George Verwer, a Paul of Our Time
The day after the presidential inauguration in 2009, I was feeling pretty low. The congressman I worked for had, along with many other Republicans, been defeated for reelection the previous November. Barack Obama, who had been rated by National Journal as the single most liberal member of the U.S. Senate, was the new president. Democrats were in charge of the Executive Branch and its hundreds of departments, agencies, bureaus, and so forth, as well as both houses of Congress. Many of my friends were, like me, out of work.
And then I met George Verwer.
George was one of the most passionate people I have ever known. I suspect he and Paul the apostle would have made great teammates. In 1957, George had a dramatic conversion at a Billy Graham crusade and never looked back. Shortly after coming to Christ, he launched Operation Mobilization (OM). In the summer of 1963, OM sent 2,000 workers to blanket Europe with the gospel. As reported in “Christianity Today,” Operation Mobilization became “one of the largest mission organizations of the 20th century, sending out thousands every year on short- and long-term trips. OM currently has 3,300 adult workers from 134 countries working in 147 countries. An estimated 300 other mission agencies were also started as a result of contact with OM or launched by former OMers.” In total, OM has trained and sent 150,000 men and women to make disciples and bring all manner of practical assistance in order to show the love of Christ.
George passed away a couple of days ago after a relatively brief bout with cancer. I received one of his last ministry updates in January, in which he wrote not about what he called his “health downturn” but his desire to spend more time with his beloved wife, Drena. And then, he provided a list of all the ministry needs on his heart: OM’s Bible Fund, its efforts to provide effective prenatal and infant care in the developing world, evangelistic outreaches, including his desire to “have the largest (possible) network of evangelists and literature distribution,” and a ministry to refugees and asylum seekers in Europe and places as far away as Yemen. He concluded with, “There is so much more I would like to share. I soon hope to open another website — specialprojects.com.” This, from a frail 83-year-old man who was in decline.
So, back to 2009. A friend recommended that I meet with George while he was in D.C. He had come to try to make contacts in the new administration for ministry purposes. He was not what I was expecting: his demeanor was warm but furtive, kind, and friendly but also intense, with little time for small talk. He wore a trademark white jacket on which was printed a map of the world. That was fitting, as his heart for a fallen humanity was gigantic.
We met at a restaurant at Union Station and were enjoying our conversation when a bomb threat drove everyone out. George and I landed at the U.S. Postal Museum, where we found a quiet place to sit and talk.
I was astonished by George’s immediate willingness to share his heart with me. Toward the end of our conversation, he began to cry. He said he wrestled with the way God was working in the world. He told me that he sometimes wondered whether his faith was misplaced but had concluded there was enough evidence of the reality of Christ that he persevered.
In our roughly two hours together, a bond was created that lasted over many years. On one occasion, when I did not respond to an email as rapidly as he would have liked, he sent me a follow-up message asking if I had gotten his last one. I shouldn’t have been surprised — George read every email he received.
My last personal correspondence with George was a little over a year ago. He wrote, “Dear Robert … praying for you. We urgently need funds for African language Bibles for many nations in Africa. I don’t know what your finance situation is but wonder if you could give $70 for 10 Bibles. No pressure. You like many probably are over committed in your generous giving. In the battle, George. P.S. [W]e are also in many life and death humanitarian situations … raising funds is up-hill climb.”
The actual message contained numerous grammatical and spelling errors — not because George was a poor writer but because, I suspect, his correspondence was so extensive that he didn’t have time to worry about typos.
I mourn George’s passing. Meeting him on what had been, for me, a grim day has been an enduring reminder that eternity’s values — God, the gospel, people for whom Christ died — are vastly more important than any political turn of events. Now in the presence of the Savior he loved so much, George is seeing the everlasting fruit of his Pauline-like fervor to bring people of all ages to saving faith in Jesus. I look forward to seeing my brother again.
Rob Schwarzwalder is Senior Lecturer in Regent University's Honors College.