Posted on October 15, 2010


The story of the restoration of the thirty-three trapped miners to their loved ones will live long in our memories and be amongst inspirational human stories which tug at our hearts and give us courage and encouragement in times of frail nerves and hopeless thoughts. The odds of being given a new lease of life and purpose in such a severe predicament- entrapped 700 metres (2300 feet) below ground and cut off from the outside or surface world until 17 days later when they were able to tie a message to a probing drill which told the country and world: “All 33 of us are well inside the shelter”. We who live and move freely with all the amenities and sanitation will never know what it must have been like for them to live in such trying conditions for a total of 69 days till finally they were lifted to the surface alive and free!

During their ordeal, I have always wondered how would or could human persons ever do that- live with 32 others in a confined, below ground environment- how ever would they eat, answer nature’s call, sleep. I who have a hard time even sharing a room with another person at residential conferences. (The closest I had ever come anywhere near just the mere periphery of such an experience was when I was forced into a police lock-up during the Reformasi days- with little standing or sitting room let alone to lie down for the night, let alone sleep in a cell completely covered with slimy dirt on the floor and even the bars, not to mention the toilet facility.)

So the triumphant extraction of these precious living human persons from 700 metres down is a story that tells many many stories that tell of the value of family, faith, care, functioning government and its many arms, professional services, technology, planning, logistics, team-work and executionary skills. The value of dream, wish, will, concern and love; the value of presence of mind, courage, perseverance, endurance.
It reminds me of the biblical exhortation: “More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, 4 and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, 5 and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit which has been given to us.” (Romans 5.3-5)

Many have written and will write and share their reflections on this uplifting story. I hope many more will do so because of the value of this story and other similar ones. For myself, my thoughts are focused on three other truths I have observed from this episode.

The value of humility and interdependence: The Chilean government was not too proud to ask for and receive outside help. The unfortunate, even tragic outcome of unfounded, foolish patriotism is the “We can do it ourselves, thank you very much” syndrome which proves nothing but the fact that national pride have cost life and prolonged agony to affected people. Blind patriotism in its quick denial of fact and truth and quick declaration of self-sufficiency in all things- knowledge, expertise and ability- is a menace to any country’s own citizens as well as to the concept that we are all afterall creatures of God and citizens of the entire human world which is without border. When I need help, I need help. Imagine that when I am going under the water I reject the attempts of the life guard to give me a helping hand or tell the fire brigade not to interfere with my own attempts at putting out a fast spreading fire that is engulfing my house and home and loved ones! I must say that there have been moments and occasions when as a “proud” Malaysian I have sincerely wished that the government of my country would sometimes be willing to resort to whatever it takes to put out the fire even to the point of seeking outside help.

The Chilean government acknowledged outside help for its most dramatic triumph. And their president in the interview after the successful rescue operation when asked if the tragedy itself occurred because of his government’s failure to ensure that safety regulations were in place in privately corporate run mines and could be subjected to suits from the victims said, without pause or hesitation, “Yes, we will have to take the blame. Maybe it was the responsibility of the previous government but from now on we have learned the lessons and we will change all our procedures to protect the people…”

Without admission of responsibility, there will not and cannot be any real solutions- in my own life, in the life of any nation, in the life of our church, family or society. Our country must not just learn independence but also the meaning and value of interdependence. We must of course allow the Chileans their time of patriotic emotions having given us proof of their understanding and appreciation of interdependence.

The value of self-responsibility: In a very real sense, the thirty-three persons were helpless since they were shut away from others and the world above ground. But in reality, each person helped himself as much as they helped one another. Certain psychological issues and problems can only be taken care of by each person himself. Each person fought and got the better of his own inner world of claustrophopia, fear, panic, negative emotions … Others within the group and the knowledge that a rescue operation had been activated helped of course. But unless the person himself was waging and to an adequate extent winning his own inner battles and took hold of himself, it is likely that he would lose himself. Sixty-nine days, 700m underground is a very very long time. Many of them have of course also spoken about their religious faith and in days to come this will come to the fore as they recount their individual stories.

The value of seeing the whole: Thirty-three miners have been wonderfully and successfully rescued. But other miners have been affected and are also involved. And that was why in their own protest demonstrations these others have carried banners saying, “There are more than 33 of us”. The mines have been closed. They have effectively lost their livelihood and their ability to service their family responsibilities. So often when there is triumph for some, others can very easily be forgotten and left to fend for themselves. In this way, many in need are forgotten and not detected in our radars.

So once more we are to face the all-time truth- one solution no matter how good and satisfying does not necessarily deal with the many remaining problems affecting many other lives. For the few who have heroically been saved, many other lives await urgent attention. This does and should not minimize what has been achieved. Our gratitude is not lessened but our alertness to other needs cannot be neglected. In our TV and internet age, our attention must not just be riveted only to the “big” events but more so for the unsung, un-noticed and unattended to needs.

The lesson is that when much work has been done, more work is waiting its turn.

Praise God for what has been done! May it spur us humans to start working on what remains undone.

Posted in: Perspective