What’s the story?
In an age of bad-news stories, the tale of how a co-ordinated international effort led to the rescue of 12 Thai teenagers and their coach from a flooded cave network has gripped and inspired the world.
On 23 June, the members of a teenage football team in Chiang Rai, Thailand set off to celebrate the 17th birthday of one of their number. Their decision to do so in a notoriously dangerous network of caves kick-started a story which captured the imagination of the whole globe; one which included tragedy, incredible endurance, and ultimately inspirational triumph over adversity.
The boys became trapped in the Tham Luang cave, an exciting and favourite place for risk-taking and rites of passage, and one which was well-known for its dangers. The team, known as The Wild Boars, and their young coach Ake, ventured into the cave for what was intended to be an hour or so, aware of the risks but excited to explore new nooks and crannies before returning for the birthday boy’s party. They wouldn’t exit the cave for another two weeks.
June is rainy season in Thailand, and experts think that a flash flood drove the boys further into the cave than they intended. With several non-swimmers in their group, they were soon trapped deep inside, cut off from the world. When worried family members went to the cave and found bikes and football boots at its mouth, they raised the alarm.
At first, the rescue task looked hopeless, but within a few days an international team had begun to assemble, including divers, caving experts and military personnel. And on the 2 July, ten days after the boys went missing, two British divers made an incredible discovery – all 12 boys and their coach were alive, albeit still trapped several kilometres inside the cave, and with the only exit routes flooded.
The rescue effort intensified and an incredible sense of community began to establish itself. Hundreds of people descended on the tiny district of Mae Sai, with everyone focussed on the common goal of rescue. Food and air was transported underwater by divers – one of whom, former Navy Seal Saman Gunan, tragically died in the process – and experts tried to work out how to extract the boys.
On Sunday 7 July, they succeeded. Aware that further rain would completely flood the cave system, rescuers knew they were running out of time. A team of over 100 Thai and foreign divers worked together on a superhuman effort to save the boys. Fighting against the clock and a range of dangers, the divers showed extraordinary bravery and completed the rescue – every one of the 13 survived.
The nation of Thailand broke into wild celebration – and the sentiment was echoed the world over. And as the dust settled, many of those involved in the rescue admitted they had not expected it to be so successful. Rear Adm Arpakorn Yuukongkaew, the leader of the Thai Navy Seals, said that when the operation began he and his team only had “a little bit of hope that they might still be alive... In the end that tiny bit of hope became a reality.”
What have others been saying?
Two BBC reporters – both of whom were on the scene in Mae Sai – have created a fantastic narrative write-up of the whole story.
Website Christian Today focused on the fact that one of the boys, Adul Sam-on, is a Christian, whose parents said they were “thanking God” for his safe return.
The Guardian’s Suzanne Moore wrote that “The rescue of the Thai Cave Boys was a triumph of bravery, expertise and love.”
#1 – HOPE
Sometimes hope feels so difficult, so impossible, that it is almost lost. One of the most inspiring parts of the so-called Thai Cave Boys’ story is that they were somehow able to hold on to hope, even in the face of overwhelming odds. The Bible suggests that we should take a similar stance even as we consider the evil and adversity of the world: Hebrews 11:1 famously commends faithful hope, while 1 Corinthians 13 reminds us that love “always hopes” and ends with Paul stating that “faith, hope and love” are the primary enduring virtues of life. The big story of Scripture continually reminds us as God’s people that we should never give up hope, because God always rescues and redeems – that’s his pattern and his promise.
#2 – SACRIFICE
Jesus says in John 15:13 that “greater love has no one than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” This is of course in part a reference to his own impending sacrifice on the cross, but it’s also consistent with his recurring message of submission, service and putting others first. Saman Gunan, the Thai diver who lost his life in the rescue operation was one of many who was prepared to put their lives on the line to save others; it’s an inspiring challenge to those of us who often struggle to put the far less pressing needs of others ahead of our own agendas.
Points for prayer
- Pray for the continued health – both physical and mental – of the boys and their coach as they continue to process the trauma of their ordeal.
Pray for the family of Saman Gunan, who tragically died in the rescue.
- Pray that the story might act as a warning to prevent similar incidents in the future.
- Pray that this story of friendship and collaboration would give birth to a lasting sense of community in the area of Mae Sai, and inspire further stories of friendship, courage and selflessness all around the world.