17 December 2017

From strength to strength

FROM STRENGTH TO STRENGTH George Verwer Changing the World One Convert at a Time.

George Verwer is a name that is well known to those of us of a certain age for whom grey hair is thought of as being distinguished rather than just a mark of old age. As the founder of the organisation Operation Mobilisation, he has been an inspirational Christian leader for nearly 50 years. Personally speaking, I found his testimony so encouraging as he recounted how, as a rebellious teenager from a nominal Christian background, a saintly lady living across the road from his school decided to pray for him specifically, by name, until he came to faith. He attended a Billy Graham crusade at the age of 16 and was not only converted that night but also totally changed, such that, on his return to school 200 of his schoolmates also became Christians. All this from the dedicated prayer of one older lady. We must never underestimate God’s ability and desire to answer the prayers of his people. George went on to start OM a few years later and led the organisation for 40 years and continues to be involved, currently running Special Projects.

George had been invited to speak at a meeting held at Belfast Bible College as part of their annual mission day and was as challenging about the need for full time missionary workers worldwide, as ever. In a talk that lasted for nearly an hour, but only seemed like 10 minutes, he talked of God’s concern for the nations from Psalm 67, listing his top 10 unreached nations.

In a world of 7 billion people, the good news is that there are more individuals coming to faith in the Lord Jesus Christ today than ever before, however conversely there are also so many more still to reach. While God is doing amazing things in many countries where OM is working, there are still countries, like North Korea, where there are hardly any believers at all. However, who of us ever dreamt that there would be a day when there would be an estimated 70 million believers in China?

Following the meeting we had the joy of sitting down with George to hear his heart for the work of spreading the gospel in today’s world. When asked what message he would like to send to our readership he immediately replied that he wanted to teach us a new word, “Messeology”. He then went on to explain that we live in a messy world and a messy church, but God is more merciful than we will ever know and is well able to work in the midst of the mess. It is us, His children, who have a problem with the mess rather than God. In fact George went further, and said that although he could not explain it, God often works in some of, what appear to be, the messiest of situations, citing the racism of the Southern States of America, the apartheid of South Africa and the bigotry of Northern Ireland as examples. He said we should not be too critical of the church, it is an imperfect bride but it is still God’s chosen vessel.

We then went on to discuss how his outlook had changed as he moved on in life. George said his view of God had got bigger and his understanding of the passion of Jesus to see people saved had grown, and he had realised that God did not fit into our stereotypes of how He should act. He also recognises the need for Christians to be willing to change, without losing their faith or compromising on the truth, but in areas like music or forms of services, and the use of the arts, we need to move with the times. He has also seen the benefits of different denominations within the church and what they can bring to worship and praise, but recognises that there are a lot of people in this world who have been hurt by church and that hurts him. With the passage of time George has changed in how he evaluates people, he has become gentler, less condemnatory and more compassionate towards others. He sees more of their complexity and is stunned at what God can do in and through people and how he can use someone as imperfect as him.

At the end of our time together I tried to reflect on what it is that makes this man special, and I think it has to be his vulnerability. He has a total lack of pretense, is brutally honest and yet so modest and self effacing. He is without pride or guile, and his only desire is that God would use him to the salvation of others.

George had made mention several times of the fact that, at the age of 73 years many of his contemporaries had already gone home to glory. He often wonders why God chooses to take others home while leaving him here to carry on the work, but such matters we can only attribute to the sovereignty of God. He talked of losing his good friend John Stott earlier this year and the tremendous legacy he had left behind, and so I asked him how he would like to be remembered. His reply was not what I expected, he said, “I hope people will remember me as a “loving spiritual revolutionary.”

Wherever George goes his ministry is used by the Spirit of God to great effect and produces a huge response, due to his honesty and the message of hope. George explains quite beautifully that, while we must never compromise on the message of holiness, we need to be able to tell people what to do when they sin. This is so profound. So many people struggle to serve the Lord but inevitably fall, as we all do, and end up defeated and racked with guilt because they have no idea how to be restored.

It is wonderful to spend time in the presence of a man with such a wealth of Christian experience who is still growing in the faith and who is looking forward to finishing the race strongly and hearing that, “Well done good and faithful servant.” He indeed is, and has been, a very faithful servant. However, judging by his strength, vitality and unabated enthusiasm for the gospel of Jesus Christ, his race will continue for some time yet.