At times in the Christian life, our faith will be tested. We will be tried and put through God’s refining fire as our faith and dependence on Him grows. For Phan Thi Kim Phuc, otherwise known as Ms. Kim or “The Girl in the Picture,” suffering came into her life at a young age and completely altered her life’s trajectory for her good and God’s glory.
June 8, 1972, was a day that Ms. Kim would never forget. The Vietnam War had left her village of Trảng Bàng relatively untouched; however, that day was when everything changed. As planes flew overhead, four napalm bombs fell to the ground. Immediately, Ms. Kim’s clothes burned up and her left arm caught on fire. In an iconic Pulitzer Prize-winning photograph, Ms. Kim can be seen running and screaming naked down a road with clouds of smoke and destruction following behind her.
For years after the devastating bomb that left her with bodily burns and emotional hardship, Ms. Kim struggled with negativity and anger. After spending over a year in the hospital, she became a symbol of war for her country after her release and couldn’t continue her planned medical studies as she wished. These difficult circumstances that she was facing caused her to start searching for something more, something bigger than her suffering.
“I felt so bitter and angry,” says Ms. Kim. “…I really wanted those who hurt me to suffer more than me … but, I knew I couldn’t live like that forever. I had to change my heart or die from hatred. For years I searched for the answer. How would I find peace and move on? Well, one day in a local library in Saigon, I discovered the New Testament and I finally found my answer.”
Ms. Kim became a Christian after finding that Bible and began her walk with God. After a forced move from Vietnam to Cuba, Ms. Kim was still struggling with the concepts she read about in the Bible about loving her enemies and praying for her persecutors (Matthew 5:44).
“I had to pray over and over and over,” says Ms. Kim. “I didn’t wake up one day and say, ‘Yes, I forgive!’ but, I learned that in order to be free, I had to learn to forgive. When I think about how far I have come and the freedom and peace that comes from faith in Jesus, I realize that there is nothing greater or more powerful than the love of God.”
Recently, Ms. Kim was in Houston for a speaking engagement at Houston Christian High School that led to an opportunity for her to also share her story at The Loop Campus on Sun, Mar 12. Houston’s First deacon Kevin Ha was asked to help set this event up and introduce Ms. Kim to adult Life Bible Study classes who gathered to listen that Sunday during the 10:45a hour.
For Kevin and his wife My-An, they had an even deeper connection with Ms. Kim’s story. Kevin and his family emigrated from Vietnam in the 1970s after the end of the Vietnam War. My-An’s family arrived as refugees in the early 1990s.
“Listening to her on YouTube, reading her book Fire Road, and hearing her speak in-person at Houston Christian High School were all amazing experiences,” says Kevin. “The part of her story that I really identified with was that in spite of the bad things that happened, God orchestrated her life in a way that not only saved her life, but used her to encourage me personally to see the past as events God used to mold and shape me. Jesus is the only option to seek when things seem to be going the wrong way. Ms. Kim’s story has reminded me that adversity comes in many forms, but the forgiveness that comes from The Lord can trump all of it.”
For all of us, seasons of adversity and suffering will come. Our suffering may not impact us physically like it did for Ms. Kim, but it can impact us spiritually. When trying times come, we can find comfort and peace in a Savior who underwent the most extreme suffering imaginable to make a way for all of us to have a relationship with Him. Regardless of the physical or spiritual scars that we bear, our ultimate healing is in the nail-scarred hands of Jesus Christ.
In the interview below with Pastor Gregg Matte, My-An shares the remarkable journey her family traveled when her father, a pastor, was imprisoned in Vietnam. My-An's story illustrates the important role that the church — any body of Christ-followers — can play in our respective stories.