Thai Cave Rescue: The Faith Behind The Hollywood Film ‘Thirteen Lives’

Ron Howard’s latest film "Thirteen Lives" about the 2018 Thai cave rescue releases in the UK, Adun, one of the children featured, tells his eye-witness account.

As director Ron Howard’s latest film “Thirteen Lives” about the 2018 Thai cave rescue releases in the UK on 29 July 2022, Adun, one of the children featured, tells his eye-witness account, his faith and the future that followed his famous rescue.

Adun and the Thai cave rescue

On 23 June 2018, 12 boys and their football coach parked their bikes and entered the gaping mouth of the Tham Luang Nang Non cave in the Chiang Rai Province of Thailand. Caught inside by monsoon floodwaters, the Wild Boars Football Team had no contact with the outside world for a week.

“By the 10th night, we were losing patience, hope, physical energy and courage. We could not do anything to help [the situation]. The only thing that I could do was to pray. I prayed ‘Lord, I’m only a boy. You are almighty God, you are holy, and you are powerful. Right now I can’t do anything. May you protect us, come to help us all 13,’” says Adun, one of those who was trapped.

Tham Luang Cave

The mouth of a cave near the Tham Luang cave complex.

You might have heard Adun’s voice before.

We listened with tears as the British divers, John Volanthen and Rick Stanton, who finally reached the group asked “How many of you?” and Adun, the only English speaker in the group replied, “Thirteen.” After a massive rescue operation including Thai Navy seals and cave diving experts, all 13 were rescued by 10 July. Tragically the former Navy Seal Saman Kunan lost his life in the rescue efforts.

We recently caught up with Adun, a Compassion-sponsored teenager, to find out how he’s doing after the life-altering event.

Adun has been sponsored with Compassion since he was seven years old. Thanks to the support of his sponsor, family and our local partner church, he’s grown into an eloquent young man who one day hopes “to be a doctor and a famous professional soccer player for Chiang Rai United Club”.

A dramatic life change after the Thai cave rescue

Adun Wild Boars Football Team

Before 23 June, 2018, life was relatively simple and quiet for Adun. He would go to school from seven am to four pm. Then he had football practice until six or seven pm. Finally, he would head back to the church hostel where he lives for dinner, then homework and quiet time before going to bed.

“It was very laidback,” says Adun. “I had everything I needed, and daily life was nothing exciting.”

But since the dramatic rescue, life for Adun and his teammates has been anything but laidback. The group have travelled to Manchester United and met Jose Mourinho. Filmmakers have made their cave rescue story into a film and the boys were sought-after guests for local and international events.

Adun’s unstable beginnings

The oldest of five children, Adun is from the Lua ethnic group. Tens of thousands of Lua have fled to Thailand in the past 50 years, escaping instability in neighbouring countries. Adun’s parents came from Myanmar. Not being Thai citizens, many Lua don’t have access to the same education, healthcare or work opportunities.

Adun’s family lives in a remote village that is several days’ walk from Chiang Rai. But, like many children from rural villages in northern Thailand, Adun moved to a church hostel in the city to attend school, an opportunity that’s not available in his home village.

Adun Thailand Boy Parents

Adun’s parents attending the local church thanksgiving service after the cave rescue.

Although this separation was difficult for Adun’s parents, they knew sending him away was the only way he could have a better future.

They were confident he would be in a loving, caring community at the church under the care of the pastor and his wife, who is a relative of Adun’s mother. Adun also became a part of Compassion Thailand’s Child Sponsorship Programme at age six, where he has been able to receive education and healthcare.

Relying on God before and after the Thailand cave rescue

Adun Thai Cave Rescue

Adun does his morning chores at the hostel before going to school.

His parents’ desire for Adun to grow up with a strong faith became a reality through his experiences in the church and Compassion project. And that faith grew even stronger as he turned to God during those terrifying moments when his life hung in the balance in a dark, cold cave.

“Help came from God during the hardest time,” says Adun. “I very intently prayed, and God answered me with His help. It was me and God together facing that situation, and I am thankful to Him for helping me get out of the cave.”

Adun Thailand Cave Rescue

Adun knows that his strength comes from the One he believes in and that it is God who keeps him safe not only during the dark moments of life, but in everyday challenges.

Still today, Adun is not publicly sharing details about his experience with the other boys trapped in the cave. He and the other members of the Wild Boars football team have received psychological care through government and non-government services. They have been counselled that they never have to share about their experience if they don’t want to. But Adun and the others are healing every day from the trauma.

“Adun and 12 other friends have been closely monitored by the Chiang Rai Provincial Social Development and Human Security Office,” says Siripan Kongsuriyanawin, Compassion Thailand Child Protection Specialist. “When the psychologists assessed [them], the mental state of all 13 children is normal.”

A big change coming for Adun

Adun is grateful to resume his life as a normal Thai teenager. He is a go-to person for his friends and classmates whenever they have problems. He’s easy to talk to and is good at encouraging others. When asked how he would advise other teenagers facing challenges, he says:

”I would say to be patient and confident in God. Pray and wait on God with hope.”

The future is looking bright for Adun. He left the Compassion programme to follow his dreams in America a few years ago. He received a full scholarship to a college preparatory boarding school in New York.

Would you join us in praying for Adun?

  • Praise God that the government has granted Adun Thai citizenship, opening up future opportunities for him.
  • Praise God that Adun and all the boys are healing mentally and emotionally.
    emotionally.
  • Pray that Adun will find good friends and mentors to support him through life.
  • Pray that Adun will continue finding hope and strength in the Lord.

A message of thank you after the Thai rescue

Finally, Adun shared this message of thanksgiving a few years ago, and it still stands today:

“Thank you to everybody who prayed for me and the whole team. Thank you to everybody that helped us, and the last thank you is to the Lord. Thank you, God. God bless you all.”

Life is back to normal in Northern Thailand after the dramatic cave rescue. Our church partners here will continue to fight for the most vulnerable children in their midst. Would you care for the most pressing needs of a child living in poverty in Thailand?

Empower a child in Thailand

Watch the untold story of how churches in Thailand united to help during the cave rescue

When the crisis struck, local churches were quick to take action. From cooking meals, providing accommodation, and even offering their grounds for helicopters to land, they were deeply involved in the rescue efforts. Pastor Go Shin explains how they started a movement of prayer.

Piyamary Shinoda

Words by Piyamary Shinoda, Amber Van Schooneveld


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