Why Israel is Blessing the Chilean Miners With a Pilgrimage

Elisa Moed

Why Israel is Blessing the Chilean Miners With a Pilgrimage

ISRAEL (ANS) -- On October 13, 2010, the last of the 33 trapped Chilean miners were shuttled 15 minutes through a dark shaft emerging at the surface to be greeted by friends, family and the worldwide media.

Mario Gomez knelt down in prayer, even before hugging his wife. Mario Sepúlveda was quoted as saying, "I was with God and the devil -- and God won."

Omar Reygadas, a 56-year-old mechanic, emerged from the rescue capsule holding a Bible and wearing a helmet with "God lives" written on it.

All of the 33 miners emerged from the capsules wearing shirts that said, "Thank you Lord" on the front and "To Him be the glory and honor," on the back, taken from Psalm 95:4: "Because in his hands are the depths of the earth, and the heights of the mountains are His."

While most media reports downplayed it, faith clearly played a starring role in this story. From the beginning, the miners’ families set up a prayer area at Camp Hope where many prayed continuously for the miners.

Crucifixes, Bibles, rosaries and other religious articles were sent down to the miners and Pope Benedict XVI sent down a rosary to each man. One miner, Mario Gomez, became the de facto spiritual leader, leading his trapped colleagues in daily prayer. Chile is an extremely religious country; more than 70 percent of the population identify as Catholics, and 15 percent identify as evangelicals.

Like others around the world, I too followed this ordeal with a mixture of anticipation, hope and fear. How would I feel if it were my husband trapped down there? Imagine the elation I would have if my beloved was granted a second chance of life? I would surely wish to give thanks to God for answering my prayers.

So, when that last miner was rescued on October 13, I immediately sent off an email to Rafi Ben Hur, the Deputy General of Israel's Ministry of Tourism: "Rafi -- I want to create a joint initiative with the IMOT to bring these Chilean miners to the Holy Land."

Within moments Rafi replied, "More details, please."

And that's it how it all started. Within five minutes I wrote a short brief to Rafi explaining how I saw them proceeding and why this trip of all trips possible would be so important to them.

"I think we should begin by working through the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and have them connect us with the Israeli Embassy in Chile and we should offer a spiritually-oriented, Christian-themed tour, provided by the State of Israel and flights through ELAL -- if possible. This is a very spiritual group of men -- and God is very important in their lives. After this ordeal I cannot imagine them taking a more meaningful trip. ... We should get an invitation out now to the miners."

On the 14th I received this response from Rafi: "Your idea is rolling. I'll keep you informed."

Three days later I received another email from Rafi: "Here are the results of your idea. We'll be in touch."

And he forwarded the yet-to-be published press release from Minister of Tourism Staz Misezhnikov stating that Israel was inviting the Chilean miners on a week-long, all-expenses-paid pilgrimage to the Holy Land.

"Your bravery and strength of spirit, your great faith that helped you survive so long in the bowels of the earth, was an inspiration to us all," the tourism minister wrote in his invitation. "It would be a great honor for us to welcome you as our guests in the Holy Land."

I was obviously very proud to have initiated an idea that, not only did our government quickly act upon, but will enable these men and their spouses the opportunity to experience a faith-affirming journey to the Holy Land that will likely be the most meaningful trip of their lives.

On November 10, the media reported that the Chileans had accepted the invitation, despite the fact that many people urged the Chileans not to come.

Faith guided these men through a most stressful ordeal. What better way to celebrate that renewed faith than to come to the Holy Land where God's presence is uniquely felt? On behalf of all Israelis, I am very thankful that our government is sensitive enough to recognize that the pilgrimage experience that only we can offer is a most important blessing for these men.

The miners received many invitations to travel around the world after their nightmare but, according to the miners’ representative Jose Enriques, it was a privilege for them to come to place where they can be close to God and an opportunity for them to strengthen their faith in Jesus. They will visit holy sites in Israel over the next six days and will also be visiting Bethlehem, in the Palestinian Territories, on Saturday.

Welcome to Israel, Chilean miners!

Elisa Moed is the Founder and CEO of Travelujah, the leading Christian social network focused ontravel to the Holy Land. People can learn, plan and share their Holy Land tour and travel experiences on Travelujah.

Copyright 2011 ASSIST News Service