Historic China visit for Eva

THE youngest person to be elected general of the Salvation Army today becomes the first leader of a Christian church to visit China at the invitation of the China Church Council.

General Eva Burrows, who is also the longest-serving international leader of the Salvation Army, is looking forward to the China visit in what she describes as ''the post-denominational era''.

Another highlight of the visit will be her speech to the youth group at the Chong Wen Mun Church, the largest in Beijing.

The 62-year-old Australian is the Salvation Army's 13th general and only the second woman to hold the post. The last woman was the daughter of the founder of the army, Eva Booth.

All generals in the Salvation Army serve five-year terms on election. General Burrows was asked and agreed to a two-year extension when her term expired in 1991. She retires in July.

One of nine children, General Burrows says her inspiration comes from her parents, who were both with the Salvation Army.

''We learned very early in life that God came first, other people second and ourselves last.'' But that sort of upbringing did not stop her becoming a ''very rebellious teenager'', resentful of the sacrifices the family made.

''It was only when I was at the University of Queensland that I found the Christian faith responding to my needs and I decided to dedicate my life to God, and probably because of my parents, to the army as well.

''And I've never regretted having made that commitment,'' said the woman who has rubbed shoulders with royalty in Europe and Asia and the poorest of the poor in Asia and Africa.

She has met the Queen, Emperor Akihito of Japan, former United States president Mr George Bush and President Mr Mugabe of Zimbabwe, describes Cuba's Fidel Castro as ''charismatic'', but is most impressed by Mother Teresa of Calcutta.

''I think it's because she's not political but I'll always remember what she said to me: 'People say I'm doing wonderful social work. I am not. All I'm doing is demonstrating the love of Jesus Christ, and that's what you're doing'.'' Although never married, she now says ''marriage would have been a pleasant option''.

''An element of sacrifice is important in Christian life but I have been more than compensated for not having had a family of my own.'' Her affinity with young people has become legend, particularly in Africa. She said 20 years as a teacher there helped form what she had become.

General Burrows also spoke of the Salvation Army's return to Russia after a 70-year banishment. She said 10 people are being trained to be salvationists for the centres at Moscow and St Petersburg.

''We have 19 feeding centres mostly for the elderly. We are not in Russia to win converts, but to show compassion and give encouragement,'' she said.