The world’s eyes, ears, and hands recently fixated on northern Thailand where twelve boys and their soccer coach were stranded deep in a cave.
On June 23, twelve members of the Wild Boar soccer team, ranging in age from eleven to seventeen, and their twenty-five-year-old coach went for a hike through the Tham Luang caves near Mae Sai, Thailand. In a sudden and heavy downpour, the team found themselves trapped in a labyrinth of cave tunnels with no way to escape.
It took rescue teams nine days to find the team, who had somehow managed to survive on what little food they carried with them. The tense and heart-wrenching situation gripped the hearts of Thais and people around the world. And more than one thousand local and international volunteers from nearly twenty countries assisted in rescue efforts, illustrating the vast global response required for this rescue mission.
Operations to extract the boys began on July 8, and by Tuesday, July 10, all twelve boys and their coach were freed.
Outpouring of Support
We live in divisive times. So many people constantly spew hate through mainstream and social media. Yet, through crises and disasters, all of that angst is seemingly set aside, if only for a few moments. Perhaps disasters remind us of our own humanity, our capacity for empathy, and our need for one another. And the things that roused our anger lose a bit of their luster.
“The way the world responded to the Wild Boars’ plight, however, reminded me that humanity longs for community and light cannot be overcome by darkness.”
The BBC posted an inspiring video showing the Thai volunteers who are freely giving of their time and services to help. In response to the crisis,
- An employee of a laundry business noticed from video footage how dirty the volunteers’ clothing was. They offered to wash the clothes for free, often working until 4 a.m. to launder them.
- A Thai man provided free rides for people to and from the cave site.
- Cooks used their own financial resources to provide food for volunteers. Muslim women prepared halal meals for Muslim volunteers.
- Divers from a number of countries risked their lives to free the boys. One of the divers, a former Thai Navy SEAL, made the ultimate sacrifice—his life.
- Heads of state voiced their concern and support.
- Thai students from across the nation sent postcards to the boys.
- Two videos of groups of Christians praying and singing worship songs circulated widely online.
- The president of FIFA offered to bring the team to watch the World Cup final in Moscow.
The world truly rallied behind this team and took action.
A Global Challenge
This outpouring of support came not long after news of refugees seeking asylum being turned away in Europe and virulent online discussions about the separation of families at the U.S. border. The way the world responded to the Wild Boars’ plight, however, reminded me that humanity longs for community and light cannot be overcome by darkness.
Perhaps what struck many people—in addition to the tragic situation—is how personal the crisis seemed. The boys could have been a next-door neighbor, the kid on your son’s rival soccer team, or even your own son, brother, or nephew. They weren’t reduced to a number or statistic—they were individuals with faces and names.
Their stories challenge us to read more about individuals who are directly involved with debated issues around the world. Once we’ve seen images or video or heard personal stories of people affected by disaster, we become responsible because of the human element involved. We can’t dehumanize people into numbers, and suffering demands action.
Empathy wins when we choose to see and hear the individual.
Opportunity for the Church
Crises like the stranded soccer team lead us to care about the situations of others around us. Tragedies and crises cause our eyes to move from being internally focused to externally focused. When tempted to turn our eyes inward, Philippians 2:4 reminds us, “Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.” (ESV) In Galatians we are encouraged to bear one another’s burdens, and in doing so, we fulfill the law of Christ (Galatians 6:2).
Though tragic, crises remind us to be compassionate and generous—to look for the individual faces in current events. They remind us of the ongoing opportunity to love our neighbor as ourselves.
“Though tragic, crises remind us to be compassionate and generous—to look for the individual faces in current events. They remind us of the ongoing opportunity to love our neighbor as ourselves.”
One way we love our neighbor in difficult times is through prayer. Few, if any, of the boys in the cave could swim, but each one made it out through the water. Christians in the area reported that, miraculously, rain during the three-day rescue mission was not as heavy as it had been previously.
Reports from the cave say that as the last diver exited, the water pump pulling water from the cave broke. The rains continue, and some eyewitness accounts say the cave is now flooded again. But by the grace of God, all twelve boys and their coach survived. Thai Navy SEALS said, “We are not sure if this is a miracle, a science, or what.” But we Christians believe that prayer moves the heart of a sovereign God who works for his glory and our good (1 John 5:14-15). So we must pray.
There are opportunities for churches and individuals to be involved in disaster relief domestically and internationally through Baptist Global Response, either by donating or sending volunteer teams. Consider using your talents and skills, like the teams of divers and medical professionals did, in times of crisis.
Through prayer and offering whatever physical help we can in times of crisis or tragedy, the church has the opportunity to proclaim the ultimate hope of Jesus Christ. When the church responds to crisis, we point people to our Deliverer. “In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:16 ESV).
Every crisis is an opportunity to exalt the name of Jesus.
Caroline Anderson is a writer with the IMB. She currently lives in Southeast Asia. Her childhood in Asia consisted of two important ingredients: braving hot chili peppers and telling people about Jesus.