On June 8, 1972 during the Vietnam War, a little girl made world-wide news when she was photographed running from her Vietnamese village, which had just been bombed with napalm by South Vietnamese planes. It's a miracle that she was even alive. Her clothes were burned completely away and skin was dropping from her body, which was still on fire.
The photo won many prizes, including a Pulitzer, and has been credited with hastening the end of the Vietnam War. But what happened to the nine-year-old child who became known around the world simply as "The Napalm Girl"? This week I had the privilege of meeting and hearing the story of this miraculous lady.
Kim Phuc Pan Thi was rushed to a hospital by photographers, but her injuries were so severe she was placed in a morgue and left there to die. Her parents finally found her still barely alive in that morgue after three days and desperate treatment was begun to try and spare her life. After 14 months in a Saigon hospital and sixteen skin-graft surgeries, she returned to her village. She continued to struggle with physical pain as well as the mental anguish of being used as a propaganda tool by the communist government.
Ten painful years after surviving her horrifying experience, Kim committed her life to Jesus Christ. Kim sought a way to find freedom to grow in her faith, and in 1986 the communist government allowed her to continue her education in Cuba. For years Kim considered herself ugly because of the scars that covered her body, and she feared that as a result she would never be loved, never be married, and never have the chance to raise a family. In Cuba she met another young Vietnamese student who later became her husband. While on their honeymoon in 1992, they saw a chance to escape communist control, and they defected to Canada where they still live with their two sons.
Kim says it was only through her relationship with Christ that she was able to find love, peace, meaning, and purpose, and eventually to extend forgiveness to those who caused so much pain for her and others. Kim is doing an amazing amount of work around the planet sharing her faith and working through foundations she has set up to especially provide medical and psychological assistance to child victims of war.
Her grace, love, forgiveness, and commitment to powerfully sharing the message of Christ is beyond inspiring. I'm thankful that her famous photo was not a picture of the end of the road, but of the beginning of an incredible journey that has brought peace to people throughout the world.