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Napalm victim preaches love

The woman seated in church with her hair neatly curled, her soothing smile accentuated by pink lipstick and a modest, gold cross resting on her chest looks nothing like the image that has shaped her life.

Kim Phuc, internationally recognized as “the girl in the picture,” will join the congregation at Liberty Baptist Church in Newport Beach on Sunday to tell the story of the 9 year old who staggered down a road in South Vietnam 35 years ago, her naked body scorched by the napalm bomb that destroyed her shelter.

“The 9-year-old girl is just the beginning of my story,” Phuc said. “I will also share how I learned to deal with the emotional and physical pain, how I moved on and how I learned to forgive.”

Forgiveness did not come easy for Phuc, who endured 17 medical operations and struggled with hatred, bitterness and anger for many years after Nick Ut captured the famous, Pulitzer Prize-winning image.

“The doctors helped me heal my wounds, but they couldn’t heal my heart,” she said, adding that 65% of her body was burned in the attack. “I hated my life, and I hated everyone who was just normal because I was not normal.”

Pulled from medical school by the Vietnamese government so she could focus her time on media interviews, Phuc spent the early ‘80s rummaging through the library’s religion section in search for life’s purpose.

“I had so many questions in my mind that I couldn’t answer, and then I found the Bible,” she said. “I learned from Jesus to love my enemies, and I pray for peace and for love and for compassion — I pray for the pilot who dropped the bomb.”

Gradually, she “poured out” the darkness that had consumed her heart, which she likened to a cup of black coffee.

“Even though I still have so many scars, my heart is cleansed,” Phuc said, rolling up her sleeve to reveal the white blotches of severe burns. “It’s not easy to change, but I had to pour out that coffee in my heart a little bit every day until God could fill it with his love.”

In addition to taking her message all over the world, Phuc formed the Kim Foundation, an international nonprofit dedicated to child victims of poverty, war and slavery. She is involved in projects in Uganda, Vietnam, Romania, East Timor and Tajikistan.

“That picture taken in 1972 in Trang Bang, I was at a wrong place at a wrong time, but now I am at the right place and the right time so I can help others,” she said.

“I can encourage people to think, ‘If that little girl can do it, I can do it, too.’”

Living in Ontario, Canada, with her husband and two sons, Phuc said she will never forget that fateful day, nor the ugliness she felt being exposed to the world in such a vulnerable state, but she is pleased by the good that can come from it.

“I cannot change the picture, but I can change the way we live, the way we think, the way we do better because of it,” she said.

“I think it is wonderful I can use that picture to let people know how horrible war can be.”

  • JESSIE BRUNNER may be reached at (714) 966-4632 or at jessica.brunner@latimes.com.
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    IF YOU GO

    WHAT: Kim Phuc

    WHEN: 10 a.m. and 5 p.m. Sunday; a free barbecue lunch will be in the church courtyard following the morning service.

    WHERE: Liberty Baptist Church, 1000 Bison Ave., Newport Beach

    COST: Free

    INFO: For information on the event, go to www.libertybaptistchurch.org. To learn more about Kim Phuc and her foundation, visit www.kimfoundation.com.


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