Notable Missionary Deaths in 2023

by Marv Newell

The year 2023 saw the passing of several influential Christian missionaries and ministry leaders. These men and women of faith dedicated their lives to spreading the gospel and serving others around the world.

They left behind an incredible legacy of evangelism, Bible translation, leadership, and humanitarian service. From George Verwer, founder of Operation Mobilization and the Logos ships, to Loren Cunningham, founder of Youth With A Mission, these visionaries broke new ground in global missions.

Whether through film, literature distribution, medical assistance, church planting, or leadership development, their contributions spanning over half a century helped transform the modern missionary movement. The words and examples of Phill Butler, Rory Clark, Paul Eshleman, and Timothy Maxwell also sparked many Christians to action.

Their collective impact will be felt for generations as their ministries carry on. While 2023 marked the end of their earthly lives, their spiritual fruits will continue spreading across the world.

Phill Butler (August 11, 1936–April 2, 2023)

Phill Butler, 86, passed away peacefully at his home in Pasadena, California on Palm Sunday, April 2. Phill was a dedicated follower of Christ and a visionary entrepreneur who launched and led three world-changing ministries over the course of more than 50 years. He was a pioneer in the mission partnering movement and was deeply committed to facilitating practical cooperation among mission organizations, founding several networks, most recently VisionSynergy.

Phill was an engaging speaker and insightful author whose methods and models were adopted by thousands of ministry leaders worldwide. He left an indelible mark on the lives of many mission leaders, colleagues, friends and family.

George Verwer (July 3, 1938–April 14, 2023)

George Verwer was born in New Jersey, and when he was 17 years old attended a Billy Graham meeting in New York City, where he made a personal commitment to Christ. His entire life was changed. 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.

Attending Moody Bible Institute, George was confident of God’s call on his life. He blazed a trail for world mission, motivating others in nights of prayer and planning further literature distribution ventures.

During a time of private prayer in Vienna, Austria, George climbed a tree and saw a group of young people boarding a bus. In that moment, the name Operation Mobilization sprang to his mind, with the idea of mobilizing ‘busloads’ of young people into mission.

Under George’s exuberant leadership OM expanded in the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s: first, across Europe and into the Middle East, then with volunteers crewing ocean-going ships. Logos, the first of five vessels, was launched in 1971, and since then more than 49 million people have visited the onboard book fairs, with over 70 million portions of Scripture distributed during port calls in 151 countries.

George led OM until 2003, then concentrated on special projects, travelling and speaking on global mission at thousands of gatherings worldwide. Rarely seen without his world map jacket or inflatable globe, George always prayed for the nations and current issues.

Rory Shawn Clark (March 8, 1963–April 28, 2023)

Rory was born on March 8, 1963, in Normandy, Missouri. He attended Oral Roberts University and graduate school at Middlebury College. He worked as a French teacher and managing editor of the International Journal of Frontier Missiology.

Rory and Marjorie joined the staff of Frontier Ventures in 2000, where Rory initially worked for Dr. Ralph Winter for nine years. He was an integral part of the Perspectives On The World Christian Movement staff, heading up the French translation of the Perspectives Materials. After a year battle with cancer Rory died on April 28, at age 60.

Paul Eshleman (October 23, 1942–May 24, 2023)

Paul Eshleman, best known for leading the JESUS Film Project to become the most-translated film of all time, passed away on May 24, in southern California. He was 80 years old.

Eshleman’s life was driven by the desire for everyone – everywhere – to hear the message of Christ. A graduate of Michigan State University with a master’s in business administration, marketing and finance, Eshleman was determined to use his education to advance the Gospel. In 1966, he became a staff member of Cru, known then as Campus Crusade for Christ.

In his early years at the organization, Eshleman directed EXPLO 72 in Dallas, Texas – an event that drew approximately 80,000 attendees from across America for training in sharing their faith in Jesus Christ. A few years later, he directed the I Found It! campaign, which shared the Christian message with more than 200 American cities. An estimated 85% of all Americans were aware of the unique campaign and its message of spiritual hope.

Eshleman then was appointed to lead production of the JESUS Film, a feature-length film based on the Gospel of Luke to convey the life of Jesus. Today, the film is available in more than 2,200 language translations! In addition, Eshleman gave direction to the Finishing the Task Movement, with the goal of synthesizing data toward tracking and engaging the unengaged and unreached people groups of the world.

Loren Cunningham (June 30, 1935–October 6, 2023)

Loren Cunningham was often called the “de-regulator of missions” because he broke the 1960s missionary paradigm by creating opportunities for Youth to serve short-term, globally and unsalaried. This foresight opened the floodgates so that millions could come FROM everywhere and go TO everywhere as missionaries around the globe to proclaim the truth of God and display His love. 

The ministry he founded, Youth With A Mission, an ever-expanding global missions movement born in 1960, has reached into every nation on earth through evangelism, training and mercy ministries. Tens of thousands of full-time staff participate from 200+ countries and various denominations and Christian traditions, serving at over 2,000 YWAM locations in nearly 200 nations. Millions have served in YWAM programs as students, short-term volunteers and full-time staff.

Loren was the first person in history to travel to every sovereign nation on earth, all dependent countries, and more than 100 territories and islands for the sake of Christ and the Great Commission. Loren was 88 years old.

Timothy Maxwell (January 26, 1965–October 16, 2023)

Timothy Edward Maxwell aged 58, passed away on the morning of October 16, 2023. Born in Jos, Nigeria to missionary parents, he grew up overseas, living in five different countries in West Africa. Tim obtained his bachelor’s degree from John Brown University in Arkansas and subsequently became a certified public accountant (CPA).

Throughout his life, Tim dedicated himself to ministry and missionary work, beginning with auditing churches, and non-profit and mission organizations. He most recently served as Multiplication Network’s first and only CFO and VP of Operations, serving since 2010. Tim came to this position with more than twenty years of service with organizations such as Mission Aviation Fellowship, Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability, and Bible League International. He spent over twenty years hosting seminars and mentoring others in the area of finance, especially for Missio Nexus.

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