They are images that will last with people the world over for a long time: The joyful rescue of the 33 Chilean miners. The different men, some crossing themselves, kneeling in prayer, praising God, embracing their loved ones.
Who could not be moved? My wife, Patty, as long as she watched, counted aloud "15," "16," and so on as the men emerged from the ground. One billion people around the world were glued to their televisions.
Many of the men have claimed that their near-death experience brought them nearer to God. That being trapped in the mine changed them for the better--forever.
A CNN reporter called me, asking, would the change last, however? Would those men who promised to reform their lives have the wherewithal to keep their word?
Well, I can only speak from experience. I dedicated my life to Christ during a time of great stress-Watergate and the collapse of the Nixon presidency. But I believe my faith in Christ is stronger today than it was when I first turned to him. I experienced God's love and forgiveness. And I've never, ever wanted to turn back.
And over the course of 30-plus years of prison ministry, I've seen hundreds and thousands of men and women, who, once they embraced the Gospel, never turned back, either.
Have there been those who did not "stand their ground" and returned to the lives they led before prison? Sure, there have. But these have been the exceptions to the rule.
And independent studies of Prison Fellowship's work have borne this out. Prison Fellowship's InnerChange Freedom Initiative, for example, dramatically reduced recidivism among participants who finished the program. Only 8 percent of them returned to prison within two years of their release. And that's compared to 20+ percent of a comparison group in Texas who did not participate in IFI. The national reincarceration rate is 51 percent after three years.
The CNN reporter then asked me why is it that people always wait until they get into serious trouble before they turn to God. Well, that's an easy answer. Most people whistle their way through life oblivious to the reality that their earthly life hangs by a thread.
These miners were no different than anybody else. When they went to work that fateful morning, they never thought that before the day would end, the mine would collapse, and they'd be entombed in darkness for the next 17 days without any contact with the outside world. They stared death in the face. And like many who have reached the moment of ultimate crisis, they realized that they were not in control of their own destiny. And many of them realized for the first time that they never were in the first place. So they turned to the One who held their fate in His hands.
Now no doubt many of these men will face real trials in the days and months ahead: post-traumatic stress, and the temptations that come from becoming instant celebrities. They need our prayers.
But they've also given a wonderful gift to the Church. Their experience is a living parable. And I unpack that glorious, challenging parable in this week's Two Minute Warning.