April 6, 2010
The tragic news of great loss of life among the coal miners of West Virginia goes straight to my heart. It is one of the most dangerous occupations on earth. Or in the earth. All Americans should pray for those stricken families. Latest reports have 25 miners killed in the blast and four miners remaining trapped far below the earth.
This terrible news brought back many indelible memories. My grandfather, uncles, and cousins were all coal miners.
Shortly after I first began working at Family Research Council, I took a long-scheduled vacation with my family to Nova Scotia. On Cape Breton Island, we came upon the town of Sydney, where they had a coal-mining museum that featured a walk down into an inactive mine.
It was fascinating for my wife, our then nine-year old son and seven-year old daughter, and me actually to see what coal-mining was like. We were guided by a chirpy retired miner named Jimmie. He was a Scots immigrant and cheerful as a cricket. He was only a few inches over five feet. So Jimmie, our son and daughter, and a few others on the tour group could walk into the mine standing erect. My wife and I had to hunch over all the way.
What I thought would be an interesting 20-minute tour became something much more. For hours we followed the merry Scot as he told us more than wed ever dreamed we needed to know about coal-mining.
When we came to the end of our steep downward trek, the mineshaft opened onto an open area with brighter lighting. There, inside a huge tractor tire, was a garden of blooming tulips and other flowers. For hard-muscled miners, Jimmie said, they were the only flowers they would see during their work week. Miners in the early days would see one sunset a week.
Jimmie pointed to where the mineshaft leveled off. It extended, he said, five miles out under the frigid Atlantic Ocean. The very thought of it was awe-inspiring.
We were grateful when Jimmie turned us around and headed back to the mining town on the surface. The smell of that coal mine was unforgettable: dank, decaying, and more than a little menacing. There are poisonous fumes and explosive gases that can seep into those deep mines.
I had grown up on stories of mining disasters--of explosions, cave-ins, fires, and, worst of all, coal-crushing machines that could mean a slow and agonizing death for a miner unfortunate enough to snag a shirt tail or sleeve in the machinery.
I was never so glad to see the sunshine as I was that day. While we were down there I was silently praying. The words of the Psalmist came to me:
I will exalt you, O LORD,
for you lifted me out of the depths
and did not let my enemies gloat over me...
O LORD, you brought me up from the grave.
You spared me from going down into the pit. (Ps. 30:1,3)
It seemed the heightor depthof foolishness to take such a risk, not just for myself, but for my beloved family. On the surface, Jimmie took us through the mining museum. Many a photograph on the wall showed Canadian miners union leaders being entertained by big name Communists in Moscow, Beijing, and Havana.
That scene reminded me that the United States was blessed to have Christians like John Mitchell and John L. Lewis leading our miners unions. Miners throughout the rest of the world are left-wing, if not outright Communists (except in places like Poland and China, where they actually had to live under Communism.)
Six weeks after our return home in June, 1991, we read in the Washington Post a small story buried deep inside the paper. Twenty-six miners had been killed in Cape Breton. A methane gas leak had caused an explosion. It was in an active mine, a parallel shaft to the one we had visited. It was a stark reminder then, as now, of how very dangerous is the life of those who take great risks to bring us the energy we need to survive as a nation. May God bless and comfort the miners and their families.