Dr. Robert Harp (1959-2020): a tribute to a mentor, friend, and brother

Celebrating the life of a man whose life reflected the love of his soul: his Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

I first met Dr. Harp when I was a seminary student at Biola University. I had just recently moved from Sydney to Los Angeles, and at that point in time, I had only one pursuit and one longing: to study the Bible and to serve “full-time” within the four walls of the church. I’d put “full-time” between quotation marks intentionally–as this would be one of the greatest lessons that my dear mentor would teach me.

Bob was a professor in the Business School at Biola–we would never have crossed paths. Except, he had heard of me from one of the administrators at the school–a young Indonesian girl, who had graduated with her business degrees, and was now taking theology. He asked to be introduced, as he wanted to hear my story.

He came bearing gifts–one that he would constantly do. The first time we met, he gave me a book, titled Business for the Glory of God,” by Wayne Grudem. After I graduated from seminary and just before I left the States to move back to Indonesia, he gave me another one–Roaring Lambs” by Bob Briner. Upon his most recent visit to Indonesia, he gifted me another book, A Life of Listening” by Leighton Ford.

Little did I realize then, that these books gave me glimpses into Bob’s heart, too.

Business for the Glory of God

Bob took an interest in my story when he had heard about my business background and being at seminary. I later would find out that he was the same. He had graduated from business school but then went on to pursue theology, as he was deeply passionate about ministry.

When I met Bob I had no desire to return home to work in business. But through our friendship, he would teach me of a different way–to continually grow in my love for the mission of God, but to see that the mission field would expand beyond my limited understanding. Bob taught me to see the workplace as God’s mission field, too.

This is what had kept me going, as I transitioned back home post-graduation in 2018. To know that God had ordained a path for me that was simply to be lived unto Him, regardless of where He would place me.

Even as until today, my heart tends to wander away and daydream about “within-four-walls-of-the-church” ministry, I would recall the countless times Bob would reassure me of God’s sovereign purposes. The harvest is plenty, and the workers few, and so, the Lord of the Harvest would commission His children, not simply to pews, but out, out in the world. (Matthew 9:37-38)

Roaring Lambs

Even though physically he would tower over most men, and had a bellowing voice and laugh, Bob was a meek and gentle man. He never disregarded others, even though he was, in every aspect, “superior”. (I am careful when I say this, as I do not believe that any race/gender is superior. God had created all humankind in His image, and so all are of equal value and worth. However, the world often sees Christian white males as “superior”).

In his leadership, Bob never sought to glorify himself. Neither was he hastened by his ambitions. Yes, he was an enthusiastic man who was always on the go. But there was a peculiar “quiet trusting” in his posture and work ethic. A deep confidence. And this would make him take big leaps. He would go on to be the pioneer of the Praxis Academy and the Start Up Competition at Biola. He would also regularly host “fireplace chats” for students to learn from people in the workplace, who truly lived “business as mission”.

I think he knew that, ultimately, his only task was to follow his Shepherd. And in that, Bob exemplified that a life submitted wholly to God, in meekness and in all humility, ultimately lives with great courage.

I learnt much about leadership from the way Bob himself had been a mentor to me. He never pushed for an agenda, but always sought to serve. And in his kind and gentle service, was one great roar: a proclamation of the Cross of Christ, who laid His life down for the service of all of mankind.

A Life of Listening

In the years that followed, until his last breath, Bob continued to become a mentor, friend, and brother. He was always generous with his time, resources, and network. In 2019, he nominated me to be able to attend the Lausanne Global Workplace Forum (GWF). While I was there, he invited me to participate in a small working group that was to be the think tank of Lausanne’s Workplace Ministry (LWM). Afterwards, he also invited me to become an advisory board member of that Ministry, as well as the Biola Innovation Launch Pad.

I never felt like I deserved the opportunities that he handed down to me. I had always seen myself as timid and as a person of no vision. But always, he would provide opportunities for me to use my voice.

The last time I met Bob in person was in Manila at the GWF. I recall sitting at one of the small group sessions at GWF, being asked one question by the moderator: “what do you think about mentorship as a representative of the younger generation?”

I remember being so nervous to speak up, in a room filled with seasoned Christian leaders across the globe. My hands were shaking and my heart thumped violently. But the question somehow prompted me to tears, as I could only wholeheartedly reply:

“As a young leader who tends to be timid, I am thankful for the likes of Bob Harp, who sought me out all throughout. He was intentional to listen and to understand me at my level, and to speak God’s truth always. Most people seek out young leaders who stand out. Bob sought out the ordinary and the meek. And I can’t think of a more Christlike way of leadership than that.”

Up to the end of his life–Bob would continue to do this. The week before his passing, we would be on an LWM Board conference call, and again, he would give me the opportunity to lead. The last text that we exchanged simply said this:

Bob: Thx for serving as discussion leader Thursday. Sincerely appreciate it. I’ve been swamped with Biola course work, preparing for fall. So glad you are on the board.
Jessica: Thank you Bob! Sorry I was really nervous at first when I had to give the report. Really thankful for the opportunity.
Bob: I could not tell you were nervous. You did great, Jessica
Jessica: Thank you Bob. Hope you are doing well

Little did I know that this would be the last of our conversations. Until the end, His life was indeed a life of listening, and giving others, a voice.

Truth be told, the news of his passing brought my siblings and I deep grief. Bob had been a mentor, friend, and brother to all of us–and, I believe, to many others. But for that, I am deeply grateful, for his life, truly had been well lived, “for to live is Christ, and to die is gain.” (Philippians 1:21)

For surely, all throughout the years, though he was a pioneer for many things, Bob only sought to do one thing: to preach Christ crucified, through his words and deeds. Soli Deo gloria.

Until we meet again, face to face, with Him whom our souls love.

Published on the day of his memorial service, 11 August 2020 4 PM PST.

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