Last April, convicted Australian drug smuggler Andrew Chan
was executed in an Indonesian prison. Here, his widow Feby speaks of the heartache of his execution and the slow road to healing.
In April last year, Australians watched an unfolding drama in Indonesia as two of their fellow countrymen faced execution by firing squad. Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran, who had spent the previous 10 years in Bali’s Kerobokan Prison on drug-trafficking charges, were eventually executed on 29 April.
Andrew had become a Christian while in prison, his strong faith clearly evident during those traumatic weeks leading up to his death. While at Kerobokan he met Febyanti Herewila, a young Indonesian Christian who had been called to prison ministry. Their friendship developed, they fell in love, and less than 48 hours before his execution, Andrew and Feby were married.
Andrew’s Christian faith had its origins in a lifelong friendship with the Soper family in Sydney. Majors David and Shelley Soper are Salvation Army officers. Their sons, Luke, Mark and Joel, all Salvationists, grew up with Andrew and his older brother Michael as close friends.
Throughout Andrew’s prison ordeal and tragic execution, the Sopers were an ever-present support. David was Andrew’s chaplain and was with him in those final moments before he faced the firing squad. Feby Chan, who has also been warmly welcomed by the Sopers, speaks to journalist Simone Worthing.
Prison ministry has had a huge impact on your life. How did God lead you into this ministry?
After ministering in Singapore, I returned to Indonesia at the end of 2011. My best friend and prayer partner, Linda, and I prayed for three days and God spoke to us about Bali and prison ministry.
I went to Bali and started a prison ministry there. I had no experience and I didn’t want to go to the prisons, but felt God leading me. A friend, Eugene, then asked me to go and visit a friend of his in prison—Andrew Chan, who wanted to start a prayer room at the prison. Linda and I met again for prayer, in the mountains outside the city of Yogyakarta. On the last night, we were in a small prayer room with the doors and windows closed because it was cold.
We started to pray about prison ministry when suddenly there was a huge wind, like a tornado, inside the room. We screamed, were scared, and called out to God. The words from Isaiah chapter 61 verse 1 came to us loudly, ‘Set the captives free’. I understood that this was the presence of God. After that, I told Eugene that I would meet Andrew.
Andrew was already a leader, a pastor, in prison and I started as a partner in this and we encouraged each other. He had his own struggles. He always tried to live according to biblical standards in prison, which was not easy. I would just encourage him to stay strong, despite what he saw around him. We supported each other, picked each other up. He gave me insight into things. We were really good friends; best friends.
Forgiveness is not about feelings, it’s about decisions.
Like Martin Luther King said, hatred and bitterness
is a burden too much to carry.
And that’s why I choose forgiveness.
The Soper family were influential in Andrew’s life from an early age. Can you tell us about Andrew’s relationship with them?
When Andrew spoke about his childhood, he spoke mostly about the Sopers. He told me how, growing up, David would tell him not to do this and that, and that Shelley was always protective and would take his side if he did the wrong thing. His childhood memories were all about them.
Andrew started to know God through the Sopers and so they were the people he always trusted. Mark and Luke would visit and encourage him (in prison). There were things Andrew struggled with he shared only with Mark. The Sopers never stopped supporting him—that is something I am so grateful for. And now, I know that I have their love and support.
You speak of Andrew’s strong faith. What was the impact on you as execution looked more likely, and how is it still affecting you today?
Andrew stayed calm no matter what. It doesn’t mean he wasn’t sad, but he learned from day one to put his faith and trust in Jesus. That is what really affected me then, and still does now. It’s hard to believe that when he knew that he was going to be executed he was not scared, but sad.
He wanted to get married, have kids, make his parents happy, but he was so sad knowing that he would not be able to enjoy this. That was the saddest thing when it came to our last moment before execution. He was just so sad to leave me and was begging God for the chance to have a family with me. But he trusted God and knew he was his only hope.
In the struggle and pain of these years, was there a moment, a time, which was the hardest for you to bear?
When it was announced that 72 hours remained until execution, I chose to trust God, knowing only God could save Andrew. I never thought that he would be executed. On the last day, when I had to say goodbye, I started to think about what would happen if he really was executed.
That moment, when I allowed my heart and mind to cross that path, that was hard, because it affected my faith… I couldn’t understand what God wanted from me. It was like a bomb to my life and I was shaken to the core of my foundations of faith…
I couldn’t accept the Word of God for some time. I only knew that God would never leave me. My heart opened and I could see the big picture again. Slowly, and although I will never fully understand, I am learning to trust in God’s perfect plan for my life, just like Andrew did.
Can you tell us what you have been learning about forgiveness?
I know that forgiveness is not about feelings, it’s about decisions. Like Martin Luther King said, hatred and bitterness is a burden too much to carry. And that’s why I choose forgiveness.
That is also one of Andrew’s legacies. He spent 10 years in prison, facing people who lied and betrayed him every single day. Andrew decided not to be bitter but to forgive. And that’s why he had a full and complete life in the prison hell. And so I choose the same thing. It’s the only way I can have a full and joyful life.
What is the main message that you would like to convey?
My message comes from the Bible, the book of John, when Jesus visits the disciples after his resurrection, and Thomas, who doubts the resurrection, is there. Jesus asks Thomas to touch the scars in his hands and side. If you have a wound and someone touches it, it is painful.
Jesus left his scars to teach us that there is power in his resurrection. The scars will always be there, but not the wound, not the pain.
You have experienced so much pain and heartache. What do you love about life now?
The beauty of life is to see God unwrap things; it’s so beautiful when all the pieces of the puzzle come together. I’m waiting for this; it’s the only thing keeping me alive. God always has a purpose and a plan, and I am enjoying seeing that come together.
Reprinted with kind permission from Pipeline magazine.