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Finding Hope After the Horrors of War (Part 2 of 2)

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Finding Hope After the Horrors of War (Part 2 of 2)

Kim Phuc Phan Thi shares her powerful story of being burned by a napalm bomb as a child during the Vietnam War, and becoming the central figure of the iconic Pulitzer Prize winning photo "The Terror of War." She talks about her recovery, the ongoing challenges she faced, how she became a Christian and how God has helped her to forgive her enemies. (Part 2 of 2) 

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Episode Summary

Kim Phuc Phan Thi shares her powerful story of being burned by a napalm bomb as a child during the Vietnam War, and becoming the central figure of the iconic Pulitzer Prize winning photo "The Terror of War." She talks about her recovery, the ongoing challenges she faced, how she became a Christian and how God has helped her to forgive her enemies. (Part 2 of 2) 

Episode Transcript

Opening:

(Music in background)

Mrs. Kim Phuc Phan Thi: And as a child, I just frozen right there. I didn’t run. I didn’t know why, as a child. Then, I saw four bombs landing, landing. And I heard the noise – boop, boop. Boop, boop. And suddenly, the fire everywhere around me.

John Fuller: Mm… That’s Kim Phuc Phan Thi, and she is with us, again, on Focus on the Family to share more from her amazing story. Your host is Focus president and author, Jim Daly, and I’m John Fuller.

Jim: John, yesterday we acknowledged the anniversary of the Fall of Saigon in 1975 and we’re reminded of the heartbreak of that war. Kim powerfully shared what it was like as a nine-year-old girl when war came to her village and her body was burned by napalm.

As we mentioned, people will know her as “the napalm girl” the central figure on the iconic Pulitzer Prize winning photo—”The Terror of War” was the title. It portrays a young girl running naked down the road, her skin on fire—and today you’re going to hear her the rest—and the best, I believe— part of Kim’s story. And that is the hope and the peace she has found in God and how God has given her the strength to forgive her enemies.

John: Yeah, it’s remarkable to be able to sit here across the table from Kim. And the first part of the discussion really sets the stage for what we’ll hear today, so please get a copy at focusonthefamily.com/radio. And while you’re there, get a copy of th book by Kim Phuc Phan Thi, which chronicles her incredible testimony. It’s called, Fire Road: The Napalm Girl’s Journey through the Horrors of War to Faith, Forgiveness & Peace.

Body:

Jim: Kim, it is a privilege to have you back here at “Focus on the Family.” Thanks for coming back.

Kim: Thank you for having me again.

Jim: Uh, Kim, last time we left off with you sharing about the physical pain and treatment you received following the napalm bombs. The weeks go by, the months go by, the years begin to go by. You’re seen as an icon. That photo changed the attitude of so many people about the war around the world and here in the United States about what is happening there. The North Vietnamese conquer Saigon. They take the country. The U.S. pulls out. Describe your country at that point. Um, who are you, your family? You’re now living under a communist regime. They decide to use you as a war-hero figure. What was that like, to be that little girl? And how old were you at this point?

Kim: Wow. 1972, I got burned. But the Vietnam War continue until 1975. Even though when I came back to home, to my village, we still are dealing with a lot of war until the last one in April, when the war ending. But before ending the war, we just faced – faces a – a really big war. And it was so scared. Then the war ending. It’s, uh, very difficult. We just survive every day. We lost everything. The…

Jim: Yeah. The – the whole family fortune was gone.

Kim: Like, I can describe to you, we were from riches to ashes. Nothing.

Jim: Now you, um, are being used by the communist government.

Kim: Right.

Jim: And how old are you at this point, when they start to, uh…

Kim: Uh, about 10 years later – from 1972 to 1982. So the Vietnamese government discover I was that little girl in the famous picture. So they, um, well, they discovered me. The beginning, I was so happy because suddenly, I was, uh, attention from the government, and they…

Jim: Sure. It felt good that somebody cared about you.

Kim: Exactly.

Jim: They weren’t afraid of you and your scars. They – they wanted to embrace you because of your scars.

Kim: Yes.

Jim: I can understand that.

Kim: Exactly. But then, unfortunately, at the same time, I got into my medicine school. Then…

Jim: That’s something you wanted to be was a doctor.

Kim: Exactly.

Jim: Completely natural…

Kim: Exactly.

Jim: …After doctors had helped you in so many ways.

Kim: That is my big dream.

Jim: Yeah.

Kim: And, uh, um…

Jim: What happened to that dream?

Kim: I lost my dream.

Jim: How?

Kim: Because as soon as the Vietnamese government – they found me and they took me away from my school. They used me for their propaganda for the reporter, for the interviews. So they interfere in my school. They not allow me to continue with my career. When I couldn’t go to school, that was my lowest points in my life.

Jim: Huh.

Kim: I just ask, “why me? Why me?” And deep down in my heart, I was seeking the answer.

Jim: Kim, at this point, though – this lowest point and this idea of taking your own life, something spiritual begins to happen. Somebody – did they give you a Bible? How did you obtain a Bible?

Kim: Um, it’s unusual of my journey that as soon as the government cut short my study and I just didn’t know what I have to do, and I spent my days’ time in the library.

Jim: OK.

Kim: To search all kind of religions to – just seeking peace and finding the purpose for my life. And among all the book[s], I read the New Testament – of course, in Vietnamese.

Jim: Huh. It was on a shelf.

Kim: Yes. I took it, and I read. And when I read, the – the more I read, the more questions I had. Because totally – from my religion, where I raised from. Particularly, when I read John 14:6, when Jesus say, “I am the way – the true and the life. No man come to the Father but by me.” I jump, you know.

Jim: Because it – it was in disagreement with your faith that all religions are the way.

Kim: Yes (laughter). Why Jesus say anyone…

Jim: Yeah, so you thought – were you offended?

Kim: I just was really confused.

Jim: OK. So you had a curiosity about it, though.

Kim: Exactly.

Jim: Maybe this is right.

Kim: Yes.

Jim: How interesting.

Kim: My religion is right, or Jesus is right. I just confused. And that’s why I just get into read and read. But, of course, I didn’t understand fully. I had a lot of questions.

Jim: What did you identify with as you read the New Testament, though? I – I’m leading that a bit, but it was that suffering of Christ.

Kim: Yes. And then, I kept reading and reading. And when I – I still have the question, uh, where are you, God? Are you really exist somewhere? Please help me.

Jim: Right.

Kim: Yes. And then…

Jim: What kind of help were you looking for at that point? Kim: I really need peace…

Jim: Peace.

Kim: …And joy. And someone come into my life, take away my burdens.

Jim: And that, again, referencing your anger, your bitterness toward so many. It was that… Kim: Yes.

Jim: …Unpeacefulness in that context, right? Kim: Exactly. Yes.

Jim: So did you pray? What was the next step? You – you’ve read the – the New Testament now. You’re feeling drawn toward what’s being shared. You’re identifying with Christ because he suffered. You suffered. When you think about that, how did that connect for you, though? – that Jesus suffered for you, and you suffered.

Kim: Yes. And then – but at that moment, I just had, uh, security, uh, curiosity. And it’s very simple that I really need one friend.

Jim: So you prayed for one friend?

Kim: Yeah. Whosoever can – I can believe and I can trust and I can share my burden with that friend. And because when you suffer, you need to talk with someone and with hope that they can help you somehow. But I had no friend at all, and I was so isolated. And I say, what? What happened to me? And then, wow, it’s a long story, and I wish you (laughter) – all of us can read my book more because I have no time here. Jim: Well, we’re going to make that available for everybody, but…

Kim: Thank you.

Jim: But what…

Kim: And then, I – I – for me, I almost gave up. I wanted to commit suicide. I didn’t want to live anymore. But then, in that same time I met a Christian as, uh, my, uh, brother-in-law’s cousin. And I knew he’s a Christian. He came to my sister’s family to visit them, and I was there at that time.

Jim: OK.

Kim: And all my question, I just have a chance to ask him.

Jim: Right.

Kim: And he tried to explain to me. Then, I couldn’t believe it. I said, no way. That is my religion, my faith.

Jim: What were these questions like?

Kim: Like about Jesus.

Jim: Who is Jesus? Is he really the son of God?

Kim: Who is a Jesus? And, uh, the only one way to go to heaven (laughter)? That’s my question, because I – my religion is so many ways.

Jim: How did he answer the questions?

Kim: He said “the only one – this is the Bible, the true – the word of God. And, uh, you know, the only one Jesus died on the cross to pay for our sin. And no one that died and do that for you. He’s a God. And so when you believe in him, and he take away your sin. And because he raise – rose again after three days after he died on the cross, and he’s in heaven, he’s a living God.” He said all of that, but for me, no clue at that time.

Jim: Right. But it planted a seed.

Kim: Yes. And because I couldn’t believe that, I didn’t believe it. So that’s why he say, OK, I really want to invite you to the church to learn more about that. And I’m so glad I went.

Jim: Yes, I bet.

Kim: And I went to the church, and God answered my prayer. When I asked “God, are you real? Please help me. Please help me. I really need a friend.” And then, I met a friend in – at the church. And, uh, wow, that is just amazing.

Jim: Sure.

Kim: And so finally, I keep going on few months of that. And I went to church because I have friends (laughter), and, uh, my curiosity until Christmas. I heard about the message. It’s a real message from the pastor, Ho Hieu Ha. In that church, he asked us, “do you know why we celebrate Christmas?” And he explained, “because of Jesus – baby Jesus born in this world, came to the world. And he died on the cross. He paid for our sins. If everyone open his heart – their heart – to Jesus and accepted him as a personal savior, he will come into their heart. He will bring peace and take away any burdens.” At that moment, really, that works. Touched my heart. I really needed that. I really need that peace, and someone take away my burden. And I just stood up, go to the altar by myself, I opened my heart, and I accept Jesus Christ as my personal Savior. That moment – wow. I stop praying to many gods. I accept them, but I’m not worship like before. I worship my heavenly father through Jesus’ name. And it was amazing turning point for me in Christmas Eve, 1982. That little girl still alive until now. The circumstances didn’t change any one bit from outside, but inside of my heart, wow, I felt full with joy, with peace, I know that he’s a present in my life. He protect me. He gave me everything that I ask him. He gave me faith. He gave me joy, and he healed my heart. That’s the most important thing.

Jim: Kim, I would think when you share your story, one of the difficult questions you get – and I’m sure people line up to talk to you because they suffer in some way.

Kim: Yeah.

Jim: There’s unforgiveness in their heart. Their father hurt them. Their mother hurt them. Somebody hurt them. And even though they may claim Christ as their Savior, they still can’t let that go. Do you get that question? Like, Kim, how – seriously, how do you do that? I was not burned in war. I was not wounded. I can’t point to a soldier or an airplane, but this person hurt me so bad, I can’t ever forgive him. How do you counsel someone…

Kim: Yes.

Jim: Who’s gripped with that same anger?

Kim: Sincerely, after I got saved, I need the salvation. Then, I pray, “God help me.” And I started to practice. I have some point that I have to do. I always say, as a Christian, I not only just pray, but I have to do something about it.

Jim: Mhm.

Kim: Number one – what I have to do. I stop asking, “why me?” Instead…

Jim: You accepted it.

Kim: Yes. I ask God, “help me. Help me.” And then, number two – I just trust and obey God because he is able. He can do impossible things in my life. It seemed to me I couldn’t do it because I’m human being.

Every time I see my scar, every time I endure with the pain, every time I know that people controlling me,

I couldn’t forgive them. I couldn’t love them. But then, I know that God can do that for me. And I stand in the promises of God by Jeremiah 33:3, “call upon me. I will show you great and mighty things that you not

              know it not.” I know that God can do impossible things. He is able. Then, the third point that I – I do – I learned to be positive, not negative, by counting all the blessing upon me. I don’t count what I lost, but I count what I have.

Jim: Right.

Kim: One example – in the moment of that fire, yes, I got burned all over – my clothes, my body – but the miracle – the great thing that no one knew that my feet weren’t burned, so I was able to run out of that fire. All that – with the four bombs, I got burned over, but my hands and my face are still beautiful, right?

Jim: (Laughter) Yeah.

Kim: Yes?

Jim: Yes.

Kim: I count the blessing for example like that.

Jim: Absolutely.

Kim: And then, I move on. And with that rule that I make, and I have to practice, OK? And so one picture always in my head – and I can gave it to you, that picture – the picture of the black coffee. You know how black coffee is.

Jim: Yes.

Kim: And my heart mean exactly that.

Jim: Just dark.

Kim: Dark – pain, loss, hopelessness, everything negative. Everything was negative. If I hold that black coffee – hold that heart forever, it never change. I have to do it. I have to pour that black coffee a little bit at a time – a little bit at a time. Every day, I pour my hate out until my cup became empty. So by grace of God and his mercy, he refill my cup with light, hope love, passion, understanding, patience and forgiveness – all of that. So you can see black coffee before, and now with pure love.

Jim: Pure living water.

Kim: Yes.

Jim: (Laughter).

Kim: And that is a change. And I have to look at that picture and apply into my daily life every single day. My enemies list became my prayer list, and I started to pray for them every single day when I woke up. I prayed for my enemies who caused my suffering, even though I don’t know their name.

Jim: Yeah.

Kim: I just list them.

Jim: When you look back on all this – I’m sure when you were 9 on that day and you were burning, and then in the morgue left to die, and then all the 16 surgeries, the recovery, not knowing the Lord yet but having a heart that wanted to seek the truth – it’s amazing now, looking back on that, God’s journey for you – God’s plan for you. How Romans 8:28 is certainly true in your life – that all things have worked for good.

Kim: Yes. Have worked to – for good. I really want to share my story that let people know God is real. God is good. Whatever happened to you, even like to me, even I didn’t know him yet, but he’s always there for you. He help you if you call upon him and believe that Jesus is God.

Jim: Well…

Kim: He died for you. He be with you, and he will answer you like he did answer me. It doesn’t matter where you come from. It doesn’t matter your – the skin you wear – yellow, red and white – Jesus loves you like Jesus loves me, that little girl who suffered. And, um, like my children, when they growing up in Canada, they want to love God because they can see God is real in my life.

Jim: When you look at that, the scars that you have along your arm. I’m looking at them right now,and the scars along your back. You have to think about Jesus bearing scars that look very similar.

Kim: Yes.

Jim: Being beaten by the Romans, and flogged, and going to the cross. You have to have that connection with Him. That, as you share about that with your family, and how your testimony, your story, has saved your family members, in Christ.

Kim: Yes.

Jim: God saw that, way back then, when he hung on the cross. He knew Kim would someday do that. That you would have to um, carry that burden that you carry so that you, and your loved ones, would be saved in Christ.

Kim: Yeah.

Jim: That’s exciting.

Kim: Thank you, Lord.

Jim: And it’s a long journey.

Kim: And yes…

Jim: And painful.

Kim: It’s a painful. But, right now I think God is uh, you know, as a 9 years old…

Jim: Hm…

Kim: I became a victim of war. And then, later on, in my teenage year, I became the second victim. And on and on. But in Jesus he gave me victory.

Jim: Hm…

Kim: That I can learn to love my God. I can learn to love my people. And I fulfill the command of Jesus when He say, “Love God and love one another.” That I just do very simple: I love my God, and I love my people who are around me. My neighbor, my family, my community, my country, and around the world.

Jim: Yes.

Kim: And I love them. I pray for them every single day. I pray for America. I pray for Canada. I pray for Jerusalem. I pray that people come to the – to the Lord, to know who he is. Our God is so great. And I think that is our world will be a better place to live. And many people can have peace and joy like that little girl. You know, right now, I have a new way for people looking at my picture. When they saw the little girl running up the road, don’t see her as who she was, suffering, wounded, crying out for pain. But see, just try to see her as just she is today, as a mother, as a grandmother, as a survivor calling out for peace.

Jim: Saved and washed in the blood of the lamb, Amen.

Kim: Amen.

Closing:

Jim: What an incredible story you’ve shared with us, Kim, the last couple of days, and what a powerful reflection of how God gives us hope, peace, and a future, when we put our trust in him. And accepting Christ doesn’t mean that our lives are going to be easy, but he will always be there for us, even in the pain. And I want to continue the discussion with you online on how you and your husband ended up in Canada and how your life has unfolded there.

Let me turn to you, the listener—if you’re struggling in your life, maybe you’re harboring unforgiveness for something that was done or said to you, we have caring, Christian counselors available on our staff to give you an initial consultation and then they can refer you to someone in your area.

And if you’ve been listening and you don’t have a relationship with Jesus Christ—that’s the ground floor – you need that foundation. It would be our privilege to pray with you and to give you a free Bible to help you grow in your new faith.

John: And you can request that bible, um, speak to a counselor and learn more about the Christian life. Our number is 800, the letter A, and the word FAMILY. 800-232-6459.

Jim: And let me say, too, today’s program has highlighted why we’re here and that is to use this broadcast around the world to reach people with the truth of the gospel and to bring them into a saving relationship with Jesus Christ. And if you believe in this mission would you make a financial donation to advance the work of the kingdom? Your donation allows us to provide this broadcast, counseling, and resources free

of charge to hurting individuals and families who need them.

Closing Voice Track:

John: So, if you can, we’ll invite you to be a monthly donor to the ministry of Focus on the Family. And uh, that’s a simple process. You can sign up. It’s automatically taken care of online or over the phone. Uh, and when you commit to that monthly gift, we’ll say thank you by sending a copy of Kim’s book for your reading inspiration and maybe to pass on to a friend.

Our number is 800-232-6459. 800, the letter A, and the word FAMILY. Online, we’re at focusonthefamily.com/radio.

On behalf of Jim Daly and the entire team, thanks for listening to Focus on the Family. I’m John Fuller inviting you back as we once again help you and your family thrive in Christ.

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