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God help us: Bali Nine pray

Locking arms ... from left, Reverend Thompson Manafe, Martin Stephens (light blue shirt), Scott Rush, Andrew Chan, Myuran Sukumaran and Matthew Norman. Photo: Danny Arcadia
TOM ALLARD IN BALI - May 1, 2010

AS ANDREW CHAN belts out another song of praise, head swaying as he fairly hollers in devotion beneath a mural of Jesus Christ, his death-row colleague Scott Rush slips quietly into the back of the prison's small chapel.

It is the monthly English-language Christian service at Kerobokan jail and five of the Bali Nine heroin-smuggling ring have turned up. Three of them - Chan, Rush and Myuran Sukumaran - have the death penalty hanging over them. Their final appeals are due to be heard this year.

The sermon is delivered by Reverend Thompson Manafe, a priest from West Timor. "Trust in God will bring you peace," he implores. "Those who believe in God will no longer be guilty because Jesus lives in your heart and he died on the cross. You cannot be killed in any way." In full voice... Andrew Chan singing during the Englis-language service at Kerobokan jail.

Rush missed the sermon, a message tailored especially for the death-row inmates and one meant to bring them strength and hope.

But he was in time for the service's final act, in which the Bali Nine members locked arms in a circle, prayed for one another and received a blessing. Each of them - in their own way - has found religion since coming to Kerobokan.

Chan says he had a profound encounter with God days after his arrest. Sukumaran renewed his faith some time later. Both are busy around the jail, counselling inmates and running training programs.


In full voice... Andrew Chan singing during the English-language service at Kerobokan jail. Photo: Danny Arcadia
For Rush though, only 19 and on his first overseas trip when he was caught with heroin strapped to his body at Denpasar airport, his spiritual journey has been more complex.

Christianity and its central concept of redemption for sinners does not always sit easily with him.

Rush has confessed, before God and the courts. He has acknowledged the dreadful consequences of bringing kilograms of heroin to the streets of Australia. But he finds it hard to absolve himself.

"It's been a problem for me," he says after the service has finished. "I'm still looking for forgiveness. I just feel so bad about everything, especially for what I've done to my parents and family."

Rush says he prays almost every night, reciting the Lord's Prayer and saying his Hail Marys. Many pray for him, too. His priest in Brisbane, Father Tim Harris, and his parishioners do so every Sunday. Father Frank Brennan, the Jesuit priest, and Bishop Silvester of Denpasar have been visitors.

But he is afflicted by a stubborn melancholy. Rush cannot stop blaming himself and hates being locked up. Even after five years, he can't get used to the place.

"It feels abnormal here. I feel disconnected. It's a big struggle," he says. "But I've f---ed up and I'm inside."

Rush describes Kerobokan as "pretty laid back" compared with others Asian prisons. He appreciates the emphasis on rehabilitation under the new governor, Siswanto, who introduced the English-language church services a few months ago.

"It's just hard to find people, other prisoners, to trust and that's what makes it worse."

While Rush frets, Chan is boisterous about his spirituality. He beams when relating his favourite analogy of faith, relayed in a broad ocker accent..

"You know how you can go into those shopping malls and you see them sliding doors. The ones that just open automatically," he says.

"Now, let's say there's a door over there. If I stood here, would it open? Nah. I can scream at it, I can yell at it, I can do whatever I want.

"[But] if I walk towards it, it will open We have to walk in our faith and that means praying and spending time with the Lord.

"By doing that, you know, doors start to open."

Chan is studying theology with an Australian Bible college. He was baptised in Kerobokan and, inspired by his faith, spends much of his time writing letters to inmates around the world and "friends of friends" who are in difficulty.

He has corresponded with David Berkowitz, better known as the Son of Sam, the US serial killer who became a born-again Christian and refused to attend parole hearings because he believed he "deserved to be in prison".

"It's just prayer support and that. I ask if he can pray for certain things in here or whatever, and I do the same for him," Chan says, adding it has been 12 months since they had contact.

While Rush continues to battle his demons, Chan appears more content. "I trust that this isn't God's divine plan for me, and he has a better hope and plan for my life," he says.

"I look towards that and I strive for what's ahead and what's better, rather than what may linger over my head."

Rush keeps his hopes in check about his coming appeal. On the face of it, he has a good case. He was the most junior member of the syndicate and others with more senior roles have got life imprisonment or less.

"I don't want to sound not positive, but I don't expect anything," he says. "I'm not in a position to expect anything."

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