Hodges: Iraqi child’s tragedy prompts outpouring of love and support

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Corey J. Hodges / Salt Lake Tribune
A young Iraqi boy is playing with his family at a beach in Malibu, Calif. A church group hosting a father-and-child day at the beach has seen the boy’s story on TV and asks if they can pray for him and his family. His mother’s response, “Of course.” Thirty Christians then kneel around the Muslim boy and his father and pray.
  Every so often, a news story moves people around the world. Five-year-old Youssif’s tragedy is one such story. Complete strangers from around the world opened up their hearts and embraced the boy and his family.
  In January, Youssif was playing outside his home in Baghdad when masked men grabbed him, doused him with gasoline and set him on fire. The boy tried to put out the flames himself but was severely burnt, his face so badly disfigured that it is difficult for him to eat.
  After spending two months recovering from his burns, the hospital in Iraq sent Youssif home, unable to do much more for him.
  His parents watched their once-energetic child’s spirit deteriorate as he tried to make sense of his tragedy. His father wrote letters to Iraqi parliament and appealed to the Health Ministry for help, but received no response. Desperate, the couple risked their lives and turned to CNN, his mother saying, “I just want my son’s smile back.”
  The response was immediate and overwhelming.
  The Children’s Burn Foundation – a nonprofit organization based in Sherman Oaks, Calif., that provides support for burn victims around the world – paid for the boy and his family to fly to the United States for treatment. A fund was set up for his medical and housing expenses and thousands of strangers around the world contributed.
  Youssif and his family arrived in Los Angeles, ironically, on September 11 – the six-year anniversary of the day that began a series of events that arguably brought them to this point. Youssif began his first of a series of eight surgeries Thursday, and is scheduled to undergo psychological therapy.
  The random act committed against this innocent, defenseless boy is unconscionable. Youssif’s life was forever altered by a group of strangers. No motive has been determined and no one has been brought to justice.
  The surgeries may help heal some of his visible scars, but the emotional pain and suffering may never go away. A CNN journalist noted that in the presence of strangers, the boy clings to his father, the only man he still trusts.
  One can only hope that the outpouring of love and support from the church group on the beach and thousands of other strangers around the world will one day restore Youssif’s faith in humanity.
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  * COREY J. HODGES writes about current events and ideas from a moral perspective. Hodges, the senior pastor of the New Pilgrim Baptist Church in Taylorsville, welcomes comments at coreyjhodges @comcast.net. You also may send comments to religioneditor@sltrib.com.