The faith behind the new Hollywood film ‘Thirteen Lives’

As Oscar-winning director Ron Howard’s latest film, Thirteen Lives, releases in Australia on August 5, one of the children at the centre of the story has spoken of his faith and the future that followed his miraculous rescue.

In 2018, the world watched breathlessly as rescue divers contacted a group of 12 children aged 11 to 16 and their 25-year-old coach. The divers asked, “How many of you?” and Adun, the only English speaker in the group replied, “Thirteen.”

The group, who were at the time part of the Wild Boar children’s soccer team, had become trapped in the Tham Luang Nang Non cave in Northern Thailand during a monsoonal rainstorm. As waters rose and days ticked by, people all over the globe were gripped with fear for the team.

The then 14-year-old Adun, who had attended the local Thailand Compassion centre since he was eight, says, “By the tenth 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.’”

The mouth of the Tham Luang Nang Non cave

After incredible tension, onlookers were filled with joy when, on July 10, all 13 of those trapped in the deep cave system were saved, despite all odds. They had been stuck in the cave for 17 days.

If you caught the gripping documentary The Rescue about 2018’s Tham Luang caving rescue, or you followed the story at the time on 24-hours news, you’ll know what to expect from Ron Howard’s dramatisation of the story.

Thirteen Lives, which is being released in Australia on streaming platforms from August 5, stars Viggo Mortensen, Tom Bateman, Colin Farrell, Paul Gleeson, and Joel Edgerton as real-life divers Rick Stanton, Chris Jewell, John Volanthen, Jason Mallinson, and Richard Harris respectively.

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

Adun’s parents came to Thailand from Myanmar before his birth, although his family has since returned to Myanmar. Being from the Lua ethnic group and not Thai citizens, the family didn’t have access to the same education, health care, or work opportunities.

Adun was the only English speaking member of the Wild Boar soccer team.

As the eldest of five children, Adun received educational support, health care, vocational training, and other development opportunities at the local church-run Compassion centre in Thailand.

Like many children from this region,  he moved to a church hostel in the city to attend school, an opportunity that wasn’t available in his home village. Although this separation was difficult for Adun’s parents, they knew that making sure he got an education would open doors. They were also confident he would be in a loving, caring community at the church in the care of the pastor and his wife, a relative of Adun’s mother.

What Adun has achieved since is extraordinary. In 2019, he received a full scholarship to a college preparatory boarding school in New York to study in one of the best schools in the world. Adun has been grateful to resume his life as a normal teen. 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.”

In Australia, Thirteen Lives premieres on Amazon Prime Video on August 5, 2022. 

Piyamary Shinoda is a photojournalist for Compassion.