Andy Peck reflects on the way God used a woman with a burden for students to birth a worldwide movement
Photo credit: David Sullivan
As Christians celebrate the life of George Verwer there will no doubt be calls to recall the way in which this trailblazer for the gospel found faith in Jesus.
The story is told of how in the 1940s, Dorothea Clapp from New Jersey, USA, began to pray for the students at her neighbouring high school, Ramsey High. For over 15 years, she prayed faithfully and asked God to change the world through these young people.
Her own son, Danny attended the school and became friends with a lad called George. Dorothea liked to pray for students by name when she could and so ‘George Verwer’ was added to her prayer list. Accounts of her role will often fast forward to, ‘and George came to faith’ but there is much more to the story.
A difficult boy
He was described by some as a ‘difficult boy’ and had come close to burning down the woods locally! He came from a family who attended church, but later George would say that he doesn’t believe he ever heard the Gospel. The church was more of a ‘country club’ than a missional gathering. Dorothea gave George a copy of the Gospel of John, which he read several times and the seeds of what God would later do were sown.
But it wasn’t for three years that the moment that would change his life came. He was at a news stand, thumbing through several racy magazines, considering selling them as a way to make some money. But he also noticed a magazine featuring a photo of Dr. Billy Graham on the cover. He was intrigued and impressed as he read about Dr. Graham’s work. He replaced the magazine and thought little more of it
But on Sunday March 3, 1955 that he was standing outside his house when a neighbour invited him to attend a “Word of Life” event at Madison Square Garden. It was led by the Dr. Billy Graham he had read about and so George agreed to go, along with some other students – and his life was never the same. He came to faith in Jesus that very night.
The birth of an evangelist
Back in high school, George was elected class president, and his first act was to buy 1000 copies of the Gospel of John for every student in the school at Ramsey High. There are reports that over 100 students came to Christ as a result. George Verwer the evangelist was born.
It was later at a college in Tennessee, that George became burdened for those without access to the Bible, and in 1957, he and two friends sold some of their possessions to fund a road trip to Mexico; taking 20,000 Spanish-language tracts and 10,000 Gospel booklets. The trip led to many more and fanned the flame of George’s conviction to share God’s Word with those who’d never heard it. And so the mission movement, Operation Mobilisation was born,
Dorothea was one of the growing number who would pray for George and the Operation Mobilisation: a mission which today which has 5,000+ workers, representing more than 100 nationalities, bringing God’s unchanging truth to literally millions every year.
Every story of someone finding faith is unique, and God works through all kinds of means, but in this case we have a woman, burdened for students at a local High School, who prayed for them, had the courage to hand out a Gospel, and a neighbour in the chain who invited George to hear the Gospel.
With 90 plus per cent of young people having no real connection with a local church in the UK, would that we had men and women prepared to pray for their local school and take initiative. Might this be you?