International (OM) — The death has been announced of George Verwer, who founded the global Christian mission agency, Operation Mobilization, and directed it for 45 years.
He passed away peacefully with his family by his side at his home near London, England, on the evening of Friday 14 April. He was 84 years old.
George was born in New Jersey, USA, and committed his life to Christ at a Billy Graham meeting in New York City in 1955. Driven by the cause of world evangelism from then on, the teenage maverick went on to have immeasurable global impact. He has been described as “the most outstanding North American missionary statesman of the last 60 years.”
“George changed the face of missions in his generation,” said Andrew Scott, President of OM in the USA. “When the mission agencies of the late fifties were looking for highly trained individuals with seminary degrees who would commit to going for a lifetime, George invited young people who simply loved Jesus to come for a summer. This was new. This was different. Thousands came.”
Operation Mobilization began with three students in a worn-out van distributing Christian literature in Mexico, then branching into Europe and across the globe. Today, more than 3,000 OM workers are active in almost 150 countries, in a huge range of ministries. George’s daring vision in the 1960s led to ships being used to transport and train international volunteers while carrying a cargo of literature and aid supplies. Fifty million people have climbed the gangways of OM’s four ships, and at least double that number have come into contact with the Good News through outreaches and projects in port cities worldwide.
Movements like OM and its close contemporary, Youth With A Mission (YWAM), led the way in developing same- and near-culture workers to serve globally alongside those from established mission-sending nations and backgrounds.
OM’s International Director, Lawrence Tong, said, “George was passionate about Jesus, passionate for God’s Word and passionate for the lost. I believe he was God’s man for the 20th century, who changed the course of modern mission.”
“We should have thought he was a nutcase, but because of the Holy Spirit, we just knew that this was a man you could follow to the ends of the earth, and we had real confidence he was getting the mind of the Lord,” recalls Greg Livingstone, the founder of Frontiers.
He demonstrated a lifestyle of radical discipleship. “George’s legacy is that of a life-size example of a truly committed Jesus-follower,” said Akira Mori, a ministry pastor in Japan. “George had a God-given ability to inspire and exhort and challenge – but to me, the person was the example, the message and the challenge; much more than what he said.”
“George truly practised what he preached,” said Matthew Skirton, Field Leader of OM in the UK. “His authenticity and passion for reaching the lost, but also his humility and transparency when sharing about his struggles, have profoundly impacted me – and I know have touched, encouraged and challenged so many others.
“He was incredibly big-hearted and generous; he leaves behind an extraordinary legacy within OM, but also in hundreds of other organisations founded or led by OM alumni. He was a leader who pioneered a large, influential mission organisation, yet his heart was never primarily for OM’s mission but rather for God’s mission, God’s kingdom.”
Known for his world map jackets and for handing out more than a million free books, in the twenty years since he stepped down from leading OM, George managed special projects, spoke at church events with characteristic vigour and wrote more than a dozen books. A key theme was admitting his own imperfections and honouring God who graciously forgives and works through people, despite their mistakes. He called it ‘messiology.’
Lawrence Tong recalls, “many people, myself included, were baffled at the invention of the word. I realise more and more the truth and wisdom of what he packed into that one word alone. As usual, George the trailblazer was way ahead of us in his spiritual life, in his thinking, in his vision and in his interpretation of trends. There will never be another GV.”
Katherine Porter, one of OM’s associate international directors, said: “We celebrate a giant life lived large for Jesus, but what a gaping hole he leaves. Our lives are quieter now, but oh, the noise in heaven! For George, it’s all better now. For us who remain, the memories loom large and the loss is aching — but the legacy is immense.”
George is survived by his wife, Drena, their three children, plus grandchildren and great-grandchildren. The Verwer family thanks partners all over the world for their prayers and asks for privacy at this time. Details of thanksgiving services will be released later.
Speaking in 2015, George summed up what drove him, long past retirement age:
“I’m still mega-motivated to see everyone in the world being given the gospel at least once…[to] have the opportunity to hear about saving grace through our Lord Jesus Christ, and I hope I can, right to my last breath, continue to share that message.”
If you would like to give to OM in memory of George, click here.
Header photo of founder George Verwer (USA) enjoying a day at sea after leaving London and the London Launch. (Photo, caption courtesy of OM)