George Verwer died on April 14th, as I write only 8 short days ago. John Piper said that George’s “personal and global influence was inestimable” and that he was “one of the greatest missions leaders of the last one hundred years”. George deserves a second look. I wrote the facts of his life in a Facebook post on March 12th (My Debt To George Verwer). I shared how he founded Operation Mobilization, which today “has 3,311 workers representing more than 134 countries bringing God’s truth to millions every year.”
Remarkably, “an estimated 300 other mission agencies were also started as a result of contact with OM or launched by former OMers” – that would include three that I started with my wife: Antioch Missions-Chinese Church Support Ministries, Derek Prince Ministries: China and FieldPartner International.” I want to suggest seven qualities that made George Verwer a mission leader of such stature.
1. His raw passion for the Lord and for the gospel. John Piper wrote about “Paul’s command, ‘Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit’ (Romans 12:11). ‘Be fervent’ means, “Boil!’ It really does. The Greek zeontes means ‘to boil, to seethe, to be fiery hot.’ This is not a personality type. It’s a flame of the Spirit burning in different personalities.” George boiled with a passion for the Lord, for mission, for the lost. John Wesley said: “Light yourself on fire with passion and people will come from miles to watch you burn.” George leveraged books, the internet and countless journeys around the world to speak in multiple places to do just that – to burn for Jesus.
2. His capacity to share the passion for mission, to infect others with a passion for a lost world. Perhaps the most famous example of that is of his friend Greg Livingstone. “George went to Moody Bible Institute, and when he was 21 he led an all-night prayer meeting for the unreached nations of the world. Hoping to find donuts and girls, a Wheaton student named Greg Livingstone showed up at the prayer meeting. Instead of girls, he found a group of young men kneeling over world maps on the floor. Verwer put his finger in Greg’s face and said, ‘What country are you claiming?’ Having no idea what that meant, Greg said, ‘What’s left?’ Verwer said, ‘You’ve got Libya.’ What most people don’t know is that Greg Livingstone went back to Wheaton that night a changed man. He switched his major to Bible and went on to found Frontiers, the largest missions agency in the world devoted entirely to inviting Muslims to Christ” (John Piper).
3. His commitment to the revolution of love. “I don’t know that there’s anybody who loved the whole world as much as George did – as far as humans are concerned – and had a desire for them to come into relationship with Jesus” (Mark Soderquist). George found the love of Jesus for Himself. He knew that love had rescued him as a young man. His life’s passion as a Christian was that others might find the Lord Jesus, the only source of real love. He wrote: “There is no more biblical teaching than love, and apart from love, there is no biblical teaching. You are not ‘Bible-believing’ if you do not love.”
4. His doctrine of ‘messiology’, his willingness to admit his capacity to make mistakes. “You are not orthodox if you are not humble.” “I have never known anyone whose passion was more self-deprecating than George Verwer’s. In comparing himself with Brother Andrew, ‘God’s Smuggler’, George referred to himself as ‘God’s Bungler’. Which is why he loved the gospel of grace and forgiveness so much” (John Piper).
5. His efforts to open the door of mission to anybody. “Verwer combined the call for total and radical commitment to Christ with the idea of short-term mission trips, lowering the expectations of service and making it easier for people to get started. He believed God would use those who were willing – even if they weren’t ready to make years-long commitments.”
6. His willingness to take extraordinary risks in faith. When George launched the idea of OM ships, “some thought I had lost my marbles!” But later, “OM purchased a Dutch ship named Umanak, rechristened it Logos, and ultimately sailed it 230,000 nautical miles, to 250 different ports, ministering to 6.5 million people. The ministry added a second ship in 1977.”
7. In his final blog a few days before his death, George said he hoped that perseverance would be a part of his legacy. It was – right to the end!
My own debt to George Verwer is substantial. As a Cambridge student in the early 1960’s I heard George speak; I was also friends with a fellow student who later served in OM for many years. That summer of 1963 I had my summer vacation plans all prepared, but the Lord challenged me to scrap what I wanted to do and use the summer to serve Him. As a result, I went on an OM summer outreach in Europe. Unexpectedly and significantly, I became part of a small team that travelled to Russia, then a powerful and church-persecuting Communist nation. We drove across Europe in a rickety East German vehicle in which were concealed Bibles, Billy Graham books in Russian and simple duplicating equipment. That summer with OM was life-changing for me, experiencing God’s protection and blessing in answer to prayer as we worked behind the Iron Curtain, meeting Russian believers.
God also challenged me in another way later that year. I had been given a fairly large sum of money for my 21st birthday (money instead of a party!). The Lord challenged me to give it all to Operation Mobilisation. That was a ‘breaking’ moment in my life.
Thank you, George, my debt to you is very real. The OM team wrote: “George Verwer has passed away at the age of 84. We give thanks for his radical life devoted to sharing God's love worldwide.” We do indeed.