If you ever saw her picture, you surely would remember it for the rest of your life. It gained fame in the 1970s as an anti-war icon when a photographer took her picture as she was running naked from a napalm bombing attack in Vietnam. The nine-year-old girl whose picture was so riveting became known as the “Napalm Girl,” and the picture appeared in newspapers and magazines around the world.
As an adult, writing of the horrible and devastating event, Kim Phuc Phan Thi said, “I had not been targeted. I had simply been in the wrong place at the wrong time.” Some forty-ﬁve years after that dark, hideous day, Kim has recorded the story of her life—the pain, the fear, the hatred, as well as the transformation that eventually purged the anger, bitterness, and resentment toward those who caused her suffering—in her book, Fire Road.
In a Wall Street Journal article featuring the book, she explains her transformation:
My salvation experience occurred on Christmas Eve. It was 1982. I was attending a special worship service at a small church in Vietnam. The pastor, Ho Hieu Ha, delivered a message many Christians would ﬁnd familiar: Christmas is not about the gifts we carefully wrap and place under a tree. Rather it is about the gift of Jesus Christ, who was wrapped in human ﬂesh and given to us by God. As the pastor spoke, I knew in my heart that something was shifting inside of me.
A decade removed from the deﬁning tragedy of my life, I still desperately needed peace. I had so much hatred and bitterness in my heart. Yet I was ready for love and joy. I wanted to let go of my pain. I wanted to pursue life instead of holding fast to fantasies of death. When Pastor Ho finished speaking, I stood up, stepped out into the aisle, and made my way to the front of the sanctuary to say “yes” to Jesus Christ.
As Kim grew in her faith, she realized that just as Jesus prayed on the cross—“Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do”—she also had to forgive those who were responsible for her suffering and give up, in her own words, the “crippling weight of anger, bitterness, and resentment.” For the rest of her life, she will require treatment for the burns that covered her arms, back, and neck, a constant reminder that we live in a broken world. If ever an individual has reason to hate those who caused her suffering, it would be Kim.
Writing to the Philippians, the apostle Paul counseled, “Be kind to each other, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God through Christ has forgiven you” (Ephesians 4:32. NLT). Forgiveness is never easy when you have been deeply wronged. Our old natures cry out, “I want revenge!” It’s been said that an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth leaves both people blind and toothless.
If you struggle with the issue of forgiveness, remember that forgiveness never means telling your offender, “What you did was okay”—because it was not okay. It simply means, “I give up my right to hurt you because you hurt me.” It means you put anger, hatred, and revenge in the hands of God, who is very capable of righting the score. Never forget that even Jesus cried, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34 ESV). If Kim could follow the example of Jesus and forgive, you can do the same thing.
Bonnie Sala talks about the stories of 40 Unstoppable Women on LIFE Today Live. This is a chapter from 40 Unstoppable Women by Harold J. Sala. Copyright ©2021 Harold J. Sala. Published by Aspire Press, an imprint of Hendrickson Publishing Group. Used by permission.