Keeping Andrew's legacy alive
Keeping Andrew's legacy alive
2 September 2016
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.
Chan had become a Christian while in prison, his strong faith clearly evident during those traumatic weeks leading up to this 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.
Chan’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. Mark served as one of Andrew’s pastors, especially in the early years when Andrew was moving back to God. Mark also made regular visits to Bali to spend time with their friend.
Feby Chan has developed a deep friendship with the Sopers and, when in Australia, attends church with the family. At the invitation of Shelley, she is the guest speaker at a series of SHE women's conferences being held in The Salvation Army's NSW and ACT Division. During the recent SHE conference at The Collaroy Centre, Feby spoke to Pipeline’s SIMONE WORTHING about her time with Andrew, and the heartache, anger, confusion, yet God-glorifying days of April last year.
Simone Worthing: Prison ministry has had a huge impact on your life. How did God lead you into this ministry?
Feby Chan: After ministering in Singapore, I returned to Indonesia at the end of 2011. My best friend and prayer partner, Linda, and I, took a few days to pray, asking God for his vision for us for the following year. We prayed for three days and God spoke to us about Bali and prison ministry. I had never thought about this before and didn’t think it was my calling, but 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 I 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 61:1 came to us loudly – set the captives free. I understood that this was the presence of God. After that, I stopped questioning God. I told Eugene that I would meet Andrew. We met, started talking about the plans for the prayer room and getting all the permissions and materials he needed for both Indonesian and Western prisoners. 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.
SW: The Soper family were influential in Andrew’s life from an early age. Can you tell us about Andrew’s relationship with them?
FC: 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 and and he shared them 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.
SW: Are you continuing the connection with the Soper family, and The Salvation Army?
FC: Yes, definitely. I go to Menai Corps (in Sydney) when I am in Australia. The Sopers go there and Menai is one of the churches that really supported Andrew and prayed for him. This church is my family.
SW: You speak of Andrew’s strong faith. How did this impact you as execution looked more likely, and how is it impacting you today?
FC: 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.
SW: Can you share some of how you were feeling during this heart-breaking time?
FC: It was very, very difficult. I knew that I had to make a decision not to break down, or Andrew would, too. I just knew that I would do anything to support him and make him happy. We never talked about what would happen if he was executed because, for us, faith without action is nothing. We decided we would never give doubt, sadness or fear a chance to come into our hearts. We just focused on the future. Andrew prepared himself for what he would do if he got clemency and left the prison. We spoke only of the present and the future.
SW: In the struggle and pain of these years, was there a moment, a time, which was the hardest for you to bear?
FC: 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 wrote a letter for David to take to Andrew, writing that even though he was going to die, I believed in the story of Lazarus and in miracles and God would bring him back. I was shaking but telling God I trusted in him. The hardest moment for me was, after seeing his body and praying over him, realising that God wasn’t going to bring him back. I couldn’t understand God’s plan, or 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 understand why God had spoken to me so clearly and loudly about prison ministry and even confirmed that calling. I asked God why he asked me to meet Andrew, and even marry him, only to take him away from me. I couldn’t accept the Word of God for some time. I only knew that God would never leave me. I could only worship and sing and that’s when the healing took place. 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.
SW: Can you tell us what you have been learning about forgiveness?
FC: I know that forgiveness is not about feelings, it’s about decisions. Like Martin Luther King says, hatred and bitterness is a burden too much to carry. And that’s why I choose forgiveness. When I see pictures of the (Indonesian) president or the attorneygeneral, or hear their voices, the anger and pain, even physical pain, comes up – the injustice that happened is beyond belief. That hatred, that bitterness, it’s too much to handle, and so I choose to forgive and when I do, my life is better. That is also one of Andrew’s legacies – forgiveness. 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. People say Andrew is in a better place. I know and understand this, but it doesn’t take away my pain. The hardest part, my deepest pain and hurt, is knowing that he is not here. I was angry that people didn't understand, but slowly, as I learn to forgive people one by one, it helps me go through the day.
SW: Moving forward, where do you see God directing your future, leading you in ministry?
FC: Sometimes your pain is your calling. When I read the Bible, I read Paul saying that he endured persecution so he could experience the comfort of God and then comfort others. I was actually laughing when I read this and said, really God, I go through this so I can comfort others? Will I serve people through my pain? I know God never wastes pain, and I refuse to waste the pain of this hell I’ve gone through. But I don’t want to win just one soul or even a hundred souls for God – I want nations! I want God to use my pain to bless nations! I also know there are things Andrew wants me to do. In his last letter to me, he told me to keep on fighting against injustice in Indonesia; to build a community centre for youth and a school. This is the vision that put us together, connects us and reflects the heart of God. It has been too hard for me to go back to the prison, or to the island where we wanted to build the centre, until now. I’m still afraid of the pain – the pain that I’m doing this alone, even though I’m not alone. I know that the next step is to continue Andrew's legacy.
SW: What is the main message that you would like to convey?
FC: 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 the resurrection of Jesus. The scars will always be there, but not the wound, not the pain. Those who suffer, we are not destined to have an open wound for the rest of our lives. There is power in the resurrection of Jesus to heal our broken souls.
SW: You have experienced so much pain and heartache. What do you love about life now?
FC: The beauty of life is to see God unwrap things; it’s so beautiful when all the pieces of the puzzle come together. Today 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.