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Faith, Hope and Rescues

This week in Chile, hope became resolve, and resolve led to success.

After 68 days beneath the earth, the last of the 33 miners trapped were brought to the surface. Buried after a collapse of the San Jose gold and copper mine, Chilean miners had been trapped a half mile below the surface.

They stuck together and were sustained by the support of the those who loved them and the frantic work of those attempting to rescue them. But the first 17 days, when rations were meager and they had no idea whether they would even be discovered, they had to sustain their own hope. All the experts were sure that the men would be traumatized and need months to recover. How could they come out of the earth, hug their loved ones and lead a cheer with the other miners involved in freeing them? Could it be their faith in God?

By all accounts, the miners’ faith in God gave them hope and kept them sane under conditions that would test anyone’s ability to stay calm. Their ordeal was difficult, but they endured it with strength and unity that has been obvious to all.

Mario Sepulveda, the second miner freed, said, “I was with God and I was with the Devil; they fought me but God won. He took me by my best hand, the hand of God and I held on to him. I never thought for one minute that God wouldn’t get me out of there.”

Jimmy Sanchez, a 19-year-old miner and one of the 33 trapped below the earth, was even more eloquent in his praise of God’s presence with them. In a letter he sent to the surface days before his rescue, he wrote, “There are actually 34 of us, because God has never left us down here.”

As discussed in The Optimism Advantage, recent researchers studying hope and optimism, find that religious involvement has a powerful and beneficial effect in encouraging hope and meaning. Studies find that believers are more optimistic than non-believers and also regain happiness more quickly after experiencing a crisis.

Dr. Martin Seligman, called by many the “Father of Positive Psychology,” described the impact of faith on optimism: “In our study, we looked at 11 major religions in America and how hopeful and optimistic the adherents were. We looked at the level of optimism in stories the children were told, as well as in the liturgy and sermons. We found strict Calvinists, Roman Catholics and Orthodox Jews were the most hopeful and optimistic, while Unitarians and Reformed Jews tended to be more pessimistic. The fundamentalist religions simply seem to offer more hope for a brighter future than do the more liberal, humanistic ones.”

In Chile, 87 percent of the people profess to being Christians, and certainly their faith, along with the faith of many who have been praying for the men and their families around the world, has been strengthened by the unwavering faith of the miners and the flawless rescue. These men never doubted that they would successfully return to the surface and to those they love. The sentiment, expressed by Sepulveda way back in August, that the miners “are walking hand in hand with God,” served to unite the nation and the miners in hope and a way to sustain their optimism in the critical road to rescue.

In my own way, I and other members of our church had sustained prayers for the men and their families. To keep it personal, I prayed for Samuel Avalos, his wife and three children. It was so exciting to watch his brother to be the first miner to come to the surface. My prayers were joined by the prayers of millions.

CNN reported the following comments on website the Chilean Mining Ministry had set up to collect greetings. There were many from Italy, China, the United States and a dozen other nations.

Nina T. Villacorta in nearby Copiapó announced, “Miracles exist. There are 33.”

From Antwerp, Belgium, a woman identified as Jacqueline wrote, “I can’t wait for the day in which you, the 33, can see the light of the sun. Do not give up and God will protect you.”

Did you share the tears of happiness when the earth seemed to give birth to hope one miner at a time? Did it touch you as loved ones were united in the light of day before the cheers of millions around the world? I think we all were.

It’s not just miners who benefit from their faith. As quoted in The Optimism Advantage, Dan Buettner studying seniors found more evidence of the power of faith, “I noticed when you ask the most highly functioning seniors how they are, they always say, ‘I feel good…thanks to God.’ Yet they may be blind and deaf and their bones hurt…. The fact that God is in control of their lives relieves any economic, spiritual, or well-being anxiety they might otherwise have. They go through life with the peaceful certitude that someone is looking out for them.”

Maybe it’s time we can all take a lesson from their strong faith. We are not alone. God is with us, and as has been true for centuries, God’s presence can bring peace and hope to those who believe. Nurture your beliefs and let them show in your actions and attitude. If it works in Chile, it just may work for you.

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