On June 8th, 1972, AP photographer, Nick Ut, snapped a photo that would become what is thought to be one of the most memorable photographs of the 20th century. The photo (featured above), which was later dubbed “The Napalm Girl,” captured a heart-wrenching scene that took place just after a Vietnam-War napalm attack. Children are fleeing toward the camera as their mouths make out visible screams. Soldiers follow close behind with smoke filling the whole of the background. But the center of the photograph is a little girl, naked, screaming out in pain from the napalm that had gripped hold of her skin. It’s a startling photograph to take in. Many attribute it helping end the Vietnam war as its powerful imagery made its way around the globe as front page news.
The photograph was soon the recipient of the 1973 Pulitzer Prize, earning its place in our collective cultural memory as one of the most iconic images of its generation, but what about that little girl? What ever happened to her? What became of her injuries? Her life? Did she survive? Did she go on to live a healthy life or did she even live very long after the photograph was taken?
The little girl’s name is Kim Phúc and her story was only beginning with the events captured in this photograph. Shortly after the attack, Kim found her way to a hospital where she was basically left for dead. Through a series of divine miracles, she was rescued from this place and admitted into an exclusive hospital that specialized in cases like hers.
Through excruciating pain, Kim was brought back from the brink of death, but the pain would torment her for decades.
Ten years after the attack, when Kim was 19 years old, she was studying to become a doctor at a Vietnamese university. The dream to become a doctor and help others the way she was helped after the attack was the one hope that had pulled her through the continued suffering and lingering trauma.
This dream was stolen from her by the communist Vietnamese government that discovered that the world-famous Napalm Girl was still alive. They saw in Kim a propaganda tool that could help advance their political and policy goals. The communists began pulling her out of class and ushering her off to press conferences packed with Western reporters. The reporters would ask questions and Kim would answer honestly in her native Vietnamese tongue, but the Communist interpreter would answer the party talking points instead of relaying Kim’s actual responses.
Eventually, Kim was kicked out of school for missing so much class time as the Communists continued to interrupt her studies in pursuit of their political goals. Not only that, but the government assigned a minder to constantly monitor her and follow her around. Kim had lost her privacy and, most importantly to her, she had lost her dream to become a doctor. Kim was at the end of her will to live. She began to plan the taking of her own life.
As she was hiding from her Communist minder a few days until her planned suicide, she sought refuge in the city library. She plopped down in the religion section and began to peruse books until she came across a New Testament written in Vietnamese. With curiosity, she began to devour the Scriptures until she landed upon the words of Jesus in John 14:6, ““I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”
This contradicted everything Kim had learned from her universalist Eastern religion taught to her by her local Cao Dai priest. Jesus was a good moral teacher, how could He claim to be so exclusive?
Yet, she persisted in wrestling with the Scripture and Jesus’ claims in them until God began to reveal the truth of Christ and His teachings of being the only way to God.
At the same time, God sent a pastor into her life from a local church that would soon after be shutdown by the atheistic government. Though these leaders would soon be imprisoned, God used them to assist Kim in her journey to understand and accept the Gospel of Jesus. In the life of Jesus, Kim saw someone who knew suffering like she knew suffering and yet offered unadulterated hope. Kim found freedom from all her bitterness, pain and suffering in the Gospel of Jesus.
In today’s episode, listen to Kim Phúc tell her amazing story of suffering and faith in Christ. Stay tuned next week for part 2 where we jump deeper into her story of how Christ helped Kim survive, and ultimately miraculously escape, Communism.
- Kim had a happy, idyllic childhood before the war.
- Kim's relatively well-off family were the benefactors of the local Cao Dai temple, where Kim learned the universalist religion of her childhood. The family was seeking refuge in the temple when the napalm attack took place and Kim was burned.
- The pastor who helped disciple Kim, just happened to come into her life right at the same time she had encountered the New Testament in the library. All of it adds up to God divinely pursuing Kim in her brokenness.