"One is absolutely sickened, not by the crimes that the wicked have committed, but by the punishments that the good have inflicted." - Oscar Wilde

Monday, June 1, 2015

Christie Buckingham: 'The Bali Nine were all singing... up until the shots rang out'

Myuran Sukumaran, Kerobokan prison, Bali, Indonesia
Pastor Christie Buckingham, originally from Portstewart, talks to Adrian Rutherford about the final moments of the Bali Nine drugs gang who were executed by firing squads in Indonesia.

Q. You provided pastoral support to two members of the Bali Nine drugs gang. How did you get involved in working in prisons?

A. I was working a lot on the streets with drug addicts in Melbourne with a friend I've known since I came to Australia.

We both became pastors, and we both married pastors.

She married a Balinese pastor, started a church in Denpasar in Indonesia, and got involved in prison ministry.

There was a very prominent Australian prisoner and I prayed for her.

My friend went to visit her, and she asked would I like to come and visit too the next time I was in Bali.

At the time I said I was happy just to pray for her.

Q. When the two Australians, Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran, were arrested in 2005, you were initially unsympathetic.

A. I wrote in my prayer journal, 'How dumb can you get and still breathe, nevertheless Lord, show Your mercy'.

If you'd told me that I'd be up to my neck in mercy 10 years later, I'd have thought, 'No, there's plenty of people who can do that, I won't be one of them'.

Q. So what changed you mind about them?

A. About four years ago I was in Bali doing a conference for my friend.

She said the boys knew I was in town, and would love me to come in and pray for them.

The Bible says "I was in prison and you came to me", so I thought it was the least I could do.

And so I did, and I was so taken by how inspirational they were and how they had reformed themselves inside the prison, Kerobokan.

I told Andrew as I was leaving that if I could help with anything to let me know.

Two weeks later, after I got home, I had a letter from Andrew listing all the ways he thought I could be a help.

And so that's how it started, and I began to get involved with the other prisoners, including Myuran.

I started to develop a relationship with the boys, never thinking it would come to this, never thinking they would be executed.

Q. You were a spiritual adviser for Myuran in the hours before he died - how difficult was that?

A. It was quite extraordinary because I have helped many people pass away.

They have normally been dealing with an illness or at the scene of a car accident where it was quite evident they were not going to make it.

Myuran was so focused on making other people around him comfortable and thanking them and forgiving them.

Even the guards who were about to shoot him, he forgave them. He forgave Indonesia, he blessed Indonesia.

There was such strength and courage.

Q. What happened on the day of his death?

A. As I led him out of the cell we started to sing Amazing Grace. The guards were shackling him and making sure he was OK.

Some of the guards were crying. Some came up and gave him a hug, and he tried to hug them back.

It was quite an extraordinary sight. About 40 of them made a guard of honour for them as they were leaving.

Some of the guys who were waiting to take them away took their masks down and said "Please forgive us, please forgive Indonesia".

It was so profound, it was quite incredible.

You were walking them to their certain death. There was no way out of this. You know this is their last moment. You are the last voice of kindness they will hear, you are the last face that they will see.

The responsibility of keeping that memory alive for their families was quite surreal.

Q. Tell me about going to the island where the executions took place.

A. We got on to the island and said goodbye to the other civilians, the lawyers and so on.

Then we were taken off into the dark of night - the spiritual leaders and the military.

We were each sent to the solitary confinement cell with our prisoner. We had a good 90 minutes with them, before walking them out and taking them down to the killing field.

They got us in line so that we would walk out alongside our prisoner.

I'll never forget the sound of nine people walking, shackled, in the stillness of the night, and these shackles making a noise.

And then suddenly, out of nowhere, Andrew Chan started to sing Mighty To Save.

It was like a gift to everyone there. You could feel the courage rise up in the guys.

Then we were brought in to see them in their final three minutes.

Q. What was that like?

A. They were on the pole and they were singing.

Myuran's first words to me were: "I'm so sorry to ask you to do this, but someone has got to speak up, and I know that you will. I've chosen you because I know you hate the death penalty and you are not afraid."

I promised him I would speak up. I told him he could be sure of that. We talked over some of the things we had spoken about in the cell, and I prayed with him.

You couldn't see anything except for your prisoner's face, but I could see the green light of the laser beam lining them up.

I didn't want Myuran to see that, so I lifted my arm.

They tapped me on the shoulder to go, and I just said "one minute, one minute".

They lined him up underneath my arm.

Source: The Belfast Telegraph, June 1, 2015

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