Screenshot taken from Facebook Video
Like many others all around the world, I cheered when I read the news yesterday evening that all 12 Thai boys and their 25-year-old assistant soccer coach had been safely rescued from a cave in Northern Thailand—after being trapped inside for two weeks.
Since reading about how they had gone missing on June 23, I found myself riveted to my phone screen for any news about the “Thai cave rescue”.
My heart went out to their families and friends when I read that they had been missing for more than a week after what was supposed to be a half-day trek into Tham Luang cave. And I was moved to read that 1,000 people (from all over the world, including Australia, United States, Britain, Germany, Japan and China) had stepped forward to help in the massive search to find them.
When they were found nine days later (July 3) by a pair of British divers some 4km from the cave entrance, I was elated. But joy quickly gave way to heartache at the news that a former Thai Navy Seal, Saman Gunan, 38, had lost consciousness and died last Friday after placing spare tanks along the route.
The dramatic and dangerous rescue operation, which started on Sunday morning, had me on the edge of my seat, and every news notification I received about another boy being successfully extracted from the waterlogged cave evoked relief and joy.
I didn’t know any of the boys or the rescuers personally, but I was emotionally invested right from the get-go. At first, it might have been because I felt as though I could empathize with them in a tiny way, having visited a cave in South Korea a few months ago, which helped me envision the cold, damp, dark, rocky, and dreary environment they were in.
But like many others, what eventually captivated me were the stories of selflessness and sacrifice from the many individuals who had stepped forward to help out in this rescue endeavor—on their own accord and at their own expense. From the soldiers, engineers, paramedics, divers, cooks, and even volunteers who helped to wash the uniforms of the rescue workers, it was apparent that the boys’ plight had not only gripped the world, it had galvanized the international community into action.
Even in the cave, the acts of selflessness continued. The assistant coach had reportedly given his share of the meager food supply to the boys during their 10-day ordeal and was therefore one of the weakest when they were found by the British divers. It was also revealed that a doctor and three Thai Navy Seals had stayed with the group the whole time since they were found more than a week ago.
But perhaps the greatest act of sacrifice that made the strongest impact was the news that former Thai Navy Seal diver, Saman Gunan, had died in his attempt to rescue the 12 boys and their coach.
Despite knowing how dangerous and risky the operation was, that did not deter him from willingly putting his life on the line for the boys. Days before his death, he had even recorded a heartbreaking video clip that had showed him standing near the steps of an airplane, and vowing to “bring the kids home”. His mindset then probably reflected what a Belgian cave diver had said in another news report, “If you’re a Navy Seal, yes, you’ll sacrifice yourself.” A BBC report later summed up Gunan’s death poignantly, “He died so that they might live.”
And that eventually proved to be the case, with all 13 of them finally rescued successfully in a grueling effort that spanned three days and involved 13 international divers and 5 Thai Navy Seals. Not only had Gunan’s death underscored the perils of the operation, it ultimately contributed in a large way to ensuring that the necessary safety precautions were taken so that no more lives would be lost.
It’s sacrifices like these that move us to tears because it shows us two things: the value of life and the best of humanity—shown in the form of love and sacrifice. As the Bible says in John 15:13, “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”
I couldn’t help but notice many parallels between the Thai cave rescue and God’s rescue plan for humanity. Just like the 12 boys and their assistant coach who were trapped in the cave, unable to save themselves from their predicament, we too were stuck in our sins, completely helpless and incapable to save ourselves. In both cases, the only outcome that awaited us was death.
Help had to come from the outside. Theirs came in the form of expert divers who were prepared to risk their lives and dive into the waterlogged caves where there was near-zero visibility in order to save the lives of the 13. Similarly, Jesus Christ had to enter into our fallen world to live among us and eventually die for us on the cross. Though He knew it would cost Him everything, it did not stop Him from doing so, because that was the only way that we could live.
So as we applaud and recognize those heroes who sacrificially gave of their time, effort, resources and even lives, may it remind us once again of the greatest act of sacrifice done for humanity: Jesus giving His life for us not merely while we were strangers, but while we were enemies.
Let’s also not stop at thanksgiving and awe. As CNN writer Jay Parini put it, “And everyone is beholden to Saman Gunan, the Thai diver who lost his life a few days ago while making his way out of the Tham Luang complex of caves.” Just like the boys, who would be forever beholden to Gunan and whose lives would change forever because of this incident, our lives must change because of what Christ has done for us.
Jesus died for us all, so that we could live—not for ourselves, but for Him who died and was raised for us (2 Corinthians 5:15).