A little girl running naked down the road, screaming.
Who could forget that iconic photograph? Armed soldiers. Children crying. A huge dark cloud looming in the distance.
Kim Phuc – captured at age nine in Nick Ut’s Pulitzer Prize winning picture – will never forget that day.
Hiding with other family members. Bombs dropping. Clothes burning off her frail body. Her skin on fire. The nightmare that followed was even worse – 14 months in a hospital where it was unsure if she would survive. Seventeen surgeries. The communist Vietnamese government taking over her life to be a spokesperson. Enduring pain from her injuries each day.
Phuc recalls struggling with her tragedy as a hatred-filled teenager. “Why (did) that happen to me and why (did) I still struggle? I was always seeking the answer. I hated my life ... everyone that caused my suffering. I wanted to die.”
Raised in the Cao Dai religion, Phuc believed in various gods. “[But] I started to believe there is no God,” Phuc notes. “If God is still there, He could have answered me.”
Contemplating suicide, Phuc began to read books on other religions, including a New Testament Bible. “I read John 14:6, ‘Jesus says, “I am the way, the truth and the life. No man can come to the Father but by me.” ’ I was shocked ... confused! Why did Jesus say He was the Way? The only way? What was true – my religion, or what Jesus said?” she tells Living Light News.
Intrigued, Phuc began to read the Bible and accepted an invitation to attend a local church. “One day I cried out with all of my heart ... ‘God, are You real? Do You exist? I need one friend.’ I was so lonely and isolated. And then – I got a friend at church. Deep down ... I knew God existed somewhere.”
It was at a Christmas service in 1982 that Phuc discovered the love and healing power of God. “The pastor ... explained baby Jesus came to the world, grew up, died on the cross to pay for our sins. If anyone opens his heart to Jesus and accepts Him as a personal Saviour, Jesus will come into his heart, bring him peace, and take away every burden. I was seeking peace, and I needed somebody to take away my burden! I came to the altar and opened my heart. That was the turning point in my life.”
Looking back, Phuc is amazed by God’s timing. Within months the church was closed by the government, her pastor imprisoned. For 10 years, Phuc had no church and concealed her Bible. Initially, her family wasn’t concerned – Christmas was celebrated as part of Cao Dai. But when Phuc refused to eat food sacrificed on an altar or go to the local temple to worship, the changes were obvious.
Her family disowned her, pulling all financial support. But Phuc held on to her faith, praying that God would provide for her and reveal Himself to her family.
When she went to Cuba to study medicine at university, she met fellow student Toan Bui and the two married in 1992. Phuc received governmental permission to honeymoon in Moscow. For years she had dreamed of freedom, so when the plane stopped for refueling, she and her new husband sought political asylum in Canada.
Phuc again acknowledges God’s incredible timing. “Six weeks later, Canada closed that immigration door,” she points out. “We were one of the last ones in.”
It was a drastic life change as the couple made their home in Ajax, Ontario in the Greater Toronto Area. “I had no money, no friends, no clue about the culture of Canada. But I had faith. And by faith, God just guided me every single small step, every day.”
Phuc’s life changed in ways she never imagined. Two sons came along – Thomas, now 18, and Stephen, 15. She began to speak about her experiences. Then, in 1997, both of her parents became Christians.
That year, Phuc was named a UNESCO Goodwill Ambassador for the Culture of Peace. She also launched the KIM Foundation International, helping children injured in war and acts of terrorism, restoring their hope and happiness – a cause close to her heart.
Among their projects, the foundation built a school in Uganda, and is currently constructing a hospital there – Phuc’s payback for the wonderful medical attention she received as a child when she needed it most. Additionally, she and her husband minister together.
Now 47, Phuc no longer carries the anger and hatred in her heart that consumed her as a young woman. Instead of focusing on the life that was shattered after the bombs fell, she allows God to encourage others who are hurting by modeling the healing, love, and forgiveness He has brought.
For someone who seemed to have every reason to be bitter, Phuc exudes nothing but contentment and peace.
“I’ve learned in my Christian life never to complain,” she notes. “Good things, I praise the Lord. Bad things, I say, ‘Yes, Lord … give me strength.’ My faith grows every day.”
Reflecting on that fateful day 40 years ago, she adds, “I am so grateful that God pulled me out of darkness and put me into the light. [Now] I want to be a light.”
photo courtesy The KIM Foundation International