None of the Chilean miners are Adventist -- let's be OK with that

None of the Chilean miners are Adventist -- let's be OK with that

Commentary | Victor Hulbert

Many denominations seek credit, but is that why clergy serve?

An obscure part of the Copiapó desert, Chile became the focus of a media frenzy last week as the whole world watched in anticipation as, one by one, 33 miners were raised from the depths of the San José mine to be reunited with their families after 10 weeks underground. The word 'miracle' was used in many a news report -- never more so than by the Christian Community.

An Adventist pastor, Carlos Parra Diaz, was at the scene early on and acted as chaplain at Camp Hope, as the area above ground became known. As soon as the supply tunnel was completed he made available miniature Bibles for the miners. Following the rescue of the last miner on Thursday, October 14, stories started to circulate through cyberspace of the work that Pastor Diaz and his church had been doing. Several times a day over the last few days I've received an e-mail entitled, "Chilean miners' story," which states, "This news came out today in one of Chile's most important newspapers. It is uplifting. Thought you might want to share it." It has even been posted, minus the photo on the social networking site Adventist Online. Commenting on the Adventist supplied t-shirts that were worn by many of miners on their way out -- displaying the slogan "¡Gracias Señor! Thank you Lord" -- the article then states, "The local Adventist church has played a vital role attending and assisting the families of the miners spiritually at "Camp Hope" during the 70 days."

Undoubtedly, Adventists are delighted that the local church was able to supply support in this way, and Pastor Diaz should be commended for his enthusiasm, care and commitment. While none of the miners is an Adventist Church member, some have Adventist connections. Six of them have Adventist relatives. Yet it seems this particular story is bombarding my in-box simply because it is "Adventist."

Is it?

Go to the Baptist Press and you find another story. In their reporting the story goes down a different road. It states that, "Bernardino Morales, director of the Baptist union's Social Testimony Network, searched for a pastor who lived near the mine in Copiapó but no one was available." Two weeks ago he called Marcelo Leiva, pastor of Vallenar Baptist Church in Vallenar, Chile, located about two hours away, urging him to come minister. He, along with another evangelical pastor, was allowed to minister on the site.

Quite naturally, in a country where the majority of the population is Catholic, Bishop Gaspar Quintana Jorquera of Copiapo was also on site giving pastoral care and celebrating mass. Somehow the Catholic News Service fails to mention the three Protestant pastors that were there. It wasn't just Adventist-supplied Bibles that went down the supply shaft, the Baptists supplied mp3 players with New Testaments on them and various Catholic symbols, crucifixes and small statuettes of the Virgin Mary also encouraged the miners.

This then gives the secular press some wry amusement as, for instance, the Guardian Newspaper headlined an article, "Chilean miners: Rival churches claim credit for the miracle." While poking fun at all three faiths -- and pointing out some antagonism between the clerics, the article did give the Adventists credit for being first on the scene and for obtaining permission to give a 10-minute talk to the assembled 33 families before their nightly briefing by government officials. "I do macro work. I am pastor to all," Diaz told the Guardian.

It is perhaps the being pastor to all that is significant in this story. It is hard to pastor under the spotlight of the media and in the emotional bubble that made up Camp Hope. However, it is right that the pastor should have been there, and for all the media complaints of a religious frenzy it is without doubt that the pastoral care provided during those 10 weeks will continue to be needed in the coming months while the media turn their attention to other new stories.

It is interesting that in Jesus' end-time parable of the sheep and the goats, the judgment is based on what all these clergy had been doing over the past weeks: "I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me" (Matt 25:40 NIV).

While I will undoubtedly continue to receive the "Chilean miners' story" again and again by e-mail over the next few days, perhaps the bigger question for me is, "Would I have the courage to do the same? Do I have courage to make a difference in my smaller sphere, away from the media, but as a servant of Jesus?"

--Victor Hulbert is communication director of the Adventist Church's British Union Conference