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Spiritual Giant- George Verwer Passes On at 84

George Verwer Passes On at 84

Missionary pioneer left a global impact for the Gospel

George Verwer, founder of pioneering Christian missions organization Operation Mobilization, died peacefully on Friday at his home near London, England, surrounded by his family. He was 84.

“It is with profound sadness that we share that George Verwer, founder of Operation Mobilization (OM), passed away,” OMUSA tweeted. “Through our tears, we give thanks for all George has meant to us and take comfort that he is with Jesus, whom he loved and served faithfully.”

Verwer shared in a special release newsletter in February that he had been diagnosed with sarcoma, a cancer that attacks the body’s connective tissues. 

“Please ask people not to pray for total healing as I really am looking forward to Heaven,” he said. “Ask for prayer for grace for the rough journey that daily will be ahead.”

Franklin Graham called Verwer a giant in the world of evangelism.

“I’ve never known anyone who kept a schedule like him,” Franklin said in a Facebook post Saturday. “He would preach the Gospel multiple times a day almost every day somewhere around the world.”

Verwer was born July 3, 1938, to Eleanor Caddell Verwer and George Verwer Sr., a Dutch immigrant to the United States, who worked as an electrician. He was raised in Wyckoff, New Jersey, outside New York City. The family belonged to a Reformed Church in America congregation, but the elder George rarely attended, and to the younger, church seemed mostly like a social club.

Young Verwer was an athlete and a Boy Scout but spent a lot of time chasing girls and getting into trouble. Most of it was considered “shenanigans” by the standards of the day, but Verwer also started a fire in some woods in Bergen County and, as a young teen, broke into someone’s home and was caught by police.

News of the incident prompted his neighbor, a Christian woman named Dorothea Clapp, to start praying for him, that he would find faith in Jesus. She gave him a copy of the Gospel of John and she put him on her prayer list, which she called the “Holy Spirit hit list.”

Three years later, Verwer felt compelled to attend a meeting in Madison Square Garden. He and a few friends took the bus 30 miles to hear Billy Graham preach on March 5, 1955, at the Jack Wyrtzen Word of Life Hour’s 15th Anniversary Rally.

At the invitation to commit his life to Christ, 16-year-old Verwer went forward. He was moved, he said, by the message that God loved him and could use him.

“I found that He could use me, not by crushing my temperament, or showing me up for the wretch I was,” Verwer later wrote, “but rather offering me love, and working through the Holy Spirit.”

Verwer immediately started witnessing for Christ at Ramsey High School in Ramsey, New Jersey, where he was president of the student body, according to a November 1993 article in Decision magazine. 

Six months after his high school graduation, he held a meeting at the school, during which 125 people received Christ. The young Verwer didn’t appreciate it at the time, but it was clear he had a gift for organizing—mobilizing—Christians. He got five high school students to share their testimonies and preach at his evangelistic event, according to Christianity Today. He also got more than 30 teenagers at his mainline Dutch Reformed church to participate in a Bible-reading marathon, despite the skepticism of the pastor, who told a reporter he was initially concerned the young people would not read with the proper decorum.

By the time of Billy Graham’s 1957 Madison Square Garden Crusade, Verwer was showing Billy Graham films in his area, selling Christian books door to door, blitzing New York City’s subway system with thousands of Gospel tracts—and chartering buses to the Crusade.

The Crusade had a great impact on him. He attended counseling and training sessions and prayer meetings, and he even preached on a street corner one night, encouraging people to attend. Also, his father, who became his greatest fan, made a deeper commitment to Christ at the event.

When the Crusade was over, George and two other college students went to Mexico on a missions trip, which they had organized. The next summer a larger group returned to Mexico to open book shops, to start radio broadcasts and correspondence courses, and to do prison and street evangelism. The Mexico trips were the seed of what was to become Operation Mobilization.

“We launched the first Operation Mobilization in the summer of 1962, and OM has been exploding ever since,” Verwer told Decision in the 1993 interview. 

Verwer went on to have immeasurable global impact. He has been described as “the most outstanding North American missionary statesman of the last 60 years.”

Dale Rhoton, one of the two college students who went with him on the first trip to Mexico, later wrote, “His one all-consuming passion in life has been to be a channel, whereby people would become long-term friends of Jesus. His comfort zone is breaking out of his comfort zone. He only really feels secure when he’s risking it all.”

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 trips. Today, more than 5,000 OM workers are active in almost 150 countries, in a huge range of ministries, according to OM. 

Verwer’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 heard the Gospel through outreaches and projects in port cities worldwide. 

In his later years, Verwer began to speak at every opportunity about how and why God works in and through a church filled with human mistakes and sin.

Franklin said in his Facebook post: “George was a fervent witness for Christ, and it is said that within a year [of receiving Christ], 200 of his classmates had become Christians—and his passion for seeing souls saved never faded. Operation Mobilization continues to touch the world with the Good News of Jesus Christ. I have been with him on several occasions and always appreciated that he came to Boone to see me a number of years ago and brought his father. George Verwer was used mightily by God and will be greatly missed.”

Verwer is survived by his wife, Drena, their three children, Ben, Daniel and Christa; and a number of grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

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