Honoring a Life Sold out for the Gospel

17 April, 2023
George Verwer on an Operation Mobilization ship looking out to sea.

George Verwer frequently visited staff on Operation Mobilization’s mission ships to provide teaching and encouragement. Photo courtesy of OM

After nearly seven decades of tirelessly reaching people around the world with the gospel, George Verwer, founder of Operation Mobilization and a 1960 Moody Bible Institute graduate, passed away on April 14 at age 84.

A native of New Jersey, George trusted Christ as his Savior in 1955 at age 17 during a Billy Graham crusade in New York City, setting in motion a lifetime commitment to global evangelism. In 1957, he and two friends began the ministry of Operation Mobilization on a small scale, selling some of their personal possessions so they could purchase 20,000 Spanish-language tracts and 10,000 gospel booklets and distribute the materials in Mexico out of their dilapidated van.

Pursuing God’s call on his life, George enrolled at Moody Bible Institute in 1958 to formally study and train in global missions. “I was hungry for God, hungry to reach the world with the gospel,” George told Moody Alumni News in 2018. George’s Bible-centered education and training at Moody was “like drinking from a fire hydrant and realizing my life was to be totally committed to reaching those who had never heard.”

Soon after arriving at Moody, George was organizing and leading all-night prayer meetings on campus. These events attracted Christian students from across the Chicago area to intercede for the salvation of people groups across the globe and the need for missionaries to advance the good news of Christ everywhere.

George’s zeal for evangelism was contagious. Taking Luke 14:33 literally, George called his friends to forsake everything for the gospel. Other students started bringing personal items and selling them in his dorm room, using the money raised from the sales to cover the costs of Bibles and missions projects.

While at Moody, George fell in love with another student, Drena Knecht ’59, and the couple married after George graduated from Moody in 1960. Shortly after their wedding, George and Drena moved to Mexico, selling some of their wedding gifts and even their wedding cake to fund a six-month outreach ministry assignment in Mexico City. At the conclusion of their short-term work, the Verwers traveled with friends to Spain to share the gospel, distribute Bible literature, and make plans to covertly send copies of the Scriptures behind the Iron Curtain.

By 1963, George believed that God was calling his small team to help mobilize the church to reach the nations through an official Operation Mobilization ministry. OM outreach teams were soon proclaiming the gospel throughout Europe, India, and Muslim countries as well as smuggling Bibles into Communist Eastern Europe and sharing Christ in the Middle East and South Asia. In 1970 OM launched its ships ministry, delivering the gospel to thousands of port cities across the world.

Today, OM has introduced tens of millions of people in 150-plus countries to Jesus Christ through ships, Bibles, Christian materials, door-to-door evangelism, church planting, humanitarian relief, and other modes of outreach.

George served as OM’s international director until 2003, when he shifted his focus to speaking about global missions to audiences across the world, usually while outfitted in his signature world map jacket. George also conveyed his unique life story as an author, writing several books on missions and evangelism, including Messiology (2018, Moody Publishers).

George and Drena eventually settled in London, England, with their three children, where George passed away after a brief battle with Sarcoma cancer.

George Verwer returned to Moody Bible Institute often to speak with students, such as this appearance at a Missions Conference.George Verwer returned to Moody Bible Institute often to speak with students, such as this appearance at a Missions Conference.

George was recognized for his indelible impact on world missions and on countless Moody students over the years when he was named Moody Alumnus of the Year in 1986. He later received an honorary doctorate from Moody in 2011. George was a frequent speaker on campus at chapels and Founder’s Week conferences and on Moody Radio, perpetually seeking opportunities to encourage Christians to dedicate their lives to global missions and the Great Commission.

Hanna Tamang, a 2017 Moody Bible Institute graduate and current Moody Theological Seminary student, served on OM’s Logos Hope vessel after graduating from high school in Nepal. She still remembers George’s infectious energy for the gospel and fondness for his alma mater whenever he boarded the ship to speak with crew members.

The Logos Hope was one of Operation Mobilization’s primary ships that traveled the world sharing the gospel. Photo courtesy of OMThe Logos Hope was one of Operation Mobilization’s primary ships that traveled the world sharing the gospel. OM’s ships ministry, which has visited thousands of port cities across the globe, was considered one of George Verwer’s greatest achievements as the organization’s founder and international director. Photo courtesy of OM

“Every time George Verwer would visit us, he would invite the Nepalese and Indian missionaries to gather because he had a burden to reach those countries for Christ,” Hanna said. “Every time I met him, he would tell me, ‘You have to go to Moody!’”

As a student at Moody Bible Institute from 1981–84, Moody President Dr. Mark Jobe was also profoundly affected by George’s unquenchable thirst to win others to Christ, particularly the world’s least-reached people groups.

Dr. Mark Jobe visits with George Verwer a few months before Verwer’s passing.Dr. Mark Jobe visits with George Verwer a few months before Verwer’s passing.

“When I think of people who are truly sold out for the gospel, George Verwer is one of the first to come to mind,” Dr. Jobe says. “My friend George has lived a passionate, rich, energy-filled kingdom life. He has taken risks, followed without hesitation, lived with frank honesty and spiritual fervor, and made every moment count for Jesus. It is my prayer that many more will be inspired by his story to go and serve.”