By Josh Harper

ReLentless Acts: Following a Displaced Jesus

A girl in her mid-teens sprints past me on the sidewalk where I load a bed frame into a truck outside my house in Oakland, California. She isn’t out for a jog; she runs like her life depends on it. Before my confusion subsides, she is already half a block away.

Then a young man runs by me 20 yards behind her. My instinct says she is in trouble, but I remain frozen. The young man slowly gains ground, and at the end of the block, he tackles her to the pavement as if they are playing football, but this isn’t a game, and the glass strewn sidewalks of Oakland are not astroturf. She flies headlong onto the concrete and screams.

I call 911.

She struggles.

The guy shouts at her, picks her up off the ground, and holding tightly to her wrist, drags her down the street and around the corner.


Feeling displaced isn’t bad.

My wife Marjie and I moved to Oakland nearly eight years ago to join an intentional community and church in the inner city. Motivated by a call to relocate to forgotten urban neighborhoods, this was our faithful next step in a journey of displacement and of sacrificing our surroundings.

In college, we encountered God’s kingdom and experienced Jesus in new ways by participating in short term missions. For Marjie, this was on an Urban Project in Oakland. For me, it was through a Global Project to China. Upon our return we continued to displace ourselves on campus by co-leading a multiethnic Bible study that focused on justice and reconciliation. While challenging and sometimes uncomfortable, displacement allowed me to grow in my love and passion for God and his purposes in this world.

Jesus’ life was one displacement after another. He always seemed to be hanging out with the wrong crowd (tax collectors, prostitutes), leading his disciples through the wrong areas (Samaria, the Gentile side of Galilee), and even touching the wrong people (lepers, the sick). The very nature of his incarnation is a story of displacement. God became human and lived here on Earth so that he could save and redeem the broken world.

In the baptism of Jesus in Luke 3, we see a beautiful picture of God affirming Jesus’ displacement and sending him into the world to do ministry. The sky opened up, the Holy Spirit descended like a dove, and a voice from heaven said, “You are my son, whom I love, and with you I am well pleased.” Jesus’ home was clearly with his father, and yet he obediently entered into our world in order to establish his kingdom here. And Jesus modeled this to his disciples by intentionally going to the places and interacting with people everyone least expected. 

Refocus on God’s mission.

We did not move to Oakland to save this city. God pruned away our messiah complex a long time ago. We moved here because we saw God at work and wanted to be a part of it. We knew from experience that following Jesus into hard places was an opportunity to grow, learn, and see the kingdom of God manifest in the kingdom of this world. The heavens did not open up for us, nor did we hear an audible voice, but we did feel a sense of God’s affirming presence when we made the move.

Despite challenges, we continue to rely on the presence of the displaced Jesus. The terrible act of violence that played out right before me continues to haunt me. Distracted by life and parenting and work, I had grown comfortable. This picture, seared into my memory, has driven me to prayer and a renewed passion for joining the fight against the exploitation of girls in our neighborhood. It reminded me of why I am here and how desperate this world is for the kingdom of God to come. 

As we take steps to practice sacrifice this Lent, InterVarsity and World Vision ACT:S challenge you to sacrifice what surrounds you. How have you grown comfortable in your surroundings? What distracts you from following Jesus’ example? This week, I invite you to consider what part of your life you might displace so that God may reveal to you more of who he is and his mission in this world.

Josh Harper is the National Coordinator of Urban Projects for InterVarsity. He loves to ride bikes, grow food, and play with his two girls Lucia (3) and Beatrice (1).  


Not just trying to self-promote, just looking to connect: I recently wrote an article for The Well that touches on a couple of similar themes: Really liked how you articulated several of your points: "God pruned away our messiah complex a long time ago. We moved here because we saw God at work and wanted to be a part of it." Thank you!

Hi Josh, This past weekend was Winter Conference for the Surf & Turf Division of IV in SoCal. I had the opportunity to direct a brand new track for students all about displacement. Our main point of the weekend was that Jesus calls us to cross cultures (displace ourselves) for the sake of the gospel and for the sake of our souls. It was an amazing weekend seeing students wrestle with the truth that getting out of our comfort zone is a foundational piece to following Jesus, just as much as something like prayer and other spiritual disciplines and practices. How fun to get home and read this, then pass it along to students to reaffirm the things that the Holy Spirit has been stirring in them all weekend. I just had a student from the track comment on my Facebook page, "Girl. I was just telling marissa that since my return back from winter con, i've been thinking about nothing but displacement, and ways to intentionally displace myself. i can't get it to stop actually. You need to have this track next year." Seems like it was a hit! Thanks for sharing your experiences Josh! Bekah Weisman Meyer

I can't help but feel a sense of loss. The lack of resolution in the story saddens me. It causes me to be angry and wonder why. Thanks for sharing. Thanks for sharing a story without a happy ending (or any for that matter). I don't say this to be moribund, but rather because it allows me to feel. I am not sure I've had my heart broken in a while and that's probably because I don't allow it to happen. I've become comfortable with not knowing. With turning up the blinds and shutting off the world around me so I don't have to have this feeling.

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