By Michael Ireland, Chief Correspondent for the ASSIST News Service (www.assistnews.net)
LAKE FOREST (ANS – February 21, 2018) — If anyone can create the term messiology, it’s George Verwer. Founder of Operation Mobilization, one of the world’s largest missions organizations. George has spent some 60 years leading gospel movements around the globe. Witness to not a few failures — including his own — he can still say this: “I believe history will show that God was doing way more in the midst of our messes than we realized at the time.”
In a recent interview with ANS Founder, Dan Wooding, for his “Front Page Radio” show (http://frontpageradio.net/frontpageradiofiles/GeorgeVerwerFPR20180304Mono.mp3), Verwer talked about his book latest book, Messiology, and reflected on his life and ministry to remind us that God works in mysterious ways. He cautioned us from getting critical. He urges us toward love, patience, affection, and grace. Major in the majors, minor in rest, and trust God always, even in failure.
To start their conversation, Verwer told Wooding how he became a Christian and went into missionary work.
“It all goes back to a plain woman near my high school in New Jersey just outside of New York City. I wasn’t a Christian. I was reared in a home with some degree of Christian values and she prayed for me and sent me a Gospel of John through the post and God used that to turn my heart. One night, at a meeting in New York City where Billy Graham preached to 20,000 people and called us to repent and believe (and) I took that step of faith and He saved me. She not only prayed that I would become a Christian — she prayed that I would become a missionary!
“Amazing. And God heard her prayers — within a year or two I was on my way to Mexico and 60 years since OM (we didn’t have that name then because OM’s deeper roots are in Europe) but it’s 60 years since three of us, then in college, went to distribute 10,000 Gospels in Mexico.”
At first, the three missionaries called themselves “Send The Light.”
“That’s the first name I registered in 1958,” he said. “I’ve set up a board of trustees that I’ve always been accountable to and we just look back with joy on tens of thousands of answers to prayer. But things really got going because the original vision was only Muslim countries, closed countries and Communist countries. But when I got arrested by the Soviets on my first smuggling effort — due to my own stupidity — I went through a day of prayer and they finally let me go and God gave me the name of Operation Mobilization and the vision to see Germans and French and Brits all working together in what I used to call ‘a revolution of love.’ We had just a ‘revolution of hate’ that took millions of lives in Europe. And in an amazing way that’s when God moved me from Spain to Britain, and Britain was really where there were churches with a strong message. The next summer, we had 200, the next summer we had 2,000. And since then this is not an exaggeration over 200,000 have served with OM around the world.”
Peter Conlan, a close friend of Wooding, was with Verwer in India back in those in those early days. “I went out to visit the teams that I had sent there and it changed the course of my life — I knew God wanted me to join them and pioneer that work and that became a glorious work. That’s where K.P. Yohannan just 50 years ago came into my meeting in Bangalore and made a radical commitment to the Lord Jesus and global missions. And he and I this morning had wonderful personal fellowship. Last night, we celebrated 50 years in front of a gathering. So the work in India really, in the first 30 to 40 years, (we) were sowing the seeds — probably half a billion people were given the Gospel. But in the last 15 or 20 years we’ve been reaping the harvest so much so that it’s had to become a separate indigenous church movement called Good Shepherd Churches, about 3,000 churches much smaller than the Believer’s Churches which are linked with K.P. Yohannan. By the way The Believer’s churches in India today there are 3,000,000 members.”
Verwer said he didn’t believe the figures are exaggerated because his ministry has always beenvery strong on keeping addresses, keeping statistics.”
He then talked about what he called “the danger of toxic perfectionism,” that has appeared in some parts of the church, and which he says may be the theme of his next book. “In our efforts for excellency and holiness, the enemy is clever and vaccinates us with toxic perfectionism so we become very critical, very negative, also quite brutal on ourselves and it leads to disunity and heartbreak and confusion and broken marriages and lots of other things. So I talked about this in my new book Messiology which was the theme of the meeting at Gospel for Asia last night,” he told Dan Wooding.
The ANS founder then asked Verwer: “Why did you call it that George, and tell us really some of the stories you bring out in the book?”
“For 60 years, I’m gonna be really honest, I’ve seen an awful lot of messes, an awful lot of things going wrong in churches, on the mission field, personality bust ups, immorality, very sad things — I can’t pretend they don’t exist. Years ago, God gave me a proverb — guess just for survival — and I began to preach on this proverb ‘where two or three of the Lord’s people are gathered together sooner or later there’s a mess.’
“And then I began to always point out how God somehow still worked and out of the blue, God just gave me this word — it’s not in the dictionary — but it just seemed the natural word Messiology. It’s a theology in which you realize God works in messy situations and it doesn’t catch Him by surprise that even one of his outstanding workers suddenly does something stupid. God, of course, He hates sin, but if that person knows Jesus, he or she are the Lord’s child. Their sin is covered by His precious blood, and God is very merciful. I could give you hundreds of examples, like heavy stuff. Like God mightily using white people in South Africa practicing Apartheid; or blessing in a tremendous way people in our own country in the beginning when they were practicing slavery. How can this be? I never had anybody hardly ever explain this to me, and it just seemed so strange. What kind of God is this? You know that He should be judging those people. And God, of course, wants us to change that situation and, eventually, very slowly, we did. Then we practiced segregation for how many more years. But God was blessing and using Segregationists who were sending out missionaries. God was blessing them. That’s just one example of probably over a thousand things I’ve seen that didn’t really make sense until I shifted my view of how God works; and I call it Messiology.”
Verwer said he’s always been committed to excellency. “I once gave a message at an OM conference saying that ‘we must aim for zero defects’ — I learned that from the business world. I produced little cards (called) ‘zero defects.’ So we were committed to excellency, but if you’re not careful you set yourself up through what I now call ‘toxic perfectionism’ and there were many messy situations in our movement and it’s a bit sad that the official history of OM is very clean — it doesn’t bring out these messy situations. There is not a single nation — we’re in 110 nations now, I led the work for 46 years — there was not a single nation where we didn’t have some degree of a mess.
“And you know when the Charismatic movement hit the UK, not the old Pentecostal movement which was already there. The new Charismatic movement hit the UK the same time as us. Soon there was a mess in almost every church in the UK. And we were caught in the middle of it. And one of my very best men I thought was going to be my UK leader for years, he wrote me that you know ‘you’re not enough into the gifts of the Spirit and what God is doing today, and I’m leaving.’ You know I saw him walk out the door leaving me with a mess. Who’s going to take on that job?”
How did Verwer finally resolve that?
“Well, I wrote a book called Extremism and it clearly showed that we wanted to work with all of God’s people, including Charismatic and Pentecostal people. And many believed the wise decision of the Moody Bible Institute and Billy Graham — they were a bit anti-Pentecostal Charismatic. However, Billy Graham quickly changed and got crucified by people because of it. But I think one of the wisest things is we did not become anti. We didn’t want to be a movement that was anti this, anti that, but we were anti-extremism and I think God used that to keep the unity. So when Pentecostal Charismatic people came to OM they didn’t necessarily push those things that were so controversial, like the speaking in tongues, and God honored that and many of our great recruits came from Charismatic and Pentecostal churches. Especially in Europe not so much in the States, but the door was wide open for me to minister in the (transcriber’s note: can’t get this word) churches, Assembly of God, and then the new Charismatic groups like New Frontiers. We have a lot to celebrate.”
The ship ministry is another extraordinary part of the amazing work that of OM.
“I was headed for Spain, but I went to France on the Queen Elizabeth and picked up an old car it was selling cheap in Paris. In an amazing way it began to develop that a ship was a great tool for world evangelism. You could travel and study at the same time. It attracted attention. In India, we developed a big book ministry and in Nepal an educational book ministry, and so I got the idea of an educational book ship so that we could get into countries that may not want so many Christian books. So we launched the first ship Logos in 1970 and it was very successful. We soon launched our second ship Doulos and God has blessed our ministry for 47 or 48 years. We lived on the ship — my whole family pioneering it for the first year. It was also very much tied in with the vision for India, but we had a lot of reasons why we went into the ship ministry. It wasn’t just some kind of feeling trip. It was well thought through over a period of 6 years. I got my first captain, got my first chief engineer, and all the staff all these years have been believers. It’s a tremendous story.”
“The ship is known all over the world as as the book ship. We get 20,000 visitors sometimes on a weekend through the book exhibit and the sales of the books even though they’re bargain books — the sales from the books really help pay for the fuel because the ship can be expensive. Four-hundred live on the new ship — we’re always looking for recruits — that’s why I still take these radio interviews. We really need recruits because a lot on the ship are only for a year and the ship will be in South America. We’re looking for Spanish speakers. We had a tremendous time in Colombia right now. Our new director is actually Korean. It’s very international — here’s 40 nationalities or more on the ship, probably a hundred on OM. We just thank God that global missions is now an international movement with any nation in the world of any size getting involved in global missions It’s a very exciting period for global missions — the greatest time of harvest of people to Jesus the world has ever known.”
If you would like to find out how you can join the ship, particularly if you are a Spanish speaker, you may contact Verwer at: firstname.lastname@example.org, and he will forward it to the right office.
“But you don’t get that many responses, so those that do respond I’d like to pray for them maybe send them some free books and then put them in touch with our office. So I’m happy to receive that personally,” Verwer said.
He said that through YouTube there are a lot of short videos OM has done from all over the world. There is other information on the website www.Georgeverwer.com
You can also e-mail Verwer for free books. “I’m very active on Facebook so people can check Facebook and also get a lot of information about me and sign up for one of my Facebook sites. I use all these things in prayer. Sometimes I spend 7 hours in prayer, especially when I long-distance travel.”
Verwer added: “I have a million books out there in print and distributed. The amazing thing about Messiology and with the mess here in the USA and many other places, including the UK with Brexit and all that, my book Messiology is even for non-Christians can be very encouraging.”
He concluded: “So my dream is that the book could get more wide circulation. Moody Bible Institute itself is going through the biggest crisis it’s had in years and I believe God is continuing to work there. But it’s proof of the book that they published. The original title was More Dross Mystery, Mercy, Messiology. Moody Press insisted on making the title Messiology. By the way I will send it free to anybody that contacts me. I’m here because of a wedding of a close friend and he insisted we have books at his wedding. Messiology was the number one book that they gave it out at the wedding reception where I spoke.”
He added, “I believe God’s got his hand on this. It’s my legacy book after 62 years of serving the Living Jesus.”
Editor’s note: Since writing this, news has come in about the passing of Billy Graham at the age of 99. Verwer said, “The man I consider my Spiritual father (Billy Graham) died today. To say he ran well would be an understatement. Only God knows how many millions are in heaven because of HIM and his team and supporters. To God be the glory and let’s keep flooding out his books and DVDs. HE WAS A TEAM PLAYER.”
** ANS would like to thank Robin Frost for transcribing this interview.
Photo captions: 1) Book cover. 2) In June 1957, George (left) and classmates Dale Rhoton and Walter Borchard drove from Chicago to Mexico City in a beat-up 1949 Dodge truck filled with Spanish gospels. 3) Dan Wooding interviewing George Verwer on another occasion. 4) Verwer speaking at Urbana 2010. 5) Two heroes of missions – George Verwer and Brother Andrew. 6) People lining up to board the Logos Hope. 7) George Verwer visiting Billy Graham at his home in Montreat, North Carolina. 8) Michael Ireland of ASSIST News Service.
About the Writer: Michael Ireland is a volunteer internet journalist serving as Chief Correspondent for the ASSIST News Service, as well as an Ordained Minister, and an award-winning local cable-TV program host/producer who has served with ASSIST Ministries and written for ANS since its beginning in 1989. He has reported for ANS from Jamaica, Mexico, Nicaragua, Israel, Jordan, China, and Russia. You may follow Michael on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/MichaelIrelandMediaMissionar y, and on Twitter at @Michael_ASSIST. Please consider helping Michael cover his expenses in bringing news of the Persecuted Church, by logging-on to: https://actintl.givingfuel.com/ireland-michael
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