Saturday 22 October 2016

Obituary: General Eva Burrows

Head of the Salvation Army who led the movement back into Russia and Eastern Europe

Published 12/04/2015 | 02:30

SOLDIERS OF THE LORD: Eva Burrows straightening the puggaree worn by a fellow delegate at the Salvation Army’s first international youth congress in London in 1950. Photo: AP
SOLDIERS OF THE LORD: Eva Burrows straightening the puggaree worn by a fellow delegate at the Salvation Army’s first international youth congress in London in 1950. Photo: AP

General Eva Burrows, who died last month, aged 85, became only the second woman to be appointed General (international leader) of the Salvation Army, in May 1986; the first was General Evangeline Booth, daughter of the founder, General William Booth, who led the movement from 1934 to 1939.

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The Australian-born Eva Burrows was the only woman candidate of seven and was elected by the army's high council to replace the retiring General Karl Wahlstrom. During her seven years as the leader of the Salvation Army - the highest ecclesiastical position held by any woman in the world - she proved highly effective, directing operations in some 90 countries and reawakening the army's founding spirit of evangelism by leading it back into Eastern Europe after the fall of communism.

In 1991, with the Oslo Temple Band playing Bravest of the Brave and the Salvationists' yellow, red and blue flag waving proudly, she led a march, in full uniform, through the streets of Leningrad - the first in Russia since 1923 when the Salvation Army's work was ended by the Bolsheviks. In October Square she preached the "message of salvation", and afterwards the organisation paid a visit to Moscow to distribute Bibles and tracts to drug addicts and alcoholics, the beginning of a concerted effort to help coordinate different charitable and social services that sprang up after the fall of communism to cope with the country's social problems, as well as to help fill the spiritual vacuum left by decades of official atheism.

Two years later, Eva Burrows returned to Moscow to ordain and commission the Army's first 10 post-communist Russian recruits. They included a former Soviet army colonel, a university professor, a paediatrician, a psychologist and a lawyer.

The eighth of nine children, Evangeline Evelyn Burrows was born in Newcastle, New South Wales, Australia, on September 15, 1929 to Salvationist officer parents who named her after Evangeline Booth. As a girl, she led a nomadic existence, moving around Australia as her parents followed the callings of their faith, and sharing the poverty of the people among whom they lived.

In later life she confessed that, as a child, she had sometimes hit out against her strict upbringing: "I went through a sort of rebellious stage in my teens," she recalled. "I refused to go to church with my parents, and I thought that the strict and disciplined life of the Salvation Army didn't allow me to fly my own wings."

Eva became the first member of her family to attend university, reading English and History at Queensland University, but while there she returned to the Salvation Army fold after attending an evangelical service and accepting an invitation to submit to the will of God.

She attended the Salvation Army's William Booth Memorial Training College in London, and was commissioned an officer in 1951. She served in Zimbabwe (then Rhodesia) as a teacher, became vice-principal in 1970, then principal, of the International College for Officers, and subsequently leader of the Salvation Army Women's Social Services in Britain.

She served as territorial commander in Sri Lanka, in Scotland, and finally southern Australia, where she helped the then Australian prime minister Bob Hawke to develop a national scheme to help unemployed young people.

In Britain in the 1970s she spent much time in Glasgow where, such was her popularity, the Salvation Army in Scotland decided to name its first combined nursing, residential and care home in her honour.

As 13th General of the Salvation Army, Eva Burrows was outspoken on social and political issues, opposing the apartheid regime in South Africa and urging the Church of England to ordain women at a time when the General Synod was reluctant to take the plunge. "In the Salvation Army," she observed, "right from the very beginning, women were given two great privileges - one was to be ordained and to preach, and the other was to have any position equal with men."

She also won praise for her handling of a crisis in the Army's financial affairs in the early 1990s after some of its officers became involved in a fraudulent investment scheme that resulted in the disappearance of £6.2m.

For Eva Burrows, her commitment to the Salvation Army was for life, though she admitted that were she to live her life again there was one thing she might change: "I am called to this ministry, and a life of celibacy is something that I have chosen. But [if I did it again] the only thing that would interest me would be marriage, because I'm a normal human being."

But, she reflected, "If I were married, though, I would be Mrs General Somebody, not General Burrows."

Eva Burrows was appointed an Officer of the Order of Australia in 1986, advanced to Companion of the Order of Australia in 1994.

Sunday Independent

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