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,'" said 14-year-old Adun, one of those who was trapped.
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 Nay 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 one year after the life-altering event.
Adun has been sponsored with Compassion since he was 7-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
Before 23 June, 2018, life was relatively simple and quiet for Adun. He would go to school from 7am to 4pm. Then he had football practice until 6 or 7pm. 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 are making their cave rescue story into a film and the boys are sought-after guests for local and international events.
Today, in addition to his daily routine, which includes football matches, church services and Compassion project activities, Adun fits in occasional appearances at local events, where he is treated like a celebrity.
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 in order to attend school, an opportunity that's not available in his home village.
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, where he has been able to receive education and healthcare.
Relying on God before and after the Thailand cave rescue
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 awful 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 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."
And recently, an incredible opportunity came to Adun.
He received a full scholarship to a college preparatory boarding school in New York. Adun was chosen because of his good character and work ethic.
With the support of the Thai government, he has completed the applications required for studying abroad, and is continuing to learn English to be able to transfer to the school in New York as soon as he can. Now Adun will receive one of the best educations in the world.
"I am so glad," Adun says, excitement gleaming in his eyes. "This means starting a new life."
Would you join us in praying for Adun during this huge change?
- Praise God that the government has granted Adun Thai citizenship, opening up future opportunities for him.
- Pray that Adun and all the boys would continue to heal mentally and emotionally.
- Pray that as he makes this major shift, Adun will find good friends and mentors along the way.
- Pray for Adun's parents as they say goodbye to their son.
- 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 last year, 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."
Find out more about Compassion UK's work in Thailand here