I went to sleep last night praying for teenagers trapped in a mountain cave in Thailand. When I awoke to the news that at least four of them have made it out, I burst into tears.
I have not been able to tear my heart away from this story since the first reports of the boys’ disappearance two weeks ago. In the days before the boys were found, I felt the desperation of the families who were waiting to hear the worst news imaginable. The word that the boys had been found alive was a relief, but it was tempered by the reality that they were still in grave peril. I cannot begin to imagine the waves of helplessness and anguish that have been crashing over these boys and their families since June 23rd.
Learning where the boys were, and about the rising flood waters, and how treacherous the diving is—the thought of rescuing them has seemed impossible. But nobody saw this, shrugged and said, “It is just too difficult. What a shame.” Instead, an international team of divers and cave experts and doctors scrambled into action. Many are volunteers. They have come together and worked around the clock first to find the boys; then to assess their health, teach them to swim and wear dive equipment, and now, to risk the long and challenging journey to get each one of them to safety.
I cannot help but be reminded of the story of the shepherd who leaves his whole flock to find his one lost sheep.
What is happening in Thailand is what I believe Christianity is meant to be. It is not bound by arbitrary divisions of culture or place. It is love. It is action. These divers aren’t concerned with the religion these boys practice, the gender of who they love, or what they have or have not done to deserve compassion. They had the skills. They heard a group of people were in mortal peril and they moved to help.
I think, if we are indeed called to give an account of our lives at the gates of heaven, the question will be, “Who did you love?” When Jesus asked Simon Peter a similar question and Peter confidently professed his commitment, Jesus told Peter, “Feed my sheep.” To love God is to care for others, and not just the ones that look and talk and live like we do. In fact, judging by his choice of company, I would say that Jesus was making it clear that the people who are not like us—the marginalized, the unseen, the unseemly—are exactly the sheep he had in mind.
It is inconvenient. It is uncomfortable. It might even be dangerous.
In truth, I don’t think that God is waiting for us to be dead before asking us who we love. I think every single day presents us the opportunity to answer with our time, our effort, our attention. Maybe we won’t be called to treacherous mountain cave rescues. But what are we risking for immigrants in detention centers or addicts in prison; for the homeless, the hopeless, the mentally ill? Are we moving toward people who are hurting or in peril or are we looking away? What are we doing for “the least of these”?
So today, I pray Anne Lamott’s essential prayer “thank you thank you thank you” for the international community of cave divers who are right now risking their very lives to save a group of teenagers they have never met. I am overwhelmed with gratitude for the rescue operation taking place as I write these words, a world away.
I am also looking at my own life and wondering which caves I am being called to right now. Because surely I am, if I tune my ear to hear the cries of those in need. The story of the shepherd and the lost sheep, of course, doesn’t just exist to teach us how great Jesus is. It is also the model of who he is calling us to be. So I am trying to listen and to follow. My hunch is that feeding His sheep might not even require me to buy a plane ticket.