When my dad first served in Vietnam he was in the 2nd squadron of the Special Air Service Regiment (SASR). The Australian SASR was and still is an elite force within the Australian Army and highly regarded as one of the best special forces in the world. In Vietnam, the mission was to conduct long range reconnaissance and surveillance, and if need be, offensive operations within enemy held territory. On long range reconnaissance missions they would seek to avoid engagements so that they could collect intelligence information.
I remember my dad telling me he was on a SAS patrol and observed the Battle of Coral-Balmoral, the largest engagement between Australian soldiers and the North Vietnamese Army in the Vietnam War. Concealed from the enemy, he watched the battle unfold and relayed information to HQ. He reflected on his frustration of being an observer, when his desire was to join in the fight.
My dad got his chance to stand and fight and not disengage. It just took a near fatal wound from his first tour in Vietnam. He should have been medically discharged but his desire to engage the enemy was so strong, he shredded his medical documents and lied about his injuries.
After his recovery he joined the 2nd Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment (2RAR) and I remember him telling me about one of his first (I believe) patrols with 2RAR. His section had a South Vietnamese tracker that was attached and both he and the tracker noticed signs in the jungle that indicated a significant enemy element had been present. The tracker immediately fired off a round from his rifle.
Angry and with a loaded and cocked weapon, my dad ran to the tracker and was prepared to shoot him. I was confused at this part in the story. Was the tracker trying to signal the enemy to attack? Was he a traitor? Was it accidental? My dad said that wasn’t it and the tracker knew exactly what he was doing. He fired a signalling shot, indicating their position in order to avoid an engagement with the enemy.
Why was my dad so angry? The tracker put his innate desire for self preservation and safety above that of the mission. He didn’t want to engage in the actual conflict. It’s normal to not want to be shot at, but the tracker sabotaged mission success to avoid conflict!
Christians can be like this too (metaphorically). I’ve been like this at times. There’s a world full of brokenness that cries out for deep, sometimes dirty, sometimes dangerous engagement. There is a fight to engage in, a conflict over the destinies of individuals and nations. But sometimes I’d rather not deal with the personal cost involved to my own life and well being. The comfort zone is comfortable. I’d rather avoid the confrontations or watch from a safe and concealed place. I can learn from what others have done and never actually do anything myself. But that’s not engagement. A broken world needs to be served and encouraged. At close quarters.
When I think of my dad I’m reminded of the NKJV of Matthew 11:32 ‘And from the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven suffers violence, and the violent take it by force.’ I think this speaks to a willingness to engage, to fight our spiritual enemy, to serve our fellow humans, no matter the cost, so that God’s will is done here on earth as in heaven. It’s time to love the engagement.