Matt Redman on how executed prisoners sang 10,000 Reasons

The worship leader describes the extraordinary story of a group of death row prisoners, known as the Bali Nine, who sang his well-known song as they were shot

Earlier this year, the worship song ‘10,000 Reasons (Bless the Lord)’ was sung by a group of prisoners as they faced a 13-man firing squad in Indonesia. Speaking to Premier, worship leader Matt Redman, who wrote the song with Swedish songwriter Jonas Myrin, described the incident as ‘profound’

The prisoners in question included ‘Bali Nine’ ringleaders Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran, who had been on death row for almost a decade for drug trafficking. All but one of the eight had turned to Christ since the start of their incarceration.

‘They had become Christians, full on life-transformed, and they were transforming other people’s lives,’ explains Redman.

That’s the most amazing act of worship I’ve ever heard of

Despite protests from across the globe, the authorities decided to uphold the death penalties. But when the day came for them to face the firing squad, something extraordinary happened. The prisoners declined the offer to wear blindfolds and instead stood and faced their executors. According to witnesses, they recited the Lord’s Prayer, embraced one another, and sang two songs, ‘Amazing Grace’ and ‘10,000 Reasons’, before their voices were drowned out by gunfire.

‘They sang one song after another, praising God,’ Pr Karina de Vega, who was present at the execution, told Fairfax Media. ‘They sang a few songs together, like in a choir. The non-Christian I believe sang from his heart. It was such an experience.’

Reflecting on the incident, Redman says: ‘I don’t think it gets more profound than that. Firstly, as a worship leader, that’s the most amazing act of worship I’ve ever heard of. Secondly, it tells me that you can face anything in this life and still be found with a song of worship on your lips, even a firing squad. And thirdly, I just thought, “how did that song end up there?” What an amazing thing.

‘These are the things that I love; when things are immeasurable. Sometimes people are looking at charts or the song has sold this many, or this many people showed up at a worship event. Forget all that stuff. What’s the stuff that’s immeasurable, that you can’t really put a figure on? That’s the stuff I love. There’s no way of measuring that. It’s just profound, it’s immense, it’s intense. It’s wonderful, beautiful. That’s the stuff I want to do in ministry.’

Surprisingly, 10,000 Reasons almost didn’t make it onto the album Redman was working on.

‘I thought, “Oh that’s a bit simple, it’s a bit folky,’ he recalls. ‘It doesn’t have a pre-chorus, it doesn’t have a bridge.” That’s how silly I am. We had, like, 20 songs to choose from. Hand on heart, without a team around me I may not have put that on.’

But the song soon gained traction, more than justifying its inclusion on the album and the album title, 10,000 Reasons. ‘It seemed like the song was connecting with people,’ he says. ‘I think some of the songs that have travelled round the most for us I had no clue when I was writing it; had no clue when I was recording it. Sometimes you just write your heart out, record it and just see what God does with it.’

Matt Redman's new album Unbroken Praise is out soon

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An unexpected ‘miracle’

One prisoner who was due to be executed alongside the eight was spared almost at the last minute.Mary Jane Veloso had been caught at Yogyakarta Airport in April 2010 with 2.6kg of heroin in her possession. She was sentenced to death and her appeals were rejected.

But the 30-year-old mother-of-two maintained that she had been tricked into travelling to Indonesia from her home in the Philippines to begin a new job as a maid. She alleged that she had been given new clothes and a bag that, unbeknown to her, had heroin sewn into the lining.

On the day she was due to be executed, the woman accused of duping Veloso turned up at a police station in the Philippines seeking police protection. She claimed to be receiving death threats and was taking into protective custody.

At the 11th hour, Indonesia issued a reprieve for Veloso, stating that she was required to testify against a ‘perpetrator suspected of human trafficking’. Veloso was transferred to a prison in Yogyakarta and her legal team plans to launch another appeal, stating that she was a trafficking victim.

When the news of the reprieve broke, activists cheered in the streets and the hashtag #MaryJaneLives trended on Twitter. Veloso’s mother Celia told reporters: ‘A miracle has happened to my child.’

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