The World Cup and the team marooned by a monsoon

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The FIFA quarterfinals are over, leaving four teams remaining to compete for the 2018 World Cup. The four final teams are Belgium, France, England, and Croatia, but these soccer teams may not be attracting as much attention as another that has captured the attention of the whole world.

The team that has been mentioned in the most headlines and claimed the most airtime on radio and television in recent days is the Thai soccer team that had a regular practice session on June 23 and then decided to visit the Tham Luang Nang Non cave. The cave, also known as the “Great Cave of the Sleeping Lady,” is a limestone cave approximately six miles in length.

The cavern, known for its many deep recesses, narrow passages, and tunnels winding under hundreds of meters of limestone strata, has now claimed the world’s attention because of the 12 boys, ranging in ages from 11 to 16, and their 25-year-old coach, who became trapped inside.

The soccer team and their coach entered the cave at their own risk, because there is a sign outside the cave warning people not to enter during the monsoon season. The rainy season began in Thailand in May and will likely continue until October. The intense rains are generally accompanied by flooding, sometimes severe enough to displace residents from their homes.

Once the soccer team got inside the cave torrential rains descended upon the area, quickly flooding much of the cave. Before the youths could get out of the cavern the floodwaters forced them to higher ground. Due to the twists and turns inside the cave rescue efforts have been more problematic than anticipated.

British divers eventually found the missing soccer team nine days after they entered the cave. They were three miles from the mouth of the cave, but multiple obstacles and obstructions made attempts to rescue them treacherous.

It has taken hours for rescue divers to reach the boys and one diver, a former Thai Navy Seal, died in the process of trying to provide a solution to the precarious situation. He took oxygen to the entrapped soccer team, but did not have enough to sustain himself on the way out of the cave. His dive partner brought him out of the cave, but could not revive him.

Numerous strategies have been proposed to rescue the youths in peril. Holes have been dug in an effort to reach the boys from above. Others have proposed attempting to pump the cave dry. Others have suggested getting the young men out by having divers accompany them out, but it has been reported that some of the boys do not even know how to swim.

Oxygen is in short supply in the area where the team is located. One report said the oxygen level is 15 percent and decreasing. An insufficient amount of oxygen impacts one’s ability to think clearly and makes one tire easily and become less tolerant of any kind of stress. If the oxygen level gets as low as 10-12 percent death could occur.

One report indicated that around 1,000 people were on site to assist in the rescue effort, including doctors, nurses, divers, and other rescue specialists. Christians around the world have been called to pray for the imperiled youths.

Over this past weekend four of the soccer players were rescued and taken to a hospital for evaluation. As of this posting eight of the players have been brought out. But, there are still four additional team members and the coach who are awaiting deliverance.

However, as the rescue of the youths took place the monsoon rains returned to the area increasing the urgency of the evacuation operation. The situation is desperate and the response has been coordinated, compassionate, and comprehensive.

We are all rightly concerned about the endangered soccer team and pray for their physical rescue, but how concerned are we about the spiritual rescue of the teens in our communities?

Generation Z – the generation following the Millennials, has been called by the George Barna Research Group the least-Christian generation to date. Alarmingly, 34 percent of Gen Z’s religious affiliation is atheist, agnostic, or none.

Barna reports, “Teens 13-18 years old are twice as likely as adults to say they are atheist. And just three in five 13-18-year-olds say they are some kind of Christian (59 percent).”

Jonathan Morrow of FOX News explains, “Our culture is changing fast and teenagers are confused – morally and spiritually. We need to stop pretending that if we entertain teenagers then they will stick around after they graduate.

“And we need to stop pretending that a few minutes of a moralistic, watered-down Bible lesson on a Sunday morning will prepare them to stand firm in their faith.

“In short, teenagers need a grown-up worldview, not coloring-book Jesus. By the time teenagers should be owning their faith, we’ve already lost their attention and the culture has captured their imagination.”

The Georgia Baptist Mission Board is all about reaching the next generation (#ReachingNextGen). If the world is concerned about the twelve people trapped in a cave in Thailand, we need to be concerned about today’s youth in our communities, our schools, our local sports teams, our scouting programs, our youth exchange clubs, our ghettos, our inner cities, our suburbs, our countryside, etc. Is not eternal life more important than physical life?

Most people become Christians before they are 19 years old. Christian teenagers can be mobilized to reach their peers for Christ quickly and effectively. And Christian teens, if trained and unleashed to reach those in their sphere of influence, can transform this nation from the inside out and the bottom up.

Every pastor and church needs to get involved in a student ministry with the intent of reaching them for Christ, not because it is cute, fun, or cool, but because it may be the most strategic Christian ministry in the world. We are always just one generation away from total atheism.

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