George Verwer speaking at the WEA GA 2019 in Jakarta, Indonesia (c) WEA
I, Thomas Schirrmacher, am glad that George Verwer left his legacy to us in his last appearance before a large global audience in 2019, not to a specific section of the spiritual family he belonged to, but to the World Evangelical Alliance’s General Assembly. I am thankful that my predecessor, Bishop Efraim Tendero, wisely chose George Verwer as the final plenary speaker of that General Assembly, not knowing that this would the last such platform for George. I am thankful to George himself, who came despite being limited by his health already. And I am especially thankful for his message about his shirt with the world map on it; on world mission, the central topic of WEA since 1846; and on radical discipleship, the fulfillment of the topic of the GA surrounding the Decade of Discipleship. In his book Messiology (p. 27), he wrote, “I am part of the WEA and was active in my younger days. In our great global events we learned to respect even more the wonderful different ways God was working in so many denominations and movements.” (See https://georgeverwer.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/10/Messiology.pdf)
In my private meeting with George after his message (see photo), he was worn out but extremely happy that his lifelong investment in recruiting, encouraging, and always pushing people to do more for Jesus had brought forth so much fruit and was accepted by the global church. We promise to champion his legacy of radical discipleship for Jesus.
I first saw George Verwer as a small boy, when he visited my family. Already at that time, he seemed somehow chaotic in style, shocking others with what seemed to be strange ideas about short-term missionaries or buying large, old ships and turn them into global mission tools. God blessed his out-of-the-box thinking mightily! George—much like Billy Graham—spoke openly about his failures; after all, he even wrote a book called Messiology. In his sermons, speeches, and books, he always gave examples of his fallibility. He was rightly convinced that this should be part of every sermon, every witness to the grace of God. He encouraged me, in my leadership position, not to listen to those who expect one always to do the right thing, never to fail, never to sin. Instead, he assured me that we can be leaders only by the grace of God, who uses us for his purposes despite our limitations and our constant need for forgiveness.
I have asked William Taylor, the longtime director of WEA’s Mission Commission, and the one among us who probably had the most intense and longest ongoing interaction with George Verwer, to say farewell to George on behalf of us all by recalling the legacy he has left us.
And I, Bill Taylor, am grateful to add a few reflections to Thomas’s thoughtful words. I met George during our overlapping years at Moody Bible Institute. I had started my missionary preparation there at a mere 17 years of age, but George was already a skyrocket and legend due to his radical and rapid response to the leading of the Spirit—and his own restless spirit. We sat next to each other in classes, since teachers seated us by our last names, therefore placing Taylor next to Verwer. It was ridiculous to sit next to him in our required class on personal evangelism.
I was also one of Send the Light’s (precursor to Operation Mobilisation or OM) early attrition statistics. Desiring to travel with this radical band to Mexico over a Christmas holiday, I was unable to raise the required funds on time. George queried my status, and when I gave my report, he abruptly stated, “Well, then you are not supposed to go with us.” That was it. Fortunately, that sharp response didn’t discourage me, even though I spoke Spanish fluently. It was God’s different timing in my own uneven development.
George shaped mission history for his generation and those that would emerge. Some of the legends are true; Drena and George did leave right after their 1960 wedding for Mexico in a van packed with books and Scripture, bartering the wedding cake for the second tank of gas. I lost touch with George, but not with OM. This new organization had gone viral, and that radical discipleship call ripped through and reverberated across Christian colleges and Inter-Varsity Christian Fellowship groups, first in the USA and then virally across Europe to the entire globe. George and Drena became global servants, living in various countries in different seasons, finally settling in England.
Years later we reconnected, this time as friends and colleagues. He began calling me at random times of the day or night. “Hey Bill, am on the train from London to Glasgow and wanted a report on how you are doing. And how are your kids? Give my love to Yvonne.” Those rapid exchanges always ended with him asking to pray, and then a speedy farewell. But he was also a unique and thoughtful colleague, and one could discern it as we parsed and mulled over his radical publications and letters. Starting in 1970 with the Logos, OM ships traveled the globe, serving, evangelizing, recruiting, training and sending countless cross-cultural servants.
George Verwer praying with younger leaders at the WEA GA 2019 in Jakarta, Indonesia (c) WEA
I had begun my 30 years (1986-2016) serving the WEA Mission Commission (MC), and George would appear (sometimes unexpectedly) at our consultations and events. Inevitably he showed up with his classic “world map jacket,” and at times with his globe balloon. Most significantly, George never asked to speak at these global events, not once. But he was there. He was present. He affirmed our dreams. He backed our projects and publications. To our surprise, at one point he “gave” us OM’s core team on mission mobilization. His concept of missiology emerged in one of his books, Messiology. He generously confessed his mistakes, particularly the early ones. He was transparent and vulnerable in sharing his weaknesses and sinful propensities. At one memorable event in SE Asia, we together confessed our heartbreak at family challenges and unanswered prayers. We also met that week in the hotel sauna, with its minimal dress code. I loved him more for those authentic expressions.
George and Drena’s lives and legacy will long be evaluated, serving as examples of personal and global radical discipleship, of vision and zeal, of a willingness to risk it all. It is reported that some 300 Christian organizations came “out of OM.” And only God knows how many “OM marriages” emerged! George’s capacity and desire to embrace risk and lay it all on the line have impacted all who knew him. His “messy missiology” became legendary and influenced the MC consultation discussions.
George wasn’t a “high-flyer” celebrity figure like so many today. He was the real deal, a man of deep integrity, transparent, passionately devoted to Jesus, and humble. We honor him as one whom Christ could entrust with a world-changing vision and calling. “Well done, good and faithful servant.” We are praying for Drena, your family and the global OM community. Until we all meet again in our forever Home.
Bishop Dr. Thomas Schirrmacher
Secretary General and CEO
World Evangelical Alliance
Dr. William D. Taylor
WEA Mission Commission, 30 years
President, TaylorGlobalConsult, President