One of the biggest news items in the past week has been the deportation of Schapelle Corby back to Australia from Bali. Once again her name has polarised Australians.  Some people, like me, believe in her innocence and are thrilled that’s she’s now back on Australian soil.  Others think she’s guilty and are not so happy.   Maybe there’s a third category of people who just don’t care either way.

The arguments and discussions over Schapelle Corby are reminiscent of the details surrounding Lindy Chamberlain in the 1970s. Did she do it or did she not? Of course Lindy was found guilty of murder and her husband of helping her conceal the crime. She received a life sentence with no parole; he received a three-year suspended sentence. As we now know, there was a huge miscarriage of justice.  Lindy Chamberlain served three years in jail until new evidence came to light and authorities realised they had been wrong (what if we had the death penalty back then?). The Chamberlains, exonerated by the royal commission in 1987, were pardoned and compensated.

I wonder if, in the years to come, we might learn that a similar miscarriage of justice has taken place regarding Schapelle Corby?  Remember, Schapelle checked in her bag at Brisbane airport and neither she, nor her travelling companions, had any contact with it until after they arrived in Bali.  Schapelle’s travelling companions’ luggage and Schapelle’s own luggage was never searched.  There was no investigation into where or how Schapelle intended to sell the marijuana.  The marijuana was never analysed and later it was destroyed, obliterating any chance it could be used to acquit her. There was no DNA or fingerprint analysis conducted.

To suggest that Schapelle got a strong smelling, pillow-case-sized bag of drugs through both Brisbane and Sydney airports undetected, bypass check-in staff, x-ray machines, scanners, sniffer dogs, police, customs and baggage handlers is very hard to believe.  Over the years since Schapelle’s conviction there have been numerous reports of corruption amongst customs officials and baggage handlers at Sydney airport.

The other question that’s always concerned me is why would anyone take marijuana from Australia to Indonesia anyway?  It doesn’t make any sense.  The dope that was found in Schapelle’s boogie board (4.2kg) was worth around $25,000 in Australia but only $700 in Bali.

So where does this leave all the arguments and discussions?  For those who think she’s guilty, that Schapelle has “done the crime,” then realise that she has also “done the time.”  Serving nine years in “W” Block at Bali’s Kerobokan prison is enough time for the crime.  That’s what the Indonesian authorities believed and that’s why they released her on parole in February 2014.

But if Schapelle is innocent then a great injustice has been committed, just like it was to the Chamberlains.  My hope is that one day the truth will come to light and that Schapelle will be duly compensated for her loss – not that anyone can replace the nine years of her life she spent behind bars plus a further three years in Bali when no doubt she would have preferred to have been home in Australia.  In the meantime let’s leave Schapelle alone to spend time with her family and friends and to learn to live once again in freedom.

That’s just one of the many questions Christie and I have been asked over the last few years since getting to know Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran, two of the Bali Nine.

It’s been quite a journey – a very difficult one at times – made often harder because we’ve had to answer the same questions several times.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I don’t mind answering questions if it helps someone gain a better understanding. I’m not looking for everyone to agree with me, but I have been amazed at the amount of hatred poured out even from some quarters of the Christian church – you know, the people who are to “love their neighbour as themselves” – those people!

Firstly, let me make it clear that Christie and I were not looking for something else to do.  We were actually taking a few days in Bali to rest after a particularly busy and stressful time. While we were there we met up with some old friends.  During our time together they told us of the work they were doing inside Kerobokan Prison and would we like to join them for a morning.  Little did we know that meeting Andrew Chan on that morning would lead to all that has taken place since.

So, here are some of the common questions and themes we have been asked along with what I hope will be helpful answers.


They’re just drug traffickers. Why bother with them?

It’s true. Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran were part of the Bali Nine who attempted to bring over eight kilograms of heroin into Australia.  We “bothered” with them because we got to know them and love them.  We were amazed at their sorrow for what they’d done and for the way they were demonstrating that sorrow – not just by rehabilitating themselves, but also in working hard to help reform others.  We “bothered” with them because Jesus “bothered” with us: “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom 5:8).

God actually did not wait for you and me to get our act together, He didn’t wait for us to reform or rehabilitate – He demonstrated the full extent of His love for us while we were still sinners.

It’s amazing how some having received God’s forgiveness can then be so unforgiving towards others.  Jesus addressed this hypocrisy in the parable of the unmerciful servant (see Matthew 18:21-35).  I’ve had people say to me, “Those guys don’t deserve mercy!”  My response to them has been, “I couldn’t agree with you more!”  No one deserves mercy.  By its very definition it is something we DON’T deserve.  Mercy is “compassionate kindness shown toward an offender or an enemy.”

Someone wrote this comment on Facebook, “What sort of a church are you that think these druggies are heroes. They knew what the law was and they broke it. Not the first time they did it but at least it was their last. Get on with life.” 

The answer to that question is that Bayside Church is a church that is doing its best to show mercy, kindness, compassion and grace to all people – even people who make massive mistakes!


They knew the risks. They deserve what they got.

Yes, there are BIG signs at Bali airport warning travellers of the penalty for drug trafficking.  The Bali Nine probably did know the risks but they were young.  Did you make any mistakes when you were young?  I know I did!

Recent research into the teenage brain shows some very interesting outcomes.  Consider this quote from the online Health Encyclopedia, “It doesn’t matter how smart your teen is … good judgment isn’t something he or she can excel in, at least not yet.  The rational part of a teen’s brain isn’t fully developed and won’t be until he or she is 25 years old or so.  In fact, recent research has found that adult and teen brains work differently. Adults think with the prefrontal cortex, the brain’s rational part. This is the part of the brain that responds to situations with good judgment and an awareness of long-term consequences. Teens process information with the amygdale. This is the emotional part.  In teen’s brains, the connections between the emotional part of the brain and the decision-making center are still developing. That’s why when teens are under overwhelming emotional input, they can’t explain later what they were thinking. They weren’t thinking as much as they were feeling.”

It’s fairly evident to me that Andrew, Myuran, Matthew Norman and the others weren’t thinking of the consequences.


What about the people who would have been hurt or killed by those drugs?  Aren’t you being soft on justice?

No, we’re not being soft on justice.  I’m glad every member of the Bali Nine were caught.  I wish all drug traffickers are caught and brought to justice.  I wish those who are behind the trafficking of drugs were caught and brought to justice too – not just the drug mules.  I used to use drugs and I know all about their harmful effects.  I lost some of my closest friends to drug overdoses.  As a pastor I have seen the devastating effects of drugs, not just on the users but also on their families and friends.

In regards to Andrew and Myuran, the request was that their death sentences be commuted to life sentences so they could continue their work of rehabilitating other prisoners.  Soft justice was never considered.  A life sentence in Kerobokan Prison is not soft justice.  If one thinks it is they should visit a prisoner there.

The eight kilograms of heroin didn’t make it into Australia, but many other drugs do.  Those who use drugs need to take responsibility for their habit and seek help to become free of addiction.  Blaming a drug supplier for your habit is like blaming a barman for your drinking problem.


You’re a hypocrite. Why are you just advocating for those two? What about everyone else on death row?

This has got to be my all-time favourite.  Apparently we are hypocrites because we only spoke up for Andrew & Myuran and not ALL the people facing the death penalty around the world.

While I personally advocate against capital punishment in all circumstances (mainly though Amnesty International), Christie and I got to know Andrew and Myuran personally.  It was because of our friendship with them that we advocated so strongly for them.  Having said that, the two guys have asked that their deaths not be in vain and that we would all continue to advocate against the death penalty to eventually see it abolished in every nation.


What about helping…. (Insert other people in need here)?

Why are you helping drug traffickers? What about … the poor, the asylum seekers, the homeless, the drug addicted, the mentally ill, aborted babies you name it.

One person – who doesn’t know me very well – called me a “one-issue guy.”  If they knew Christie, me and Bayside Church they would know that statement is completely untrue.  As a church community we are very engaged in helping the poor, the marginalised, the disadvantaged, the asylum seekers, the homeless, the orphans and widows.  We can’t solve all the world’s problems but we can make a difference.  Have a read of this article for some very good comments on this question:


How do you know they are really rehabilitated?

Some have suggested they were just pretending to be reformed so as to get a lesser sentence.  Others have said, “They wouldn’t have changed if they weren’t caught.”  Of course no one knows what would have happened if Andrew and Myuran weren’t caught.  The fact is they were caught and during their 10 years in Kerobokan Prison they demonstrated by their words and actions that they were genuinely changed men.  Christie and me and hundreds of other people have witnessed this rehabilitation firsthand over many years.

A great example is the author of the hymn Amazing Grace.  John Newton was a slave trader – a trafficker of people.  He later became a Christian and a pastor.  There’s not a person on this planet that has met John Newton – he died in 1807.  How do we know that this man who was an infidel and engaged in immorality and people trafficking was genuinely reformed?  How do we know he wasn’t pretending?


Are you against the death penalty in all cases?

Yes I am.  I believe I have to be consistent in my belief, which has changed over the years.  I used to be very much for the death penalty but not any more.  There are many reasons for this that I will save for another blog.

Let me give you two reasons here.

Firstly, when Andrew & Myuran and the other guys were executed, a Filipino lady named Mary Jane Veloso was also going to be shot.  The Indonesian government was going to execute an innocent woman – if the guilty person had not come forward at the last minute Mary Jane would be dead now.  The death penalty always risks killing the innocent.

Secondly, the death penalty punishes the innocent family and friends of those executed. Looking into the eyes of Andrew and Myuran’s families was heartbreaking.  Seeing their grief and sadness over the loss of their loved ones was unbearable.  As I said earlier, I am not into soft justice, but I don’t believe that killing a person for their crime is just.


Aren’t you just doing this to promote your own ministry?

I could think of much easier ways of promoting my ministry if I ever got an inclination to do that.  One guy wrote this about us on Facebook, “The applause of man will be their only reward.”  I can honestly say that neither Christie nor I am interested in people’s applause.  This has actually been a very difficult and tiring journey with much opposition.  I do, however, appreciate our church community at Bayside Church, many other Christians (as well as lots of people who don’t share our faith) and the media who have stood strong to help Andrew and Myuran and to advocate for their lives to be spared.


Isn’t it time to move on?

Look into the eyes of the family and say that!


I sit here still in shock at the execution of eight people by the Indonesians.  I had still hoped – against hope – that the authorities would see reason and allow these men to live, in prison, to continue the good work they had been doing since being rehabilitated.  But no, the executions went ahead.

For some people, that’ll be the end of it.  Some people don’t care. Others are glad it’s over because they’re fed up hearing about it in the news, after all, “these guys were hard-core drug traffickers and knew the risks over there.”  “Let’s not forget how many lives they would have ruined if they weren’t caught.”  And that’s true.  I wish all drug traffickers were caught; and I wish they got the people higher up the chain rather than just the drug mules who are often victims themselves.

One guy said, “They would never have come to know Jesus if they were not in this position.”  Really?  So you know the future and what would happen if things were different?

Another person wrote, “I won’t be losing any sleep they were scumbags.” Well those “scumbags” were someone’s son; someone’s brother; someone’s friend.  They were our friends who’d we’d got to know a few years ago and worked alongside to help with the projects that were reforming and rehabilitating 100s – if not 1000s – of other prisoners.  We’ve had the privilege of meeting many of these reformed people over the years – people who are now out of jail, off drugs, holding down good jobs, getting married, having kids and being responsible members of society.

That’s the sad truth here.  You see Indonesia has the death penalty in place for drug traffickers.  Indonesia also has a massive drug problem (so obviously the whole death penalty thing is not working as a great deterrent to the traffickers or users).  Indonesia needs help with its drug problem.  What they had in Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran were two men who were helping to reform drug users, traffickers and other prisoners.

So, if you have people helping you achieve your goal of reducing drug crime you get alongside and help them right?  You find out what’s working and develop those projects in other prisons.  You resource them because what they’re doing is helping reduce the drug problem in your country.  That would make sense wouldn’t it?  No, not if you’re the Indonesian President.  You take these men (who were helping you reduce your country’s massive drug problem) out onto a lonely island in the middle of the night and shoot them.  There.  End of problem, right?  Wrong.

Indonesia woke up yesterday morning just a little poorer.  They lost eight people who had reformed under its prison system and because of political pressure and a need to increase political popularity they killed them.

What’s even worse, they were about to kill an innocent woman as well.  Mary Jane Veloso from the Philippines had always claimed an international trafficking gang tricked her into bringing 2.6kg of heroin to Indonesia from Malaysia five years ago as she chased a nonexistent job as a domestic worker.  The Indonesian justice system found her guilty and was about to kill her.  At the last minute Cristina Sergio, suspected of recruiting Veloso, turned herself in to authorities in the Philippines.  The Indonesian president, Joko Widodo, granted a reprieve to Veloso.  They were about to kill an innocent person.  Right there is a good reason to be anti-death penalty.

And right now there are other innocent people who have been punished by the deaths of eight – their family members and close friends many of whom will live with grief and sadness for the rest of their lives.  In a way Indonesia shot them too.

I am angry at the injustice and hypocrisy demonstrated by the Indonesian authorities, but I will channel by anger into energy to continue to advocate against the death penalty, to help those in prison to reform and reform others, to help people out of poverty that often leads them into crime in the first place, and to give pastoral care to those who are affected by drugs.  I will continue to lead our church community at Bayside Church to show justice, mercy and love to a world so desperate for the genuine love of Jesus.

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