By Rob Buckingham.
A few years ago Christie and I got to know Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran, two of the Bali Nine. We weren’t looking for something else to do. We were actually taking a few days in Bali to rest after a particularly busy and stressful time. While we were there we met up with some old friends who told us about the work they were doing inside Kerobokan Prison. They asked if we would like to join them in the jail for a morning – which we did! Little did we know that meeting Andrew Chan on that morning would lead to all that has taken place since.
It’s been quite a journey – a very difficult one at times – made often harder by people misunderstanding why we were helping “Drug Traffickers.” In fact, out of the many questions we’ve been asked, that would be the number one question. So let me try and give you some good answers to that question and others…
It’s true. Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran were part of the Bali Nine who attempted to bring over eight kilograms of heroin into Australia. We helped them because we got to know them and love them. We were amazed at their sorrow for what they’d done and for the way they were demonstrating that sorrow – not just by rehabilitating themselves, but also in working hard to help reform others.
We “bothered” with them because Jesus “bothered” with us: “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom 5:8). God did not wait for you and me to get our act together, He didn’t wait for us to reform or rehabilitate – He demonstrated the full extent of His love for us while we were still sinners. I’ve had people say to me, “Those guys don’t deserve mercy!” My response has been, “I couldn’t agree with you more!” No one deserves mercy. By its very definition it is something we DON’T deserve. Mercy is “compassionate kindness shown toward an offender or an enemy.”
God’s people are called to show mercy, kindness, compassion and grace to all people – even people who make massive mistakes!
Others have said, “They knew the risks. They deserve what they got.” Yes, there are BIG signs at Bali airport warning travellers of the penalty for drug trafficking. The Bali Nine probably did know the risks but they were young. Did you make any mistakes when you were young? I know I did!
Recent research into the teenage brain shows some very interesting outcomes. Consider this quote from the online Health Encyclopedia, “It doesn’t matter how smart your teen is … good judgment isn’t something he or she can excel in, at least not yet. The rational part of a teen’s brain isn’t fully developed and won’t be until he or she is 25 years old or so. In fact, recent research has found that adult and teen brains work differently. Adults think with the prefrontal cortex, the brain’s rational part. This is the part of the brain that responds to situations with good judgment and an awareness of long-term consequences. Teens process information with the amygdale. This is the emotional part. In teen’s brains, the connections between the emotional part of the brain and the decision-making center are still developing. That’s why when teens are under overwhelming emotional input, they can’t explain later what they were thinking. They weren’t thinking as much as they were feeling.”
It’s fairly evident to me that Andrew and Myuran and the others weren’t thinking of the consequences.
What about the people who would have been hurt or killed by those drugs? Aren’t you being soft on justice?
I’m glad every member of the Bali Nine was caught. I wish all drug traffickers were caught and brought to justice. I wish those who are behind the trafficking of drugs were caught and brought to justice too – not just the drug mules. I used to use drugs and I know all about their harmful effects. I lost some of my closest friends to drug overdoses. As a pastor I have seen the devastating effects of drugs, not just on the users but also on their families and friends.
In regards to Andrew and Myuran, the request was that their death sentences be commuted to life sentences so they could continue their work of rehabilitating other prisoners. Soft justice was never considered. A life sentence in Kerobokan Prison is not soft justice. The eight kilograms of heroin didn’t make it into Australia, but many other drugs do. Those who use drugs need to take responsibility for their habit and seek help to become free of addiction. Blaming a drug supplier for your habit is like blaming a barman for your drinking problem.
Why are you just advocating for those two? What about everyone else on death row?
While I personally advocate against capital punishment in all circumstances (mainly though Amnesty International), Christie and I got to know Andrew and Myuran personally. It was because of our friendship with them that we advocated so strongly for them. Having said that, the two guys have asked that their deaths not be in vain and that we would all continue to advocate against the death penalty to eventually see it abolished in every nation.
What about helping…. (Insert other people in need here)?
Why are you helping drug traffickers? What about … the poor, the asylum seekers, the homeless, the drug addicted, the mentally ill, aborted babies you name it. I’m not sure why some people think we can only give our attention to one issue at a time. There are many things that we’re passionate about: We are very engaged in helping the poor, the marginalized, the disadvantaged, the asylum seekers, the homeless, the orphans and widows. We can’t solve all the world’s problems but we can make a difference to some.
Are you against the death penalty in all cases?
Yes I am. I believe I have to be consistent in my belief, which has changed over the years. I used to be very much for the death penalty but not any more. There are many reasons for this. Let me give you two reasons here:
Firstly, when Andrew and Myuran and the other guys were executed, a Filipino lady named Mary Jane Veloso was also going to be shot. The Indonesian government was going to execute an innocent woman – if the guilty person had not come forward at the last minute Mary Jane would be dead now. The death penalty always risks killing the innocent.
Secondly, the death penalty punishes the innocent family and friends of those executed. Looking into the eyes of Andrew and Myuran’s families was heartbreaking. Seeing their grief and sadness over the loss of their loved ones was unbearable. As I said earlier, I am not into soft justice, but I don’t believe that killing a person for their crime is just.
How do you know they are really rehabilitated?
Some have suggested they were just pretending to be reformed so as to get a lesser sentence. Others have said, “They wouldn’t have changed if they weren’t caught.” Of course no one knows what would have happened if Andrew and Myuran weren’t caught. The fact is they were caught and during their ten years in Kerobokan Prison they demonstrated by their words and actions that they were genuinely changed men. Christie and I and hundreds of other people have witnessed this rehabilitation firsthand over many years.
A great example is the author of the hymn Amazing Grace. John Newton was a slave trader – a trafficker of people. He later became a Christian and a pastor. There’s not a person on this planet that has met John Newton – he died in 1807. How do we know that this man who was an infidel and engaged in immorality and people trafficking was genuinely reformed? How do we know he wasn’t pretending? We know he was rehabilitated because of the fruit of his life after he became a Christian: Same with Andrew Chan. Same with Myuran Sukumaran. Same with me – and you!
Pastor Rob Buckingham is 57 and has been married to Christie for 21 years. They have three daughters, Gigi (16), Paris (13) and Trinity (6).
Rob is the Senior Minister at Bayside Church – a contemporary multi-site church in the southern bayside region of Melbourne. Rob started the church in 1992 with a team of 40 people and over the past 23 years the church has grown to over 2,000 people in regular attendance. Bayside Church has a strong commitment to make a positive difference in its community and beyond. Bayside’s slogan is “Church has changed – check it out!”
As well as his church work, Rob is a well-respected part of Melbourne’s media community having worked as an announcer with Easy Music 3MP for 15 years. In December 2002 he began work with Melbourne’s new Christian radio station, Light FM. Along with radio work Rob and Christie also co-host an interactive TV Chat show called The Exchange.
Hear more from Rob at LifeWell Conference: lifewellconference.com.au