When it came to his passion and enthusiasm for missions and evangelism, those around George Verwer, the founder of Operation Mobilization who passed away this past Friday at the age of 84, had a nickname for his zest and energy.
It was known as the “Verwer Fervor” – a relentless and tireless commitment to sharing the Good News.
“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,” the missionary organization reflected. “Our founder’s earthly mission is accomplished, and he is now with the Lord.”
But evangelists aren’t born preachers or teachers. In fact, a lot of them pursue their calling after taking a wrong turn.
George Verwer included.
George was born in New Jersey just before World War II. He had a happy home that included good parents. He had lots of friends, but was known to be mischievous as a boy. Maybe that goes together. One day, he almost burned the woods down near his home.
George’s family went to church, but it was a mainline congregation, and he said he didn’t hear the Gospel preached. It was more a country club than a setting for strong Christian teaching.
Coming to the Christian faith is often a sequence of events, and these are the fenceposts of one man’s remarkable journey. Three things happened that transformed George’s life:
First, there was a woman in his town named Dorothea Clapp. She lived across the street from Ramsey High, where he went to school. George and her son, Danny, became friends.
Dorothea was the kind of woman you want in your town, and especially living by the high school. She was a strong Christian believer, and made a point to pray every day for the students in school, preferably by name. George made it onto her prayer list when he was a sophomore. She also gave all the kids a copy of the Gospel of John.
George accepted the gift and read it several times. The penny didn’t drop for him, though, though the reading inevitably made an impression.
Secondly, while still in high school, George was at a newsstand one day and looking at several racy magazines. He was actually thinking about selling them as a way to make some money.
But then another magazine caught his eye, and it couldn’t have been more different. The magazine featured a photo of Dr. Billy Graham on the cover. The teenager put down the filth and picked up the periodical featuring one of the great men of the faith. He was intrigued and impressed as he read about Dr. Graham’s burgeoning ministry.
Yet, there was no conversion. Maybe a little conviction – but he put all the magazines back and went on his way.
Fast forward to Sunday March 3, 1955. He’s standing outside his house when a neighbor invites him to attend a “Word of Life” event at Madison Square Garden. The speaker?
Dr. Billy Graham.
George agreed to go, jumped on a bus with the neighbors and other students – and his life was never the same. He accepted Jesus as his personal Lord and Savior that night.
One aside. George was walking outside of Madison Square Garden that night after the rally, when he was knocked over by a kid in a gang. The individual was looking to pick a fight. George resisted the urge to lash back, and felt the Lord intervened when the gang leader told his minions to back off.
Timing is everything.
Back in high school, George was elected class president, and he immediately bought 1000 copies of the Gospel of John for every kid at Ramsey High.
The “Verwer Ferver” had begun!
George went to college, eventually landing at the Moody Bible Institute. He found himself with likeminded believers, met the right friends and Operation Mobilization was born. They focused their evangelism mainly on the Middle East and India.
Here’s how the Gospel Coalition summed up George Verwer’s ministry:
“Few people in the second half of the 20th century have done more to mobilize for the unreached and the unengaged, and few have equipped more believers and unbelievers with gospel literature.”
George’s life was an adventure. “I believe the reason many Christians are so dull and lifeless in their faith is because they are not in the battle, not using their weapons, not advancing against the enemy,” he once said.
Never underestimate the power of praying for someone – and what the Lord can do with someone’s life if you invite them to church.
Photo from Courtesy Operation Mobilization.