SANTIAGO, Chile (BP)–José Henríquez leads a small group of men in prayer every evening in northern Chile — 2,300 feet below the surface of the earth.
For more than two months, 33 Chilean miners have been trapped beneath the desert floor in a chamber the size of a living room. A partial collapse blocked the mine exit Aug. 5.
Chilean Mining Minister Laurence Golborne confirmed Oct. 11 that a trial run of a rescue capsule was successful. The miners’ rescue is scheduled to begin at midnight, Oct. 12.
When the mine collapsed, three of the miners — including Henríquez — were Christians. Since then, two more of them have made professions of faith.
“It was José who made the request that an evangelical pastor come to minister to the miners and their families,” said Bryan Wolf, an International Mission Board (IMB) missionary serving in Vallenar, Chile.
Rescue engineer Igor Bravo, a member of First Baptist Church of Santiago, was one of the first to hear of Henríquez’s request for a pastor and contacted the Chilean Baptist Union.
Bernardino Morales, director of the Baptist union’s Social Testimony Network, searched for a pastor who lived near the mine in Copiapó but no one was available. Two weeks ago he called Marcelo Leiva, pastor of Vallenar Baptist Church in Vallenar, Chile, located about two hours away.
“Pastor,” Morales said to Leiva, “it’s either you, or it’s you.”
Leiva’s response: “Amen.”
The miners had been on the pastor’s heart before Bernardino called. He said Bravo contacting the Chilean Baptist Union was the “channel of blessing” that brought him to Camp Esperanza (Hope), where the miners’ families are staying.
When Leiva arrived at the camp, he didn’t know anyone. But Henríquez’s family quickly connected him with other families.
“That [connection] allowed a lot of other people to hear the Word,” Leiva says, “and to know that in the midst of this catastrophe, God is in control, and it is the Lord who has kept their family members alive.”
The wife of one of the miners who became a Christian since being trapped in the mine met with Leiva over the past two weeks and also accepted Christ.
Miners’ families have been staying at Camp Hope for weeks in what Leiva describes as rudimentary conditions. They receive three meals a day and sleep on mats inside government-provided military tents. Despite the simple accommodations, being close to their loved ones brings them comfort.
After the frenzy of activity during the day subsides, Leiva finds the families are more available to talk with him in the evenings. He has noticed the difference between the families who know Christ and the families who do not.
“This has been a testimony to what the Lord can do in a person’s life,” Leiva said. “Those that are the children of the Lord have been those that have shown, even in the midst of the storm, a testimony of peace, tranquility and trust in the Lord.”
At Henríquez’s request, Leiva was recently given 10 minutes to speak through a telephone that connects the trapped miners with the rescue crew. Leiva used that time to pray for Henríquez and encourage him.
Henríquez sent a letter to Leiva on behalf of the trapped miners, calling him a blessing and thanking him for being there with their families. Leiva also has been sending down letters of encouragement to the trapped miners.
Besides Leiva, a Pentecostal pastor is the only other evangelical preacher allowed in the camp. The two have been working together when they can and have made a “good team,” Leiva said.
Leiva has had the opportunity to witness to family members, Chilean policemen and foreign press — including a Japanese reporter, Wolfe said. Leiva also wrote down a Scripture portion from Psalms and gave it to Mining Minister Laurence Golborne.
As the rescue draws near, the families in Camp Hope are anxious. Leiva realizes that this unique opportunity to share the Gospel is a fleeting one.
“Let’s do our job and fulfill the purpose for which God brought us here,” Leiva said. “Not to just have a protagonist role without sharing the Gospel. Because this camp, in a few more days, is going to close and the people will return home.
“Pray that we, the children of God, will do our job,” Leiva said.
Tristan Taylor is an International Mission Board writer in the Americas.