Famous Last Words
8 March 2018
Eva Burrows was an inspiring, respected and loved Salvo. Born and raised in Australia, she made a remarkable contribution to The Salvation Army as an officer for 64 years, serving in Africa, Sri Lanka, the United Kingdom and Australia, before becoming the world leader of The Salvation Army in 1986 and holding the office of General until 1993.
This International Women’s Day, we want to celebrate the contribution of General Burrows (AC, OF), who served and led The Salvation Army worldwide with distinction, humility and passion.
The following reflection, Famous Last Words, was written by General Burrows in 2008 and looks back on her life as a Salvationist.
Famous last words
Perhaps I am nearer than I know to saying my last words, famous or not. When I answered a phone call at home not long ago, a rather distinguished voice informed me that he had been assigned by The Times of London to write my obituary. To which I indignantly responded, “But I’m not dead yet.” And he nonchalantly replied, “Oh, but we have to be ready!”
No doubt he was ready with his obituary, which I hope The Times editor has accepted. Certainly I can assure you that I am ready – ready for that final home-call from the Lord whenever it does come. I must admit, though, I am enjoying Christ’s company and being his servant here on Earth so much that I hope The Times will need to keep the obituary on file for a long time yet.
Writing your own “Famous Last Words” is very different and more challenging than writing an obituary. I wondered how I would tackle it, and decided that I might concentrate on the conviction that has developed as I have lived my life under the Lord’s influence since I became a soldier of Christ and of The Salvation Army 60 years ago.
I am a daughter of officers, and in my childish innocence and ignorance I thought Jesus especially loved me. When I was a small child I was called Eve, and at Sunday school we used to sing a chorus which I thought was, “I am so glad that Jesus loves me, Jesus loves Eve and me”. Was it an early sign of the pride and self-confidence that was often to trip me up? Certainly I was downcast when, after I had learnt to read, I discovered the words were “Jesus loves even me”.
Now I know that it is a wonder that he loved “even” me, with all my faults and failings, with all the arrogance and rebellion of my youth, and my desire to take my own path of disobedience.
The conviction that my life was no longer centred on my own ego, but on Christ, and on Christ alone, came when as a university student I handed my life over to Jesus. After vowing that I would never go to The Salvation Army, I ended up at a youth councils and finally at the mercy seat. I sought Christ’s deep forgiveness, and my spiritual mindset from that moment was not just to follow Christ but also to identify my whole life’s purpose with his – and serve as an officer. And it has been my life’s theme ever since.
It was when I was a cadet that I found the Bible verse that expressed my life’s motivation in Colossians 1:18 (in those days we used the King James version): “… that in all things, Christ shall have the pre-eminence.”
As I reflect on my life, my appointments and the countries where I have served, I would like to share with you some of the lasting impressions that remain – and they all centre on Christ Jesus.
I was a 23-year-old probationary lieutenant when I went to Africa as an exuberant, enthusiastic missionary teacher. At our mission station, the Howard Institute, I was ready to do or die for Jesus; to live incarnationally, to love as he loved, and serve as he served. There I learnt to see Christ through African eyes, and loved him even more.
You can understand why the words of an elderly African Salvationist made a lasting impression on me when he said, “Captain, if I thought my prayers could be answered, I would pray for you to be black.” I offered those words to the Lord as a gift.
For 17 years, Zimbabwe was my home. I never thought I would leave. In reflection I treasure the opportunities that so enriched my life. There I discovered and developed the leadership qualities and gifts that I hadn’t known I possessed. I felt so much at home there that when the Army leaders instructed me to leave and take an appointment in London, it was a grief experience. By now I was principal of the girls secondary boarding school. I saw my role as giving young African women the chance to shine in a culture where they were often rated second-class, and to find through Christ life of the best quality.
Everything that happens to us contributes value to life if we know how to use it under the Spirit’s guidance. After the simplicity and frugality of life in Africa, it was a struggle for a time to adjust to living in the Western world, but God had lots for me to learn. The lasting impression of my years in leadership at the Army’s International College for Officers was the way God opened my eyes to the world-encircling internationalism of the Army. I shared with, listened to and taught officers from every part of the globe. I was at the hub of the Army world, and at the centre, where Army history came alive. No longer was William Booth just a figure of history, but very real. I absorbed something of his spirit and passion for souls, his care for the disadvantaged, and for the extension of our movement to every corner of the globe. Among my last words, there will still be, Christ for the World: the World for Christ.
No matter how much of life’s experience and wisdom you may have gained, you can still get surprises. Big surprises! After thinking that my future as an officer would be in the educational field, and rather looking forward to that, there came a bolt from the blue. At least a bolt from the General, who appointed me in charge of the Women’s Social Services of Great Britain. What is the Lord up to here? I wondered. I was pretty soon to find out that Christ’s bias for the poor went far beyond the disadvantaged and needy of Africa, to the last, the least and the lost of the marginalised in the crowded cities of Britain. It was an illumination: his deep love for the poor, the abandoned and the unloved permeated my soul with a passion that has never left me, and will colour my life till I die.
My next move was also unexpected, an appointment to Sri Lanka for my first territorial command. What lasting impressions were made by my years there where I was faced with leading our Army in an Asian culture? I discovered a new dimension to life, serving where there were strongly entrenched non-Christian faiths. Learning to respect the sincere believers of the Buddhist, Hindu and Islamic religions brought me to a new awareness of the uniqueness of Jesus Christ. Imagine my surprise when, invited to present a Christian “Thought for the Day” on the English radio in Colombo, I discovered there was a “Thought for the Day” by each of the four religions. Fortunately I was able to listen to the four broadcasts for a few weeks before it was my turn. As I listened, it seemed to me there was little difference between them, for mostly they were a series of admonitions on how to live a good, religiously moral life in order to please God. Reflecting on this challenge to my participation, I realised in a new and meaningful way that what Christianity had to offer was not an introduction to a set of ethical rules, but an introduction to Jesus Christ himself, the living Christ. He is not dead like the Buddha or Mohammed, and he does not merely show us the way – he is the way. Yes, I had known that as a theological truth, but now like an incandescent light it came to my soul with new realism and power. That is what I must proclaim. From that time on I have said that I do not preach Christianity, but I preach Christ – our glorious Saviour and Lord. That I will do till I die.
Not long after that experience in Colombo, I was having lunch in the home of a wealthy Indian, and was impressed by a magnificent painting on the wall with the portraits of Moses, Buddha, Jesus and Mohammed. In answer to my questions about its origin, he said he had paid for it to be painted because, though he was not a follower of any religion, he admired all four. They were the founders of the great faiths of the world, and he saw them as of equal value to mankind. I concurred with his first point but then, with courtesy, told him why I could not agree with his second point, explaining that Jesus Christ, unlike the others, rose from the dead, and lives to walk with us along our journey of life. This confirmation of my “Thought for the Day” experience was another reminder that the resurrection of our Lord is not just an important theological tenet, but also the key to our faith. The crucifixion and the resurrection are essential aspects of the one mighty redeeming act of Christ whose saving grace triumphed when he rose from the dead. My “famous last words” might even be, “He lives. My Redeemer lives”.
Among the lasting impressions of my life at this time was my first attendance at a High Council to elect the next General at Sunbury Court. I was the newest territorial commander there, rather over-awed by the many, high-powered Army notables present. My feeling was that it would be best for me to listen and learn and say nothing, sitting as I was at the end of the line of seniority. At the close of the first session I was staggered to be called up by the President of the Council, who said he wished to appoint me the Chaplain of the High Council. I had the temerity to say, “But Commissioner, do you know I am the youngest and least experienced leader here?” His gracious reply was, “My dear Colonel, spiritual authority does not depend on age or experience.” It was a lesson I took seriously to heart, and put into practice.
The next stage of my life was a return home to Australia in 1982. After 31 years of officership in many parts of the world, this was my first appointment here. The Lord calmed my fears, and I was amazed at how quickly that inner adjustment mechanism got into action. I felt at home right away. I’ll never forget how pleased I was when, after giving a talk at the meeting on Christmas Day at the old Gill Memorial hostel for homeless men, one of them said to me as I shook his hand, “You talk real ocker, you know.” But then I have found that we can feel “at home” anywhere and everywhere when the Lord is with us.
What I wanted most of all was to lead the territory after the style of Jesus Christ. Was that too simple an ambition in a modern, sophisticated Western territory? My introduction of Church Growth programs was not to use some popular technique to grow The Salvation Army, but as a way to introduce Aussies, often cynical about Christianity and the Church, to Jesus Christ himself. My passion to give unemployed young people a chance to learn job skills and find hope for the future led to Employment 2000. My ardent speech at the Taxation Summit in Canberra was to highlight our motivation and Christ’s mission through this movement.
My lasting impressions of those years are the miracles that Christ brought into the lives of people by his Spirit, and how he led us forward to accomplish his will and grow his Army through its diverse ministries.
In 1986, at my third High Council attendance, my election as General changed the whole course of my final years of active officer service. A lasting impression of those years is the constant sense of privilege I felt at being granted this role as Christ’s servant. You’d never take the job on unless you believed God had placed you there, and you can only do it in his strength. For me those seven years encompassed the challenge of returning to the lands formerly dominated by the communist, atheistic philosophy where The Salvation Army had been banned for so many decades. It led to the restructuring of the administration of the Army in the United Kingdom and globally. It allowed me opportunity to develop training in leadership of officers in Asia and Africa who would soon take positions of responsibility in a wider, multicultural leadership of The Salvation Army.
My brief included travelling to all corners of the world to visit, to preach, teach and inspire our people. It was with quiet delight that I heard an African Salvationist say in his words of thanks for my visit, “General, you are our global parent.” The congregation gave him a wild round of applause. Yes, I thought, our Army is one Army, one great family crossing all national and cultural boundaries. One in Christ. On the screen of my mind flashed the sight of a mercy seat, in the shape of a massive cross, in the arena of the Royal Albert Hall in London at the International Congress meeting a short time before. At that cross knelt “a great multitude of every nation, and tribe, and language’, hundreds of Salvationists in every style and colour of uniform, kneeling by the cross of our Saviour and Lord. Christ has supremacy in The Salvation Army.
To recount the lasting impressions of those years would take a book in itself. But most impressive of all were not meetings with kings, queens or presidents, but the beautiful, unforgettable salvation soldiers of the cross whom it will always be a joy to reflect on until I greet them again in glory. Salvationists like CSM Thankimah in east India, who began life selling watches on the streets of Aizawl. Now, prospered by the Lord, and owning a magnificent business, he spends his wealth on paying the salaries of couples to evangelise in unreached areas of his country. Or YPSM Clara Page, an exuberant African-American of South Carolina whose organisation of a Sunday school of over a thousand, young and old, was magnificent. She told me how she passionately longed for all to come to know her Saviour. Or Major Yin Hung Shun, who led our Army in China after the forced expulsion of our missionaries. His endurance under the cruel conditions of a Communist labour camp during the Cultural Revolution made him a hero of the faith and an inspiration to the whole Army world.
But life doesn’t end at retirement from active officer service; lasting impressions continue to mount up and doors of service for Christ continue to open. I am now an active soldier of Melbourne Corps Project 614, and I see as many miracles on Bourke Street as I saw in the villages of Africa, or the hostels of London, or the streets of Colombo. In the last 12 months I have had the exciting task of preparing eight young men and women to take their place in the ranks of the Army as soldiers, ready to make the values of the kingdom of Christ, and not the values of the world, the standard for their life, to fight passionately against social injustice, and to seek to win the world for Jesus.
No wonder I hope The Times of London does not need to publish my obituary just yet.
But whenever that day does come, my last words will be that Jesus Christ has ever been the supreme and passionate love of my life. I have earnestly endeavoured to centre my teaching, and preaching, and serving on him, though it has been so imperfectly. I now await with patience the golden dawning, when I shall behold him face to face.
Note: General Eva Burrows was “promoted to glory” on 15 March 2015 in Melbourne.
This article first appeared in 2008 and was edited by Kim Haworth of Salvo Publishing.