Lessons from the Thai Soccer Team and Their Rescuers  


I’m going to blame my older brother and sister for this. 

When I was a young lad, my siblings liked to have some fun at my expense. They would spread a large blanket on the floor and invite me to lie down on one edge of the square. Then, they would roll me up like a burrito. In essence, I was swaddled up and could not escape the bonds of my fabric prison. 

My brother and sister found this hilarious.  

I did not.  

This is the traumatic event (No, I don’t think I am exaggerating) that I point to when I feel the telltale signs of claustrophobia in crowded elevators or while exploring a tight cavern or corridor.  

Whether you’re claustrophobic or not, who among us has not been terrified of the predicament that has befallen the soccer team of teenage boys in Thailand these last weeks? The team had been exploring an extensive cave after a soccer game when water from heavy rains flooded the compartments and trapped the boys nearly 2 miles underground. They had been feared lost until a diving crew discovered them safe and sound in a compartment-like room that gave them space to escape the cold water and to breathe in the air pocket that had formed above the water.  

By now you’ve heard how impossible the team’s extraction seemed. Strategies for rescue ranged from keeping them in the cave for weeks, if not months, until the monsoon-induced flood waters receded, to teaching them how to swim and use scuba gear. To complicate matters, the levels of oxygen in the cave had diminished to barely survivable limits in recent days and there were worries that the flood waters within the cave might continue to rise.  

Something had to be done and be done quickly. 

I am pleased to report that as of Tuesday morning, all of the boys and their coach had been rescued from the cave. Their nearly four-hour journey to the surface included tethering the boys to trained Navy SEALS, fitting them with oxygen masks, and then threading them through the tight twists and turns of a serpentine cave system. Rescuers had feared that a single moment of panic from either a boy or a SEAL along their 2-mile journey to safety would end in disaster. And yet, everyone who was trapped has now safely been returned to the surface after surviving underground for 3 weeks.  

While watching this drama unfold, I’ve learned the following lessons: 

1.) The Thai soccer team’s ability to be non-anxious saved their lives. 

It has now been reported that the coach of the team taught the boys how to meditate while they awaited rescue. Had they not practiced meditation, the boys’ unregulated breathing would have used up all the available oxygen in the chamber. They were kept calm and serene because their leader modeled a non-anxious presence, and also taught the boys how to be non-anxious themselves.  

While there are differences between meditation and prayer (emptying one’s self vs. filling one’s self with the Holy Spirit), the results of both are similar. Our bodies, minds and souls are quieted. The Gospel reveals to us an unflappable God in Jesus Christ who frequently retreated to pray and to meditate, while also modeling for his disciples and to us what it looks like to be dependent on God’s presence and strength.  

2.) The boys demonstrated great courage. 

If the boys were afraid—and who wouldn’t be?—they certainly did not allow their fears to paralyze them from being a part of their own rescue. The boys couldn’t simply be saved. The boys, themselves, had to be active participants in their own rescue. They had to swim, maneuver, twist and turn alongside the professional divers in order to be freed. To do that, they had to dig deep and be brave. They had to do something they had never done before, and get it right the very first time. In case you’re wondering, this is what courage looks like.  

3.) A global community worked together to do what initially seemed impossible.  

The world saw the need and worked together to solve a problem that seemed unworkable. Perhaps this is why the story captured such attention across so many political, social, and cultural fault-lines. Everyone worked together to save the trapped boys. Differences were laid aside to help those who were in need. A spirit of collaboration was generated by the obvious need, and the question of whether the boys deserved the chance to be saved never influenced the strategies to rescue them.  

I’m inspired and encouraged by what unfolded in Thailand these last three weeks, and I cannot help but to wonder what more we can do in this world to help and to save others. As followers of Jesus Christ and as citizens of the Kingdom of God, we should be on the front lines of efforts to help, to feed, to rescue, to assist, to bless, and to encourage those in need—regardless of the reasons why they might not deserve our care. There should be no question whether we should provide counsel, sanctuary, kindness or love to others when they are in need. Our faith in Jesus Christ compels us to. In fact, this is what God requires us to do for our enemies. Imagine then what our actions toward our neighbors should look like.  

Let us not forget Matthew 22:36-40

“Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?” He said to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”