‘Free in my heart’

Notorious drug ring leader found courage in life and death

Andrew Chan
Andrew Chan’s advice: “Learn from my mistakes”

Amidst the media frenzy and legal appeals surrounding Andrew Chan's execution by firing squad, it was a surprise to many that the man on death row had an unusual peace about him.

Andrew was part of Australia's infamous 'Bali Nine' arrested in Indonesia and taken to Kerobokan prison under drug trafficking charges back in April 2005.

Before his execution on April 29, 2015, Andrew openly shared that the man he was back then was very different to the man he had become.

"I might be in prison, but in my heart I am free," Andrew told Salvation Army's Warcry magazine.

This freedom, Andrew explained, is found in "a real salvation through Jesus Christ", a message and revelation he experienced in his deepest time of need.

"At first I thought it was no big deal, I'll get outta this," Andrew told the Bible Society.

"It wasn't until I ended up in solitary confinement that I realised I wasn't going to get outta this. In fact, I figured they were gonna kill me. I had never felt so hopeless and alone before, and decided that if they were going to kill me anyway, I'd just do it myself."

Andrew was planning to commit suicide in his cell when the thought crossed his mind that, if heaven and hell existed, he needed to "get on the right side of God".

"I wasn't sure how to do that, but figured I should pray. I wasn't sure how to do that either, so I looked up and just said 'God if you're real...', and for the first time in my life I began to cry and ended up on my knees," he recalled.

"I cried and cried and said, 'God if you're real, send someone who cares about me to see me.' I fell asleep like that."

Early the next morning a guard woke Andrew up and, to his surprise, told him he had a visitor – his brother.

He soon received a visit from another close friend, Luke, who had become a committed Christian and received a Bible from him.

Andrew started reading the Bible earnestly from the beginning – the first book of Genesis – but said he could not understand it and "got nothing out of it".

When Luke visited again, Andrew shared this with him and was directed to the second part of the Bible – The New Testament.

"He told me to start reading the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. I read through the New Testament a couple of times, but didn't really notice any change. I just didn't get it," Andrew shared openly.

Yet Luke continued to insist Andrew read them again and again until he understood.

"Then Luke threw down the challenge to me: 'you pray and ask God to help you understand and if He doesn't help you, then when I come back tomorrow I'll take the Bible back and we'll throw it away!" Andrew recalled.

"So I did what Luke asked me to do. This time, I had read the Gospel of Matthew and got as far as Mark chapter 11 and then God spoke to me and helped me understand."

Two things in this chapter came to life in Andrew's mind and he saw two parallels between the verses and his life that challenged him.

"My life had been like the fig tree with no fruit (in verses 12 to 14) and was dying. My life had meant nothing. There had been no fruit. It had been useless. But I felt God telling me he wanted to change my life, to turn it around and make it fruitful."

Andrew Chan in 2010
Andrew Chan in 2010

The second thing that stood out was from verses 23 and 24, a passage he read just before his court date.

"It says that if you have enough faith you can say to this mountain, 'Be removed' and God will do it. So I said, 'God if you're real and if this is true, I want you to free me, and if you do I'll serve you every day for the rest of my life'."

When the death penalty was announced as the outcome of his court hearing, Andrew sat in total shock.

"When I got back to my cell, I said, 'God, I asked you to set me free, not kill me.' God spoke to me and said, 'Andrew, I have set you free from the inside out; I have given you life!' From that moment on I haven't stopped worshipping Him. I had never sung before, never led worship, until Jesus set me free."

Andrew soon began leading the church inside Kerobokan prison and training people up to eventually take his place, explaining that the message of salvation in Jesus Christ "can never be contained by the prison walls".

In his final moments before execution reports have emerged that Andrew and some of the other condemned prisoners sang hymns to one another.

"They were praising their God," Pastor Karina de Vega told news.com.au.

"It was breathtaking. This was the first time I witnessed someone so excited to meet their God."

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