The Deeply Felt Absence of a Global Missionary
(A Tribute to George Verwer)
KC Joseph, Hyderabad
The passing of Dr. George Verwer, the Founder and Former International Director of OM, has left me somewhat shattered. I used to receive, on an average, a dozen emails per day from him until about two months ago. Since then, the number declined and the frequency dropped. The emails were mostly supply orders for Bibles and books, to send to people all over India and some to other countries. A few of the emails were personal in nature, encouraging me and making enquiries of many different things. The last email I received, personally typed by him, was on 28 March, and his latest instruction to me about the future (typed by someone else) was on 4 April. Ours was a very close work relationship developed over the past 25 years or so. That is what has now come to an end; no more emails and phone calls from George Verwer!
It was my privilege and honor to have had this close and passionate relationship that resulted in edifying, empowering and equipping the Church to be more realistic and Christ-centered, and reaching many millions of people with the Gospel through the printed pages and in audio and video formats. It all actually started in the early 1980’s when I was leading field evangelistic teams. I had to send him a weekly report of what the team was doing, which somehow created a bond, though we did not see each other until 1985 when I first met him at a one-on-one meeting in a border town in Nepal. During that meeting, he asked me to walk with him a couple of miles. I literally had to run along to keep up while he walked. He was tall and lean. His daily physical exercise included walking and jogging and he insisted everyone in the Organization, particularly in India, to do it to stay fit for the daily ministry.
A few years down the line, we met again at a couple of meetings of Indian leaders in Nepal, where he took a special interest to meet each person (this was when he was not allowed to enter India; therefore, the Indian leaders had to meet him in Nepal). In 1993, when three of us from India went for a massive European outreach campaign, George made it a point to meet us separately and spend some good length of time with us (before the end of the campaign he had an additional meeting with me alone in his office). In 1998, when I was on a trip to visit different Christian publishers in the UK, he asked me to see him in his office. During the conversation, I remember, he broke down sobbing as he was passing on his vision and burden to me to increase distribution of Bibles, New Testaments and other biblical resources. This is what I am carrying on until today, working closely with him until three weeks ago. God helping, this work will continue with his vision still borne and passed on in multiple measures. I am sure his legacy, particularly his passion for literature as a tool for evangelism and teaching, will continue through many people around the world.
I had the privilege of arranging George Verwer as the main speaker at the largest Keralites Christian conference in North America (PCNAK) in 2012, which took place in Hamilton, Ontario (Canada). During their conference the previous year, I recommended to Rev. Easaw Philip (now with the Lord) who was the main convener to consider Dr. Verwer as the main speaker. Though he was very excited about the prospect, he was also quite apprehensive thinking about the potential costs involved in inviting a global Christian leader of George’s stature. I contacted George and mentioned about it. He gladly accepted the invitation and then I connected the two parties to each other. During the ensuing correspondence, on which I was copied, Rev. Philip asked Dr. Verwer many questions such as “What is the fee you will charge us?” “How many others will accompany you?” “What kind of star hotel do you want us to book for you and others?” “What class of flight tickets will you require?” and so on. To all of those questions he replied, “I don’t need any fee. I am coming alone. You do not need to pay for my economy flight ticket, as I will be staying on in the continent for taking more meetings and to meet other people. I do not need a hotel to stay (I will stay at the home of some ex-OM friends). I will be offering many free books in Malayalam and English languages to all participants.” This answer shocked Rev. Philip who was used to such conference speakers charging hefty amounts and demanding many other benefits from organizers. After the last meeting on the final day, Rev. Philip and the conference committee still wanted to give George a gift. However, after his last message, George slowly slipped away from the stage rushing out to speak in another church service in the city. They could not give him that small gift. (They asked me how they could give it to him. I guided them to send it to the OM office in Canada.) His humility, simplicity, generosity, big heartedness and the absence of greed are a few things that I noticed in him throughout my association with him and the ministry he started. He was a ‘self-crucified man’ who always journeyed on the ‘Calvary Road’ since his conversion at age 16. His faith and trust in the God who saved and called him, and his belief in radical Christian discipleship and spiritual revolutionary leadership made him strongly believe what Hudson Taylor said, “God’s work done in God’s way will never lack God’s supply. He is too wise a God to frustrate His purposes for lack of funds, and He can just as easily supply them ahead of time as afterwards, and He much prefers doing so.” He saw it happen repeatedly in the ministry worldwide, and he kept sharing resources with other needy ministries too.
George not only believed in radical Christian discipleship, but was also concerned about leadership development, and passing on leadership batons to succeeding generations. He did not believe in ‘after me flood’ leadership syndrome. Neither did he believe in the common ‘after me my son/daughter)’ pattern. He did not believe leadership is a position to hang on to until death. From the very start of the ministry he began leadership training programmes the hard way—not by casting lots or by the popular election process, but through on-the-job training where potential leaders from all kinds of backgrounds were asked to read books, listen to audio tapes, video tapes and DVDs containing powerful messages while actively involved in day-to-day ministry. I am one of the many thousands of people who went through it and learned it by doing it. When he was almost forty years on in ministry leadership, at the age of 64, he announced that he wanted to step aside from the active international leadership of the ministry and threw in motion a process of finding the next leader. The process took a few years and in the year 2003, at a large conference in the UK he handed over the leadership baton to his long-term administrative associate leader. Seeing the handing over ceremony happen right in front of my eyes was an emotional experience. From that day on George remained humble enough and spiritually more matured to function as a small leader of a small department under the new leadership (However, his scope of ministry widened and his value increased manifold). What an example for all leaders of all time to emulate! Of course, a few leaders did similar things elsewhere but they again took over their relinquished positions from their protégés, not realising people and their leadership styles are all different.
During one his four recent visits to India (between 2005 and 2015) my family had the honour of having him over at our home for breakfast. We picked him up from the train station and brought him home. He did not choose to have this kind of fellowship in any other home in Hyderabad. One of those days that he was in the city, he asked my wife and I to take him out for a meal at a less expensive restaurant that I should recommend, on one condition that I should allow him to pay. Ben, his older son, was also with him. [During the earlier visits Drena, (his wife who stood with him in the thick and thin of life and ministry for over 60 years), Vera (his faithful long-term secretary) and Jonathan (his older grandson) also accompanied him.] What a joy it was to see them together with him. He always loved people associated with even the least respected ones in society, without looking at their ranks and levels held in any organisational structure.
As I embark into a world without the physical presence and regular daily correspondence of George Verwer, I strongly reminisce the heavenly vision Isaiah had as recorded in Isaiah chapter 6. We need to look to and trust the Lord Who has the supreme control, not a human being how-much-so-ever great he was or is. The work of God through His church is God’s work and it will continue even after His faithful servants move on into eternity. Yet, I realize I have to emulate their great life examples.