Photo courtesy of Alpha Singapore.

While behind bars in Indonesia, Arif had several encounters with a "mysterious man", who urged him to "follow me". Bali Nine co-ringleader, Andrew Chan, who had converted in prison while awaiting his death sentence, encouraged and prayed for Arif. Photo courtesy of Alpha Singapore.

In 1994, the island of Bali was under Indonesian military rule. During this time, I became involved with a student movement that was opposing the government.

In order to help finance the movement as well as my university fees, I became involved with the drug trade.

I was arrested and imprisoned on two occasions in the late 1990s for subversive acts against the authorities. But was eventually released after subsequent changes in the government.

My involvement with drugs began again and despite my unlawful activities, I was able to graduate with a law degree. However, drug peddling and armed robbery saw me being arrested multiple times – a stark reminder that I was not above the law.

Once in prison, I was put into solitary confinement and it was there that I had an encounter that would spark the changes in my life.

Drug-induced hallucination? 

One night, a man opened the door to my cell, entered, looked at me and said: “Follow me, and you will be free.” He repeated this sentence three times.

I had no idea who he was even though I thought he looked very familiar.

He then walked out of my cell, leaving the cell door ajar. I followed him out, to find the prison guard asleep. I woke the guard up and he was alarmed, seeing that I was out of my cell.

I grew increasingly perplexed – was I having drug-induced hallucinations or had I developed schizophrenia?

Following this incident, I convinced myself that the guard had forgotten to lock the door, and that the man was just a hallucination as a result of my drug addiction. But I was soon proven wrong.

On a second occasion, the man appeared again in my cell, repeating the same words: “Follow me, and you will be free.”

This time, the cell door was closed and he disappeared immediately after speaking. I realised then that this was no hallucination – but I still had no idea who this man was and how he had appeared!

After a period of solitary confinement, I was moved to the main prison with the rest of the inmates. I began a new drug peddling business, this time within the prison walls.

It was then that I had a third and fourth encounter. But unlike the previous times, these happened during the day, with the man appearing in my cell, repeating the same line to me.

I grew increasingly perplexed – was I having drug-induced hallucinations or had I developed schizophrenia?

“That’s Jesus, mate!”

Awhile after these incidences, I was watching a game of basketball one day with Michael, an American inmate and friend who was a Christian, when the mysterious man walked up to me in broad daylight!

He repeated the now familiar phrase: “Follow me, and you will be free.”

I asked my friend: “Did you see the man who just came up to speak to me?”

My friend replied: “Who are you talking about?” He had not seen the man. My mind started racing – what was happening?

“That was not a ghost, it is Jesus Christ.”

It never occurred to me that these incidences could be spiritual encounters. Because this man seemed so familiar, I felt that I must have seen him before.

Unbeknownst to me, Michael told his friend Andrew that I might have seen a ghost, and asked if he could help.

(Andrew Chan was a co-ringleader of the infamous Bali Nine who attempted to smuggle 8.3kg of heroin worth S$4.25 million out of Indonesia. The Australian became a Christian while in prison awaiting his death sentence).

Three days later, Michael brought me to Andrew.

Andrew said: “I heard you saw a ghost.”

I was furious with Michael for telling another person about my experiences, and for making an assumption that the man was a ghost.

Andrew asked me to describe what had happened. I did so reluctantly, and he simply said: “That was not a ghost, it is Jesus Christ.”

Realising Andrew was a Christian, I replied angrily: “Shame on you! You worship a false god! If I had to worship a god, it would not be one who died on a cross!

“How could you believe in this god to save you when he couldn’t even save himself? Jesus is not God! He couldn’t even save himself!”

Andrew did not try to defend himself or his beliefs. He just replied: “Yes, yes, yes! That’s Jesus, mate!”

Here I am

After this conversation, I was not able to stop thinking about this Jesus. I did not like the new thought that Andrew had planted in my head: That the man I had seen multiple times was Jesus.

I became very troubled as these encounters kept replaying in my mind. My distress increased when the man appeared to me for the fifth and sixth time. Again, I ignored him.

This time, I walked to him, and he hugged me, repeating the words: “Follow me, and you will be free.”

I thought I was going crazy. Suddenly, I recalled that I had once read a religious book about the concept of creation, sin and salvation – and about Jesus as a saviour.

Somehow, I began to rationalise that perhaps these incidences occured because I kept rejecting the man whenever he appeared.

Eleven months after the first encounter, I had a dream: I was with several prison guards and policemen in a field, and they were about to arrest me. I then saw a wooden fence and a wooden house within the compound.

A woman standing in front of the wooden house said to me: “Come into the church or you will be arrested.” 

I replied: “I don’t want to go into the church.”

However, my self-preservation instincts kicked in, and I thought: “I’d better go in, I don’t want to be arrested.”

I opened the door and saw the man I had seen so many times before, standing at the altar. Once again, he said: “Follow me, and you will be free.”

This time, I walked to him, and he hugged me, repeating the words: “Follow me, and you will be free.”

“I have to talk to you – your Jesus has ruined my life!”

Suddenly, I woke up. It was early in the morning and still dark.

I said: “God! What do you want? What is going on?” I felt that God was asking me to make a decision. 

I did not understand who this Jesus was, but I found myself repeatedly saying the name of Jesus until daylight streamed into my cell.

When the guards unlocked my door that morning, I went to see Andrew and said: “I have to talk to you – your Jesus has ruined my life!”

Upon hearing this, Andrew started crying.

I just could not deny Jesus any longer. I continued: “I give up! I don’t want to be arrested by the police, I want to believe in Jesus!”

Andrew then prayed together me and I confessed my sins, receiving Jesus into my life as my Lord and Saviour.

Isaiah 65:1 says: “I revealed myself to those who did not ask for me; I was found by those who did not seek me. To a nation that did not call on my name, I said, ‘Here am I, here am I.'”

A victory

At this time, I was still involved with the drug business, selling and consuming drugs. Because of this, I decided that I would not tell anyone of my conversion to Christianity because I was afraid of being judged and mocked by the other inmates.

I was heavily addicted to drugs and Andrew wanted to help me. He asked if I would fast for 40 days. I agreed, wanting to be free from drugs once and for all. 

This victory was a miracle as I had been addicted to drugs for more than 17 years.

The first three days were horrible! I was extremely weak and I didn’t know if I would be able to last another hour without the drugs that my body craved.

Andrew came to visit me, speaking many words of encouragement. He asked: “Do you know that you have already been drug-free for three days?” He then laid his hands on me and prayed.

Following this visit, the inmates from the prison gangs came to question me. They wanted to know why I had stopped selling drugs. I replied simply that I needed to rest. After a week, I began to feel better and started eating small portions of food.

Andrew continued to encourage me and eventually I reached the 40-day mark, drug-free.

During this period I began to read the Bible and also started helping out in the prison church. I felt this victory was indeed a miracle as I had been addicted to drugs for more than 17 years.

Gangster Christian buddies

Soon, many of my prisoner friends found out that I had become a Christian.

“Jesus said love your enemy, but I’m not Jesus! Why should I remain silent when others beat me?”

The majority of them did not like this, and one day, I was severely beaten up by one of the prison gangs. To my surprise, however, one of the drug bosses intervened just in time and saved my life.

In another episode, I discovered a plot against my life due to my new-found faith.

Fearing for my safety, I decided to protect myself, and formed a group of “Christian gangsters” to attack my enemies. 

Andrew was furious when he found out about this new gang. He reprimanded me, saying that this is not how Christians should respond.

He asked: “What would Jesus do?”

The very first cell group began with my gangster Christian buddies.

I retorted by saying: “Jesus said love your enemy, but I’m not Jesus! Why should I remain silent when others beat me? We are one body in Christ, and should protect one another!”

Andrew then told me that he wanted to talk to my gang. I thought he would motivate them to protect me – but instead he preached and shared about the love of Christ!

A few days later, he gave me an Alpha book and asked me to read and study it. I realised this material would be very helpful for the other inmates and translated it into Bahasa Indonesia. We started Alpha in the prison soon after the translation exercise.

The very first cell group began with my gangster Christian buddies. We met in different places whenever we could during the day, and again at night for our cell group meetings.

The meetings started with seven people and eventually grew to more than 30 inmates.

The cell as Bible college

In 2012, I was released from prison. I decided to continue helping with the prison ministry and was able to connect with the ministry team at Alpha Indonesia.

After attending Alpha training in Medan, I was invited to Singapore to meet with Andrew Foong from Alpha Singapore to learn more about his work with halfway houses and the prison ministry.

Through these connections, I was able to start several halfway houses in Indonesia with a team and in partnership with a Bible college.

He is using my experiences to give hope to people who are in a physical prison and in spiritual darkness.

Looking back, I can see how my time in prison taught me so much about Christ, His suffering and His life. My cell eventually became my “Bible college”, as I studied the same books that Andrew Chan did when he pursued theological studies during his prison sentence.

Reflecting on my darkest and brightest moments during my time in prison, I have seen how God works for the good of those who love Him. What the enemy had intended as evil for me has turned into something good for God’s glory.

I have also seen how God restores and makes all things new in His time. He is now using the experiences of my past to give hope to people who are in a physical prison, as well as those imprisoned in spiritual darkness.

God has given me the strength and courage to return to prison to share the good news about Jesus – and how true freedom can only be found in Christ, our Saviour.

He is the only One who can set the prisoners free and bring them into His glorious light.


Editor’s note: Arif’s friend and mentor, Australian inmate Andrew Chan, was executed by a firing squad in 2015 for the drug offences that were widely publicised around the world. 

Arif shared that Andrew Chan’s faith and courage, unwavering until the end, inspired him to continue the good work in the prison ministry that Andrew had begun. 


This story was adapted from Alpha Buzz and is republished with permission.


FOR MORE STORIES ON LIVES TRANSFORMED:

“I want people to know that with God, all things are possible”: Anil David, ex-offender and recipient of President’s Award

Faced with the gallows after killing a man, I found my greatest treasure

High on drugs, he fell 15 storeys and not only lived to tell the tale but to transform his life

About the author

Arif for Alpha Singapore

Arif is presently pastoring, helping with outreach in prisons and pursuing specialist studies in biblical history. He has also been invited as a guest speaker to share his experiences at conferences around the world.

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