MONTCOAL, W.Va. (BP)–As families in West Virginia continue to wait for news on their loved ones’ status following a massive coal mine explosion, an associational missionary said he is encouraged by their behavior amid excruciating circumstances.
“It’s still pretty much the same as we sit and wait for news to come back off the mountain. There’s still a lot of hope,” Charlie Minney of the Coalfields Association of Southern Baptists in Logan, W.Va., told Baptist Press Thursday night.
“There’s more faith here than I’ve seen in a long time, so it’s very encouraging to be around the heartbeat of people from West Virginia and their trust and faith that God is going to protect their loved ones. They’re clinging to that extremely tightly.”
Minney is one of about 15 Southern Baptist ministers who have volunteered to help counsel families as they wait near the mine for confirmation on whether their loved ones are among the four possible survivors or if they’re among the 25 who are confirmed dead.
“So we’re just continuing with them, praying that God has spared those four lives and at the end He’ll be glorified and lifted up however the situation comes out,” Minney said. “Knowing that 25 men are gone, there are some families up here that will not be able to see their loved ones again. We want to be sensitive to that.
“I’m learning so much about West Virginia people, even being born and raised here. The hope and the love that they have for each other and for those that are caring for them is very refreshing,” he said.
Rescue workers had to turn back a third time early Friday morning after reentering the mine around 2 a.m. Earlier, they had been pulled out because of dangerous levels of combustible gases, and this time they encountered smoke, meaning a fire had started somewhere in the tunnels.
On their most recent attempt, the rescuers had determined that one of two remaining airtight safety chambers had not been deployed, and crews hoped to lower a camera through a borehole on Friday to determine whether the other chamber was in use.
Minney said the Southern Baptist ministers, some of whom arrived on the scene just hours after the explosion April 5, are organized on a rotation for maximum effectiveness.
“We’re rotating on and off at about 8-hour shifts,” Minney said. “Some guys are staying longer. We’re trying to be fresh for the families. Most of the guys are going home. I traveled home and got some rest today.”
The group of ministers range from men trained in disaster relief chaplaincy to those who just wanted to help at the last minute.
“You hear [of the sudden tragedy] just like everybody else. We’re at home, the day is happening and then you get word that this disaster has taken place and any minister worth his soul is going to want to reach out and love and care for people,” Minney said. “That’s what the guys have been doing.”
Minney was commissioned as a North American Mission Board worker just one week prior to the mine explosion. After 11 years on staff at First Baptist Church in Woodstock, Ga., he returned to his home state to plant churches and otherwise coordinate work among Southern Baptists in the Coalfields association.
Although facing a major crisis early in his new assignment, Minney said, “Loving and caring for people is just part of what we do in the church, whether it’s in a disaster relief situation or marriage counseling or the death of a loved one in a local church.” For Minney and the others at the disaster site, “We know as ministers that God has called us to do the work.”
Erin Roach is a staff writer for Baptist Press.