LAST year tens of millions watched the drama of the Chilean miners unfold, and few will ever forget it. Thirty-three men trapped 700 metres below the surface of a mine.
The horror of their position was barely imaginable - confined in a space the size of a small flat, with almost no food and a constant temperature of more than 32 degrees.
The 24th miner to be rescued, José Henriquez, has no doubt that his faith in God sustained him during the long ordeal and this Sunday morning at 10.30am he will be in sharing his story in Shankill Parish Church in Lurgan.
“The most difficult moment was the first day when the drill missed,” he said. “We heard it coming, but it missed us and our spirits crashed, thinking that they would give us up for dead since we couldn’t tell them we were alive.”
In the first terrifying hours and days, José adopted the role of Pastor, and claims that it was only through trusting in God that the miners survived.
“When we felt we had lost everything, I was able to say to them we haven’t lost prayer. We formed a circle of prayer and twice a day we would have prayer services where each one could pray and open his heart up, and then I would preach the word of God to them,” he said.
Reverend Alf Cooper, SAMS Mission Partner and chaplain to the President of Chile, will join José in visiting Northern Ireland and will be his interpreter.
He describes how a senior Chilean official approached him tearfully 10 days into the crisis. She told him that the miners must have run out of food three days earlier. “We can’t go public with it yet, but it seems there is no hope,” she said to him. It was to be another week before the eighth drill hole broke through into the miners’ narrow chamber.
Reverend Cooper insists that the hand of God guided the drill bit. “That was the miracle that geologists and scientists generally acknowledge,” he said. “Trying to find them was like finding a needle in a haystack 700 metres down in the ground, blind. We all believe that was a great answer to prayer. Even non-believers very generously say something strange happened there.”
Then - far quicker than expected - came a wider bore, and a capsule able to extract the miners. When they finally emerged into the blinding sunlight, several of the miners fell to their knees in prayer.
During more than two months underground, José said he witnessed two-thirds of them committing themselves to Christ. Mario Sepulveda, the second miner to be rescued, said at the time: “I’ve been with the devil, but I grabbed God’s hand. I never doubted he would bring me up from there.”
Speaking about the forthcoming visit, Rector of Shankill Parish, Rev Geoff Wilson, commented: “We are delighted to have José Henriquez visit Shankill to share his inspiring story.
“I can’t imagine there that is anyone who was not deeply touched by the images we witnessed on TV during the 69 day ordeal and rescue. We welcome anyone from the whole community to come and hear José share his story this Sunday.”