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Eva Burrows (1929 – )

 

Eva Burrows

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1929 —

The eighth of nine children, this Australian’s parents named her “Eva Evangeline” after Evangeline Booth, the fiery, red-haired daughter of Catherine and William, founders of The Salvation Army. Several years later, while she was at Brisbane University enlarging her appreciation of poetry, modern fiction and drama, a medical student invited her to a bible-study. To her surprise she found intelligent people who took the book seriously and didn’t find it boring. A Varsity Christian Fellowship summer camp exposed her to Bishop Marcus Loane, Anglican preacher and Reformation scholar. His exposition of the book of Romans forced her to take stock of her life. The “hound of heaven” was noticeably closing in upon her. Her conversion and her vocation to the ministry were simultaneous. From that moment she declared that she wanted only to discern and do God’s will for her, regardless of cost. The cost for her, she came to know, included the renunciation of marriage. (She is the only one of nine siblings not to marry. At the same time she has always acknowledged that the vocation of marriage is frequently more demanding.)

Upon her ordination Salvation Army authorities appointed Burrows first to Southern Rhodesia. The Howard Institute there included an education centre, a hospital, an outpatient clinic, primary and secondary schools, a teacher-training college, a seminary and, of course, a worship-facility with a thriving congregation. Different responsibilities as preacher, teacher and administrator would occupy her for the next seventeen years. “I didn’t see myself as bossing the Africans”, she insisted, “I never had that white supremacy idea…. I made a lot of mistakes, as any young person does, but I never made the mistake of thinking I knew it all as far as the Africans were concerned.”

On her first leave from the mission-field she completed a master’s degree in African education at Sidney University, Australia. Longmans, the well-known publisher of textbooks, regularly consulted her when it was about to bring out a new schoolbook for use in Africa. In addition she became advisor to the government with respect to the training of teachers.

Holidays were taken in South Africa, the nation notorious for its policy of apartheid. As often as Burrows stood in the “Blacks” lineup and was told to move over to the “Whites”, she simply walked away — the most telling protest she could make. While Rhodesia didn’t have an official policy of apartheid, in fact racial discrimination was practised everywhere. Deliberately she took black students into settings that had been tacitly set aside for whites only.

The next assignment was to The Salvation Army’s international seminary in London, England. Five years later Burrows was put in charge of Women’s Social Services around the world. Immediately she saw that flexibility and adaptability were crucial if Christians were to do anything about the ravages of evil: fewer homes were needed for unwed mothers, more homes for victims of domestic violence and substance-abuse.

Recognizing her resilience and the multiplicity of her gifts, her superiors sent her to superintend the denomination’s work in Sri Lanka. (Two-thirds of The Salvation Army’s members live in the third world.) In 1883 Salvationists had waded through snake-infested swamps in order to speak and embody the life-giving word of the crucified. Now there were five thousand on the island immediately east of India. The challenges which greeted her from the wider society were startling: two main cultural groups (Sinhalese and Tamils), as well as four main religious groups (Buddhists, Hindus, Muslims and Christians). Undaunted, she set about learning yet another language.

In 1979 Burrows was appointed to Scotland, and quickly learned that Glasgow is the roughest city in Europe. A major concern for her was the number of women with drinking problems who were frequently homeless as well. (Alcoholism among women is fourteen times more prevalent in Scotland than in England.)

Burrows’ native Australia welcomed her next. Appalled at the unemployment she found there, together with its social consequences, she envisioned and implemented “Employment 2000”, a factory-based program for young adults where job-skills could be acquired and self-confidence magnified. The nation honoured her for her work in this regard the day the prime minister made her an Officer of the Order of Australia.

Nineteen eighty-six found Burrows elected international General. (The college of commissioners elects the general just as the college of cardinals elects the pope in the Roman Catholic Church.) In an organization whose hierarchical chain-of-command is non-negotiable her authority is not to be overturned. Not surprisingly she lost no time making major changes wherever she felt such changes to be Kingdom-serving. For instance, she insisted that under-utilized leper colonies in the countries of central Africa be turned into AIDS hostels. (In Zambia one person in ten has AIDS.) Her greatest thrill the year she became international chief was her renewed contact with fellow-Salvationists in China.

Needing only five hours’ sleep per night, Burrows works a long day, yet manages to relax with literature, classical music and theatre. Her devotional life is nourished by contemplatives of the church catholic, such as Mother Julian of Norwich, de Caussade, and St. Theresa of Avila.

Despite her whirlwind social activism, Burrows’ top priority remains evangelism: “We must work all the time for redemption and reconciliation”. Her global perception on church and world lends enormous credibility to her sobering assessment: “I think that a lot of Christians in the affluent countries want a religion that costs them very little”.

Victor A. Shepherd
January 1993

(Photograph courtesy of The Salvation Army)