July 11, 2018
What an amazing, miraculous, happy-ending story!
We became alerted to the drama taking place on the other side of the world, in Thailand more than two weeks ago. Twelve boys and their soccer coach had gone exploring in a cave complex in the northern part of that country. A flash flood from seasonal monsoon rains had hit the area, trapping them, and even while rescuers were being assembled, fears ran high that the missing team had drowned.
As I watched this emergency unfolding on our television screen, I was taken back to the Copiapó mining accident in Chile in 2010. That emergency involved grown men, not boys. Thirty-three, in fact, who were rescued after an astounding sixty-nine days trapped underground. Despite the differences, at their core, that accident eight years ago and this emergency just past, are similar.
In both instances not only were the attention, the hearts and prayers of the entire world engaged, but so too were the resources, experts and rescue personnel. For a time, in both instances, the world was united in hope.
The effort to affect a rescue once the children were found to be alive—and oh, what a moment that was!—was an international endeavor. People came together, worked together, prayed together with little in common except for one major thing: these were children at risk of dying.
As we’ve recently learned, nothing draws the involvement and cooperation of complete strangers like a threat to children, any children, all children, can do. I believe that’s because in a very real sense children in dire need belong to us all—whether they’re trapped in caves underground or trapped in a heartless bureaucracy.
As the days passed we all watched and prayed and hoped for the best but feared the worst. These were young boys, whose entire time in the dank and the dark spanned eighteen days and nights.
From June 23rd, when the team was discovered to have entered the caves, until July 2nd when British divers found them to be alive, we tuned in, and hoped, and prayed despite our fear. The parents of these boys gathered at the site, camping out, joining together to support one another, share stories and pictures of their sons, and to await their return.
Anyone who is a parent identified with those moms and dads, clinging to each other and to hope, as the days passed. Their hope was first rewarded when their sons were found to be alive. They had images then, and a few words from their boys, and the chance to send a few words back, a down payment for the time, the certain-to-come time, when they would be able to actually hold and hug their babies again. It would happen, I imagine they said to themselves, and to anyone who could hear them, over and over again. They will be saved. It will happen.
Experts debated on the best way to execute a rescue. All sorts of ideas were floated, from bringing them out in scuba gear, to leaving them for a few more weeks, until the monsoon season passed.
But oxygen was running low, and the threat of more rain was running high. One brave Thai navy SEAL, Saman Gunan, who had volunteered to help, died during the operation.
Though it was a very dangerous plan—most of the boys could not even swim—the decision was finally made to bring them out, one by one, through the dark and chilled waters flooding the narrow nearly two-mile-long path.
They didn’t announce that the method of rescue had been decided, or that a team of divers had been dispatched to begin. They only announced, on July 8th, that the first four boys had been brought safely out of the danger zone after an eleven-hour long effort.
Amid the cheers and jubilation, organizers announced the teams would rest and return for more in a day or so. Speculation was this rescue could take up to five days. But in truth, they worked much faster than that. The next day, four more boys emerged. And yesterday, the remaining boys and their coach were led to safety.
Other divers re-entered the cave, intending to retrieve their equipment; they had to abandon that effort when the caves began to take in more water after the main pump they’d been using to keep the water level as low as possible, quit. As it turned out, there hadn’t been a moment to spare.
With so much negative news lately, this event drew us together, and drew us in. Our hearts ached for the parents waiting, waiting, to be reunited with their children. And we were inspired by the bravery of those children. They weren’t seen to be crying, or unruly. They were smiling and calm, proving that sometimes you don’t need to be the biggest or the strongest or the best.
You just need to be pure of heart, and to have faith.