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Ekkapol Ake Chantawong (known as Coach Ake) is the twenty-five-year-old coach of the Wild Boars soccer team that has made global headlines in recent weeks. He and the entire team have now been rescued from the cave system in northern Thailand where they were trapped since June 23. He was the last one out.
What do we know about him? His cousin, Thamma Kantawong, told reporters, “He is a very good person, loves kids, takes care of kids, he is very diligent, and always volunteers himself to help others.”
Divers who found the team reported that Coach Ake was among the weakest in the group because he gave his food to the boys. He taught them meditation techniques and showed them how to drink water from the cave’s walls.
When they were found, he wrote a note to their parents: “I promise to take the very best care of the kids. I want to say thanks for all the support, and I want to apologize.” They wrote back to the coach asking him not to blame himself and credit him for keeping their sons alive until they could be rescued.
One of Coach Ake’s friends said of his relationship with the boys, “He loved them more than himself.” I’m sure we’ll learn more about the coach in coming days. For this morning, I’d like to focus on his story as a metaphor for our time.
Culture wars are escalating
The rhetorical wars over President Trump’s nomination of Brett Kavanaugh have started to escalate. There’s even a hashtag campaign: #STOPKAVANAUGH.
While liberal activists are offering apocalyptic warnings about the consequences if Judge Kavanaugh is confirmed, evangelical Christians are alarmed over the direction of our culture as well.
Consider a recent column by Rod Dreher, one of our most perceptive cultural commentators.
Dreher notes Summit Ministries’ announcement that it would move a summer program from Biola University near Los Angeles. Its concern: AB2943, a bill passed by the state Assembly and likely to become law. The bill prohibits “efforts to change behaviors or gender expressions, or to eliminate or reduce sexual or romantic attractions or feelings toward individuals of the same sex.”
Since Summit teaches biblical morality to high school students preparing for college, the ministry’s leadership decided to move the seminar rather than risk a lengthy court battle.
Dreher also points to a network of companies including Apple, Google, and Amazon that are fighting a proposal before Kansas lawmakers. The bill would allow adoption and foster care organizations, based on religious beliefs, to refuse placements to gay and lesbian couples. The legislation would merely preserve the status quo, but these businesses are charging Catholic Charities and other organizations with discrimination.
American Christians are clearly not facing the horrific persecution being suffered by believers in Nigeria, North Korea, and other places. However, we are dealing with the most organized and vehement opposition to biblical morality I have seen in our country.
“Joy and suffering always go together”
Coach Ake’s care for his team trapped in the cave system is a metaphor for us. He could have fled the cave on his own, leaving the boys behind. He could have yielded to despair over their apparently hopeless situation.
Instead, he chose to stay with them, sharing his food and their suffering, offering them the inspiration of his presence and courage.
It is a fact of life that the way to peace is through suffering.
Author Rachel Marie Stone was interviewed recently by Religion News Service. When asked what she hopes readers take from her book on anxiety, Stone replied, “I think that [the] essential thing, which we are very good at avoiding in North American culture, is the reality that joy and suffering always go together. We don’t get to the triumphal, glorious moments in life without struggling for them.”
She added: “That’s why I use the metaphor of birth. When a baby takes her first breath, it’s amazingly wonderful. But it took blood and tears and sacrifice to get there.”
The power of our peace
Paul testified: “We rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame” (Romans 5:3-5).
James added: “The testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing” (James 1:3-4).
Opposition is not optional for faithful followers of Jesus: “All who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (2 Timothy 3:12). But God redeems all he allows: “I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us” (Romans 8:18).
In these days of divisiveness and anxiety, our peace in Christ may be our most powerful witness.
In early 1736, a ship from England was bound for the colony of Georgia when a ferocious storm shredded the mainsail and flooded the decks. Many of the passengers screamed in terror. But a group of Moravian missionaries from Germany calmly sang through the storm.
Their courage and peace in the face of death powerfully impacted one passenger and led to his conversion to Christ. His name was John Wesley.
What is your storm today?