It’s hard to even imagine.
Those miners have been trapped a half-mile underground in the San Jose mine in northern Chile since August 5. That’s sixty-eight days. Think about everything that’s happened in the last sixty-eight days. On August 5, it was still summer. We were wearing sandals and planning trips to the beach. Now, the leaves are turning, baseball’s in the post-season and we’re getting ready for Halloween. In those sixty-eight days, school started, seasons changed, and babies were born – including one whose father was trapped underground. Her parents named her Esperanza.
After church on Sunday, someone told me she’d been praying for those miners, especially as news came that their rescue might happen this week. “It will be like a rebirth for those men,” she told me, shaking her head in astonishment. “They’ve been in darkness so long, and now they’re coming out into the light.”
Reports this morning say the rescue capsule is ready and that the men will be lifted out, one at time, as early as tonight or tomorrow. Each trip to the surface will take fifteen minutes – the longest 15 minutes in the world, I suspect, for the families who wait above.
One of the things that has been noteworthy about this story, as others have pointed out, is the positive spirit that seems to persist among the miners. They’ve somehow managed to live together for the past two months, in incredibly difficult conditions, with remarkable harmony. Deep underground, they’ve found reasons to play, laugh, sing, and pray. When they heard that the rescue capsule was almost ready, they argued about who would be lifted out last – not first. In a situation in which people had every reason and opportunity to turn ugly toward each other, these miners have faced their ordeal with courage and grace.
And then there was this little detail, in a description of how the rescue will go: According to Alejandro Pino of the Chilean Safety Association, “Each miner will receive green coveralls embroidered with their names, as well as fresh pairs of socks and underwear.” In addition, there will be blankets waiting for them, also embroidered with their names.
They will emerge from the mine after sixty-eight days in darkness, eyes blinking in the light, into the waiting arms of their families, with their names sown lovingly on their shirts.
“Do not fear, for I have redeemed you,” says the Lord in Isaiah 43.
“I have called you by name, you are mine.
When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;
and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you;
when you walk through fire you shall not be burned,
and the flame shall not consume you.
For I am the Lord your God,
the Holy One of Israel, your Saviour.”
Those green coveralls – I hope, I hope – will be like baptismal robes that drip from the newly baptized as she emerges from the waters, gasping for air, to walk in the newness of life. Those blankets, like the blanket wrapped around a newborn baby as his parents whisper his name.
It will be rebirth, indeed, when those miners come home tonight and tomorrow. They will be named, loved, and freed.