“It is a Matter of Life and Death for Them”

This title grabbed my attention as I read the Sunday Patriot-News of September 5, 2010, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.  The article was written by Alexei Barrionuevo of the New York Times, and the focus of the article was on the plight of the thirty-three miners trapped underground since August 5th in the San Jose copper and gold mine in Copiapo, Chile.

The Incident: On August 5th, a cave-in trapped thirty-three miners 2,300 feet below the surface.  The miners were presumed lost until seventeen days later when a drill operator felt strange vibrations on the 150 lb. drill-hammer that was being used to get to the disaster site.  To his surprise, a note attached to the drill said the following; “We are fine in the refuge, the 33.”

What took place during those seventeen days is still to be revealed.  What is amazing is that the plight of the thirty-three miners (it will take at least three to four months to get to the refuge where the miners are) has become the unifying and rallying cry for a nation.  The miners struggle, hope and determination to survive have inspired Chile and the world, who expectantly watch and wait.

Lessons: As I read this brief article, I was overwhelmed by the actions these desperate miners took, actions that should resemble the heart and soul of the community of believers of the First Alliance Church:

  • Mario Gomez (62), the oldest of the thirty-three miners trapped has become the spiritual guide for his men.  He has organized a small subterranean chapel, and is serving as the unofficial guide to the psychologists working on the surface.  He had the idea to organize the miners into eleven groups of three to create a buddy system.  The youngest among the miners is Gomez’s own nineteen year-old assistant.
  • Luis Urzua (54), organized the miners work assignments, mapped the path for their rescue, and insisted the miners wait until everyone received food through the narrow bore hole before eating.  Urzua’s passion has always been topography, sketching roads and landscapes, but now he is using his passion to sketch a pathway out.
  • Urzua has become the most influential leader among the thirty-three miners, but assumed his role with great humility.  When health officials asked him to narrate a forty-minute video of the miner’s life underground, he turned the task over to Mario Sepulveda (39) who praised Urzua for bringing calm to his compatriots.
  • Yonny Barrios (50), drawing from a six-month nursing course taken fifteen years ago, is administering medicine and wellness tests.  He checks the temperature and blood pressure of the miners, and has vaccinated them for flu, tetanus and pneumonia.
  • The miners are playing a critical role in their own rescue through their own organization and leadership  (they have to clear 3,000 to 4,000 tons of rocks).

First Alliance Church in Manhattan, New York: Many have thought of First Alliance Church (FAC) as “lost, with no survivors,” yet to the surprise of many, “…We are fine in the REFUGE of the church community.” However, if FAC is to rise as an integral part of the fabric and community of Manhattan, each individual must utilize their skills, gifts and opportunities the LORD has given to them.  Just as the miners, we must choose to rise to the occasion (these are critical days for the church community), and organize ourselves to become all that God has called us to be,

“A community of believers committed to engage people by manifesting the love and compassion of Christ, through the visible and tangible ways we live our lives in the communities of New York City.”

Facility/Meeting Place: Most of the questions and concerns expressed to me during this past month (during the transition to move out of our facility) have been related to a Sunday location to meet in.  Although this is a very legitimate concern, it should not be the main concern.  Allow me to explain –

  • On February 1999, First Alliance Church held its last service at the facility on 355 east 68th Street;
  • The church community became mobile (without a permanent facility) for 3½ years.  The priority during those years was locating a permanent home for the church.  It was assumed that once a location was found, the church would be stable, prosper and grow.  FAC found a facility in 2002 and moved in 2003, but the reality was that the stability, prosperity and growth of the church had nothing to do with a permanent location, but rather, it had everything to do with the people who gathered at the location.
  • After eight years of enjoying a first class meeting place, the ministry of the church was primarily a Sunday morning venue, with outward focused events shouldered by a few concerned members of the church community.

As we continue to look for a place to gather, we need to ask ourselves, “Do we desire to be the people God has called us to be in NYC, or remain a group of individuals meeting only on Sunday mornings, with no tangible ministry to the community we are a part of?”

The trapped miners became aware of the reality that their thoughts and actions were “a matter of life and death.”  How we think and act during these critical days in the life and ministry of FAC is also “a matter of life and death.”

  • What is your prayer for this church community?
  • Have you asked:
    • What would you have me do, LORD?
    • How can I contribute to the ministry and welfare of First Alliance Church?

I Corinthians 12:27, “You are Christ’s body—that’s who you are! You must never forget this. Only as you accept your part of that body does your “part” mean anything.” (MSG)

I greatly welcome your comments, thoughts and ideas.  Please contact me at angelortiz@firstchurchnyc.org

~Pastor Angel

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