To listen to the From the Frontline audio on this:https://fromthefrontline.podbean.com/e/from-the-frontline-episode-256-george-verwer-mission-mobiliser-extraordinary/
Beloved husband of Drena and father of Ben, Daniel and Christa, George Verwer has completed his earthly pilgrimage and journey. After a brief battle with cancer, George died peacefully at home near London, surrounded by his family. George Verwer was a good friend of our mission and a co-worker with Rev Bill Bathman. Lenora remembered uncle George being a regular guest around the dinner table in their home near Salzburg in Austria.
This past week the global Church and missionary movement lost one of its great mission mobilisers. George Verwer, the founder of Operation Mobilisation passed away on 14 April after a battle with cancer. The Founder of Operation Mobilisation motivated and mobilised tens of thousands of missionary volunteers to proclaim, in word and action, God’s love around the globe.
“Are you Ready to go?”
When the 18-year-old and his friend finished praying in a dorm room in Maryville, Tennessee, George Verwer looked at his college friend and asked, “Well? Are you ready to go?” Dale Rhoton was startled. He had only just heard Verwer’s idea that they should sell what they owned and use the money to buy a truck that summer, fill it with Spanish-language editions of the Gospel of John, and drive it to Mexico, where 70 percent of people didn’t have access to Scriptures. They had only just prayed about it. “George,” he said, “it takes longer than that.” George Verwer didn’t see why it should. The future founder of Operation Mobilisation (OM) saw a spiritual need. They could meet that need. The rest didn’t matter to him. “His one all-consuming passion in life has been to be a channel, whereby people would become long-term friends of Jesus,” Rhoton later wrote. “His comfort zone is breaking out of his comfort zone. He only really feels secure when he’s risking it all.’
Wearing his trademark map of world jacket and holding up as his large inflatable globe, George challenged audiences to look at the mission fields which are large, neglected and ripe for harvest.
The global impact of OM is enormous; it has 3300 workers from 134 countries working in 147 nations and it’s estimated that more than 160,000 people have participated in an OM outreach. Over a billion people have been reached with the Gospel through the varied Ministries of OM. From these numbers many may pressume that OM had influence, resources and staff from the start to create such a significant ministry footprint; However, that is not the case.
Conversion and Call
What is impressive about George Verwer is that from humble beginnings, selling Fire Extinguishers, his deep passion and focus on missions spawned this influential ministry. Verwer’s story has the fingerprints of some of the people and institutions that marked this post WW2 era. He grew up in New Jersey and was invited to a Billy Graham Crusade in Madison Square Garden in New York in 1955. He was moved to make a decision to follow Jesus through Graham’s preaching that night.
Proposal and Marriage
He would later attend Moody Bible Institute where he met his wife, Drena. He described it as “love at first sight!” His proposal to Drena included: "if you marry me you will probably be eaten by cannibals in New Guinea." To test whether his potential wife had what it took to be a missionary, on one date George took Drena to the local park and fished out of a trashcan some half eaten meal and offered these thrown away leftovers for her lunch! When Drena accepted this humble meal, George was convinced that she could handle the life of a missionary wife.
After their wedding, George gave his engagement Ring away and took their wedding cake to sell to the first gasoline station for fuel as they drove to Mexico for a mission.
The Power of the Printed Page
George Verwer, received a Gospel of John from a local woman(who put him on her Holy Ghost Hit List as George described it) while he was still in high school in the 1950s. In 1955, Verwer became a Christian at a Billy Graham evangelistic Rally at Madison Square Garden, and made a commitment to global missions and spreading God's Word on a massive scale. In 1957, George Verwer undertook his first cross-border mission when he traveled to Mexico with Walter Borchard and Dale Rhoton to distribute Christian literature and Gospels. The Gospels were very important to their missionary strategy and the beginning of OM's long history of Literature Evangelism. The trip in 1957 was the first of three summer trips to Mexico. By 1960, the men turned their attention to Spain in Europe, focusing on mobilising the national churches to global missions. Verwer's vision for the global mission was that leadership would come from the local Christian community, wherever possible, rather than from foreigners.
NETWORK and the Launch of Operation Mobilisation
When I first met George Verwer, it was at Stellenbosch University where he was the guest speaker for Sendingweek (Mission Week). As he walked by, after preaching at the Studente Kerk, I reached out a hand and stated: "I am the son-in-law of Bill Bathman." Immediately George Verwer stopped, turned around and exclaimed: "Bill Bathman is the reason there is an Operation Mobilisation!" George related how Bill Bathman interviewed him in Spain and invited him to come for a series of meetings in England. Bill Bathman's NETWORK provided the platform and initial recruits for Operation Mobilisation. This including Mike Evans, who ended up running OM in France. Later Mike Evans became Principal of the Geneva Bible Institute.
Mobilise to Evangelise
In Summer 1962 OM's first short-term missions teams, consisting of 200 volunteers, moved into Europe, coming mostly from the UK, Spain, Germany, Netherlands, Switzerland, the US. In the summer of 1963 more than 2000 volunteers blanketed Europe to encourage Christians and to carry God's Word throughout the continent and find creative ways of getting it behind the Iron Curtain. A key part of the OM outreaches was Literature Evangelism by selling books and Bibles. OM teams were equipped with Bibles and books and folding tables to set up at railway stations, bus stops and marketplaces. The missionaries were encouraged to be more like newspaper salesmen advertising their books with loud slogans: "read the world’s number one Bestseller!" Teams were financed by book sales. If they needed train tickets, or food, then they had to succeed in selling Bibles and books. In 1963, OM teams also started to focus on in India and the Middle East. India became OM's most important mission field. They planted over 3000 churches and 107 schools in India.
Ocean Going Missionary Ships
George Verwer's vision for spreading the Gospel expanded to the seas with the purchase of the ship MV Logos in October 1970. Thereafter OM expanded its ships ministry with the MV Doulos, MV Logos II and MV Logos Hope. Currently only MV Logos Hope is operating, with the previous three having been retired.
In Europe, Summer conferences were continuing, but the number of participants was dwindling. In late 1987, a renewed vision for reaching Europe was born, which led to the “Love Europe” outreaches that started in July 1989, just prior to the fall of the Iron Curtain. OM planned for 5,000 young people from 50 nations to participate; in fact, about 7,000 from 76 nations came. With this first “Love Europe” conference, the vision of OM – birthed in Europe – had been renewed. OM's operations in Europe today includes ministry in more than 30 countries.
On 7 March 2003, George retired from leadership of OM and a new international director, Peter Maiden, from the UK, was appointed. In 2013,Lawrence Tong, from Singapore, took over the OM leadership. Lawrence had previously served as director of OM's ship Logos II,.
Gideon Men – Movers and Shakers Committed to Changing the World
Meanwhile, relieved of the international leadership responsibilities, George devoted himself fully into Special Projects, particularly literature ministry. In this, George spoke of helping to channel practical support to his 100 Gideon men, that he had identified as movers and shakers committed to changing the world.
Currently, OM Ships operates MV Logos Hope serving destinations around the world. Their first ship, MV Logos, ran aground on rocks off Tierra del Fuego, Chile, in atrocious weather conditions in 1988. Although the ship could not be saved, not a single crew member was lost or injured. The skeletal hulk of the ship is still visible and has become something of a tourist attraction over the years. Over a 17-year period, more than 6.5 million people visited MV Logos during 408 ports of call in 108 countries. Later in 1988, the former Antonio Lazaro became the MV Logos II, which was retired in July 2008. OM's third ship, the MV Doulos, previously held the record for the oldest ocean-going ship still in service. George liked to say that the Doulos was launched the same year the Titanic was, but the Doulos is still afloat! The owners of the Titanic boasted that not even God could sink Titanic! We say: only God can keep the Doulos afloat! The Doulos was retired at the end of 2009. MV Logos Hope was launched into service , in Kiel, in 2009. Twice the size of the MV Doulos, it provides much greater capacity to serve communities.
The OM ships have visited port cities throughout the world, supplying literature, encouraging cross-cultural understanding, training young people for more effective life and service, providing relief, and sharing a message of hope in God wherever there is an opportunity. Since 1970, OM's ships have visited 480 different ports in 151 countries and territories around the globe.
In total, over 45 million visitors have come aboard these missionary ships to purchase from the selection of 5,000 titles available in the ships' floating bookstores. Titles cover a wide range of subjects, such as science, sports, hobbies, cookery, the arts, philosophy, medicine and children's books, as well as faith and life. The books have been carefully chosen to be of interest to every member of the family, and with the educational, social and moral needs of the local community in mind. Books are on offer at a fraction of their retail value, and, while in certain ports, books are
also donated. The impact of these floating Christian bookshop has been immense, particularly in South America and Asia. In many Restricted Access Muslim countries in the Middle East, these ship visits have been the most significant exposure to Christianity for those unreached communities
Watch the Time !
At one public meeting, when a church deacon ostentatiously dangled his watch from the back of the church to attract George Verwer’s attention as to the time, he shouted out: “Praise God! There is a man offering to donate his watch for the cause of world missions!” The deacon sat down promptly.
George Verwer was the most brutally honest Missions speaker I have ever heard. He would speak openly of his weaknesses, failings and sins. His Father had been a drunk, he himself had battled numerous sexual sins, going through 33 girlfriends before his conversion at age 18. Even after conversion he fell into fooling around with girls that he had just led to the Lord, necking in the church parking lot. At Missions conferences he spoke plainly about the snares of Satan that threaten to derail everyone in missions. On a number of occasions at Missions conferences, I heard George confess how he had often battled with pornography, even when choosing to go into a forest for an extended time of prayer, he had come across a pornographic magazine hanging over a branch. He said that he wished he could say how he had resisted the temptation and fled from it, but sadly not. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak. George spoke of how he had first come to Europe with an "ugly American legalism", how we all need a Grace Awakening. In his books: Messiology, Drops from a Leaking Tap and Confessions of a Toxic Perfectionist he warns against Pharasaical judgementalism and Christian legalism. A constant emphasis of his ministry is the need for a Revolution of Love, radical Discipleship, and a Theology of suffering. He warned against extremist teachings on prosperity and healing and to recognise the hand of God at work in other cultures, characters, denominations and organisations quite different from our own.
Balancing the Great Commission with being Good Samaritans
We need to have a ministry of balance, giving utmost priority to the fulfilment of the Great Commission, but also recognising the need to be Good Samaritans caring for those in abject poverty, caring for preborn babies, those without access to clean water, loving God's creation and working to protect God's creatures and clean up the environment. And the need for perseverance, despite critics and crises, to keep on keeping on, to never give up. George was zealous in Evangelism, preaching in the open air in town squares, but also deeply concerned for social justice and for the environment. He was a Team player, genuinely concerned for ministries and generous in supporting those involved in cutting-edge pioneer ministry, especially in Restricted Access Areas.
Global Consultation on World Evangelism
At at the Global Consultation on World Evangelism held in 1997 in Pretoria, George Verwer spoke to the Missions leaders in a special mission executives section of the consultation. He was going through the unreached people groups and came to the Krongo of the Nuba Mountains of Sudan. He shouted out: ‘Peter Hammond, you go to the Nuba Mountains, here, take the Krongo people as your project”. He handed me the file on the Krongo, an unreached people with no known converts.
Krongo for Christ
Well, on my next mission to the Nuba Mountains, later that year, I asked our hosts about the Krongo and was directed to a pastor and evangelist who informed me that they were of the Krongo tribe. Most of their tribe were now Christians, but they did not have any Bibles or hymnbooks. They remembered the Australian missionaries from the Sudan United Mission who were expelled by the government back in 1964. There were 5 Christians amongst the Krongo tribe at that time, but now more than 70% of their people were evangelical Christians. From the file on the Krongo, I had learned that the SUM missionaries from Australia had translated the New Testament into the Krongo language, so after returning from this mission, we tracked down everything that wastranslated into Krongo, including the New Testament and hymnbook and arranged for these to be printed. On our next mission to the Nuba Mountains, we were privileged to deliver the first New Testaments and hymnbooks in the Krongo language. There was great rejoicing and we felt humbled and privileged to deliver the labour of love of missionaries from faraway and long ago who were not privileged to see the fruit of the Gospel seed they had so faithfully sown.
The Great Commission must be our Supreme Ambition
That lifelong “Verwer fervor” for missions moved untold numbers of Christians to cross borders, cultures, and continents to proclaim the Good News of God’s love. OM became one of the largest mission organizations of the 20th century, sending out thousands every year on short- and long-term missions. OM currently has 3,300 mission workers from 134 countries working in 147 countries. An estimated 300 other mission agencies were also started as a result of contact with OM or launched by former OMers. This includes Youth With A Mission and Frontiers. George Verwer also ensured that Patrick Johnsons Intercessory Handbook, Operation World became known and available worldwide by instructing his Send the Light Trust publishing house to published and distribute it. Operation World is now in 15 languages and many millions of copies have been sold worldwide. It was praying through Operation World that mobilised Frontline Fellowship into our first cross-border mission to Mozambique. ‘Therefore, my beloved brothers be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord knowing that in the Lord your labour is not in vain’ 1 Corinthians 15:58
To learn more of this remarkable missionary, or to download any of his free books visit: https://georgeverwer.com/
If you would like to send a card or letter to Drena, please include your full name, and address and send to:
Mrs Drena Verwer
62A Glebe Way
Kent BR4 0RL