The Bali Nine, Part One – Andrew, Myu and Christie’s story
[Here’s the first part of an extended story that appears in 10,000 Reasons with Matt Redman. It was a special book to write, thanks in large part to the generosity and honesty of all those interviewed –especially Pastor Christie.]
Pastor Christie was unimpressed when she first heard about Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran. She read about their arrest for attempting to smuggle heroin out of Indonesia. “How dumb can you be and still breathe?” she wrote in her prayer journal. “Nevertheless Lord, show Your mercy.”
Of course, she had no idea that the Lord would use her so directly as He answered her prayer.
Six years into their sentence Pastor Christie was in Bali at a conference. A friend told her that she knew Andrew and Myu. “I’ve told them you’re in town. They’d love it if you could visit them in prison and pray for them.”
Pastor Christie remembered the scripture about visiting those in prison. She knew that going to see them was the least that she could do.
Overcrowded and run down, Kerobokan Prison held 1,200 inmates convicted of everything from drug smuggling to terrorist bombings. It was an intimidating place, and neither Pastor Christie nor her husband had any idea what was awaiting them inside the infamous jail. Yet as they sat on the ground in a wide courtyard, they found that Andrew and Myu did not match her image of two convicted drugs traffickers. Together they talked about what life was like inside the jail and how their faith was holding up.
“I feel like I am freer inside these walls than most people are outside them,” said Andrew. “I don’t have all those distractions and choices that you have. Every day I am awakened at 7am and every evening I’m locked up at 5:30pm. I don’t get to choose what I eat and I don’t get to choose who comes to visit. The only choices I really get to make are how I react to things. The only power I’ve got is how I deal with this. So I’m freer, you see?”
Pastor Christie listened as Andrew spoke. She thought about the questions she had been asking of her own faith: how would she stand up if she was imprisoned with no control over the basic events of life? There, sitting on the ground in front of her, locked within rough prison walls, was a perfect example of how to live life with God fully at the center.
Myu explained how Andrew used to drive him crazy by talking about God. Gradually the faith that irritated him began to intrigue him, and soon he too had rediscovered his faith in Jesus. Since that day, both men had dedicated their lives to demonstrating God’s love to others within the jail.
When it came time to leave she told them they were both remarkable. “If there’s anything I can do to help, will you let me know?”
Two weeks later, she received a letter at home in Melbourne, Australia with an Indonesian stamp. It was Andrew, writing with a long list of items for which he was seeking assistance. Like Myu, he knew he’d never walk out of prison, even if he were granted clemency from his death sentence. He knew that the rest of his life – however short or long – was to be lived out behind bars. But they knew that other inmates would walk out and both men wanted to do all they could to rehabilitate these prisoners. They wanted to make sure other prisoners didn’t reoffend, and that they would receive training while in Kerobokan so they could get a decent job upon release. All Myu and Andrew wanted was the chance to secure the freedom of others, not themselves.
And so began a friendship that lasted for years. Pastor Christie campaigned on their behalf and visited when she could, while Andrew and Myu continued to pastor and train fellow inmates.
“Mrs. B,” said Andrew one day as Pastor Christie sat on the familiar dirt opposite him, “you will not believe it.”
“What’s wrong? You seem like you’re ruffled.”
“Well, there’s a guy who hasn’t turned up to his English class three times in a row. I found him and asked him what was going on. He said, ‘you don’t know how I feel. I’ve got ten years in this place.’”
I said, “’Look me in the eye and tell me that once more. I dream of having just ten years in this place.’ So the guy picked up his pencils and went off to his lesson. Can you believe he said that to me? Can you believe it?”
Months turned into years but still the Indonesian government showed no sign of lifting the death sentence. Three years after pastor Christie first met them, Andrew and Myu were transferred under armed guard to another prison on an island a short distance off the coast Java. It was called Nusakambangan, but most people know it by another name: Execution Island.
Pastor Christie watched both men as they prepared for the worst but still believed for the best. She encouraged them to make sure there was no unforgiveness of any kind in their hearts, and watched them learn how to live with the knowledge that at any point, the authorities could announce that the 72-hour countdown to their execution. “Every day above ground is a good day,” said Myu more than once.
She encouraged Myu to think of two or three things he was grateful for each day. She knew it would be hard. She’d sat with plenty of people back home in Australia who struggled to name even one or two good things in their lives. But even though life was a dreary routine played out beneath the imminent fear of death, something about Myu’s attitude told her that he would be able to do it.
With the move to Execution Island came an increased attempt to get the sentence changed. She had taken some of her teenage daughter’s school friends to visit them. Though they were precisely the age when teens start dabbling in drugs, the visit put them off for life. Along with others, pastor Christie told people that it all seemed such a terrible waste, but nothing changed. She and other advocates argued that keeping Myu and Andrew alive and in jail for the rest of their lives would help so many others, but the authorities showed no sign of changing their minds. The Indonesian government was reluctant to back down, fearing that doing so would make them appear weak on drugs.
One Friday in April 2015 Pastor Christie received a call from one of the family members. “Get on a plane,” they said. “They’re being executed on Tuesday.”
Each condemned man was allowed to ask for a spiritual advisor to be with him in his final moments. While Andrew asked his childhood church leader, Myu asked Pastor Christie. A day after the phone call, Pastor Christie arrived in Indonesia and embarked on the long journey to join the other spiritual directors and lawyers, finally making the short boat ride across to Execution Island. By the time they finally arrived, Myu and Andrew had just a few hours left to live.
As soon as they were ashore, Pastor Christie was shown into a dingy cell with cracked white tiles where Myu was being kept alone. It was hot and humid, and mosquitos hung in the air.
“I’ve been doing those things you said, writing down every day ten things that I’m grateful for.”
“Yes, absolutely,” he smiled.
They spent an hour and a half talking about what was coming next. “I want to do this really well,” said Myu. “How do I do it?”
Pastor Christie thought for a moment. “The Bible says about entering His courts with thanksgiving and entering His gates with praise.”
“Fantastic!” said Myu. “I know exactly what I want to be singing.”
Though she could guess what song he was thinking of, she asked him to name it anyway.
- An Olympic Dream, a Broken Back and a New Purpose – Dan Russell’s story
- Me, a Bunch of Thirteen Year Old Girls and a Double Bill of Humiliation and Inspiration – Stidia’s story (and my story too)
- The Bali Nine, Part two – Andrew, Myu and Christie’s story
- The Bali Nine, Part One – Andrew, Myu and Christie’s story
- A nun, a love of risk and a journey of small steps – Agnes’ story