Faith, hope and family

Published 3:00 pm Tuesday, October 19, 2010

The last of the 33 miners to be rescued from deep inside that mine in Chile last week was asked what kept him alive for those 69 days.

His simple answer was “faith, hope and family.”

Like much of the world, I was mesmerized by the dramatic rescue of the miners. One by one I watched as they emerged from more than 2,000 feet below with a smile on their face. They seemed fit, both physically and mentally. Over and over the world saw the raw emotion that occurs when families reunite; when those that were lost are found.

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In a world that seems so disjointed and at odds with each other, the Chilean rescue provided so much of what the world needs. The miners were alive after 17 days of being lost. How alone and full of despair they must have been, surviving on a bottle cap no wider than two fingers filled with canned tuna or salmon. The water tasted like machine oil.

From the beginning, the men shared their rations and their decisions. The leader let them know quickly that if they were to be saved it would be God’s will. More than 750,000 tons of rock separated them from the surface where no one knew if there were any survivors.

Finally, a bore hole no larger than a grapefruit hit the mark letting the world know the 33 men were alive. When the leader, Luis Urzua, was first asked what the men needed most, he replied, “toothpaste and Bibles.”

Why Bibles? Because these men knew that only their faith in God and prayer would deliver them from these impossible circumstances. They had suppressed their hunger in almost unimaginable ways to survive the first 17 days alone. Now they faced weeks and months of more waiting while the rescue teams made their plans.

After 10 weeks of living in a hot, humid hole nearly a half mile below ground, the first miner was hoisted to safety and into the arms of his family. That will be a memory that will always be filed away in my mind, much like the first step on the moon, JFK’s funeral, and the day the space shuttle Challenger exploded.

“Chi! Le! Chi! Le! Chi! Le!” the people cheered as each miner was lifted to freedom. The national pride of the successful rescue lifted the entire country up and the world was cheering with them.

Certainly there have been other great rescues in our time. The collision of the cruise ship Andrea Doria and the Stockholm resulted in the rescue of more than 1,600. Historians still marvel at the remarkable rescue of so many in such terrible circumstances.

The rescue of the crew of the Apollo 13 spacecraft certainly rivaled any rescue terms of the technological efforts made on behalf of the survivors. The popular movie about the rescue brought that story into homes around the world.

Just recently, 95-year-old George Vujnovich received the Bronze Star in New York for his contribution to the World War II rescue of more than 500 Americans from Nazi-occupied Yugoslavia in 1944.

The heroes of 9/11 made countless rescues, many of them never to be known. Individual acts of heroism and bravery occur every day in the places that we live. Our soldiers act selflessly and with heroism every day far from the ever-present television cameras.

I can’t help thinking about what makes this particular rescue so captivating. Perhaps it is because it is probably the first large rescue that actually was broadcast live around the world. Imagine all the things that could have gone wrong and yet we were allowed to see it all in real time.

At times I felt almost like we were prying into the private lives of these men who had just been reunited with their families. Their tears and hugs were meant for each other, and yet the world shared the joy with all of them.

They kissed their wives, their children, the earth and in one case, his mistress. As one said, they had been with God and the devil, and God had brought them back.

Some might say that this was a marvel of technology. God and faith had nothing to do with it. It was the work of talented engineers from around the world.

I would say that it is a modern-day miracle. Despite the NASA diet and medical attention given from above during their ordeal, the men emerged healthier than any doctor would have ever dared hope.

The National Health Minister Jaime Manalich, stated, “Even when we recognize the efforts on the part of the medical team we were completely surprised and we call this a miracle, because any effort we could have made doesn’t explain the health condition that these people have today.”

I believe that miracles do indeed happen. I believe that I have had them happen in my own life on a much smaller scale. But perhaps miracles are mostly likely to happen among those who actually believe in them.

These miners knew that nothing short of God’s intervention would save them; a miracle. They prayed twice daily for their rescue, if it should happen, and for their salvation if it did not. They remembered their families. In the end, their prayers were answered.

Faith, hope and family. No finer example of the power of these things has ever been shown than by these 33 Chilean miners.