by Amy R. Shimonkevitz
The recent news story about the rescue of a soccer team and its coach from a water-logged cave in Asia has moved me and captured my heart and imagination. From the very beginning of the ordeal, to learning the hikers were still alive, to seeing images of the rescuers after it was all over, my soul was raised up and my mood improved. I believe the reason this story resonates with so many people is not because of the one-to-one shared experience we may have had (how many of us have been trapped in a cave for several weeks?), but because of a very symbolic shared experience between the viewers and these boys.
This could be, or has been for some, a story of adventure, one of endurance and survival, but most of all this is a story of rescue. It is the rescue of the soccer team and its coach that makes our spirits sing when we know that everyone has come out of this experience alive. Allow me to suggest that our own faith stories and the narrative of the Gospels are also stories of rescue, and that is why this recent news story makes some of us so glad.
Take, for instance, the trek into the cave itself. This was not the first time the boys went into this particular cave, but the circumstances with the rain had made this trip dangerous. They came to a point where they could not proceed, and they could not go back. They were stuck with no way to signal to someone that they needed help and no way to save themselves.
Sometimes we come to points in our lives when we believe that our own way is the best way, and that we can take care of ourselves. Knowing there are risks to do some of the things we choose to do is not enough to keep us from doing them. We see others doing those same things, and they seem to come through it unscathed, and so we try the same. Sometimes we, too, while doing our own thing, seem to come out unscathed. But other times, a choice we make, bad timing, misjudgment, or circumstances beyond our control (or any combination of these elements) create a situation where we become trapped and we cannot get out of a predicament in which we find ourselves. And then we see that we cannot move to get out from a situation or nor can we save ourselves. We become vulnerable; we may have to admit our own failing, we might have to change our ways, or we may simply have to stop what we are doing. In the meantime, all we can do is hope that there is some way to get assistance to get out of our trap. Our own power, our own skills are not enough to get us back to where we belong. We find we need a savior.
The forces coming to save us are desperately seeking us. They know we have gone astray, but we are unaware of their concern for us. While we are mired in our own problem, we may not know about the effort being exerted for our own benefit. And when we are found to be alive, saving us is the only mission objective, even if it results in the death of another. One of the Navy SEAL’s who went in to save the boys died while setting tanks of oxygen along the path out of the cave. Surely he knew the risks when he began, but the safety of the soccer team and their coach was all that mattered to him, to the point of his own death. He is remembered as a hero, as are the other Navy SEAL’s involved in the rescue effort, but his sacrifice recalls Christ’s own sacrifice for us in the rescue mission to save us from sin and condemnation. Even his own death would not stop him from his mission.
Notice also that the way out may not be safe or easy. Repentance, turning back, is never easy. It requires acknowledgement of what has gone before, if for no other reason than to name it so that it can be avoided and set aside in the future. We may not know how or want to do what is necessary to get out. The boys in the cave didn’t know how to swim, much less how to use diving equipment to get out safely. Their rescuers had to be careful, and the effort required two rescuers for each boy. The boys had masks and breathing equipment to stay alive, but the water was murky and it was difficult to see. The boys needed blind trust to allow the Navy SEAL’s to help them find their way out of the cave.
Did you wipe away tears of joy when all of them had found their way safely out and into the care of doctors and nurses? I certainly did. The whole world wanted the boys to come out alive, and when we learned all of them were out, many said prayers of thanks for this wonderful outcome, myself included.
That’s because this is the story of our own rescue. We cannot help but to rejoice, much the way all of heaven rejoices at the redemption of even one sinner. The resonance of this story across time, across generations, across races, across all of human experience is unmistakable when we see Christ’s saving hand not just in getting the soccer team and their coach out of the caves but also in our own redemption. Our hearts echo with that same joy of being found, the elation of finally being saved, the peace of redemption, and the relief of escape. Of course we are happy, for we love to hear the story and we love to tell the story, too, of Jesus and his love.
Amy Shimonkevitz is a lay preacher and a postulant to the Diaconate in the Episcopal Diocese of Maryland. She works at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, and she lives with her husband and a pampered cat in Halethorpe, Maryland.
image: In this July 3 image, young boys and their soccer coach, trapped in a cave in northern Thailand, await rescue. The group was discovered nine days after getting stuck. (© Royal Thai Navy Facebook Page/AP Images)