Febyanti “Feby” married Andrew Chan hours before he was executed for drug trafficking as a member of the Bali Nine. While in prison, Andrew became a Christian and came to know God’s love, which transformed his life and outlook.
Feby met Andrew in 2012 when she visited his prison as part of her ministry. They realised that providing free Christian education is essential to transforming individuals and our society, and so they made plans to start a school together. After Andrew was tragically executed, Feby courageously went ahead alone and established the school.
Today, Pastor Feby—with only one other teacher—is still running the school that provides free Christian education for 130(!) children on the tiny Savu Islands.
I interviewed the delightful Feby about:
why she founded a school
what Andrew Chan was like
what prison ministry was like
her family’s religious background
her relationship with God
how she views other people
her upcoming book
(I did ask her about being a Javanese Princess but she just laughed—she prefers to talk about God’s Kingdom!)
Andrew West: Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran were two Australian drug traffickers. But by all accounts they were totally reformed—committed to spending their lives in Indonesian jails trying to reform other criminals. Myuran became an acclaimed artist; Andrew an ordained minister. But two years ago, this weekend, they were executed by firing squad. Pastors Christie and Rob Buckingham of Melbourne’s Bayside Church walked with Andrew and Myuran as they prepared to die.
Christie Buckingham is back in Bali this week, determined to end the death penalty everywhere, this time with the help of young filmmakers.
Christie Buckingham: Thank you Andrew, lovely to be with you.
Andrew: Christie, two years after the executions of Andrew and Myuran, can I ask what the feeling is inside Kerobokan prison?
Christie: Yes, well, as a matter of fact, yesterday being ANZAC Day was the day that they were given their 72-hour notice and that was such an unbelievable day. Obviously, the prisoners are still not recovered or even been able to fully grieve the loss of these two men, simply because life inside prison is about living each day. The legacy that Andrew and Myu have left—in terms of leadership—has been fantastic but these guys were friends of many people inside the prison including the guards. So the loss is very felt—very felt this week.
Andrew: Yeah. Can I ask you personally—because you and your husband Rob became great spiritual partners to both Andrew and Myuran—can I ask how you are both feeling on this second anniversary?
Christie: Firstly, Andrew, thank you for that compliment but I would like to say that there have been many people—there were many people—that were part of Andrew and Myu’s journey. I just feel this incredible sense of loss, an unbelievable sense of waste, and—I will admit—some anger because President Jokowi talked about (and does talk about) his war against drugs and he killed two of his greatest weapons! Had there been courage there to allow the boys to go into different prisons and start up other programs so that it would have stopped others (who were going to be released) turning to crime.
Had there been courage there to allow the boys to go into different prisons and start up other programs so that it would have stopped others (who were going to be released) turning to crime.
Again, that would have been the way to go. So there’s this great sense of still being confused, confounded by the total lack of any consideration for what is happening worldwide in relation to the death penalty, and any recognition that the fact is, that it is not a deterrent against drugs.
Andrew: Yeah. Can I just ask you, Christie, if you could recall just those last couple of hours that you spent with the boys?
Christie: Yes, I will never forget them, personally. I have never seen… Obviously as a pastor and as a minister, and as a person growing up in Northern Ireland and seeing many fatalities as the course of life, I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything so profound. I’ve never seen, or ever walked, people to their certain death, singing the praises of God. I’ve never seen people express such courage, such forgiveness, and such kindness in such a powerful and tangible way in the midst of such horror.
I’ve never seen, or ever walked, people to their certain death, singing the praises of God. I’ve never seen people express such courage, such forgiveness, and such kindness in such a powerful and tangible way in the midst of such horror.
And I would like to take this opportunity, Andrew, of thanking people around the world for their prayers because they were certainly felt—by the boys and by myself and the other spiritual directors. There is absolutely no question that in the midst of that horror and that horrendous act, that God was very close.
There is absolutely no question that in the midst of that horror and that horrendous act, that God was very close.
Andrew: And we should remember, of course, that Andrew Chan became an ordained minister, which was, I guess, something [that] added to the impact of what happened to him, in a way, don’t you think?
Christie: Absolutely, and even on the night of his execution, I remember with great distinction hearing the chains of the men walking in the pitch darkness and for the first moment my heart sank because I heard them as the world saw them—as condemned men. And out of the darkness, Andrew sang a song, “Savior, you can move the mountains”. And Andrew was just an incredible individual. I remember saying to him one day, “Andrew, this must get on top of you” and he said, “Well, when it gets on top of me, instead of me telling God how big my problems are, I tell my problems how big my God is!”
“Well, when it gets on top of me, instead of me telling God how big my problems are, I tell my problems how big my God is!”
And that’s Andrew in a nutshell.
Andrew: One way, of course, to keep alive, not just the memory of Andrew and Myuran but the cause (the cause that you and Rob have dedicated yourselves to) of fighting the death penalty, is through a movie that’s being produced, Execution Island. The producers are looking to crowdfund this movie [I’ve made a donation as I think it’s a powerful and important story to share]. What are you trying to do with that movie Christie?
Christie: Well, there’s a couple of things. It’s a very real fact… I mean there’s two movies being produced at the moment:
—A documentary that is really based on Myuran’s art and his legacy (and that as an argument against the death penalty), linked with a hybrid documentary, and that is called Guilty. And that’s talking about the actual area of rehabilitation.
—The other one is the film called Execution Island, which is being produced by Three Kings Pictures. It’s talking about basically how faith, not only faith but your values, can see you to the end. And I think it’s a real encouragement to know that Myuran’s family was a Christian family and Myuran, in particular, I remember he said, “Everything’s coming back! All the songs I learnt, all the things, it’s all coming back!” and he said it was like having a box of things put aside, that you didn’t use for a while, and then you brought out—then you remembered them dearly. And Myu was a deep thinker and he was into philosophy and also just really engaged in deep conversations about faith. And so the movie will talk about how their faith kept them—kept them and their family strong. And like I say, there were many people involved in that faith journey and they were model prisoners as the guards described them and they certainly have got a lot to say in relation to: “You have control over yourself, even though you don’t have control over your environment.”
[Andrew and Myu] certainly have got a lot to say in relation to: “You have control over yourself, even though you don’t have control over your environment.”
Andrew: And just finally, have you kept in touch with the families?
Christie: Yes, absolutely! In fact, I was speaking to Myu’s mother just yesterday. She, in particular, is getting strength out of the fact that knowing that we are all doing what we can to speak up against the death penalty. In 2017, killing people on purpose—instead of reasonable prison sentences—is just no longer something we even need to consider.
In 2017, killing people on purpose—instead of reasonable prison sentences—is just no longer something we even need to consider.
Andrew: The Reverend Christie Buckingham. She and her husband the Reverend Rob Buckingham of Melbourne’s Bayside Church, walked with Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran in their last years, before they were executed two years ago in Bali. Christie, thank you for being with us on the Religion and Ethics Report.
Christie: Thank you so much Andrew, wonderful to speak with you.
Shumack starts by explaining that he isn’t against punishment:
Anyone who has been seriously wronged knows that the deep intuitive longing for justice usually includes the offender “paying for it” in some sense.
I think he’s right that most people rightly long for justice, although it raises questions:
What exactly is justice?
How do we know when justice has been achieved?
How do we untangle the desire for retribution from the desire for revenge?
Should we leave retribution to God?
I’m glad he unpacks this further:
Rehabilitation is a noble goal for our justice system, but not in a way that ignores proper retribution.
What do I mean by proper retribution? I’m still not sure in practice. A simple “eye for an eye” is unworkable (how can the offences of a mass murderer carry a proportional punishment?), and fails to allow for clemency. Still, very serious crimes do seem to warrant very serious punishment.
Along those lines, I do think that a reasonable case can be made for the death penalty as a just punishment.
I think rehabilitation is part of God’s plan and so is indeed noble. Unlike God, we can’t see an offender’s heart, and so our rehabilitation sometimes disappoints because it isn’t complete. Rehabilitation and retribution are sometimes seen as mutually exclusive concepts but, as Shumack implies, I think they can overlap. Although getting retribution right in practice is difficult—possibly something only God can do.
Taking a step back, what if the aim of punishment was to help the perpetrator fully comprehend the physical and psychological damage done (e.g. the anxiety resulting from having trust violated)—to deeply understand their actions from the victim’s perspective? Ideally this authentic empathy would be achieved through educative rehabilitation but it seems that sometimes it’s only possible through personal experience… and I think this is where a particular type of retribution may play a role.
Consider someone who is caught vandalising and the types of retribution they could be given:
Jail time or a fine.
Someone vandalises something of equal value that belongs to the offender.
The offender is required to see how the victims are impacted, and then helps to repair it.
I’d suggest that type 3. is the best as it most clearly demonstrates to the offender the damage done, and is the most natural consequence—most closely linked to the offense. However, if the offender still doesn’t fully comprehend, type 2. might be required or at least threatened (there’s room for clemency/mercy as the goal is comprehension, rather than simply trying to “balance the books”). Type 1. is the most disconnected from the offense and should therefore be the last resort.
But what about the case of the mass murderer that Shumack mentioned? Sometimes when the offender experiences gracious love from someone or undeserved forgiveness from the victims (e.g. Jesus, Mandela and Eric Lomax), it brings about genuine comprehension, repentance, and transformation of the offender (e.g. a resolute conviction to never kill again, and instead devote their life to helping victims and helping others to not become murderers). Sometimes educating the offender—say, showing them the awful hurt done to the victims—is enough to turn them around.
But what if all these responses have failed? Is there any type of retribution that would spur the offender to change? Perhaps—the attempts by our justice systems have had mixed results to say the least. Would executing an offender give them a fuller understanding of what it felt like for their victims? If it did, is it worth it when it denies the possibility of reconciliation, and possibly the victim’s healing, in this life?
It also seems possible that [the death penalty] could produce some good, even for the offender – by forcing them to face up to the wrong they’ve done, and so opening up redemptive possibilities. This is especially true if you hold that this life is not all there is. The dramatic transformation of Andrew Chan as he faced death in a Balinese prison is a case in point.
I think sometimes good can come from the death penalty, particularly if you believe justice and redemption are matters that go beyond this life. Although, as Shumack points out, any potential good still seems outweighed by other factors. First, the apparent inability of earthly justice systems to avoid executing innocents. Second, if someone on death penalty isn’t pardoned when they’ve had a dramatic transformation (e.g. Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran) the good being done by them is seemingly cut short. Having said that, their influence may continue—like a martyr’s—as Another Day in Paradise demonstrates.
Primarily, however, I am glad [Australia doesn’t have the death penalty] because, in a world of brokenness and violence, I want to be a person who hopes for better, and the death penalty radically diminishes hope …
For Dostoevsky, the death penalty was devastating because it eliminates all hope for continued physical life on earth. This is true, of course, but to me, it seems even more hopeless than that. In the condemned criminal’s situation, I would want to cling not just to life itself, but to the possibility of transformation, redemption, even reconciliation.
I want to be a person who hopes for the better too. While the death penalty diminishes hope of life, transformation, redemption, and reconciliation now, it doesn’t have to diminish the hope that all these will occur in the age to come. Christie Buckingham describes Sukumaran’s amazing hope—even at his execution—that “the better” was in the age to come (reminds me of Paul in Philippians 1:20-24).
Shumack reflects on the last person executed in Australia, Ronald Ryan:
… We cannot know the truth about Ryan’s conscience and whether it [the death sentence] had pricked this repeat offender towards redemption. My hope is that it had – but if not, his hanging certainly eliminated any chance it would.
I hope Ryan’s conscience was pricked during this life but even if it wasn’t, I suspect it probably has been by now as I don’t believe his hanging eliminated repentance and redemption in the age to come.
Often, of course, this sort of hope is against reasonable hope. It would be naive not to recognise the reality that some individuals simply will not be reformed – perhaps cannot be reformed. Still, I hope because I have seen miraculous turnarounds.
I think some individuals refuse to turnaround in this life but I don’t believe (partly because of miraculous turnarounds we’ve already witnessed) anyone is eternally beyond God’s ability to reform.
I have a friend who is a true sociopath. He was jailed for a nearly successful attempt to murder his father with a hammer while studying chemistry to engineer the explosive destruction of thousands. Beyond hope – most others’ and his own – he reluctantly recognised his spiritual poverty through being rudely confronted by the extraordinary love of a cell-mate who responded to his persistent malevolence, not with justice, but with patient humour and grace. This encounter, transcending the will of the justice system, set him on the pathway to deep rehabilitation.
Wow! This type of deep rehabilitation, brought about by love and grace, is what I’m hoping—by God’s grace—will ultimately occur for each and every person.
There’s an important clue in my friend’s story. Hoping for the redemption of the offender, hoping in justice or the justice system, is not enough. In the words of Nelson Mandela (who ought to know), “in the end, reconciliation is a spiritual process, which requires more than just a legal framework. It has to happen in the hearts and minds of people.”
I heartily agree with that Mandela quote!
It may be in its favour that the death penalty satisfies justice, but if so, that is all it does. What goes against the death penalty is that it cuts off abruptly the possibilities for a wrongdoer to discover the sort of redemption that transcends justice.
I don’t think redemption and justice are at odds but that redemption is an essential step towards ultimate justice—that God’s justice/shalom is so much more than retribution (although retribution might need to occur before redemption sometimes, as I tried to articulate above). Because of this, I don’t think the death penalty alone ever satisfies justice—at most it might be a step towards it.
I am glad, then, to celebrate my half-century with the demise of the death penalty. Not because it is necessarily morally wrong, but because it shows that I live in a society that embraces hope, however remote, and the possibility of a second chance.
Amen brother! We all need second chances!
God's justice is reforming all things—even hell—to the way He intended: wholeheartedly delighting in Him together, Shalom!