Most people recognise OM Founder George Verwer from his world map windbreaker and the giant globe he throws around at speaking engagements. Those closer to him know that he is the king of correspondence, always in touch via email, letters and calls. But one group of men have spent the most hours with George and likely been the most impacted—his ‘go-fers’.
Travelling with him for a year, they help keep up with emails, sell books and act as chauffeur, bodyguard, errand boy and whatever else George needs. In return, his go-fers go everywhere with him. George told his 2005 go-fer Nathan Smith, “I will take you all over the world. I will give you meaningful opportunities to serve. I will offer you the ability to do some incredible things.”
One of those meaningful opportunities for Nigel Paul, go-fer in 2006, was preaching at a house church in Al-Qaeda territory in Pakistan.
The lessons go-fers have learnt from George will never be forgotten.
The first time Nathan heard George speak, he was a student at Moody Bible Institute. “The place was electrified by him being there,” remembers Nathan. “He talked openly about his struggle with sin. And yet he grew this amazing organisation that reached over a billion people with the gospel.”
Nathan recalls him putting his hand on the outline of Iraq on the globe and praying for his friends there. Nathan was blown away imagining having friends in Iraq and all over the world. He thought, “It would be the coolest thing to travel with George…but that would never happen to me.” Yet two years later, Nathan was boarding a plane to meet George in London and remembers thinking, “Lord, you heard me and gave me this opportunity.” With George, Nathan travelled to 39 countries. The last country was Iraq, where Nathan could now say he had friends too.
Nathan learnt two major things. The first was that God uses broken people, and that was how George operated within OM: He never said no to someone who wanted to serve, even if they disagreed with him theologically.
“There was safe space to be a human being who wanted to serve God with everything he had,” Nathan shares. “No one had ever shaped a narrative like that before—it was always: You have to be perfect or holy or really good to do great things in God’s kingdom. George told me that wasn’t true.”
The second thing Nathan learnt was that a good leader not only recognises his own brokenness, but absorbs other people’s brokenness as well. One example was George’s willingness to go to someone who had a problem with him. “He has had enemy after enemy over the years that attacked him, derided him and critiqued him, and he would go directly to those people to try to build a bridge,” Nathan shares. “Some of the people that were his harshest critics became his most ardent supporters as a result.”
George would also apologise to people, often in tears, for a wrong he was not even responsible for. He always felt that relationship was more important than being right.
Nigel shared that George taught him, “to be big-hearted or risk becoming judgmental and disillusioned. I saw how much God could use the combination of big-picture thinking, realistic strategies and simple obedience.”
Once George was riding the bus in London when something hit the back of his head. A few teenagers had thrown a balled-up piece of paper at him. George ignored it at first, and then it happened again. He took out a few Bible tracts and walked back to them. “I know what it’s like to be young,” he said. “I led a gang in New Jersey when I was a boy, but now I love Jesus and I want to give these tracts to you.”
He went back to his seat, but soon felt another piece of paper hit his head. This time, it was a wadded-up tract. However, one of the boys left the group to sit next to him. George shared about what Christ had done for him and what He could do for the boy as well.
“It has been said that the greatest leaders are those who submit themselves to the greatest abuse, especially from within their own circle, and still give away love and dignity free of expectations,” wrote Nathan about the incident. “I believe that the Christ-likeness that George shared with these young men will forever imprint grace and love in their hearts that only see a world that offers judgment, retribution and a lust for what is deserved. This is the gospel light shining in the darkness before men.”
Through his time with George, Nigel was inspired to start his own ministry, MoveIn, which mobilises Christians to ‘move in’ among the unreached urban poor. The organisation includes 39 teams in 14 cities in England, Germany and Canada. Nigel also started a discipleship centre (DC) for young men where they live, eat, pray and have devotions together, in hope of impacting their neighborhood for Christ. Twenty-nine men from countries like Kazakhstan, Iran, Kenya and Mexico have lived at DC.
Nathan and his wife, Abby, have made their own home a ‘safe space’ for others. He is a youth pastor and practices the patience, love and forbearance learnt from George.
“When I left, after two years with OM, I said, ‘George, you were like a father to me,’” he says. “There are few men on the planet that walk closer to what Jesus looked like than George Verwer.” When Nathan got married, George was a groomsman in his wedding. “There’s nobody else like him and there never will be,” he says.
Megan R. spent three months writing and taking photographs in the Middle East with OM in 2013. She now serves as the managing editor of OM’s news website alongside her full-time communications work for a seminary in the US. She and her husband, Erik, enjoy live music, exploring new places, drinking good coffee and spending time with friends and family.