Perhaps you read about him or heard about him on the news? The young United Nations peace worker who was kidnapped in the Democratic Republic of the Congo on March 12, 2017, and whose body, along with a colleague’s, was found in a shallow grave on March 26?
His name was Michael Jesse Sharp. He was 34 years old.
My heart has ached with the awful news of his disappearance and now throbs more for his parents John and Michele and his sisters. I remembered kidnapping and murder in my own family. It’s a pain that never goes away.
Michael, or MJ as he was known then, was in my daughter’s Bethany Christian High School class in Goshen, IN. He drove her to school for a couple months when he was old enough to drive and she wasn’t. I’m sure he attended parties at our house and that we ran into each other at school functions. I probably tried to convince him to come to Goshen College where I was president at the time. I could tell immediately that he was curious, whip smart, and mischievous. “Spark plug” was my private name for students like MJ.
My only memory of him at age 16 was that he stood in the room with a smile on his face. His eyes didn’t just scan the room. They saw things most of us did not.
Underneath that curiosity, was a passionate interest in the most controversial doctrine of the Mennonite faith–pacifism, love of enemy, and the refusal to fight in wars. At home, church, and school, MJ heard the biblical Sermon on the Mount and stories of sacrifice and suffering of the Anabaptists, his ancestors.
He persisted in trying to imagine what it means to love enemies in the 21st century, challenging previous understandings. He counseled military members seeking to become conscientious objectors in Germany and then went to one of the most war-torn places on earth, the Democratic Republic of Congo.
MJ’s father said, “I have said on more than one occasion that we peacemakers should be willing to risk our lives as those who join the military do. Now it’s no longer theory.”
A memorial service for MJ was held at Hesston (KS) Mennonite Church. I was moved, over and over again, as I participated by computer.
I am sharing this video here so that others may benefit. You may want to watch the whole service:
- if you are or grew up Mennonite, if you know members of MJ’s families or communities around the country and the world
- if you are interested in witnessing how Christian pacifism sustains itself in sorrow (be sure to listen to the last song)
- if you have interest in how the UN mourns its dead
- if you don’t know why, but you feel drawn to click below
If you have ever cried out in pain with the question, “Where were you God? #&%*!” I direct your attention to the meditation by MJ’s Aunt Doreen Miller, whose answers are more simple, complex, and profound than a theologian’s. I take that back, Aunt Doreen is a theologian. You can listen to her at the 1:59 mark.
Good-bye, dear MJ. You answered your calling. Now we must do the same.
If you watch any part of the video above, you are welcome to share your responses. I will share with his parents.