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Freed Chilean miner on missionary tour of UK

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Media captionJose Henriquez, one of the rescued Chilean miners, is touring UK churches

Among the tens of millions who watched the drama unfold last autumn, few will forget it.

Thirty-three men had been trapped by a fall of rock, 700m below the surface of a mine in Chile.

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 32C.

For one, Jose Henriquez, the experience of spending 69 days in what he thought would be his tomb, has turned him into a Christian missionary.

He's now touring the UK with his story of improbable rescue and personal redemption.

Image caption Jose Henriquez was the 24th miner to be brought to the surface

"The most difficult moment was the first day when the drill missed," he says.

"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."

Circle of prayer

In the first terrifying hours and days, Jose adopted the role of pastor, and claims that it was only through religion that the miners survived.

"When we felt we had lost everything, I was able to say to them we haven't lost prayer.

"We began by praying. 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."

Above ground, the Chilean government prepared to break bad news to the world's media, gathering in the barren rocky landscape around the pit head.

Rev Alf Cooper, chaplain to the President of Chile, Sebastian Pinera, describes how a senior official approached him tearfully 10 days into the crisis.

Image caption Rev Alf Cooper and Jose Henriquez are in the UK to tell their story

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.

Rev Cooper insists that the hand of God guided the drill bit.

"That was the miracle that geologists and scientists generally acknowledge," he says.

"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 the finally emerged into the blinding sunlight, several of the miners fell to their knees in prayer.

'Welcomed Christ'

During more than two months underground, Jose says he witnessed two-thirds of them committing themselves to Christianity.

"A week before we came up I asked for the help of a pastor above ground through a video link to help me in this," he says.

"He preached to them and gave them the opportunity to decide for Christ. I'm glad to say that 22 of the miners made a clear decision for the Lord Jesus Christ, inviting him into their lives."

Mario Sepulveda was the second miner to be rescued.

"I've been with the devil, but I grabbed God's hand", he said at the time. "I never doubted he would bring me up from there."

Image caption Several miners dropped to their knees to thank God after being rescued

Jose Henriquez claims that finding, or rediscovering, Christianity has profoundly changed the rough-and-ready miners.

"The women who were in touch with them through the video links began to say things like, 'My husband is changing. He's talking about God, which he never used to, and what's more he is treating me kindly, not harshly like he used to'."

In his moment of triumph, President Pinera led the crowd of miners, families and mining engineers in an impromptu rendition of the national anthem.

For 69 days the world had watched Chile's struggle and willed it to win.

But if the miners were changed, says Jose, so too was the world.

Family relationships, human life itself, seemed that little bit more precious, he says, and, for Christians, the power of prayer had been confirmed.

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