George Verwer finished well. The Lord graciously prepared him to release his burden for the world to know Jesus, which had motivated him since his teenage years.
We had some time to accept that George’s life on earth was drawing to a close. Still, the sheer volume and authenticity of the tributes that have been paid to him has overwhelmed me.
From across the globe, from figures who are well known and those who may not be, spanning cultures, generations and denominations, the outpouring of words expressing what George meant – and showing that what he did mattered – carries tremendous weight. What has been shared has been genuine. Personal. Global. Impactful. And is just part of the story only heaven will tell.
My own George story began 45 years ago. I am one of those for whom the door to mission was opened by his radical strategy of not requiring people to have Bible college degrees or certainty about serving long-term. George’s attitude was, ‘As long as you love Jesus and have a heart for Him, God can use you.’ As a result, 250,000 people have served with OM and around 300 other organisations have sprung up.
Initially, I only knew of George by reputation. I had heard his powerful preaching and was aware of his responsibilities, steering OM and visiting outreach all over the world. It spoke volumes to me that, as I transited through London in 1981, George invited me to go for a walk and even drove me to the airport. He made time to get to know me, and to show me that a leader should also be a servant.
I have learnt so many things from George. His entire life is a mission and discipleship textbook. How he lived, served, what he practised and preached have been fine examples that have enriched my life and ministry. I will miss him enormously.
George was a man of integrity, humble about his humanness, passionate to get God's Word to anyone who has yet to hear, by any and all means. Brave, generous with his resources and the grace he had also received, and phenomenally committed to relationship. What I appreciated most was his friendship to my two sons. He phoned and even visited them when he was in town. God gave him an amazing capacity to keep in touch with thousands.
George served Jesus for two-thirds of a century. Relentlessly! While he stepped down as international director of OM when he reached retirement age 20 years ago, he continued to be involved in many areas of our work and was a well-informed, insightful mentor. George carried on inspiring millions through his frenetic diary of speaking engagements, the pithy books he wrote and emails he dashed off with arrow prayers. He was always on the go, loved championing the cause of Christ and channelling help and hope through his special projects division.
George’s whole life was totally sold for Jesus. He confirmed this when he was asked six months ago what kept him going – was it his love for the nations? "No," he replied, "My love for Jesus. It's always been a discipleship story. The nations grew out of that story. It's always been Jesus." What a challenge that is to each of us.
The venture George embarked on in faith in 1957 has been used remarkably by God to help churches see the urgency of the mission task and the part all can play, whether they pray, give or go. What began with three intrepid students in a battered van crammed with literature has grown into the Operation Mobilisation of today: active in almost 150 countries with a truly diverse makeup of workers representing 134 nations, showing Christ’s love through a wide range of holistic ministries.
OM’s modern mission statement reflects our pioneers’ early vision: we want to see vibrant communities of Jesus followers among the least reached.
Only those who risk going too far find out how far God will go with them. Isn’t that what George discovered in the sixties, when he dared to suggest buying an old ship? The evangelical world had serious doubts, and of course there was much to learn, yet several Christian organisations went on to use ships for outreach.
This week, OM launched the fifth vessel we have operated. In just over fifty years, our ships have been visited by nearly 50 million people. Crew have shared knowledge, help and hope with countless more on shore in port cities worldwide. Doulos Hope will be based in Asia. She is more agile, able to operate in shallower waters and come alongside less accessible communities, staying longer for deeper engagement. Her potential excited George.
I have given our movement permission to take risks as we press on into our vision. Permission to try new ways, to learn from mistakes, to seize the opportunities God sends; like those which got us here – no place too hard, no people too far, no idea too crazy, no dream too big. That is how we will prayerfully carry forward the bold spirit and innovative missional legacy we have inherited.
I’ve been thinking of how Abel is mentioned in the Epistle to the Hebrews: "...And by faith Abel still speaks, even though he is dead." Hebrews 11:4b (NIV). In his final video message a few days before his passing, George still spoke to us of the task ahead. He reminded us of the hundreds of millions of people still to be reached with the gospel.
That is how George and our mission forbears still speak. The call compels us until our duty is done. We thank God for George, and for all God has done through George. We now have the watch.
Lawrence Tong (Singapore) is Operation Mobilisation's International Director. He joined OM in 1978 and served five-year stints on board three vessels: Doulos, Logos and Logos II, as well as helping run the Ship Ministry offices in Germany and the USA. Lawrence has led OM's work in fields in East Asia. He has held the post of International Director since 2013.