Turned (Selous Scout mission)

Out in the field with new colleagues who had been trying to kill you just days before.

A continuation of my series on the lessons in mission drawn from the operating strategies of Rhodesia’s Selous Scouts.

One of the most remarkable and successful strategies of the Selous Scouts was their habit of “turning” their enemy.  In raw turns it took incredibly bravery and faith in the superiority of the ideals of one’s outfit to even countenance this strategy.  Let’s take a look.

To operate as a Pseudo force the Selous Scouts pilfered uniforms and weaponry from slain enemy so that they could use them in their undercover infiltrations into enemy territory.  However, it wasn’t only weapons and uniform that proved of value in the aftermath of fire-fights.

Captured insurgent communist terrorists (CTs) were important sources of operational information and if captured would be interrogated for all their knowledge of enemy strategy, morale and intentions.  The Rhodesian civil war was a ruthless and bitter affair, so let’s not pretend this was an activity always carried out to the letter of the Geneva Convention law.

If an enemy terrorist in Selous Scouts survived the brutality of interrogation and/or was cooperative they were then given “the pitch.”  A couple of black soldiers, preferably ones who were also “turneds”, would wonder in on the captured insurgent with a proposal.  In the African way they’d take a while to get to the point however.

Conversation would rake over the coals of the captured terrorist’s inevitable date with the gallows in Salisbury, the hardships the CTs had in the bush and against the superior Rhodesian firepower before casually moving to the better pay and conditions soldiers in the Rhodesian Army enjoyed compared to the lot of the CT insurgent.  At some point the topic would be broached – would the CT consider joining the Selous Scouts and going back into the very field they’d just been taken from?

In most cases the offer was gratefully accepted, a future containing three square meals a day and regular pay deemed far preferable to swinging from the end of a rope.  To seal the deal often the CTs family would be moved from vulnerable Tribal Trust Lands to a compound close to the Selous Scouts where they’d be considerably safer.

Given the political sensitivity and media frenzy that could erupt, the program of turning the enemy to Selous Scouts were given an unaccountable slush fund to meet the ongoing payroll of their burgeoning army of turneds.

Turneds were taken back into their former field of operation as quickly as possible, sometimes within a day of capture.  In the hell of a firefight with a superior Rhodesian army the gangs of CTs would bombshell (fragment) into multiple fleeing targets and worked back towards a pre-arranged crash rendezvous.  By getting a turned CT back into the operational zone they could sometimes take a pseudo gang directly back to the rendezvous point for further killing, and in those few weeks after their turned CT would give the pseudo gangs legitimacy and  cover with other gangs of CTs in the area as well as the CT chain of command.

However, it must have required a huge leap of faith for Selous Scouts to enter the field with an armed man who as recently as twenty-four hours before had been hell-bent on their death.  Perhaps for the first day, or leading into the first firefight, the turned CT’s gun would be loaded with blank ammunition in case he did turn his weapon on the Selous Scouts.  But given every gun was needed in the operational area it would not take long before the Turned was loaded up with live ammunition.

The definitive regimental history

The turneds were an integral part of the Selous Scout success, intimately comfortable and knowledgeable with the enemy strategy and able to move at will among the enemy and infiltrate the command structures.  Up to 500 turneds served with the Selous Scouts and in the book “Top Secret War” by Selous Scout commander Ron Reid-Daley there is mention of only one occasion where a turned shot Selous Scouts.  Not a bad record given so many men in the field for lengthy periods under the strain of operational combat.

So what does a turned look like in Christian mission?  I’m going to delve back into the early 1980s and dredge out a classic song by Christian satirist Steve Taylor – “I want to be a clone”.  In his indomitable style Taylor takes aim at the homogenization of people when they enter the sub-culture of church, rendering them ineffective in mission.

I’d gone through so much other stuff
That walking down the aisle was tough
But now I know it’s not enough
I want to be a clone

I asked the Lord into my heart
They said that was the way to start
But now you’ve got to play the part
I want to be a clone

Be a clone and kiss conviction goodnight
Cloneliness is next to Godliness, right?
I’m grateful that they show the way
‘Cause I could never know the way
To serve him on my own
I want to be a clone

They told me that I’d fall away
Unless I followed what they say
Who needs the Bible anyway?
I want to be a clone

Their language it was new to me
But Christianese got through to me
Now I can speak it fluently
I want to be a clone

The first album I purchased - age 12!

The Great Commission gives us a mandate of discipleship and mission.  But it seems like in our modernity we’ve prioritised them, rather than let them run concurrently.  For the new Christian it seems discipleship (if they get it) must come first and mission only comes when there is no risk of the person “falling back into sin” (there are no clear parameters for when this invisible line is reached by the way).

I want to be a clone contains an iconic conversation between new Christian and elders:

Send in the clones
Ah, I kind of wanted to tell my friends and people about it, you know?

You’re still a babe
You have to grow
Give it twenty years or so
‘Cause if you want to be one of His
Got to act like one of us

There are good reasons why some people might need a good dose of discipleship and training to consolidate their conversion to faith.  However, I’d be fascinated to know how many people in church and mission have thought about the benefits of quickly equipping a recent convert to share the initial excitement of their faith, not with a fawning, and convinced church congregation via testimony, but back in the world they’ve just come from?

Questions: Is it possible and/or responsible to unleash a fresh convert straight back into the mission field of their network of friends?  Does anyone have any good examples of this working?  Do we Christians have enough trust in the strength of our faith, ideology and God to “risk” a turned strategy like the Selous Scouts did?


4 Responses to Turned (Selous Scout mission)

  1. Byron says:

    During my recent mission trip to Rwanda, we encouraged new believers to go home and share the good news with their family. We also do the same thing back home with our youth ministry. I think it’s with adults in the U.S. that we somehow hold them back. Sounds like that might be true down under as well.

    • mzilikazi says:

      Hey Byron

      Thanks for the comment. Slightly side-tracking here, but you’re in camping too. How do you approach the whole “sending people home” thing? I grew up with the talk of camp being a mountain top experience and going home is a return to the valley, but it seems to me that’s setting people up to fail. Thoughts?

  2. MUM SAYS says:

    A turned strategy? What I love about the Christian faith is how individual we are! I think back to my early 30’s when the joy and wonder of conversion made me want to tell the world,,,that has never left me. I wonder at the grace of God who gave us two years of tremendous input from solid Christians…but all the time encouraging us to “tell our story”…..and all His openings ever since. But my joy was the Evangelism Explosion training which burst into my life and time and again I saw God at work and people falling in love with Him. I thrill at the freshness of new converts…but love the depth of solid followers of Jesus.
    I was shocked to know that some of the people in our home group had no idea how to share their faith….so…. They were presented with a shorter version of Evangelism Explosion and they were OFF at a trot! Praise God. We do need both, Discipleship and the joy of sharing ones faith…. but more importantly a life that glorifies Him. .Let us keep vigilant!. Very thought provoking Andrew …keep it up.

  3. Pingback: Selous Scout Mission: R & R « Co-mission

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