Grit, Grace, and Global Mission with George Verwer [A Commemorative Episode]

In this special episode of the Lausanne Movement podcast, we’re privileged to present a previously unpublished interview with George Verwer, the inspirational founder of Operation Mobilization, and Justin Schell, Director of Executive Projects at the Lausanne Movement. 

This conversation is a tribute to George Verwer’s life and enduring legacy. 

Starting from his early days, George shares of being touched by the Gospel and making a significant commitment at a Billy Graham rally, to pioneering literature evangelism at the birth of the Lausanne movement, Verwer reflects on the key moments that shaped his ministry. 

George discusses the trials of leadership, emphasising the significance of prayer, humility, managing failure, and the constant need for grace and forgiveness in leadership roles. Additionally, George delves into his approach to cultural sensitivity, the impact of his ministry style on his family, and the importance of a prayerful foundation. 

He offers invaluable advice to emerging and established leaders in ministry, highlighting the need for personal transformation and understanding the nuances of leadership in global missions. 

We trust that this interview would not just act as reflection on his contributions to missions but become an invitation for you to continue his legacy and join in the mission to accelerate global mission together.

We’d love your feedback to help us to improve this podcast. Thank you!

Guests in This Episode

George Verwer

George Verwer was born in New Jersey, USA, in 1938. When he was 14 years old, a woman named Dorothea Clapp gave him a copy of the Gospel of John. Mrs Clapp prayed for 18 years for the students at George’s school to become passionate Jesus-followers and take His message to the ends of the earth. Three years later, George attended a Billy Graham meeting in New York City, where he made a personal commitment to Christ. His entire life was changed.  

Inspired by Jesus’ commission to make disciples, George began sharing his faith with fellow students. Within a year, two hundred had chosen to follow Christ. At college in Tennessee, George became burdened for those without access to the Bible, and in 1957, he and two friends sold some of their possessions to fund a road trip to Mexico; taking 20,000 Spanish-language tracts and 10,000 Gospel booklets. The trip led to many more and fanned the flame of George’s conviction to share God’s Word with those who’d never heard it.

Moving to Moody Bible Institute in Chicago, Illinois, George was confident of God’s call on his life. He blazed a trail for world mission, motivating others in nights of prayer and planning further literature distribution ventures. It was at Moody that George met Drena Knecht, who would become his wife.

In 1960, George and Drena were married. They prioritised their service of the Lord and sold some of their wedding gifts to fund a six-month outreach to Mexico City before moving to Spain, where they established what would become OM’s work there. While in Europe, George smuggled Bibles into Communist-controlled countries, but after being arrested and deported, he took time to reflect. During a time of private prayer in Vienna, Austria, George climbed a tree and saw a group of young people boarding a bus. In that moment, the name Operation Mobilisation sprang to his mind, with the idea of mobilising ‘busloads’ of young people into mission.

Under George’s exuberant leadership and fuelled by the passion of believers from many nations to reach those who had never heard the Good News, OM expanded in the 60s, 70s and 80s: first, across Europe and into the Middle East, then with volunteers crewing ocean-going ships. Logos, the first of five vessels, was launched in 1971, and since then more than 49 million people have visited the onboard book fairs, with over 70 million portions of Scripture distributed during port calls in 151 countries.

After a time living and establishing ministry in India, George and Drena, along with their three children, settled in London, England; where George continued to emphasise radical discipleship within OM and focused on ministry sustainability.

George led OM until 2003, then concentrated on special projects, travelling and speaking on global mission at thousands of gatherings worldwide. His authentic lifestyle and zeal for the spread of the gospel has motivated countless individuals and churches into more intentional mission involvement. 

Rarely seen without his world map jacket or inflatable globe, George always prayed for the nations and current issues. He was energised by encouraging others and keeping in contact with thousands of friends and ministry partners through letters, emails and phone calls. George wrote several books, including Revolution of Love, Out of the Comfort Zone, Messiology and Confessions of a Toxic Perfectionist.

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