers for their son and for Paul Henderson. For more updates and ways to support the Hope family, their funding page is here.
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