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In 1960, OM founder George Verwer and his wife, Drena, moved to Madrid, Spain, soon joined by Betty Holt and Jean Davey. A year later, they were joined by 25 Americans, that together formed three teams working in Spain, France, Netherlands, Germany and Austria with the purpose of recruiting workers for the first-ever summer campaign, organised by Jonathan McRostie, who later became the leader for OM in Europe.
They took meetings in local churches on evenings and Sundays, and used the daytime Monday to Friday for door-to-door evangelism with tracts and books. Some young people from local churches joined them on Saturdays for tracting 'blitzes'.
The teams prayed for 200 young people to help reach Europe’s cities during the summer of 1962; God exceeded their expectations by bringing 400 people. Ordinary Christians were invited to take part without any prior training…and the numbers continued to grow.
‘Revolution of Love’ and ‘Forsaking all for Christ’ became watchwords: The message of the gospel had to be proclaimed as widely as possible, even if it meant forsaking comfort, time, money and luxuries. It could mean sleeping on a church floor (or even in a van), working long hours, often with very little money and sometimes scarce food; sharing the gospel was more important than personal needs.
Tracts with a gospel message offering a Bible correspondence course were mass distributed. Christian literature and Bibles were sold or given away, the money providing fuel for the van and food for the team. The message was proclaimed through open-air meetings, film evenings, door-to-door visitations and sharing of testimonies one to one. Prayer was of utmost importance; each morning, the team gathered for devotions and Bible study. A set of phrases in the local language was provided, helping foreign team members hold simple conversations.
In the following year (1963), summer teams majored on reaching villages throughout Southern Europe, instead of cities as the year before. Almost 2,000 people came from 30 countries (700 from UK alone!) and, over a three-month period, teams worked with 400 local churches and 25 mission organisations. In addition to recruiting participants and the logistics of training conferences and transport, they also faced opposition; in some countries, they frequently experienced arrests or questioning by the police.
Betty Holt was the women’s leader in a team that travelled throughout five of the six provinces of Andalucia in southern Spain, which was still very much under the power of the Roman Catholic Church and General Franco. Everybody in Spain was afraid of Protestants yet hungry for the Word of God. “In most villages, we freely distributed gospel leaflets to everybody we met, only to see the priest tear them up later,” remembers Betty.
In one village, while the Spanish girls on the team were speaking animatedly with the policeman, Betty held a quiet conversation with the priest. “He asked who we were, what we believed, and why we were doing [this],” shared Betty. “Finally, he acknowledged that he grasped what I said about being saved by believing in the finished work of Christ on the cross, and that our good works could never get us to heaven,” she continued. “He told the police to release us, and took us (six young ladies) to his house where he showed us a publication he had written and was giving to people, based on the Bible. We had an encouraging time of sharing the things of Christ with him.”
Fear of being arrested gradually disappeared as they discovered that those arrests led to the best opportunities for sharing the gospel—with the police! “This summer in Spain prepared me for work in the Communist World by teaching me to deal with police authorities, and by testing my willingness to go to jail or to suffer for the sake of Jesus Christ,” wrote Betty years later in her book From Chicago to the Ends of the Earth.
Summer campaigns continued and teams were sent to an increasing number of countries, including behind the so-called Iron Curtain, smuggling Bibles to secret believers in the Communist Soviet Union. Later, short-term campaigns were also held over Easter and Christmas and today happen all through the year and on all continents. Methods and locations may have changed from the pioneering era, but short-term campaigns are now a major gateway into missions for OM and numerous other organisations.
God is still calling ordinary Christians to share the good news and work towards seeing vibrant communities of Jesus followers in all parts of the world.
Anne Marit Viljoen, from Norway, joined OM in the early ’80s for three summer campaigns in France and long-term work in administration, hospitality, leadership and communications in Europe and East Asia Pacific. She and her husband reside in Norway, and she currently serves as a member of the OM Europe communications team.
Published: Sunday, 06 November 2016
Credit: Anne Marit Viljoen