14 November 2023

Territorial Secretary for Women’s Ministries and Secretary for Personnel Lieutenant-Colonel Ann Borrett and Chief Secretary Lieutenant-Colonel Richard Borrett talk to The Officer.

Lieutenant-Colonels Ann and Richard Borrett

Lieutenant-Colonel Richard Borrett described how he and his wife Ann came to live and work in Moldova, part of the Eastern Europe Territory (EET). ‘We were introduced to life in Eastern Europe with a visit to Romania and Moldova in 2017,’ he explained. ‘Later that year, the Lord just really spoke to us and said that we needed to make ourselves available for overseas service. As we prayed about this, we wrote to our territorial leadership and simply said, as an act of obedience, we would like to make ourselves available to serve overseas.

‘Sometime afterwards, the then Chief of the Staff Commissioner [now General] Buckingham called to say that we had been appointed to Eastern Europe. We were surprised yet delighted because we understood a little bit about the territory having seen at least two countries within it previously. We arrived from Scotland on the fourteenth of July and I remember it well because, we came from the UK where the weather was bright and sunny as we departed, but it was thirty-nine degrees Celsius on our first day there, and we wondered what had happened!’

Online meetings and virtual coffees

Arriving in Moldova during the COVID-19 pandemic was anything but a regular start to an overseas appointment. Richard said, ‘The pandemic threw us into a purely administrative role to start with. Visits within Moldova and beyond were impossible for the first year. We feel that we lost at least a year at least before we were able to start visiting anywhere. You can’t lead in any way until you know the people that you’re leading. We worked hard at regular online meetings and tried to get to know one another by having virtual coffees. It was very difficult. We couldn’t even visit the churches in Moldova because of the restrictions.’  

Ann added, ‘It was very restrictive actually. During the first year, we had to wear masks outside as well. Later, we felt quite anxious about going shopping because some people didn’t adhere to social distancing or even wear masks. Most shops were open and restaurants were very good with social distancing. We wore masks the whole time.’

Richard continued, ‘At the time of our leaving the UK, we couldn’t get hand sanitiser. Bread was difficult to find and we couldn’t get toilet rolls, but there wasn’t any of that in Moldova. We were introduced to a completely different culture [from our own] and we had to be guided and advised by local officers. We had to learn to be outside with a mask on and get used to our glasses steaming up – the kinds of things that we’ve almost forgotten about now. Masks had to be worn even walking down the street in the open air, but we didn’t want to contravene the law because we didn’t know what the penalties may be, and we wouldn't have been able to answer for ourselves in a foreign language properly.’   

Tragically, in April 2021 COVID claimed the life of the Secretary for Business Administration in Moldova, Major Veaceslav Cotruta, who was promoted to Glory within a week of contracting the virus. Visibly distressed, Ann added, ‘That’s when it became incredibly real. It was really, really hard because none of us were expecting him to die, but he had an underlying health condition.’

‘In that first year, we definitely had a large group of officers in the territory who were not vaccinated,’ Richard explained. ‘There was a very strong anti-vaccination feeling in one of our countries and then one of the officers there was hospitalised. Fortunately, he lived and it changed the minds of a lot of people. To this day, his wife fasts every Monday and thanks God for her husband’s life.’

Like family coming back together

How did Richard and Ann lead people out of that very dark period in human history as things started to look brighter?

‘We are very pragmatic people, and as a result of our various appointments we are quite resilient,’ said Richard. ‘The lifting of restrictions presented us with the opportunity to meet officers and visit various countries. COVID was devastating for the church because we couldn’t meet on Sundays. After lockdown restrictions were lifted, it was like family coming back together. People in Eastern Europe do this very well and we have been so warmly welcomed wherever we’ve gone.’

Ann explained, ‘I remember just driving across borders with relief – it was just such a blessing. ‘Ministry-wise, whilst we’re still really touched by all of that and it remains very raw, it’s not defining us anymore. Although COVID will always be part of our conversation, we’re just enjoying ministering and getting to all the different countries now!’

War in Ukraine

Coming out of COVID, how did people in the Eastern Europe Territory interpret the massing of troops on the borders of Ukraine?

Richard explained, ‘We were watching the news and constantly wondering about what we were going to do. We were really privileged to visit Ukraine in January 2022. We got the impression of a beautiful country and then the invasion happened in February 2022. When we were there earlier, there was a slight tension. We were asking: “What’s going to happen?” and “What are your plans?” Nobody actually thought the invasion was going to happen. Maybe they just didn’t want to think it could happen.’

‘We had a beautiful time with the youth, who were so vibrant and just an amazing group of young people,’ said Ann. ‘Now, whenever we hear of anything going on, we have them in our minds.’

‘They’re great!’ Richard added. ‘Part of their ministry and expression is dancing, and they learn dances from YouTube! Then they take it onto the street as their active witness. They dance with real joy and they’re really good! When the General visited in October 2022, those dancers came, and that joy that they have has not been diminished by the war. It’s a joy that they’re still alive! It’s a joy that their building hasn’t been bombed! It’s a really bittersweet thing because there is devastation coupled with the pain of seeing their country ripped apart, married with the joy of still being together. They are really leaning into their faith.’

What differences has the combination of a global pandemic followed by war made to Richard and Ann’s ministry?

Ann said, ‘We certainly didn’t anticipate starting our new appointment during COVID, or having to deal with a war! ‘What it confirms is that God is with us and within that there’s a real security. I can face tomorrow because God will be there for me.’

A territory growing into adulthood

Having been in post for three years, change is once again on the horizon for Ann and Richard. Richard said, ‘We have been appointed into EET territorial leadership roles. Had someone told us a few years ago that that would be where we find ourselves now, we wouldn’t have believed it! It would have been arrogant in the extreme for me to have projected myself into the role [of Territorial Commander] and so we’re very grateful that The Salvation Army has trusted us with these appointments.’

He continued, ‘Bulgaria is celebrating its commencement. The territory is thirty years old and still a place of growth! In a sense, it’s struggling to become an adult. Huge amounts of resources were poured in during the early days, and that can’t last. Now the territory is at the point of seeking to make its own way towards financial sustainability, which will be a real challenge. It still comes with the vibrancy of expectation of growth, that people will be enrolled as members of soldiers of The Salvation Army and children will come to be junior members or junior soldiers. There is still that sense of it being very young, vibrant and energetic, and it’s just a good place to be. To be appointed to lead in a place like that is a huge privilege, and it’s exciting! There’s huge learning in “second-chair” leadership, which we have been doing for the last three years, and the great privilege of this is that you get to learn from your leaders. We are looking forward to “first-chair” leadership.’

‘We’re just grateful to those people who have invested in us over the years,’ said Ann. ‘Now we have the opportunity to invest in other people too. I just know that He has it sorted, and we’ll just take each day as it comes.’

Richard concluded, ‘We have been privileged to work with some incredible people and we’re grateful to every one of them for the way they’ve all impacted us. Anything that we might be today is largely due to their mentoring and leadership – now it’s down to us to show what they’ve poured in and to see what comes out!’

The Officer magazine

Tags: Europe, Ukraine-Russia conflict 2022, News