Around September 2003
REFLECTIONS AFTER A CELEBRATION OF THE MINISTRY OF
I am writing this from Keswick in England where I spoke at the General Council meeting of Operation Mobilization (OM). Yesterday there was a programme in honour of OM founder the outgoing International Leader George Verwer—surely one of the most remarkable leaders in the history of the Church (he will continue with OM in a different role). The achievements of Operation Mobilization and its literature giant STL (Send the Light) over the past forty five years are staggering to compute. An estimated 1 billion people have been touched by this work through book exhibitions on the ships, literature evangelism, ministry teams and other projects. Several words come to mind when I think of George Verwer: revolutionary, spontaneous, pioneer, fearless, visionary, encourager. Let me share with you some things which particularly impressed me yesterday.
1. I am excited about the choice of Peter Maiden as George Verwer’s successor as International Coordinator of OM. Maiden said last night that, despite Verwer’s spontaneity and unpredictability, one quality that stands out is his CONSISTENCY. He really labours to practice what he preaches and is unafraid to be vulnerable about his weaknesses and shortcomings. I pray that I too will strive for holiness (Heb. 12:14) and also never put a show about being what I am not. I am sometimes overwhelmed by my weaknesses and failures, and I thank God that people like Verwer who also seemed to have many weaknesses have been able to survive without having to put on a show!
2. Alfy Franks, another close associate of Verwer and the first leader of the work in India, pointed out that once Verwer had said that he did not agree with about 25% of the financial and administrative decisions that the movement took as it grew, but he allowed the admin people to go the way they felt was best for the organisation. I think these disagreements were not on basic principles but on how to apply those principles. Great people focus on the grand task and impart the vision of this to others. They allow these other leaders to implement the vision they imparted in the way that they (the other leaders) think is best. Sometimes their methods may not be what the originator of the vision thinks is best. But when they hand over the vision for implementation they give those people the freedom to implement it in their way. If we want a say in every small thing we will end up as small leaders with small ministries and without the ability to keep mature and capable leaders motivated. They will get frustrated and leave.
An OM leader told me that Verwer’s success was to a great extent because of the extremely capable people he had to support him. I suppose for such capable people to stay with OM for so many years he would have been willing to allow them to lead and even make mistakes without thrusting his authority and insisting that the work be done in his way.
What happens when younger leaders do something their way (though that is not the way we would do it), and then the scheme fails? We do not humiliate them and say something like, “I told you so!” or “If you only had asked me what to do, I would have told you.” We believe that failures are some of the best occasions for learning in life. So, we first comfort them in their pain and then try to turn the failure into a learning experience through advice, rebuke, teaching or whatever else will help them. Paul gave Timothy some strong advice “in accordance with the prophecies previously made about” him (1 Tim.1:18). When he advised him it was so he would achieve what the prophecies had stated about him. Believing in the great possibilities of grace we do all we can to see those possibilities realised in the lives of those we lead.
Joseph d’Souza, the leader of the work in India, said that Verwer was one of the few international leaders who trusted two-thirds world leaders and gave them the freedom to lead their movement in their own chosen way. In the 1960s Verwer was banned from entering India, the country he loved so dearly. But the OM work there now has over 1000 workers and the largest Christian publishing enterprise in the country.
3. Verwer is A KINGDOM PERSON. He does not think only of the OM work but does so much to help and encourage other workers and organisations and to help and encourage other OM people launch out on their own ministries. Consequently ex-OMers have given birth to over 100 other organisations the combined impact of which is also amazing to compute! Many of these ex-OMers were at the Conference, like Greg Livingstone who founded that great movement, Frontiers. There was no doubt of the warmth with which they regarded OM and with which OM regarded them.
One of the expressions of Verwer’s kingdom mentality is the tens of thousands of letters of encouragement and phone calls he has sent/made to people who were not directly connected to OM. And the recipients of this rich blessing include many who were not leaders and some non-Christians. Special honour was given last night to his band of secretaries who typed out the letters he dictated to his ever-present Dictaphone.
4. Verwer’s main current Secretary said that there was a noticeable difference in the way he behaved and worked after he caught the message of Charles Swindoll’s book The Grace Awakening. Thankfully thousands of Christians the world over have recently been rediscovering the primacy of the message of grace to Christianity. Different people have expressed it in different ways. To me this truth is expressed in the thought that always the most important thing about us is that we are loved by God. This truth is always more important than the work we do for God, the struggles and disappointments we face in life, our own weaknesses and shortcomings, the sins we have committed, and the bad things that people have done against us. So, as we go through life, we can always be thankful, always be joyful for we are loved by the God the almighty Lord of the universe.
5. How could a person do so many things, travel so much, and survive physically? I am sure there are many secrets to Verwer’s ability here. But one of these must surely be Verwer’s love for physical exercise. This has kept his body in trim so that he could punish the body more than us lesser mortals do. Ouch! That stings, for I am so undisciplined in the way I take exercise.
6. Billy Graham’s grandson read out a letter on behalf of his grandfather. Before doing so he said that the grandchildren had often commented on how they would have liked to get at least a small portion of the royalties that came in from Graham’s writings and other such earnings. But Graham gave these away for the work of the kingdom. However the grandson said that they realised that what their grandfather has given them is a moral and spiritual legacy, and this was much more valuable than any economic benefits. Verwer’s contribution was also given as an example of this TOTAL DEVOTION TO GOD AND HIS KINGDOM. I prayed that our children and (if God gives us) our grandchildren would tell that about us: that we gave them an eternal legacy that surpasses all the wealth this world could afford.
7. Often mentioned was the immense contribution to his ministry of Verwer’s wife Dreena. She and their children and grandchildren also shared at the meeting. Dreena was held up as a woman who, because of her love for her husband and his God, was willing to do many things she did not personally like. For example, she disliked travel, but had to spend so much of her life on the road. I believe yesterday was a great day for Dreena and her children as they realised that the sacrifices made have brought forth so much fruit. O may we be willing to do things we don’t like so that God’s love would go to others.
8. Someone said last night that the key to Verwer’s effectiveness is the large amount of prayer that goes up to God for his life and ministry. And he said that the reason why so many pray for him is that he sends regular reports of what is happening in his life and ministry. In fact Verwer often tells his OM workers, “Report! Report! Report!” People won’t be motivated to pray for us unless they knew what we are doing. How can they know unless we report it to them? Paul asks for prayer for himself in eight out of his thirteen Epistles.
We must not expect all those who get our reports to read them. People get so much mail these days that they have to be selective about what they choose to read. We must not be hurt by this. But if we send a report to 100 people and ten of them pray for us, then we have won ten sources of power for our lives and ministries. Of course, for groups like ours which depend on financial contributions for survival reporting becomes doubly important! So let’s be diligent in reporting.
It is somewhat humbling to be honest with people so that they would see the need to pray for us. Several years ago when my brother was doing a programme over national radio, the censors cut off a prayer for the leaders of our nation because to pray in this way would suggest that they were in need of improvement! A pastor who had been sick took offence of the fact that, when members of the congregation were giving their prayer requests, I asked about his health from the pulpit in order to pray for him. His response was that with the help of God he is doing fine. Humility is a basic quality of Christianity, and depending upon the prayers of others for overcoming our weaknesses and succeeding in ministry can be a great aid to learning humility.
A month ago another giant of the church Campus Crusade founder Bill Bright went home to be with the Lord. Shortly before his death he was unable to talk, but he had asked his wife Vonette for a pen and paper and written this:
“To you and to all in Campus [Crusade]: When last have you trusted God for something so big, that when it happened only God would get the glory?”
Is this selfish ambition? Is this worldly motivational thinking? No, my friends! Daily hundreds of thousands of people are going to a Christless eternity. And just think of it: Christ died and rose for all of them, and we have known about this for many years. O Lord, help us to dream big so that big numbers of people will be rescued from hell and given a place in heaven!