Pastor Christie Buckingham from Melbourne’s Bayside Church ministered to Bali prisoner and painter Myuran Sukumaran, who was executed with Andrew Chan in 2015. She is featured in the anti-death penalty documentary Guilty.
Did you grow up in a Christian family or did following your faith come later?
I grew up in a wonderful, godly Christian family during the troubles in Northern Ireland where religion was very much a separator, but my parents’ faith was a faith of the Bible and had a profound influence on me.
What did you do before you became a pastor?
I helped develop and grow an organisation called Youth Alive which helped youth and young adults grow in their Christian faith. Youth Alive was about showing young adults that they were not isolated in their walk, and that they could be passionate in their beliefs in a contemporary and relevant way.
How did your association with Myuran begin?
On one of our trips to Indonesia in February 2012, I was in Bali and met up with long-time friend Gayle Bonnett-Dwije who ministers and lives in Bali. She invited me to Kerobokan Prison where she had been ministering for many years and I met both Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran.
What changes did you note in Myuran during your time with him?
By the time I knew Myuran, many people had already given him guidance and were encouraging him to explore a Christian faith and have this as a foundation. He never ceased to impress me with his short but complex questions in regard to his faith and beliefs. He had a natural ability to highlight faith issues and how he could make his faith very real within the constraints of a prison community.
Did you feel that the end result was going to be different, or that they were going to enforce the death penalty?
I was standing in hope all the way through that mercy would be shown and the men would be given a reprieve. It wasn’t until I signed the final documentation on the night of the execution I realised that their lives as we knew it were over.
What impact did your association with Myuran have on you, and on your faith?
This has been the most radical, confronting experience in my faith journey. I have seen the love of God and experienced his presence in a way I have never before or I may never again, this side of eternity. I witnessed braveness in the face of barbaric behaviour, holiness in a place of hate, and gentleness and meekness in an environment of force and confusion. I saw the power of good and the power of God face head on the forces of evil, the mechanics of a merciless judicial system. I witnessed a dynamic that I can only describe as testament to God’s amazing grace.
Why do you think people should see this film?
People must be convinced in their hearts that the death penalty does not work. It is a waste of lives that could otherwise help to rehabilitate others. The film demonstrates the uselessness of the death penalty as a form of punishment and justice. Even though we don’t have the death penalty in Australia, this issue still can affect us because Australians travel to countries where the death penalty still exists.
What do you hope might result from the impact of the film?
I would like Christians everywhere to stand up and unite on this issue so that we see a global moratorium on the death penalty. That was my promise to Myu, who showed bravery until the end. I think we can too.