Rescue under way; pastor & miner share hymn of hope

SANTIAGO, Chile (BP)--Joy and relief are resounding in Chile upon the successful emergence of some of the 33 miners who have been trapped 2,300 feet below the surface of the earth in the coastal Atacama desert for more than two months.

When the last man reaches the surface, it will end a national crisis that began when 700,000 tons of rock collapsed Aug. 5, sealing the miners in the lower reaches of the copper and gold mine.

But the traumatic ordeal has forged many new friendships -- perhaps none more important than the ones between the miners and those ministering to them and their families.

Marcelo Leiva, a Baptist pastor, and José Henríquez, one of the miners, had never met before the mine collapse. Instead, they have communicated in handwritten letters and in a single, brief phone conversation.

A half-mile of rock has separated them.

But despite the physical distance, the two Chilean evangelicals developed a special friendship.

Henríquez has been an encouragement to his co-workers as they struggled to stay positive during their confinement. An evangelical Christian, he held daily Bible studies for the miners as rescue efforts developed on the surface.

When Henríquez requested an evangelical pastor to aid the miners and their families at the site, Leiva, of Vallenar Baptist Church in Vallenar, Chile, was contacted. The pastor arrived at Camp Esperanza (Hope) about two weeks ago.

Now that the rescue operation is in full swing, Leiva and Henríquez hope to meet in person.

As crews planned the imminent rescue, Leiva read from Henríquez's last letter to him Oct. 6: "Dear Pastor Marcelo ..."

"I thank you for each and every one of your words of encouragement directed to the 33. Tomorrow I will be reading your letter, which will certainly be a blessing. Thank you for writing in hopes that the Lord fulfills His purpose in us -- as well as in you on the outside.

"... Well, pastor, may God continue to bless you. We will be seeing each other soon. Until soon, please excuse my handwriting, Jose Henríquez."

Leiva sent his final handwritten response to Henríquez Oct. 11 in the paloma -- the name given to the device that transports small objects between the mine chamber and the surface. (Paloma means "pigeon" or "dove" in Spanish.)

"I encouraged him for remaining days of confinement," Leiva said, recalling what he wrote. "That he would remember the promises of the Lord, to have hope and confidence, and that he would also convey to the other 32 miners the message that the same God who has guarded them is the One who is going to guide them in the rescue. And so the anxiety can be dissipated with prayer and confidence in God."

Leiva closed his letter to Henríquez with Firmes, adelantes, huestes de la fe ("Be strong and go forward, Hosts of the Faith"), a line from the Spanish adaptation of the hymn, "Onward Christian Soldiers."


Tristan Taylor is an IMB writer in the Americas.