This past Christmas, I opened the pictures on a message and saw a Thai teen smiling at me. His open grin was not unlike many other Thai teenagers I had met in this Land of Smiles where I work. I had not met Adul although I had read about and watched his adventures. You may not know his name, but I imagine you are familiar with his story.
Six months earlier, Adul had found himself in a dangerous spot. A place of darkness. A place with no way of escape. He was one of the twelve soccer players (along with their assistant coach) who were trapped in the caves near Mae Sot, Thailand.
Along with the rest of the world I watched the story unfold. The adventurous boys letting their curiosity lead them further than they intended. The omissions and and half-truths told to their parents because they knew it wasn’t likely that their parents would give permission for this adventure.
It never crossed their minds that the rains might come early and they would be trapped by a flash flood. The reality that their choices might lead to a life-threathening situation (both for them and for others) had not occurred to them. They didn’t know they were headed where they couldn’t get out.
One of the boys had a watch with him that kept them informed of the time and the date. The days and nights went by. Day after day sitting on a damp ledge, drinking the water that dripped from the cave walls. Waiting in the dark for a rescue that they hoped would come.
They knew they were lost. They knew they couldn’t swim out. They knew they were in a treacherous situation that was dependent on others for a rescue.
In my role as the Student Ministries Coordinator at an international Christian school, I see that many teens are in a similar place.
Although it is not a literal cave, they may be in a group of friends who are not good for them and they can’t seem to escape. It could be the darkness of feeling like they can never meet the expectations that are put on them. Maybe it is the chains of a porn addiction or a gaming habit that are robbing a young man or woman of authentic living. It’s possible it is a romantic relationship that is slowly turning them into someone they don’t recognize. It might have been a traumatic event that has sent them hiding in the darkness.
Although the stories of pain are all unique, there are common threads in them. Threads of hopelessness, loneliness, shame, and depression. Dark, heavy feelings--much like being in a cave with no way of escape. My life has the same common stories of trauma and pain, as well.
Perhaps it is because of our choices that we have entered into a dark and dangerous place. Perhaps it is completely out of our control that the floods have come and we feel like we might drown. Whether or not our pain is from our choices or from things beyond our control (or a combination of both) doesn’t change the fact that we all need rescuing.
Adul and his friends were unaware of the world watching. They were oblivious of the global media outlets outside the cave entrance, the best divers in the world being assembled, and the resources being poured into the rescue operation. They didn’t know a Thai diver lost his life in the risky rescue operation.
We now know the end of the story. The days of the extensive effort to find the boys and the joy the day they were discovered. The amazing rescue operation that included divers risking their lives (and one diver losing his life) to bring the boys safely out. Movies and documentaries tell the story in detail.
The boys lives were valuable. The boys were loved. Regardless of the reasons they were in the cave, they were worth rescuing.
I grinned as I looked at the pictures of Adul receiving the package that a group of teens had sent him--with the sparkly Santa hat perched on his head he held the soccer jersey they sent. It hit me again--this young man is alive! I remembered back to the days of all of the world watching as we all hoped they would be found and would be rescued.
The miracle had happened.
The boys were all found and all rescued.
Adul’s life and each of the other boys was certainly worth rescuing.
The same is true for you and me. No matter what our caves look like and no matter how we got there, we are still valuable. We are loved. We are worth rescuing.
The good news is that there was an elaborate rescue operation put in place just for us. The Creator of the universe, who designed our very frames, cared enough about us to put a rescue mission in place. It involved His own son entering into the darkness and the mess of our lives here on earth. It included the loss of a life in order for us to be brought out of the darkness. It included sacrifice, love, and a miracle or two (or a few hundred!)
I think of Adul and I'm reminded of so many of the teens I know. I’m aware that I have never met a person yet who wasn’t worth rescuing.
The past two weeks I've already been working on the upcoming Christmas chapel we will have this December. As I begin to think of Christmas, I’m aware of what the Christmas season is all about--the greatest rescue operation ever.
Emmanuel, God with us.
On This Morning, a TV show in England, months after the cave drama, the soccer team was reunited with the British divers who rescued them and the following conversation took place:
Interviewer: How do you convince all of those boys that are going to do this for the first time in conditions that even professionals find challenging-you can’t see anything at all, but put this mask on and trust me?
Diver: We told them a couple of days before what the options were. You’ve got two options here. You can dive out and this is how we are going to do it. Or, the potential is that you can stay in here, but you are not likely to survive.They had a couple of days to think about it.
The boys were given two options. As we all know, each boy decided to take the risk of the rescue operation. They trusted those who had given so much to come and rescue them. And, they lived.
On the movie clip, the translator chokes up as the boys thank their rescuers. I choke up everytime I watch it, too. It's a miracle. And the boys will live the rest of their lives so very thankful for their second chance at life.
I've been rescued, too. It's also a miracle. And, it can choke me up when I stop and think about the way that Jesus gave His life and rescued me. Often, I take it for granted and don't stop to think about the greatest rescue of all time.
All of us have been offered the same option of a rescue, as well. We have the same choice. We can choose to stay in the darkness where we are don't have a hope of making it out alive, or we can choose to trust in the rescue plan of the One who made us.
Our Creator wants to rescue us from our caves of sin and darkness.
I, for one, am thankful for this daily. I love the song Rescuer by Rend Collective that captures the joy of the greatest rescue!
As I wrestle with my own selfish thoughts and my own hurting heart, I'm aware daily that I need to be rescued. On my own, the world would just be too hard. The heartaches and griefs would be overwhelming. I desperately need a Rescuer.
I'm thankful that I just need to be willing and He is the One who has done the work. I'm thankful that I just have to give myself to the One who is the Way. I'm thankful that He holds on to me and leads me out of the dark and scary caves where I often reside. And, each time I turn to HIm, I am once again reminded that there is a way out of the darkness into the glorious light.