by Dr. J. Derrill Smith
After having been buried alive for a week in the rubble of Haiti's January 12 earthquake, Ena Zizi was rescued by the Gophers. As they pulled her dirty and injured body out on a broken piece of plywood salvaged from the rubble and carefully passed her down over three stories of debris to the ground, the 70-year-old woman began singing. Her singing was inarticulate, as she hadn't had any water to drink for seven days. Yet, her joy was infectious. The members of the Mexican rescue team who were carrying her began crying...
The Mexicans who saved Zizi's life are known in their home country as Los Topos de Tlatelolco, or the Gophers of Tlatelolco. Tlatelolco was a giant apartment complex in Mexico City that was destroyed by earthquake in 1985. During that disaster, when the Mexican government failed to respond promptly, Tlatelolco residents formed their own rescue brigade and learned on the job. In the years since they have become stars among international rescue teams.
Unlike rescuers who stay on the surface and peel away the debris until they reach the victims, they Gophers have become world-renowned experts at gaining faster access to survivors by tunneling into rubble and propping up makeshift tunnels with debris. It means they put their own lives at risk, but that risk paid off for Zizi. ("Out of the Rubble," The Christian Century, March 23, 2010)
Paul Jeffrey, a United Methodist missionary who reported this moving story, says that the Gophers have a lot to teach us. He says that if we are to help the Haitians, as well as other devastated people, we must dig deeper and tunnel into the systems that keep people depressed and poor. Indeed, he is correct. But some of my first thoughts about the Mexican rescuers tunneling deep into dangerous places went immediately to the great thing that Christ did for us. Setting aside his glory and putting on human flesh, Jesus of Nazareth tunneled into the pathos of human existence in order to show us the way to God. Yet, the world did not receive this Savior but hung him on a cross. The earliest teachers of the faith said that "he descended into hell." There is much speculation about what exactly that descent means, but there is no denying that Christ tunneled into human existence, even death and hell itself, to rescue his creation. This is the message of Easter. "Christ is risen! The Lord is risen indeed!"
Derrill Smith is the pastor of Wingate Baptist Church in Wingate, NC. This article originally appeared in Wingate Baptist's church newsletter, "The Chrysalis."