ATLANTA — 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, the evening of April 14. He was 84 years old.
Verwer 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 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 5,000 OM workers are active in almost 150 countries, in a huge range of ministries.
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 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 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 missions.”
“We should have thought he was a ‘nutcase,’ but because of the Holy Spirit, we just knew 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 missions group Frontiers.
Known for his world map jackets and for handing out more than a million free books, in the 20 years since he stepped down from leading OM, Verwer managed special projects, spoke at church events with characteristic vigor and wrote more than a dozen books. A key theme was admitting his own imperfections and honoring God who graciously forgives and works through people, despite their mistakes. He called it “messiology.”
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.”
Those in the United States who would like to give to OM in memory of George Verwer can visit omusa.org/george – or contact OM USA at 770-631-0432.
About Operation Mobilization:
• Operation Mobilization’s work began when George Verwer, Dale Rhoton and Walter Borchard embarked on their first mission trip in 1957. Their passion to share God’s word with those who had not yet heard the gospel or encountered followers of Jesus led to a global organization of upwards of 5,000 people, now at work in more than 147 countries.
• Millions have been shown the love of Christ, tens of thousands of Christians who served short-term have been discipled and prepared for future service, and countless lives have been transformed by God.
• An estimated 300 other organizations worldwide have their roots in OM or have been started by former OMers.