The Atacama Desert in northern Chile is the driest place on earth. It is a jumble of barren, windswept plateaus, slat flats, and lava flows. To the east are the snow-capped Andes and to the west, the Pacific.
In this barren land live over a million people because buried under the bleak surface are some of the largest deposits of copper, silver, gold, and sulfur nitrate. Mining remains Chile's chief export industry.
One of the mines dotting the areas is the San Jose Mine. Unlike the state-owned mines, this independently owned mine had a history of violations and accidents so that the government mining safety board ordered it closed in 2007.
By mid-2010 the mine had been reopened for more than year. The tough Chilean miners endured the rugged conditions in the labyrinth of tunnels, chambers, and shafts.
On August 5, 2010 the workers at the lower level heard a sharp crack and the electric lights went dark. Unknown to them, about halfway between them and the surface, a massive section of granite mountainside (700,000 tons) dropped from where it had been suspended above the tunnels. It smashed through walls and ceilings, including those of the main ramp. The lower level miners were trapped.
By evening the world knew of the thirty-three men, aged 19 to 63, almost a kilometer underground. Were they alive? If so, how long could they survive with limited air and food?
So began what has been called the greatest mine rescue of all time. For the next sixty-nine days people around the world watched the unfolding human drama.
Carlos was part of a volunteer group of local Christian clergy from a nearby town. While not members of his particular church, he wanted to do whatever he could to help them. He soon became known as the “Chaplain of Camp Hope.” While the story of the mechanical aspect of the rescue needed to be told, there was also the spiritual side of the story that needed telling. This book tells that story, the story that r,eminds us, even in the twenty-first century, faith does move mountains.
Carlos tells of his childhood, his conversion, university, marriage, role as pastor, father, then the move to Copiapo. He then relates his own experiences over the next days and weeks, ministering to those involved with the tragedy.
Generous businesses, churches, and individuals provided food for the camp, the relatives waiting for their trapped loved ones.
One week and then two weeks – the situation still grim. The probe that missed the miners. Then August 22 and knowing the miners were alive (a probe that went “off course” broke through to them). Carlos saw to it that Bibles small enough to go through the small piper were delivered to the miners. The complicated plans of getting the miners out. Establishing the prayer chain that went around the world. The role faith played in the lives of the miners and their families. One of the miners became a father while he was underground. The breakdown of one of the large drills. The arrival of Rolly the Clown. Survival techniques provided by NASA experts. September 24, the miners had been underground longer than any others. On October 9 the big drill broke through. Continuing preparations on the shaft. October 13, 12:15 am – the first miner was on the surface.
This is an inspiring account of how people came together to support each other and rescue the miners. It is also an account of the role that faith played in the well being of the miners and those waiting for them. The miners told of praying daily and reciting Bible verses from memory. At celebrations, the miners repeatedly gave their thanks to God for their survival.
The experience had an impact on Carlos. “I had always believed that God is real.” Carlos writes, “a living God who chooses to be close to those who love Him. But during my weeks at Camp Hope, I experienced for myself, far more than I'd ever dreamed possible, just how real God is, how deeply He loves the human beings He has created, how directly involved He is in the daily lives of His children.” (181)
The inspiration of Camp Hope and the rescue lives on. Carlos lastly asks his readers, how will they respond to this good news?
Imago Dei Books, 192 pages.
I received an egalley of this book from the publisher for the purpose of this review.