Most of us can vividly recall being glued to our television sets on Oct. 13, 2010. It was on that day that 33 Chilean miners who had been trapped 2,300 feet underground for 69 days were miraculously hoisted to safety, one at a time, encapsulated in what looked like a gigantic, steel bullet. The movie, The 33, out this Friday, tells that familiar story plus a lot of aspects most of us don’t know. Although the film reveals that prayer and faith were important to many of the miners, The 33 doesn’t spend much time there.
So, in order to get a better handle of the spiritual dynamics that were taking place among those trapped miners, I bought the book Miracle in the Mine written by “pastor” Jose Henriquez. Jose was not then, nor is he today, a pastor by vocation. But after the miners were trapped in the bowels of the San Jose mine located in Chile’s barren Atacama Desert, it only seemed appropriate to a humble, evangelical miner that someone should step up to the plate and begin to organize times of prayer…and share the Gospel. For Jose this was a case of “Here am I, send me.”
With the help of a couple of translators, I caught up with Jose earlier this week to chat with him about the faith components that happened deep, dark, down, and in the five years since.
Bob Waliszewski: I just finished your book, Miracle in the Mine. Summarize the book’s purpose and the message you share with the people you speak to?
Jose Henriquez: The message is clear. I tell the people that God is the same yesterday, today and forever. He is a God that hears our prayers. He is a God that hears sinners. Messages of hope for people—that you don’t have to be in a mine to be able to get out of problems, difficulties, drugs, so many things that bind people. [Many people today are] prisoners—shackled to so many things, that is like being trapped in a mine.
Waliszewski: How are you different spiritually now compared to before the mine disaster?
Henriquez: God sent me to testify. It’s been for me an additional assignment. And the strength, the trust and believing that God had sent me there; that’s why I testify of Him and I’m traveling to many places in the world to do so.
Waliszewski: Apparently, while trapped in the mine, you did not experience depression. Loneliness for your family, yes. But not a “woe is me” attitude. Tell me about your emotional state while trapped 2300 feet underground for 69 days.
Henriquez: I felt very calm and okay with what I was going through. I think the Spirit of God was with us and kept us united. I had a good attitude always, every day. It must be because I had been in other accidents in other mines. I was calm because I knew that God was with me.
Waliszewski: How does the movie compare to actual events? What would you have liked to have seen done differently?
Henriquez: Well, the movie was not produced to glorify Christ. But still, we would have liked for the movie to have included [more of] the role that faith played. It’s a two-hour movie so we understand that you can’t include everything that we lived through.
Waliszewski: Part of the reason that I’m doing this interview is for you to have the opportunity to tell the rest of the story.
Henriquez: [In the mine], we had more than 100 prayer services. [On the first day], they said to me, “Don Jose, we want you to lead us in prayer.” I told them, “Well, we Christians pray to the living God. If you want to pray to that God that would be good, but if not then you can look for another one.” And they said, “No, no. We want to do it how you do it.” So I taught them how to pray. We were humbled and dedicated to God because we knew that that’s what the Word says; that to receive something from God you have to humble yourself and to recognize his supremacy. So, we all humbled ourselves before God and we prayed. We humbled ourselves in the mud where we were. And we said, “God, we’re not the best of men, but have mercy on us.” And we prayed many prayers to God. “Watch over our families, watch over our children. We want you to take over the situation we’re in.”
Waliszewski: In your book, you state that you believed you’d be rescued. But none of us know the future. Did you ever share with your fellow miners that they needed to prepare themselves for death in the mine?
Henriquez: From the first day we all knew we were trapped. From the first day we knew we were facing death. There was no escape. On the third day we knew we would be rescued and we prayed with a lot of conviction.
Waliszewski: How did you survive the boredom?
Henriquez: (laughing) We did everything. We were practically a captive church, praying every day at noon, singing to the Lord, and doing things that would keep us occupied. The goal was to not think too much. Some of the men made games like Ludo, checkers, different games to entertain themselves and pass the time, until it was time for prayer. And we would tell stories and talk about food and things like that.
Waliszewski: You mention in the book that 22 of the 33 miners became Christians. How are the 22 doing spiritually these days? Are you staying in touch?
Henriquez: The last Sunday before we were rescued they accepted Christ. We asked a pastor from outside to pray with us. And they made a commitment to the Lord. And they also confirmed their faith later when we all visited Israel. They got baptized in the Jordan and again they made a commitment of faith. The problem is that we all live very far away from each other. When I do see them I ask them if they’re attending a church or if there’s a pastor that is shepherding them. To my knowledge some of them are still attending church. But I don’t know about the rest because they live four or five regions away.
Waliszewski: Tell me what it was like seeing your wife Blanca Hettiz after 69 days. In the book you say your wife’s faith was strengthened because of your ordeal. Tell me about that.
Henriquez: When I saw her there was so much joy and happiness and we glorified God and lifted our hands up to Him. It was such a joy to see her again. [Spiritually,] she stayed home, went to church, attended the prayer vigils and all that the church was doing on our behalf. She was at home working and taking care of our granddaughter. Her faith grew because God dealt with her directly. He showed her our situation and showed her that I was alive. And that blessed her and it increased her faith.
Waliszewski: Going through this ordeal has opened some incredible doors for ministry. For instance, you had a chance to share your testimony in front of the most powerful man in the world, President Obama. Tell me about that.
Henriquez: We were in England on our way to Ireland when they told us that we had to go to this annual [prayer] breakfast [in Washington D.C.]. I had five minutes to share our story.
Waliszewski: What about other opportunities to minister?
Henriquez: Well, it’s been five years since I came out of the mine. I’ve been invited to many places and I still get invited to speak. Soon we’ll be going to Honduras and Los Angeles. I had wanted to go back to work but I can see that God has given my life a new purpose, because of this situation.