This past week the global Church and missionary movement has lost one of its greats. George Verwer, the founder of Operation Mobilisation passed away on 14 April after a short battle with cancer.
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 125,000 people have participated in an OM outreach. Many will read these numbers and assume OM had influence, resources and staff from the start to create such a significant ministry footprint; however, that is not the case.
What is impressive about Verwer is that from humble beginnings his deep passion and focus on mission spawned this influential ministry. Verwer’s story has the fingerprints of some of the people and institutions that marked this 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. He would later attend Moody Bible Institute where he met his wife Drena.
For him to hear news or read statistics about the global need for the gospel was not information but a call.
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Verwer did not start with the vision of creating an organisation like OM; he just responded to where he saw the need for the gospel. In the late 1950s, Verwer learned that seven out of every ten people in Mexico had no access to the Bible. This was not merely information to Verwer – it was a call. He spoke with his friend at the time, Dale Rhoton, and recruited him to the cause. In 1957 they drove a 1949 Dodge panel van to Mexico with tracts and a 1000 Spanish copies of the Gospel of John. This was not a one-off trip; Verwer drove to Mexico for several years after their first effort, even in 1960 on his honeymoon.
This ministry in Mexico set a pattern for Verwer; for him to hear news or read statistics about the global need for the gospel was not information but a call. In 1960, Verwer and his small team turned their attention to Europe, and in 1963 extended their work into India and the Middle East; then in 1970 came the purchase of their first ship under the newly named ministry Operation Mobilisation.
Under Verwer’s leadership, OM utilised the option for young people to go on short-term mission. This broke the tradition of having people do years of missionary training and these short-term mission trips released thousands into missionary work. Clearly, this did not always work, but it helped shift the missionary endeavour around the globe and deeply influenced the lives of those who joined a short-term mission.
After Verwer stood down from the leadership role of OM in 2003, he continued to travel the world, inspiring a new generation into ministry. He would wear his trademark globe jacket (printed with a world map) and carry an inflated globe as visual representations of his mission and passion.
Verwer was diagnosed with cancer in February 2023 but requested that “people not pray for total healing as I am really looking forward to heaven,” Instead, he asked, “for prayer for grace for the rough journey that daily will be ahead.”
George Verwer joins a long list of ministry and missionary greats who inspired their generation to change the world. Verwer followed his heart and passion for gospel ministry and refused to be limited by timing or circumstances. A wonderful story of Verwer’s attitude was on show in that first conversation with Dale Rhoton in 1956. After explaining the need in Mexico and his passion to distribute Bibles, they prayed and Verwer’s next words were… “Well? Are you ready to go?”
While wisdom tells us a bit more planning is needed, history will show that if more of us had Verwer’s passion and propensity to action, the church may be more vigorous in gospel ministry.
Lord, make us all ready to go.
Karl Faase is CEO of Olive Tree Media.