I was driving home from a day in the office, enjoying some quiet time and listening to public radio. For more than a year, National Public Radio has been broadcasting an occasional series of first-person pieces called “This I Believe,” and I always find it fascinating to hear where other people find their grounding in life.
The program has featured people who are well known and people who are unknown, but they always have something interesting to say. On June 30 the speaker was a real surprise — it was Kim Phuc, who was nine years old in 1972 when U.S. bombers laid napalm over her village of Trang Bang, in South Vietnam. Fire swept over the child, incinerated her clothes, and left her with very serious burns.
As Kim Phuc ran screaming from the village, photographer Nick Ut snapped a photograph that became an iconic image of that unfortunate war and that helped him win a Pulitzer Prize. We didn’t know Kim Phuc’s name at the time, or know what happened to her, but she became widely known as “the girl in the picture.” Another thing we didn’t know is that, after taking the photo, Ut scooped the girl into his arms and personally carried her to a hospital, beginning a lifelong friendship.
Kim Phuc spent 14 months in a hospital, underwent 17 operations, and suffered extraordinary, ongoing pain. After being released from the hospital, she wanted to study medicine, but the Vietnamese government would not allow it, using her for propaganda instead.
Eventually, however, Kim Phuc made her way to Canada, where she is married and the mother of two. As I listened to her describing her story, she spoke of going to the library and reading many books in search of guidance, including “the Holy Bible.” And then she said: “In Christmas 1982, I accepted Jesus Christ as my personal savior. It was an amazing turning point in my life. God helped me to learn to forgive — the most difficult of all lessons. It didn’t happen in a day and it wasn’t easy. But I finally got it.”
Christian testimonies are not daily fare on public radio, making her message even more powerful. It was a long time coming, Kim Phuc said, but she learned the power of forgiveness. She concluded this way:
Forgiveness made me free from hatred. I still have many scars on my body and severe pain most days but my heart is cleansed.
Napalm is very powerful but faith, forgiveness and love are much more powerful. We would not have war at all if everyone could learn how to live with true love, hope and forgiveness.
If that little girl in the picture can do it, ask yourself: Can you?
Indeed, can you?
Professor of Old Testament at Campbell University Divinity School in Buies Creek, North Carolina, and the Contributing Editor and Curriculum Writer at Good Faith Media.