The Vietnam Moving Wall came to our town. My generation’s war ended before I was old enough to be a soldier, but not before I realized that if it didn’t, I would be. My earliest recollection of it was from church prayer meetings when the adults requested prayers “for the boys in Vietnam.” We may never learn the lessons from the 58,000 American lives listed on that Wall, but I would like to describe a lesson from the life of one little girl that isn’t.
In 1972, the iconic photo of the Vietnamese girl with burned skin fleeing a napalm attack won a Pulitzer Prize, and changed the minds of many about the war. It also changed the life of the little girl herself, Kim Phuc.
Journalists on the scene found medical treatment for massive third-degree burns on her back and arms. She left the hospital after 14 months of treatment, about the same time the U.S. military left in 1973. In 1980, while Kim was in medical school in Saigon, the fifth anniversary of the war’s end brought questions about “the girl in the picture.” The communists saw an opportunity for propaganda, so they moved her to a government job in her home province so she could greet visiting dignitaries and even display her scars. But it was the emotional scars and hatred that made her increasingly depressed.
In her free time, Kim visited the library and found a New Testament. She was attracted to the first-hand account of the Christian gospel unfiltered by what she had been taught. She began attending a church and after experiencing a convincing answer to prayer, she became a joyful follower of Jesus! In her words, “It was the fire of the bomb that burned my body, and it was the skill of the doctor that mended my skin, but it took the power of God to heal my heart.”
In 1992, Kim and her husband defected to Canada and she later became a citizen. With her newfound freedom and motivated by faith, Kim established a foundation to provide aid to child victims of war. Her biography, “The Girl in the Picture,” was published in 1999. Speaking with NPR in 2008, Kim said, “Forgiveness made me free from hatred. I still have many scars on my body and severe pain most days but my heart is cleansed. Napalm is very powerful, but faith, forgiveness, and love are much more powerful…If that little girl in the picture can do it, ask yourself: Can you?” Witness a life of peace and freedom despite horrible suffering!
I do not know the hurt of an exploited woman scarred for life, nor wounded and neglected soldiers returning from war, nor families whose loss is carved in stone on the Wall. I do know that with forgiveness comes freedom, and the power to forgive comes from God. As Jesus taught us to pray, “Forgive us our sins, for we ourselves also forgive everyone who is indebted to us” (Luke 11:4).