The recent historical drama television series “Chernobyl” tells the story of the nuclear plant disaster which happened on 26 April 1986. It was the world’s worst nuclear accident. The Wladimir Iljitsch Lenin Atomic Power Station, near the town of Chernobyl in modern Ukraine, experienced what the authorities called a “minor accident.” The reactor experienced a catastrophic core meltdown, exploded and parts of the nuclear fuel were released into the atmosphere.
The effects of the disaster were felt over a wide area. In the first days after the accident 31 people were confirmed to have died from radiation sickness. In the years since the disaster there has been a significant increase in the number of people suffering from cancer. Some 100,000 people from the towns of Chernobyl and Pripyat were evacuated. People will probably never live in Pripyat again. As the wind carried the gigantic plume over Europe radioactive particles contaminated wide areas. In Britain bans were placed on the sale of sheep in Cumbria, Scotland and Wales. In some areas the restrictions remained in place until 2012. Mikhail Gorbachev said that the Chernobyl nuclear disaster was the real reason for the collapse of the Soviet Union as people lost confidence in the authorities.
As the extent of the catastrophe became clear, more than 16,000 policemen and military personnel were deployed to extinguish the fire, remove the radioactive debris and enclose the ruin in a protective shell of steel and concrete. About 400 miners were brought in to dig a tunnel underneath the power plant to contain the contaminated material. As many as one in four miners may have died from cancer or radiation sickness. In the end, the core of the reactor cooled, and the tunnel wasn’t needed. All the people who tried to contain the Chernobyl disaster risked their lives that other might live. One miner, Vladimir Naumov said, “Who else but us? Me and my fellow worked were brought up that way. Not that we went there to die, we went there to save lives.”
At the heart of the Christian message is the good news that God, through his Son, Jesus, has intervened to save us from disaster. The great problem we all have is our sinful hearts. We live in rebellion against God and are powerless to change. We need someone to save us from the eternal consequences of our sin. One hymn writer wrote, “Jesus sought me when a stranger wandering from the fold of God, he to rescue me from danger interposed his precious blood.”
On 21 October 1966 I was at work in Cardiff when we heard there had been a disaster in a small valley community near Merthyr Tydfil. We assumed it must have happened underground and that miners had probably been injured or killed. Such tragic events had happened before in the South Wales valleys. Later that day, however, as we watched the evening news on our black and white televisions, we realised that a disaster like no other had struck the small mining village of Aberfan.
By 9 o’clock that Friday morning 240 children and 9 teachers had arrived at Pantglas Junior School for the last day of school before the half-term holiday. It was a damp and misty morning after a week of heavy rain. At 9.15 the school was engulfed by an avalanche of 100,000 tons of black slurry. The school building was demolished, as were some houses. Many of the men of the community were at work in the nearby Merthyr Vale colliery. When they heard about the disaster they rushed to the school to try to help. The women went to the school and felt utterly helpless as they saw the devastating scene. Their children were in that school. Were they alive or dead?
The Aberfan disaster claimed 128 lives – 116 children, 4 teachers, the headmistress and 23 local people. The following Thursday there was a mass funeral when the bodies of many who had died were buried side by side in one long grave over which a beautiful memorial was later built. The Aberfan Disaster touched the hearts of people around the world and £1,750,000 was donated to the Disaster Fund.
Aberfan was a man-made disaster and, eventually, the National Coal Board accepted their responsibility. The tip had been sited on a spring and had been poorly managed. Warnings about what could happen had been ignored. Eventually the Board paid families £500 compensation for each child who had died and the Disaster Fund gave them £5000.
To whom can we turn when tragedy strikes? At the heart of the Christian Gospel is a young man called Jesus, the only Son of his heavenly Father, who died a cruel death on a Roman Cross. He died in our place and for our sins. On the third day he rose again. He is uniquely able to help us in the darkest experiences of life because he understands our deepest grief, comforts us when our hearts are broken and gives us a sure hope of eternal life.
In the book of Proverbs in the Bible we read, “Like cold water to a weary soul is good news from a distant country.” These words came to my mind as I watched the 33 miners in Chile being brought safely up from their underground prison. Very little of the news we hear and see each day is good news. The news is overwhelmingly bad. But here was a good news story and it was a privilege to see pictures of this remarkable rescue. It made me thankful to God for his goodness to these men and their families.
The men have wonderfully been delivered from what seemed like certain death. An international rescue operation has succeeded in a much shorter time than had been anticipated. Human skill and technologically advanced equipment provided a way of escape. In our world some human beings do evil things and cause great suffering to other people. It was so encouraging to see the great potential for good when people use their God-given talents so effectively.
It was refreshing to hear the Chilean leaders and the miners expressing their thankfulness to God for the successful rescue of the men. One of the chaplains said their prayers had been answered. He also said that some of the men had had an encounter with God while they were in the depths of the earth and had been conscious of the presence of Jesus with them.
Times of crisis sometimes drive people away from God, but they can also draw us nearer to him. Facing imminent death raises big questions. We are all very vulnerable and are hearts can be gripped by fear. At such times our faith is tested. The best thing we can do is to come to God and ask for his help. In Jesus Christ he promises a future and a hope.
The Chilean miners were ordinary men doing a very dangerous job. They and their loved ones, the Chilean nation and people all round the world prayed to the living God for their deliverance and he graciously answered their prayers. It may be that you, too, are facing a crisis in your life. The words of David in Psalm 34 are a real encouragement to us all, “I sought the Lord, and he answered me; he delivered me from my fears. This poor many called, and the Lord heard him, he saved him out of all his troubles.”
Engineers drilling to reach the 33 trapped miners in Chile say the men may soon be rescued. The rescue operation has gone much better than had been anticipated. The miners have been trapped underground for 2 months, longer than any other group. The process of bringing the men to the surface will be difficult and dangerous.
The trapped miners must have experienced many emotions. They were not discovered until 17 days after the rock fall. They had to face a seemingly certain death in the depths of the earth. Then contact was made and their hopes were raised, but the rescue operation would be long and difficult. Now, it seems, their ordeal is almost over and their hopes are high. The rescue operation looks as if it will be a great success. The rescue team and people all around the world will rejoice when the miners are reunited with their families again.
Jesus Christ came into this world to accomplish the greatest rescue in history. All of us struggle with our sinful hearts. Every day we break God’s commands. We are responsible for our actions and one day will stand before him to be judged. All of us have sinned and have fallen short of what God requires. Our sins separate us from God and have eternal consequences. We need someone to intervene and help us.
Jesus came to be the Saviour of needy people like us. He is the Mediator between God and us. One hymn writer says, ”Jesus sought me when a stranger, wandering from the fold of God; he, to rescue me from danger, interposed his precious blood.” Jesus looked with compassion on us and, at great cost to himself, paid the price of our sins by his death on the Cross.
When the rock fall happened, the miners in Chile knew they were in big trouble. Many people, it seems, don’t realise their need to be rescued by Jesus. We can live with little thought for the future and simply assume that all will be well. But there are times when we realise the sinfulness of our own hearts and the seriousness of our situation. We don’t have the power to change what we have done or to change our hearts. But in the Lord Jesus there is real hope. In him we can find a new beginning, forgiveness for our sins, peace with God and a bright hope for the future.
The plight of the miners in San Jose, Chile has moved many people around the world. Mining safety experts say that the effort to save the 33 men trapped deep in a Chilean mine is an unprecedented challenge. It will mean months of drilling, then a harrowing 3 hour trip in a cage up a narrow hole about 26” wide carved through solid rock. Drilling of the hole will take up to 4 months and it will take 4 days to haul all the men up to the surface.
The miners will have to move more than 3,000 tons of rock as it falls into the area where they are trapped. They will have to work in nonstop shifts to remove it with wheelbarrows and industrial sweepers. The temperature in the mine is 85 degrees all the time. There are great concerns for the men’s physical and mental well being. Communication has been established and relatives and friends are doing everything they can to encourage them. A survivor of a similar mining crisis in America said, “If they make it, they will feel like they’re being born again.”
Not many of us have to face the real possibility of death as these men are. They are trapped and unable to save themselves. They are dependent on the skills of the rescue team to get them out of their prison, 750 yards underground. It is one thing to know that one day we will die; it is another to face the reality and have to wait in the hope that the rescue will be successful. If all goes well, as we pray it does, they will, indeed, feel that their lives have been given back to them.
Because we were helpless, God sent his Son into the world to be the Saviour of all who trust in him. He came to do what we cannot do for ourselves. It is so important for us to realize our need and to look to Jesus Christ for salvation. As we experience the love and grace of God, Jesus said we are born again. We begin a new life. The past is forgotten and we have a future hope. In one of his hymns Charles Wesley wrote, “Long my imprisoned spirit lay fast bound in sin and nature’s night; thine eye diffused a quickening ray, I woke, the dungeon, flamed with light; my chains fell off, my heart was free, I rose, went forth, and followed Thee.”