In every society and culture, whether
Muslim, Hindu, Communist, Sikh, nihilist, existentialist, Jewish or
animist, there are people who believe in Jesus Christ and put him
first in their lives. Some are allowed to be visible, others are
not. Only God knows.
There are basically two types of
Christians. Those who say they are, because they need (or find it
convenient) to identify with a religion, and those who are authentic
followers of Christ, because they believe He is real and is living in
their hearts. Which one are you?
If your faith is genuine, it will be
relevant to where you are, physically and experientially, because it
is not about you, or your personal circumstances or quirks, but about
the eternal supremacy of Jesus Christ.
Does Christianity “work”?
Can we establish a viable link between the altar and the street? Is
our faith in God (as distinct from faith in faith) reified when “the
rubber hits the road”? I am convinced it does. To illustrate
the point, and to finish this journey, let’s look at one final
story, the execution of 25-year old convicted Australian drug
trafficker Nguyen Tuong Van who was hanged in Changi Prison,
Singapore on 2 December 2005.
I was living and working in Singapore,
and close to those involved in his case, when Nguyen
was executed by the
trying to smuggle almost 400 grams of heroin through Changi
International Airport in December 2002. A friend of mine had seen
the arrest at the gate as he tried to board a flight to Australia.
Nguyen told the courts that he was hoping to make enough money from
transporting the drugs to pay off debts incurred by his twin brother
Khoa (a former heroin addict). Along with many other people, I had
followed his subsequent attempts to secure clemency from the
President of Singapore, dashed as the President was guided by the
prosecutors and Singapore Government inevitably to refuse the
Pleas to spare his life, from
Australia and around the world (the dignity of human life is
ill-served by killing someone) failed to move the Singaporean
Government, determined to go ahead with the execution to prove its
sovereignty and demonstrate it was not beholden to the opinions of
others in upholding its laws.
did not go to his death a terrified, emotional mess. He went
peacefully. What was his secret? Much of the answer lay in his
new-found Christian faith.
Born in a
refugee camp in Thailand on 17 August 1980, Van went to Australia
with his mother and brother Khoa when he was still small. Raised in
Melbourne as a Buddhist, he attended a Roman Catholic school, but was
not serious about Christianity. In 2004 he became a Christian as he
waited on death row. He subsequently spent many hours with the
prison chaplain as his faith deepened. Nguyen wrote of the
transformation of his life after turning to Christ.
"Recognising and understanding my
offence, the ramifications and subsequent repercussions as a result
of my callousness has been crucial, essentially the turning point for
my remorseful transformation; an opportunity of self-discovery made
possible upon my conception of God and Jesus Christ into my life,"
Nguyen wrote in an appeal for clemency to the Singapore government.
On the eve of his execution, His
lawyers told the media that "He (was) determined to go out with
strength and optimism."
spent a sleepless last night on death row, comforted by Father
Gregoire Van Giang, writing letters, praying, reading the Bible and
reciting the 23rd Psalm.
"Yea, though I
walk through the valley of the shadow of death I shall fear no
Half an hour before
his execution, Nguyen finished his personal memoir. Commenting on
over many months, and the letters just completed, his Australian
lawyer, told journalists later, "[Nguyen]
regarded it as one of his missions in life to convert me, so a lot of
the stuff he wrote was to persuade me God loves us all, including
When the execution
arrived at his cell in the pre-dawn hours, Nguyen was ready and
composed himself. He was not shackled. He walked with the priest
the short distance to the gallows. Beside him were prison officers
who had guarded him during his incarceration and who had become close
to him. He was accompanied by the sounds of fellow inmates singing
Father Giang prayed
with Nguyen one last time before, hooded and handcuffed, he was
positioned on the trapdoor and dropped mercilessly to his death at
Early in the morning of Van’s
execution I got out of bed and sat quietly on the balcony of my 23rd
floor apartment, overlooking suburban Singapore. I pondered the
debate that had raged in Singapore and Australia about the merits and
deterrent effect (or otherwise) of the death penalty. But this
debate was not uppermost in my mind. My main concern was the
As the appointed time approached I
found myself praying for this young man whom I had never met, but
whose conversion to Christ was being described affirmatively by media
around the world. No one was being cynical, calling it “jail
house religion”. Those who were closest to Van said that what
they were witnessing was genuine and that it gave him peace beyond
any human understanding right to the end.
As the minutes passed and I realized
Van Ngyuen was now dead I went back inside to start my work day. I
felt mixed motions about the whole affair, but what gave me courage
was the knowledge that, at the most critical time of this young man’s
life, it was his relationship with Jesus Christ that gave him a
profound sense of hope and security that State vengeance and the
hangman could not take away. And now he is in the presence of Jesus.
Hopefully none of us will ever need to
experience the relevance of our Christian faith in this way. But
what the preceding articles have attempted to show is that our
relationship with God is not an abstract thing.
Whoever we are, whatever our
circumstances, whatever twists and turns, pinnacles of joy and depths
of despair life delivers, the Holy Spirit will give us strength and
wisdom to complete this journey hand in hand with God, knowing that
our faith in God and trust in the death and resurrection of His Son
for us has not been a theoretical excursion, but in the final hour
will be confirmed as the most real, the most dynamically relevant,
experience of all.