Australian Biography

Eva Burrows - full interview transcript

Tape of 13

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Do you think a leader in a very senior position such as you were with the responsibility for a whole organisation needs a lot of courage?

Yes, I often call courage the big C. I know in Australia the big C is usually cancer, but you need a lot of courage to take the risks and in a sense every leader, business corporation or politics, needs courage to go ahead with what they believe is right and their convictions. But as a Christian leader you have something extra. And that is that the risks are the risks of faith. And so often you have guidance from God that you can take this step. And he, in a wonderful way, may confirm that. So I think it's very important in leadership: courage to follow through on your dream.

How does that guidance come? I mean, you pray for guidance. How do you know when your prayer's been answered?

Well, I think it's more like an awareness that something is right. For example, if you have to make a decision and there are three choices, then you pray that God will enrich your mind so that your thinking will be straight, that your motivation will be totally unselfish, that you're not looking for yourself out of this. That you're really looking to choose what's the right thing for the work of God at that time. And I believe he guides your mind. I mean when I offered my life to God, he sanctified my mind as well. And I believe he guides you to the choice which is the right choice. If down the road a track you find something was wrong, then you have to regroup and just ask for guidance to see how you could change the direction. But normally I haven't felt that I'm as cocksure. Not that. But the decision was made under the guidance of God.

You're somebody who likes to consult with others to make the decision, you said, but you also have described yourself as someone with a tendency to be bossy. How do you reconcile these two things?

Well, perhaps they reconcile themselves in that in order to show that what we have decided upon has been in the group, then it prevents me from being bossy, because it's their shared decision with me. And I think consultative leadership really came to be the way I enjoyed it as well, because I like to hear what other people think. And therefore I find that working with the group is also more deeply satisfying. Leadership is very lonely, it's lonely at the top, not just when you're single. It's lonely when you have to make decisions. And therefore the more ideas you can have filtering up to the final decision which you have to make, and I think of myself as being someone who really did have the final decision, then it's much better when you can feel that you're bringing everybody with you, because it's a decision you've made together.

Looking back at those decisions that you did make, are you conscious of having made any mistakes?

Well, everybody makes mistakes, and I've made my mistakes with everyone else. And if you discover that those mistakes have been made, then you have to be honest and admit it. And then come back and consult again. Look at the whole situation -- perhaps in the choice of a person, it turns out to be wrong person, then you have to consider how best to remedy that situation.

Having had all the interest, the responsibility, some would say the power, of being the General in the international Salvation Army, how did it feel when it came time to retire? And you had to step off out of the limelight, out of that centre stage position. Was that a hard thing for you?

Many people ask me that because they think that perhaps I couldn't cope because there was, as with Mother Teresa, there was a great deal of adulation for me. Not so much from the world in general, but certainly from the Salvation Army world. There was a great deal of admiration because I had accomplished so much. I'd taken us back into the Third World, I'd restructured the Salvation Army, I'd had the courage to do many of the things people had talked about for a long time but somehow had never managed to do. So yes, I knew that it was going to be a very different lifestyle. But in the Salvation Army, after your name when you retire, they put an R, which stands for retired. But I often say for me it did not mean reluctant. I actually came to retirement feeling I had accomplished something for God and my life had been used to his glory, and to the growth and development of the Salvation Army. And seven years was longer than most Generals of the Salvation Army, apart from the early Generals. So I felt I'd been given plenty of chance and opportunity and therefore I must again positively look to the future to see what I could do. I knew I would get lots of invitations to speak, to address people in seminars and things like that. So I wouldn't lose that great privilege of speaking and preaching the gospel. But I was going to greatly miss the camaraderie around the table at those discussions and board meetings. I think I thrived on that. So what was I going to do? So I was ready to offer myself to all new kinds of assignments, but then quite surprisingly, very unexpectedly, I had an invitation to become a director of an insurance company called ANSFA, which has its mother house in Sweden. ANSFA is a word that means, in Swedish, responsibility. And it had been a total abstainer group who used all their profits to educate especially young people on the problems that arise from alcohol and drugs, alcohol abuse. So I thought, 'Oh, well, I'll accept that and just see how it goes,' because that would fill that little void. And it's turned out to be a most exciting and thrilling assignment. And I feel that I've been able to encourage the group themselves to see that important responsibility of using that sector of our profits that we can release to definitely go to many programs which are quite exciting that we're supporting in schools throughout Australia.

When you were General, how much money did you earn as General of the Salvation Army?

Well, in the Salvation Army we actually don't say we get a salary, we call it an allowance. And in the Salvation Army you are provided with a house and furniture and everything in it. And you're normally provided with a car to do your work in ministry. But none of these things belong to you, of course. And a small allowance to make sure that you can live properly. As the General I think I would probably have got about 10,000 Australian dollars a year. And with that I was quite content, because I had a house and I had everything I needed in that sense. But you don't need a lot of money, you know.

No wonder the administrative costs of the Salvation Army are the lowest in the world. What would the head of another big, say, charity earn?

Well, I do know that one of the most outstanding women in America is Mrs Dole, wife of the man who stood for the Presidency [Bob Dole]. She's the head of the Red Cross in America. I think her allowance or salary is quarter of a million dollars a year. I never think of money in that sense. As long as one is comfortable and has enough on which to live, that's the important thing, and money doesn't bring you happiness anyway. And the Salvation Army is now making greater provision for their officers in retirement particularly.

Yes, you live in a very nice apartment here.

I have an apartment which they provide, sort of grace and favour, as you say in Australia I think. And I have a small, very small pension, because I receive a government pension, because that is expected of us. We would not have money to live on our own pension. I think my pension would be similar to the amount that a single woman could earn without losing her pension. So, of course, now that I actually work at ANSFA, I lose half of the money I receive from ANSFA because for every dollar I earn I lose 50 cents of my pension. But I don't mind about that because of the stimulation of that camaraderie at the directors' meeting, where several of the members on the board are outstanding Christians and good thinkers and businessmen.

When, in many years to come, you're finally promoted to glory, what do you think that will be like?

Well, one thing I really hope is that I get promoted to glory and die with my boots on. I hope I'll be able to keep active and vital and that I will just die. I know I can't be sure of that. I know I could get Alzheimer's, like many people, and need care and attention. I'm really delighted that in the Salvation Army we have a beautiful provision for senior citizens in our retirement villages and we have many nursing homes. So I have this assurance that I would be cared for. Not necessarily just by my family, but the Salvation Army would see that I would die in comfort and that I would be cared for and loved. So that as a person suffering you may not be aware when death comes. But if you die with your boots on, you know, you can really rejoice, because that means you've been able to go straight to be with God. No, I don't know how long I'll live. I could live a long time. I hope I'll fill it up with everything that's worthwhile and take the opportunities that are given to me. And I not only have opportunities in the Salvation Army, even from other denominations I'm invited to speak and share my experience with them. I was even invited by the previous Prime Minister to share in that special day he held when he was looking for a strategy for the 21st century. I would be very grateful for those kind of opportunities. So I'm not going to be sitting around waiting for the day I die. That'll be a glorious day.

And what will it be like beyond that day? What do you imagine that will be like?

Well, The Bible has a lot of picturesque imagery, but I don't think I'll be playing a harp and just sitting there enjoying a sort of idle life. I think there's enough in the Scripture to show us that when we die and go to the life which is beyond this life -- about which we don't know a great deal [and] I'm not worried about not knowing that -- I believe it's also a place of growth, that there, you know, I might even be able to share in the theological discussions and I think it's a place of spiritual and mental growth. And it's a place of great contentment and joy. The Bible tells us there'll be no sorrow or weeping or sighing. You'll be in the presence of God Almighty, so it will be an exhilarating and more wonderful life than ever this life has been. And I'm a very fortunate person, I've had such a wonderful life. But that one's going to be even more wonderful. I wonder if the Apostle Paul will be having classes in study of the Romans? I don't know. It's going to be great.

Is there any part of the world where the Salvation Army isn't working?

Yes, there are some parts. We are not working in the Middle East, Iran, Iraq and other centres, Lebanon, Egypt. The Salvation Army was interested in going to Egypt much earlier in our history but they wanted to give permission for us to come as a social and charitable agency and not to bring our religion with us. So we said, 'Well, if we can't do both, then we won't come at all.' And of course, nowadays, with the tremendous demands on resources of personnel and finance, you have to think very carefully before you actually initiate work in a new part of the world. And you also look to see what is already being done there by other denominations. We're not in competition, so therefore we may say well, that's a place where we decide not to go. But we are certainly in over a hundred countries in the world.

And you have a strong presence in Asia apart from the old British colonies?

Yes, yes, we of course are very strong in India, but we are also working in Japan, Korea, Hong Kong, Philippines, Indonesia, in all those areas. Yes, we do have a good presence there. And of course, the Christian church has developed so much in Korea, and the Salvation Army is a prominent part of the Christian church there. Not so big in Japan, of course, because the total Christian church in Japan is only about one per cent of the population. But the Salvation Army has been very much appreciated in Japan. Interestingly enough, when we began there we also had some hospitals. Tuberculosis was a big problem in Japan, we had a TB hospital. We even had Japanese officers who were doctors and one, a woman Japanese officer, who was a Salvation Army Colonel. And the royal household had a great appreciation of us. We also made a dramatic impact, because we marched into the areas where all the prostitutes lived. The Geisha girls. And there'd been passed a law which said a Geisha girl should be free to leave if she wanted to. But nobody was allowing any of these girls to leave, so the Salvation Army took support for these girls and offered them freedom and that brought us into a lot of controversy in Japan. And I think we became very well known for our concern and compassion for people. So much so that the Imperial family still give a donation, every year, to the Salvation Army. Our leader, who is Japanese, he would arrive at the palace and receive his gift. So much so that when I as a General visited Japan, I visited there on two occasions and on both occasions I was received by the Imperial family.

You've met with very many world leaders, haven't you? Could you tell us about that.

Yes, that's been a great privilege. Mostly it is because of the acknowledgment of the Salvation Army and its work in a country. Yes, I met the Emperor, Emperor Akihito of Japan, which is considered a great honour...

I met the Emperor of Japan and it was about three years after I'd met him previously and when I came in this time, he greeted me warmly. And said, 'I'm so pleased to you again.' He had no papers with him to remind him of what to say. But he spoke knowledgeably about the Salvation Army, and then said, 'General, there's one reason why I'm glad to see you. Because the Salvation Army has opened the very first hospice for the terminally ill in Japan.' And with a gracious Japanese bow he thanked me. I have met leaders in other parts of the world as well. One who impressed me was the Prime Minister of Norway, a woman Prime Minister, Gro Brundtland. And when I went to see her she commented on the fact that I was a woman leader, and then she was proud to tell me that half of the members of the Norwegian parliament are women. And I remember what she said because I thanked her very much because the Norwegian government is very generous to the Salvation Army in the Third World, through their overseas aid program, which is called NORAD. I thanked her for that, because they'd supported our work for AIDS sufferers in Central Africa. And she said to me, 'Oh we are very happy to help the Salvation Army, because you not only meet people's physical needs, but that you also help them to stand on their feet and begin life for themselves afresh.' Yes, she was quite impressive.

Do you think it's very important that you wear the uniform?

Absolutely.

Why, why the uniform?

Well, as they say, the uniform gets you noticed. No, the uniform says we're visible, and we're available. Even as the General, I would be in some airport in the world and someone would come up to me and say, 'Could you tell me where I can find some help for my tickets?', or something like that. As soon as people see the uniform, they know that we're available to help them, so it's part of being a Salvationist. If you are an officer, you wear your uniform regularly to your work. If you are a member of the Salvation Army you don't have to wear a uniform and we do have now many members who prefer to wear civilian clothes. And it's rather nice when we have our church services that everybody's not in uniform. Then people who aren't in uniform feel that they are quite welcome. But for a person who is ordained and fully involved in ministry, then I think it's important that we are visible.

Thank you.

Do you have a presence in Asia apart from those countries that used to be part of the British Empire?

Oh yes, really quite significantly I think, because although our Salvation Army in India is very strong, we are at work in Japan, Korea, Hong Kong, Philippines, Indonesia. And we are hoping to return to China. That was one of the great privileges when I was the General, to go to China and to meet some of our old Salvation Army colleagues. We are doing a great deal of social program projects in China still. And now, for the first time, we've set up a Salvation Army headquarters, mini-headquarters in China.

You've said that relationships are the most important things to you in your life. Have you ever been tempted towards a relationship with a man? Has there ever been a time when you thought of that?

Oh yes, I wouldn't say tempted, even. I think that's pretty natural. And I have liked a lot of men in my life, enjoyed their company, and had a strong friendship with them. But perhaps I was as if tempted to move away from my vocation, my calling, when I came back to Australia after I'd worked in Africa for some years and had a friendship which, to me, was a natural and beautiful one. But I had to come to a very serious decision -- was I prepared to give up my ministry, my ordination, because this person was not ordained and had no desire for that kind of ministry, and felt no calling to that. So that it was therefore a very big decision for me. It's always a decision whoever you marry, of course, and as a Christian you would always consult God and be sure that the person was the person who was going to be the right person for your life. But in my case so many things about the matter seemed right and natural but yet it would mean compromising that decision and vow which I'd made to serve God in the ministry. So before the friendship got too far I had to withdraw.

Was that very hard?

It was painful, yeah. I'm pretty normal.

And you say that you like to live in the present and not to regret. For a period after that, after you'd made that decision, were you able to put that conviction into practice? That you didn't look back?

Absolutely. I did not look back and ever regret that decision because I felt that God would have directed me to change my mind and go back and have marriage and home and a family. But that redirection never came. And so I didn't contemplate what might have been. I went ahead with my life and you know that in Africa, when I returned to Africa, life there was so absorbing. It was so thrilling to be encouraging and helping these black young people to achieve something with what you've been able to teach them, that the work itself was very absorbing. I didn't have to do a lot of this so-called sublimation really. Because God is no man or woman's debtor. Whatever you give up for him, he always give you much more in return. And as you will have discovered, I doubt whether I would ever have been the General if I had been married, even to an ordained Salvationist.

You've been give a lot of compliments and a lot of accolades in your life. Are there any that particularly warmed your heart?

Yes, yes. One of the things that I think's so important in life is to seek to identify with the people with whom you work, and to understand their mind, to get sort of get inside their skin if you like. And when I was in Africa, I really tried to understand what it was like to be an African. That's why I tried to learn their language and spent time with the elderly people in the villages. So it was a great joy and unforgettable moment for me when one day a very elderly black Salvation Army officer, in talking to me -- I was a captain -- I remember she said to me, 'Captain, if I thought my prayer could be answered, I would pray for you to be black.' I call that a great compliment. He knew I could never be black, because I'm a white person, but what he was telling me was that I'd tried to be like them and that they would be pleased to have me as a member of their race. So of all the compliments that I've received over the years, and they've been from the highest sources, I consider that the best of the lot.

You've been given secular honours as well as the honours that you've had from the Salvation Army. You were made an AO for your services in the Australian context. And then on your retirement as General, you were elevated to AC, which is the highest order in the Order of Australia, the Commander of the Order of Australia. What do you feel about these kinds of honours from the secular world? What do they mean to you?

I felt very honoured to receive those, because they were in Australia, that I had contributed something to the life of Australia, even though I'd spent all those years in Africa and Asia and the UK, in Europe. Yet something I'd done was of value to this nation. And I felt that was a wonderful privilege. And so the day we went to Yarralumla House in Canberra, with my sister and her husband, that was a very special day. I indeed felt honoured. I have received honours, the other honours would mainly be from universities and receiving honorary degrees, one of which was very important and that was in Korea, where the Salvation Army is a very vital movement. And I was invited to receive an honorary Doctor of Law or Doctor of Humanities [Doctorate of Liberal Arts], I think it was, in the Women's EHWA University [Seoul]. This had been a mission school belonging to the Methodists and it had gradually developed to become a university for women, thousands of women. And the principal, the chancellor of that university, was a woman, so it was an occasion when I felt honoured to be amongst women. And I suppose the other one that gives me great pleasure was when my own university, Queensland University, asked me would I receive an honorary Doctorate of Philosophy at the graduation ceremony, at the very campus where I had been a student. One thing about honorary degrees, you always have to give a speech. So that day I was able to speak something of my own convictions.

What does it mean to you to be an Australian?

I think that's precious. This is the land of my birth, this is where my roots are, this is where I belong. Everybody has to belong somewhere. It's lovely to have a sense of belonging. And you know when you go and work overseas, to come home it really is a sense of coming home. And perhaps I'm sentimental enough to enjoy that song I Still Call Australia Home. No, it is my home. And I think it's a fine country. And in recent years we've, I think, shown to the whole world that we could accept into this land people of many different races. Someone has said, and I'm not sure if it's true, but Australia has received more immigrants per head of the population than any other country in the world, apart from Israel. And we have become a culturally diverse country. We've been an example to the world. So I pray that some of this latest discussion about Australians possibly being racist will soon die out, because we are not racist. We are very welcoming people. And although at the beginning perhaps we would want a person from Hong Kong or Philippines to become an Australian, I think we're realising that people bring with them their own cultural background and that that can enrich Australia, and that we're now, more than ever, able to look upon ourself as a culturally diverse land.

[end of interview]