Why I Was Captivated by the Thai Cave Rescue

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).

Turning a Blind Eye to an Inconsiderate Person

Though we were standing right in front of him, the man remained seated and did not budge.

I cast a glance in my friend’s direction. “Excuse me, we’re sitting inside,” my friend said to him politely, pointing to the two seats next to his by the window of the airplane.

Still not making any eye contact, the man merely straightened his back and pushed back against his seat.

I felt a flash of annoyance.  “Are you kidding me? How inconsiderate and lazy can a person get?” I thought, but was too cowardly to voice my views.

My friend shrugged helplessly. Reluctantly, I tried my best to squeeze through the tiny space between the back of the seat in front of the man and his legs. My friend followed suit.

As we took our seats, my friend whispered to me, “If you can hold your bladder for the rest of the flight, that’ll save us the trouble.” I nodded grimly, as I thought about the seven hour-long journey ahead of us.

From the corner of my eye, I saw the man fidgeting in his seat, shaking his left hand every so often, and lifting his watch to his left ear. A flight attendant walked over and kneeled next to his seat, asking if everything was okay. Perhaps he was hard of hearing, I thought.

A couple of hours into the flight, I knew I had no choice but to visit the lavatory. I nudged my friend, who turned to the man to tell him that I needed to get out. Once again, the man straightened his back and remained seated.

Sighing silently, I lifted my left leg and tried to squeeze through the small space between the man’s legs and the front of his seat. I repeated the same when I returned to my seat, my frustration rising.

Mealtime was next. Another flight attendant walked over and kneeled by the man’s aisle seat to ask him what he wanted to eat. After helping him to open up his tray table, she placed a tray of food on it. Still kneeling, the flight attendant then gently placed her hand over his right wrist and lifted his hand. “This is hot, this is cold, this is where your drink is. . .” she said kindly, as she guided it over the different covered food items on his tray.

That’s when realization hit me: The man was visually impaired. Everything that happened earlier started to make sense and a wave of shame came over me. Self-reprimanding thoughts filled my mind: “I should have known better”, “Why didn’t I give him the benefit of doubt?”, “Why am I always so quick to jump to conclusions about others?”

As I watched my friend offer to help the man with anything he needed, I saw a smile emerge on his face. He looked relieved and thanked my friend. Shortly after that, he asked if my friend could help him open the lid of a disposable water cup, which my friend did willingly.

Clearly, I was the inconsiderate person that day, not the man.

But that was not all that God wanted to teach me. As I went about sharing this encounter with others, God laid it on my heart that “feeling bad” about my response that day wasn’t anything to shout about—anyone in my shoes would have felt bad. I felt bad because I had misjudged the man and the situation at hand. I felt bad because my “little inconvenience” paled in comparison to what the man had to go through; he was clearly in a position of need and deserved help. I felt bad because my response made me look bad.

The truth was, had the man been an able-bodied person, I would have found all kinds of reasons to justify my anger and response. If the man didn’t deserve my help, I would have railed against his behavior and made him out to be a lazy and inconsiderate person whenever I had the opportunity to retell the incident.

My response was contingent on who the other party was and my assessment of his “need”. Underneath it all, I was still selfish and proud.

But the Bible never places conditions on how we should go about treating one another. In fact, we are called to “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others” (Philippians 2:3-4). In all that we do, we should consider others first.

And we do so because we are called to imitate Jesus—our ultimate role model. In perfect humility, Jesus put aside his rights and status as God, and made himself nothing by coming to earth in the form of a human to serve us and ultimately die for us on the cross. (Philippians 2:5.8).

Jesus exemplified perfectly what it means to put the needs of others above our own. It was never about whether we “deserved” help. Had that been the case, none of us would have been saved. Jesus did not simply die for the “righteous” or “good”. It was while we were still sinners—unworthy of love and sympathy—that Christ died for us (Romans 5:6-8).

So regardless of who the other party is, we ought to view them as more important and put his or her needs first—whether it’s that friend who always has something snarky or sarcastic to say, or that nosy aunty who can’t seem to stop giving you advice, or that inconsiderate stranger who shoves you aside so that he can get up the bus first. Showing love and helping another is independent of who the other party is.

By doing so, we give the people around us—both inside and outside of the church—a glimpse of the unconditional and sacrificial love of Christ, which will hopefully draw them a step closer to finding out who Jesus is and coming to believe in Him as their personal Lord and Savior.

Above and beyond my encounter with the man on the plane, I had to change the way I viewed and treated everyone around me. God certainly made it clear to me that it had to start at home in the most practical way—helping out in the household chores. And this means to take the initiative to help wash the dishes, hang the clothes, or fold the clothes without being told to, and without expecting a pat on the back.

And to be sure, it doesn’t stop there and it wouldn’t always be easy. But remembering Jesus, the ultimate example of selflessness, leaves me no room to find any excuses.

Jesus Didn’t Just Come to Die

It was the start of the Holy Week. But he was withdrawn, quiet, and visibly tired. Though he had his ups and downs, I had never seen him more downcast than this.

Upon probing, he shared that there wasn’t one specific cause; he just seemed to have lost joy in life in general. Small things irked him and good things no longer excited him. And even though he tried to read the Bible, he couldn’t hear God speaking to him.

“I think I’m burned out,” my colleague finally concluded. I tried to give him advice and said a prayer for him. Aside from that, there seemed little I could do about his situation.

The same day, I received another piece of news. A friend of mine had to take an urgent flight back to his home country because his father-in-law had suddenly passed away.

A couple of days later, I learned that another friend’s grandmother had been warded in hospital because her throat cancer had worsened; the prognosis sounded bad.

Though it was the week leading up to Good Friday, it didn’t feel any different from any other week. And I couldn’t help but recall how it was exactly during the week of Good Friday, five years ago, that I went through the most difficult period of my life. Then, I was facing immense pressure at work when, out of the blue, my own father suffered a massive stroke.

Holy week or not, it seemed to make little difference; the trials and difficulties of life wouldn’t let up.

But who said they would? I suddenly heard myself ask.

Holy week or not, we still live in a sinful world abounding with troubles and pain. Every day, people are crying, struggling, suffering, dying—and there seems to be no end in sight.

But what makes the world of difference is this: It was into this exact same sin-filled world that Jesus entered more than 2,000 years ago to die on the cross, in our place, for our sins.

Sometimes as, we mull over the significance of Jesus’ death, we may gloss over the fact that Jesus didn’t just come to die—He came to suffer. During his earthly life, Jesus was not exempt from the trials and hardships that we go through today. Our Redeemer, Savior, and Lord, was also “a man of suffering, and familiar with pain” (Isaiah 53:3).

And that makes a whole lot of difference to the lives we are living right now.

How? Regardless of what life throws at us in whatever season, we can rest assured that there is someone out there who knows exactly what we’re facing. Because He’s personally gone through it all.

So if you’ve been diagnosed with a medical condition, remember Jesus, who lived every day of His life acutely aware that He would die an imminent and cruel death (Matt 16:21).

If you’re struggling to accept God’s will (perhaps things are not going the way you want at work or at home), remember Jesus pleading with God in the Garden of Gethsemane (Luke 22:42).

If your friends have betrayed or left you, remember Jesus, who was betrayed by His beloved disciple Judas (Luke 22:3-6).

If you’ve been wrongly accused or called names, remember Jesus, who was falsely accused before Pilate and Herod (Luke 23:2, 10).

If you’ve lost all you have, remember Jesus, who gave up His heavenly throne to enter our broken world (Phil 2:6-8).

If you’ve been deprived of your rights, remember Jesus, who was stripped of His for our sake (Phil 2:6-8).

If you’re going through physical pain, remember Jesus hanging on the cross (Isaiah 53:4-5).

If you’re feeling abandoned by God, remember Jesus, who was forsaken by God on the cross (Matt 27:46).

Remember Jesus.

Remember that He died to give us a way to live.

Remember, too, that He lived to show us the way to live.

This Good Friday, as we remember His death on the cross, let’s also pour our hearts to Him and approach Jesus with confidence, knowing that He understands and will give us the mercy and grace to face our trials. (Hebrews 4:14-16).

Getting to Know Billy Graham After His Death

Just as I was prepared to turn in for the night, a text notification popped up on my phone screen. It was a web link to an article titled: “US Preacher Billy Graham dies”.

That was the first of a string of other text messages I received last night from friends who had read the news that the world’s best-known modern evangelist had passed away at his home in Montreat, North Carolina, USA. He was 99.

Truth be told, I was surprised . . . that he had still been alive all this while (to all Graham fans, please pardon my ignorance). All I knew was that he was a really old and renowned television evangelist and I had heard my pastor mention his name a couple of times on the pulpit.


Who is Billy Graham?

Not wanting to look ignorant or miss out on what seemed to be the passing of one of the most influential men of the 20th century, I decided to do some research.

Needless to say, every report I read pointed to one thing: Billy Graham was no ordinary man.

He’s been called the world’s most important evangelist since the Apostle Paul, a counselor to American presidents, and a great uniter. He’s preached to millions of people all over the world, including North Korea, the Soviet Union, and some of the poorest Third World villages.

As I pored over the tributes and obituaries, it’s evident that this man had made a great impact for the gospel in his 99 years of life. In fact, one of my friends just told me that his father had become a Christian after attending an evangelistic rally by Graham held in Singapore 40 years ago.

So, if like me, you’re wondering who this guy is and what’s the big deal about his death, here are some key facts about the man:

  • Graham was born in 1918 and brought up on his family’s dairy farm in North Carolina, USA.
  • After hearing a travelling evangelist, Mordecai Ham, he became a committed Christian at the age of 16.
  • He became a full-time evangelist with Youth For Christ, a Christian youth organization that reached out to young people and service personnel.
  • Over six decades, he preached to 215 million people in 185 countries.
  • Through radio and television, he’s reached hundreds of millions.
  • He preached his final revival meeting in New York in 2005 at the age of 86.

Though Graham—like every other person—was not perfect, what struck me as I read through all the reports of his life and death, was how he managed to keep his life untainted amid financial and sexual scandals that plagued other church ministers, leaders, and TV evangelists. Graham exemplified what true religion was: he kept a tight rein of his tongue, went out of his way to reach the orphans and widows, and kept his life unpolluted by the world (James 1:26-27).

And the other aspect of his life that intrigued me was how he kept his life and ministry sharply focused on one thing: proclaiming Christ. Yet he never made a big deal out of the influence and reach that he had, recognizing that salvation is only by God’s grace alone.

“I am not going to Heaven because I have preached to great crowds or read the Bible many times. I’m going to Heaven just like the thief on the cross who said in that last moment: ‘Lord, remember me’,” he once said.

What a beautiful reminder. As we celebrate his life and mourn his passing, may we all aspire to echo his words at the end of our lives as well.