Listen: Sandra Cavallo, a friend of Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran, shares her feelings after the pair’s executions in Bali. Above: Andrew Chan leads a prison chapel service. Photo: Sandra Cavallo
While Australians poured out their strong emotions on social media and journalists debated international politics, those close to Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran quietly rested on their belief that both are now in a better place.
An Indonesia correspondent told Fairfax media today that all eight prisoners, executed in the early hours of this morning, sang praise songs to God including Amazing Grace and Bless The Lord, Oh My Soul, as they walked, unblindfolded, to face their firing squad.
Pastor Rob Buckingham of Bayside Church in Melbourne, whose wife Christie attended the execution as a spiritual support, spoke to Radio 3AW about their deaths this morning.
His wife’s first text message after the killing spoke of Chan and Sukumaran’s strength.
“They boys conducted themselves with great dignity and strength and they were strong right to the end,” he said.
Pastoral Care Coordinator of the Buckinghams’ church, Sandra Cavallo, was one of a group of Christians who had met and visited the men in prison over the past two years.
She told Hope Media today that despite her great sadness, she was comforted knowing of their strong faith.
“We’re sad that our two friends have gone but I also know that they’re in a very good place – so it’s a bittersweet thing at the moment.”
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How The Pastors Met The Prisoners
The Buckinghams first befriended Chan and Sukumaran, after being invited by an Indonesian friend to visit them in prison.
According to Ms Cavallo it was an answer to prayer for Christie, who had felt compassion and prayed for the Bali Nine years earlier, when they were first arrested.
In 2013 Ms Cavallo joined the Buckinghams in visiting the men herself, to help run church services and give out hygiene packs and food. She was impressed by the work the Australian men were doing to help fellow prisoners, such as rehabilitation art classes, computer classes , a cooking school and chapel services.
“It was a real eye opener to see all of the work the boys had already started to initiate. They had come to the thinking that if this was the place they were going to live out their days, they would make good of it.
“As a result all of the prisoners in there have hugely benefitted.”
Ms Cavallo had the opportunity to get to know the pair as friends and said their personalities were very different.
“Andrew was such a larrikin, a fun loving guy, very extrovert, chatterbox, always cracking a joke,” she said. “Myuran on the other hand, was quite a deep thinker, quite serious, didn’t say very much – but you knew that he was always thinking something.”
From Drug Smuggler to Pastor and Painter
She said they each had a genuine Christian faith journey, both being exposed to faith in their younger years but getting on the wrong track as teenagers.
“Andrew came to faith shortly after he was caught, and really reached out to God,” she said. “I could see there was a genuine love for God in the way he ministered amongst the prisoners.”
She said his conversion took place when he prayed in his isolation cell for a sign from God. His prayer was answered when his brother and friend David Soper, a Salvation Army minister, visited him the next day.
He asked them for a Bible and committed his life to God soon after.
“Myuran, I believe, always had a faith,” said Ms Cavallo, “but it’s been in the past several months that he’s really solidified that faith. He’s really drawn close to God and drawn on his faith in this time.”
Through her friendship with Sukumaran, Ms Cavallo helped to organise an art exhibition of his paintings in Melbourne last year, with proceeds going back in the art rehabilitation program he had begun.
Ms Cavallo, who believes the death penalty should be abolished, said the example of Chan and Sukumaran showed that nobody was beyond redemption.
“None of us are perfect, we’ve all done stuff that is wrong,” she said.
“Some crimes are more serious than others but at the end of the day we’re all faulty human beings. I guess the beauty about Andrew and Myu’s story is that it’s a story of reformation, of God’s grace. As a result of experiencing God’s grace they desired to do good and right their wrongs and to become better people.
“I don’t see last night as two drug smugglers that were executed. I see it as a painter and a pastor that were executed, because they certainly weren’t the two people they were 10 years ago.”
Hear the Sandra Cavallo interview (at top) for the full story of Andrew Chan’s conversion to faith.