12 Thai boys and their 25-year-old soccer coach SAVED from deep within a cave
“We are not sure if this is a miracle, a science, or what” – Thai Navy SEALS posted on their Facebook page after they say they achieved a “mission impossible,” this week.
“I dare suggest that this is supernatural because it surely is not natural; and so, I must close by saying, “Thank God for answering many millions of prayers.” ~Neel Roberts, Thai Christian Missionary – living in Thailand three KMs away from cave
After 18 days, 12 Thai boys and their young coach have all been rescued from the 10-kilometre Tham Luang cave in the Doi Nang Non mountain range.
The world watched daily as rescue teams worked night and day to get the boys out safely.
Thai Navy SEALS, along with divers from Australia, Canada, UK, Belgium, Scandinavia, and several other countries, performed the miracle rescue, and the 12 players all got crash courses in diving that saved their lives.
Rescue crews were hurried out after the last boy was pulled to safety as the water pumps keeping the flooding at bay, began to fail.
“…there were religious ceremonies throughout the country on behalf of the football team and the rescue team. That element was considered just as essential as all the others. If any of those elements were missing – well, we don’t even wish to imagine that scenario.” ~Neel Roberts, Thai Christian Missionary
Lorna Dueck speaks with Neel Roberts who is on the ground:
Lorna Dueck: Hello Neel — thanks for giving us a local perspective on this story that has inspired the world. We’ve learned something of bravery and spiritual strengths in watching this rescue. What can you tell us about the spiritual side of boys surviving 18 days in a dangerous cave?
Neel Roberts: Most of the youth in our Shan Migrant Children’s program knew some of them, although I didn’t them personally. They came from several different schools and some of our youth were on football teams that they competed with as well.
Lorna: The Thai Navy SEALS stated they were not certain if this rescue was a miracle or science… Any insights into why they might think it was anything but science, hard training, and incredible perseverance? Why did they wonder if a supernatural miracle component might be included in this rescue?
Neel: Here we need to start by realizing that in many minds, the disappearance was supernatural. If spiritual forces were holding the team in the cave, then only spiritual force could release them. Everyone here agrees that the skill and dedication of the SEALS, the great support given by all other branches of the military, police and every branch of government, the amazing leadership skills of the governor, the full and continual support and encouragement of the king and the royal family, the thousands of volunteers, the constant involvement of the prime minister and the willingness plus ability of the Thai to in-graft so many skilled foreigners into their rescue operations were all essential parts of the successful operation.
At the same time, there were religious ceremonies throughout the country on behalf of the football team and the rescue team. That element was considered just as essential as all the others. If any of those elements were missing – well, we don’t even wish to imagine that scenario.
Lorna: Are there religious tensions at play in the region?
Neel: Mae Sai is a border town. It is multi-ethnic and multi-religious. There are Buddhists, Christians, and Muslims; it’s a very religious community, and very tolerant. In all my years there, I have never heard of one group having an issue with another group; everyone gets along with each other.
At Christmas, the Christians are often invited to organize special Christmas events at local schools which will often include a presentation of the First Christmas.
On Buddhist holidays there will be big temple related activities. On Muslim holy days, they will fill the streets near their main mosque.
For some reason, most people take their beliefs seriously but do not think that those beliefs need to divide communities.
So, for instance, the village closest to the cave is mostly Buddhist but there is a Christian Bible School located right on the edge of it. I can only guess that most youth playing football and exploring caves are not busy thinking deep theological thoughts, but in a tight spot, they all had some inner resources to turn to.
Lorna: Do Thai people value the spiritual side of their lives more than a typical North American might and how is that shown?
Neel: I don’t think they can imagine a world that is only peopled by material beings. For better or for worse they believe that there is more than meets the eye. Thus, there are many things about the cave that Westerners might consider superstitions. The locals don’t think so. There is a common saying here that goes something like, “Don’t believe, but don’t mock.” Having spent more than half my life here I really don’t quite know what North Americans think but I suspect many of them think the world is a pretty empty place. People here don’t see it as empty. Just because there is nothing physical to be seen doesn’t mean that it is empty.
Lorna: The New York Times reported two of those in the cave had heroes growing up. Both the coach, Ekkapol, and the translating boy, Adul, had been raised by faith communities because of hardships in their young lives. Ekkapol, an orphan, raised by Monks. Adul, raised by a Baptist pastor after fleeing war in Myanmar. Could you explain the significance of that?
Neel: While the town of Mae Sai is a peaceful place right now, it has had its share of tense moments. There has been a history of conflict due to problems on the Myanmar side of the border. People who might have been quite proud and self-sufficient in the past learned that they need to lean on others sometimes. They are not ashamed to admit that they need help whether from other people or from their religion. At the same time, they don’t want to label themselves as helpless victims.
I have been amazed at how much they want to help others when the opportunity presents itself. Older kids naturally care for younger ones because parents are away at work 12 or more hours a day. Younger ones obey the older ones. It is hard, but they learn responsibility while learning interdependence. They are not the sort of people who are going to lie down and quit.
Lorna: Tell us about that Cave – is it a common hiking location, is it normal for people to walk so deep into a mountain?
Neel: The cave is beautiful. I have been in it quite a few times in the dry season. For some reason, it never had a bat colony, so the air always smells nicer than many other caves. With flashlights, one can go in very deep and many people do. There are signs showing the way for part of it at least. But this year the rains came early, and the ground was saturated. On that day (June 23) there were several really heavy downpours. Now we all know that they shouldn’t have gone in, but as someone who did many impulsive things at that age, I will be the last to find fault with them for making an unwise decision. I don’t know how much rain fell there, but we, a few kilometers away, had perhaps four inches in an hour’s time. That is not normal. They couldn’t have guessed how fast the water would rise or how long it might take to recede.
Lorna: The boys were nine days in the earth before they were found and communicated with — why so long, and how did that first contact get made?
Neel: I think this has been very well answered in Thai news with models of the cave. Once the river in the cave starts to flow it can keep flowing for weeks or months. In places, it completely fills the cavern. I cannot imagine how the divers swam against the current and found their way at all. The question should not be, “why so long” but rather, “why didn’t they give up?”
Lorna: What was it like to be a neighbor watching this unfold?
Neel: The biggest shock for those in the neighborhood was first that the whole country took an interest in the welfare of 13 local guys who were unknown to most of us local people even the day before. Then there was the shock that people in Europe and America and elsewhere all shared that concern. It was just one small tragedy in one big world, but suddenly the whole world stepped in and said, “this is one particular tragedy that we can prevent” and that is what they did.
I dare suggest that this is supernatural because it surely is not natural; and so, I must close by saying, “Thank God for answering many millions of prayers.”
With files from Anson Liski