Pastor Discusses Outlook of Miners' Families

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Pastor Larry Sweeten of the nearby Liberty Faith Fellowship, who used to be a miner on the same shift as the men who were trapped on Aug. 6, talks about his work with the families. He says the families of the trapped miners are beginning to prepare for the worst, as hope ebbs for recovering the miners alive.

MADELEINE BRAND, host:

This is DAY TO DAY. I'm Madeleine Brand.

ALEX CHADWICK, host:

I'm Alex Chadwick.

Huntington, Utah is losing hope. That's where those six miners were trapped by a cave-in two weeks ago. A fifth air hole is supposed to get through to the collapsed area this evening.

Pastor Larry Sweeten runs the Liberty Faith Fellowship in Price, Utah, a few miles down the road from the mine. He's been helping the families. And after counseling them for several days, he revealed that he too had once been a miner.

Pastor Sweeten, welcome to the program. And are the families now, do you think, resigned to the notion that their men have died?

Reverend LARRY SWEETEN (Liberty Faith Fellowship): You know, I think that everybody hangs on to hope as long as there's hope alive, but I - they are beginning to come to the place where they're preparing for the worst.

CHADWICK: You know, the mine co-owner, Bob Murray, said earlier that they were going to get the miners out, whether they were alive or dead; they would get their bodies out. But with the new deaths a couple of days ago from the collapse of the rescue shaft, do the families expect him to fulfill that pledge?

Rev. SWEETEN: Well, first of all, let's talk about the way that these men had died, if you don't mind, and then I'll answer the other question.

CHADWICK: All right.

Rev. SWEETEN: What it was, it was a main entry and they were mining, pulling out that coal, and they had already set up these rock props. What they are is cylinders that help hold up the ceiling. So this - they were doing really well as far as the support, but it seems like the mountain is just wanting to sit down, and that pressure finds the release at the weakest point. So it just blew out coal.

I mean some are saying 200 miles an hour, 250 miles an hour, and it's chunks of rock or coal coming at you. And it even broke the miner, which is solid steel. So this is how the men had died. It has certainly halted that process, and that's the only way to get in. So they've abandoned that mission. So Bob had said that he was going to get these guys out, but now they've lost hope in that because the only other way is to drill a 36 inch hole and run a capsule with a man in it down, and 1500 feet down, if the mountain shifted just a little bit, that person could be killed as well.

CHADWICK: When you told the families of the miners that you had been a miner, did that change things for you and how you were dealing with them?

Rev. SWEETEN: Yeah. It actually did. It wasn't the first day. I didn't want to try to relate to their situation too quickly. I waited until day number three. And we'd just received some bad news in reference to there was no sound coming and the oxygen levels were low. You could really feel that there needed to be a connection. So that day I just - I let them know that I didn't only come to them as a pastor, but I came to them as a fellow miner, also having worked in the exact same mine, the same shift that these six coal miners have gotten trapped in.

CHADWICK: So you were really in there in their circumstances. That must have helped you get a little closer to them.

Rev. SWEETEN: It really did. I think it helped the bridge to be built. You know, it's like we need to hang on to hope, and people need to know where they could turn, and I think that they did turn to me and the other pastors as well.

CHADWICK: What do you say?

Rev. SWEETEN: Well, you try to balance the possibility of - that they may never get out with, you know, God is a miracle working god. You try to do that in such a way without crossing any boundaries either way. You know, it's like sensitivity levels and so on.

For me, my daughter had leukemia right after we moved here, when she was six years old. And now she's 14. So I also related in that area of saying God is a miracle-working god. You know, it's like I've seen it in my own life.

But two and a half weeks into our tragedy, I said, Lord, if you decide to take my daughter, I'm still going to serve you. So there's the balance in it. We pray for miracles and - but if the miracle doesn't come the way that we want it to, I'm still going to serve the Lord. So I'm maintaining hope in him.

CHADWICK: Pastor Larry Sweeten runs the Liberty Faith Fellowship in Price, Utah. He's working now on a fundraiser next week for the children of the miners to take care of all their school costs for the year. Pastor Sweeten, thank you.

Rev. SWEETEN: Thank you.

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