The story of the little girl in the picture

Many people, who do not recognise the name Phan Thi Kim Phuc, remember the photograph of her taken in 1972 when, as a 9-year-old little girl, she ran from her village in Vietnam after a napalm attack. Kim Phuc is now 52 years old and lives in Toronto. She is a wife and mother of 2 boys and a goodwill ambassador for the United Nations. Phuc has established a charity that helps children suffering from war. She says that the terrified little girl in the picture is “not running any more, she’s flying!”

In 1972 Phuc was living in the village of Trang Bang, north of Saigon. She and family were sheltering in a temple when they heard planes overhead. They ran outside to find safety, just as bombs detonated containing napalm, a flammable liquid that clings to skin, causing horrific burns. Phuc remembers the intense heat and excruciating pain. She pulled burning clothes from her body. Then she ran and, as she ran, Nick Ut, a 21-year-old photographer, took a photograph that became a symbol of the horrors of that war.

Phuc spent more than a year in hospital. Her family were afraid she wouldn’t survive. After many skin grafts, and other operations, she recovered from her physical injuries. Yet she could not find peace. She wanted to disappear, and even to die. She thought if she died she wouldn’t have to suffer mentally, physically and emotionally. She began seeking answers and, when she was 19 years old, she a trusted Jesus Christ as her Saviour and found new life and peace. She says, “When I became Christian, I had a wonderful connection – the relationship between me, and Jesus, and God.” Phuc asked God for help to move on and says, “From that point I learned to forgive.”

Today Phuc radiates an unmistakeable poise and peace when she tells her story. She sees that famous picture as just one of many blessings. She says, “I really want to thank God that he spared my life when I was a little girl. Whatever happened to me, I have another opportunity to be alive, to be healthy, to be a blessing and to help honour other people. I still have the pain, I still have the scars, and I still have the memories, but my heart is healed. My message to people when they see that picture today is try not to see her as crying out in pain and fear, try not to see her as a symbol of war, but try to see her as a symbol of peace.”

The fight that changed my life

Many people have paid tribute to Muhammad Ali following his death at the age of 74. He was a very great boxing champion who won the heavyweight world title three times. In 1964 he became a Muslim and changed his name from Cassius Clay. In 1966, after refusing to serve in the Vietnam War, he was banned from boxing for three years. Since 1984 he had suffered from Parkinson’s disease and was widely admired for the way he coped with the debilitating effects of his illness.

One of Muhammad Ali’s most famous fights was in 1974 against the then undefeated world champion, George Foreman. The fight took place in Kinshasa, in Zaire, and was given the name “The Rumble in the Jungle.” Foreman was the younger man and had a fearsome reputation, but Ali knocked him out and, so, regained the world title. However, George Foreman says that fight changed his life. The screensaver on his computer today is a photograph of him lying on the canvas in Kinshasa after Ali knocked him down. He says the photograph reminds him every day that he must stay humble. He says that defeat was the first step in a great change in his life.

In 1977 George lost another fight against Jimmy Young. In his dressing room after the fight George had a spiritual experience that transformed his life. This is how he describes what happened to him. “In the dressing room I was walking back and forth to cool off, then in a split second, I was fighting for my life. My mind was filled with battling thoughts: preening pride vs. death and panic. I kept thinking, ‘You believe in God, why are you afraid to die?’ But I really didn’t believe.” George offered to devote his boxing prize money to charity, but he heard a voice say, “I don’t want your money, I want you.” Instantly he found himself cast into the bleakest darkness he had ever experienced. He said, “It was the saddest, most horrible place I had ever seen.”

Then a ‘giant hand’ plucked him into consciousness. He found himself on a locker room table, surrounded by friends and staff and felt as if he was physically filled with the presence of the dying Christ. He said, “I knew that Jesus Christ was coming alive in me – I was born again.” I kissed everybody in the dressing room and told them I loved them. That happened in March 1977, and I never have been the same again.”