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Chilean Miner: 'God Has Never Left Us'

Trapped miners owe a lot of their sanity to the 34th person in the tiny underground community.

Jimmy Sanchez, one of the 33 Chilean miners who have been trapped for over two months in the San Jose copper-gold mine in the Atacama Desert, would like to make one small correction to all the stories about life in the mine:

"There are actually 34 of us," the nineteen-year-old miner wrote in a letter sent up from the mine on Tuesday, "because God has never left us down here."

Amid reports of squabbling on the surface among families of the trapped miners, some say things are much calmer underground as everyone prepares for this week's attempt to bring them back up. The men have worked hard to keep their spirits buoyant during the ordeal, organizing themselves into a community and dividing up their living-room-sized space. Early on, they set aside a space to pray daily, and religious groups have converged on the mine to serve the miners' spiritual needs. Once a supply line was established, Seventh-Day Adventists sent down mini-Bibles with magnifying glasses; the Jesus Film Project loaded 33 MP3 players with an audio adaptation of the famous JESUS film. A crucifix was sent down in August, and it's said that miners also requested statues of Mary and the saints. The miners signed a flag which was presented to Pope Benedict this weekend.

Christian leaders of various denominations have come to the San Jose mine; the Guardian is rather bemused by all the activity, describing a "surge in religious fervor" as the rescue operation takes shape.

Baptist Press reports that two miners have "made professions of faith" since their entombment started. Pastors are also ministering to the families of the miners, who have camped out nearby.

"In the midst of this catastrophe, God is in control, and it is the Lord who has kept their family members alive," says Marcelo Leiva, pastor of Vallenar Baptist Church in Vallenar, Chile.

The miners are also thinking a lot about their family lives. Esteban Rojas, who never had a church wedding with his wife Jessica Yanez, has proposed again after 25 years. Others have decided to end their "empty" marriages. Miner Johnny Barrios has two women waiting for him topside, both of whom came to the San Jose mine to pray for his return. "Johnny doesn't want to come up," a psychologist working with the miners quipped in the Guardian.

As the hours tick away toward the expected rescue, the families holding vigil at San Jose are far from the only ones praying for the safe and speedy rescue of the 33 men. Spirits are so high that the miners are fighting among themselves about who will be the last to ascend—too many men are volunteering to stay down till the end. They've also contacted a lawyer to work out a deal by which they can share profits equally from the story.

Whatever happens when he and his compatriots stand in sunlight once again, Jimmy Sanchez wants to hold on to the lessons he's learned in the past few months.

"God wanted me to stay here, I don't know, maybe so I change from now on," Sanchez wrote."I have thought and I'll change a lot. I have suffered too much and don't want to suffer any more. In the hard moments I was thankful of God because I got a daughter. I expect than when my turn arrives everything will be OK. Hugs for everyone."

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