By Steve Kriss, Executive Minister
I remember Michael J. Sharp (MJ) as a rambunctious junior high kid from the time we overlapped life at Laurelville Mennonite Church Center and Scottdale in Western Pennsylvania. I’ve been aware of his work and life thereafter mostly through social media and Mennonite publications. MJ and I share a lot of geography, relationships and institutions in common.
MJ represents much of the best of us as Mennonites, an image of what a Washington Post article calls “courageous but not reckless.” He was a millennial, a son of the church. MJ was shaped by an array of Anabaptist communities which includes time in Franconia Conference when his dad was a pastor at Salford Mennonite Church. Afterward MJ went to Scottdale (PA) and Goshen (IN), then to college at Eastern Mennonite University in Harrisonburg (VA) and according to an article in the Albuquerque Journal, had just begun to entertain the idea of settling down into a life at The Plex, a unique apartment complex that housed other similarly-aged and valued Mennonite young adults in that city connected with Albuquerque Mennonite Church (NM).
MJ had worked in Europe for several years as a counselor for conscientious objectors. Most recently he had worked in the Congo, first as a staff person with Mennonite Central Committee, then for the United Nations as a human rights investigator. MJ and several colleagues went missing two weeks ago. His body was found this week in a shallow grave along with his colleague Zaida Catalan — a Swedish investigator — and their Congolese interpreter, Betu Tshintela.
Washington Post further went on to say, “Sharp, 34, was a ‘standard deviations above the norm’ when it came to integrity and compassion. ‘He just deeply cared about everyone and saw no difference between people of different nationalities,’ said Rachel Sweet, a Congo-based researcher.”
MJ’s death is a reminder that our work and calling is both relevant and risky in volatile times. He’s a reminder of the powerful witness of faith lived out in practice with integrity, kindness and dedication, and that some of our millennial generation shaped by life in our families, churches and institutions have heard what we have said about faith, life and peace and intend to live it out. Even unto death.
MJ’s life glimpses the best of who we are as Anabaptist/Mennonites, in a time that we are sometimes confused about who we are, in front of a watching world, in the Congo, one of the countries with the most Mennonites in the world. MJ exemplifies Jesus’ words: “greater love has no one than this . . than to lay his life down for his friends.”
To the Sharp family, MJ’s friends and community of colleagues and to Albuquerque Mennonite Church, we share the hope of Christ’s peace at this time when words are inadequate. With much love, we are still willing to bear witness of the nonviolent way of Christ, until the full intention of God comes on earth.