ASSIST News Service

By the beginning of October 2010, a fresh spirit of hope and optimism had taken hold of Camp Hope above the Chilean mine where 33 miners had been trapped below ground for most of their 69 days underground.

All three rescue plans were advancing, the precarious structure of the mine had to this point maintained a necessary stability, and hope was now high that the rescue operation had reached its closing stages.

In a series of circumstances that would change his life forever, Pastor Diaz rose to prominence as he became the influential chaplain of Camp Hope - a makeshift tent community established not far from the site of the mine collapse.

On Monday, 4th October, Plan B had reached almost 600 meters into the mountain. The next day, a rescue team of 14 specialists was chosen to descend into the mine to help the miners with the ascent when the time came. 

"But the rescue authorities could make no concrete promises. The miners' families witnessed the extra flurry of activity with joy, but it was a contained joy," says Pastor Carlos Parra Diaz in Hope Underground: The 34 Chilean Miners - A Story of Faith and Miracles as told to writers Mario Veloso and Jeanette Windle.

The book records the personal journey and spiritual involvement of this local, unassuming minister with the miners and their families. In a series of circumstances that would change his life forever, Pastor Diaz rose to prominence as he became the influential chaplain of Camp Hope - a makeshift tent community established not far from the site of the mine collapse.

In the book, Pastor Diaz says there had already been great setbacks when everything seemed to appear promising, dating back to that first terrible blow when the probe completely missed the miners, through all the various breakdowns of drills and other equipment. Another setback was always possible. No one dared speculate what it could be. There could be rockslides that would put an end to the current operation or even a complete breakdown of the Schramm T-130 and other backup drills. No one wanted to consider such a possibility, but everyone feared it.

On 7th October, while the T-130 drill was idle for scheduled maintenance, Pastor Diaz says María Segovia once again gave evidence of her strong spiritual leadership as she approached him to suggest, "Pastor Parra, while we are waiting for the T-130 to break through the final distance to the miners, why don't we as an entire camp implement our own special vigil of prayer and song in addition to the worldwide prayer chain?"

"Up to that point," Pastor Diaz says, "we had been gathering every evening at 6pm to pray. That evening after I'd given my usual devotional talk and prayed for continued endurance and hope for both the miners and their families, María came up front to address the group. 'Friends, we need to pray even more fervently now that the moment of the rescue is close at hand. So Pastor Carlos Parra here is going to lead us in a vigil, praying and singing together all through the night and day until the drill reaches the bottom and we can bring our boys up.'"

Pastor Diaz says her leadership was so well respected in the group that the others immediately agreed to the idea. "For myself, it was a great delight to be able to contribute to such a wonderful spiritual experience," he recalls.

"You invite the people," I told María, "and I will make arrangements for a big group bonfire and a team of musicians to help with worship music. I'll also choose some appropriate Bible texts to read. We can pray, sing, and read God's Word together."

"That sounds wonderful, Pastor," María responded. "I'll do my part."

Pastor Diaz recalled: "When God's hand is on our plans, things come together better than anything we ourselves can possibly arrange."

He had invited Claudio Belmar, a professor of music at the Adventist University in Chillán, to join us.

"He arrived at Camp Hope with a full team of musicians, each bringing their instruments, including guitars and trumpets, along with a portable sound system. We were able to raise a large overhead screen where we projected the words of the songs so everyone could join in. At the very entrance into San José Mine where the narrow, winding road curves sharply one last time and then opens up onto the camp, we lit thirty-three candles, one for each miner. If only symbolically, we had the miners present with us. The small, wavering flames of the candles were shaped like two hands placed together in attitude of prayer With that symbol of steady, shining light in the darkness of the desert night, we were expressing our faith and hope for the safe rescue of all the miners."


That night about 150 people gathered for the vigil around the large bonfire. These included family members of the miners, journalists, mayors, senators, other politicians, and volunteers, Pastor Diaz stated.

"We sang worship songs and fun action choruses for the children. We divided into small groups of six to ten people to pray. We all joined hands and prayed in turn for each one of the miners. Participants in the vigil led out in prayer for each other, for all the different families and what they were going through, and for what was happening down in the mine."

Above all, says Pastor Diaz, they prayed to God that the drilling would continue its current accelerated pace.

"From the day that the miners had been found alive, we'd been praying that the time of their captivity would be reduced, that they would not have to stay in the mine until Christmas as the technical experts had originally estimated. Already they had been down there longer than any trapped miner had ever survived. To wait another two months or more in that terrible heat and humidity was too much.

"Lord God, heavenly Father," we prayed, "please shorten their stay. Shorten it a lot. We know that You are capable of increasing the efficiency of the machines and all the different technology. Bless the drilling rigs so that they will hold up under such intense labor and so many hours of continuous use."

 

"We prayed together, we sang, we played Bible games, and we shared testimonies of our own faith and hope, both together as a group and in conversations during the breaks between group sessions. It was truly a very special night. We could feel God's presence within our own hearts, among us as a group, and all around us in nature itself."

- Pastor Diaz in 'Hope Underground'

During that night of vigil, the group prayed the same plea over and over in many different forms.

"We prayed together, we sang, we played Bible games, and we shared testimonies of our own faith and hope, both together as a group and in conversations during the breaks between group sessions. It was truly a very special night. We could feel God's presence within our own hearts, among us as a group, and all around us in nature itself."

The desert nights are not in general pleasurable or attractive, Pastor Diaz stated. Most nights in that area, the heavy mist northern residents call camanchaca rises off the ocean and drifts inland to settle, white and chill, into the valleys that run through the maze of hills. This nocturnal fog becomes so thick that it is hard to see a meter in front of one's eyes, and the humidity is strong enough to penetrate the warmest clothing to lay clammy, ice-cold fingers against the skin.

Pastor Diaz commented: "But the night of our prayer vigil turned out to be a spectacularly beautiful night. It wasn't as cold as past nights, so that the bonfire was enough to offer a comfortable warmth. There was no camanchaca. Instead, high above us, the immense, black expanse of the desert sky twinkled with the bright heavenly lights of the constellations. In those brilliantly jewelled patterns, we could sense the immeasurably greater eternal and infinite light of their almighty Creator."

"Can't you feel it? God is here with us!" people were exclaiming all around me. "Just look! Have you ever seen a more beautiful night? God is here! God is here!"

Pastor Diaz recalls that a feeling of tremendous peace passed contagiously from person to person throughout the group, a peace as quiet and restful and serene as the dark desert landscape stretching silently away from them under the placid glitter of the stars. In daylight, this same landscape was barren and ugly and broken without a hint of vegetation. But on that clear, bright night, cloaked only by the soft silver-gray of starlight, it held a mystical beauty.

"All around me in the circle as we sang and prayed, I could see beaming from faces a deep spiritual joy and confidence in God," he said.

I asked aloud, "Would anyone like to volunteer to pray for us all as a group?"

The mayor of nearby Ballenar, Cristian Tapia, immediately spoke up. "Pastor, I'd like to pray."

A number of others gathered close around him to add their support. As he began to pray, emotion choked the mayor's voice. When he finished, he added, "I feel the presence of God here. This is a very special night."

Members of the press corps were also participating in the prayer vigil. At some point, they decided this was a story worth communicating to their audience. All around the pray-ers, news crews were filming the event. Others were offering live reports.

"Close by me, I heard one of them speaking into a microphone. 'They are holding a prayer vigil up here at Camp Hope. You can just feel that something extraordinary is happening in this place.'"

'Hope Underground: The 34 Chilean Miners - A Story of Faith and Miracles' is published by Imago Dei Books.