In a rescue process that combined the efforts of the Chilean government, NASA, a Pennsylvania drill company, and so many others, an ahead-of-schedule operation brought the men out in a flawless rescue operation. Each took the 15-minute journey to freedom from the longest underground entrapment in history.
From the pre-commercialized reports that have emerged so far, it seems clear that there was an early time of extreme fear and deep discouragement. In the first 17 days, the men huddled in an area no larger than 165 square feet. They had no contact with the outside and knew nothing of what was being done above ground to rescue them.
Reports say that some of the younger men in the group threw themselves on the ground and refused to get up. They appear to have resigned themselves to death. Then the first bore hole penetrated their tiny space, and hope soared. Bodies that had started eating muscle were provided with food, and tainted mine water was replaced with pure drinking water. Things improved dramatically.
But there was still a long wait to be endured. Even with good food and water, what about the emotional health of the group?
The men organized to live. Everyone was assigned a job. Nobody was allowed to isolate himself with his fears. One report of the experience I read contained this sentence: "They functioned like a family — a mix of love, dependence, frustration. But there were never thoughts of turning on each other."
Then I thought this: What a microcosm of heaven, earth, and church! And how much we could learn from the experience.
The "rescue work" we call salvation is going on above. No more than the miners could know what was happening a half-mile above them, we cannot know all God is doing for us in our times of weakness, failure, and discouragement. We know of the cross in history, and we have the promise we will never be forsaken.
The "holding-on work" we do as the church is our task while trapped in the dark and threatening environment of a world where sin has done its best to trap and destroy us. No, we can't climb out under our own strength. We wait instead with all the patience we can muster, keep hope alive, and trust the promise. Refusing to turn on each other, we encourage one another daily to keep the faith.
The beautiful words that Zechariah spoke over his son, John the Baptizer, are as real for us today as they were then:
"For you will go on before the Lord to prepare the way for him, to give his people the knowledge of salvation through the forgiveness of their sins, because of the tender mercy of our God, by which the rising sun will come to us from heaven to shine on those living in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the path of peace" (Luke 1:76-79).