Seven candles were lit at an April 29 memorial service in Martin Chapel at Eastern Mennonite University—one for Michael Jesse “M.J.” Sharp ’05 and one for each of his colleagues, some like Sharp confirmed dead, others still missing, in the Kasai-Central province area of the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
Sharp was on a U.N. mission when he was kidnapped March 12, 2017. He was collecting information about the use of child soldiers and massacres of unarmed civilians. The group also sought dialogue– as Sharp had in his previous position as Eastern Congo Coordinator for Mennonite Central Committee– with stakeholders to promote peaceful solutions to country’s long conflict. The information would help the UN Group of Experts on the Congo advise the U.N. Security Council.
EMU will honor Sharp, his commitment to peacemaking and his life of service with a special recognition during the 2017 Homecoming and Family Weekend.
“M.J. was remembered for his sharp wit, keen mind, restless spirit, tenacious belief in nonviolent means for resolving conflict, and for following Jesus in being fully with the people with whom he was living or visiting,” said Brian Martin Burkholder, EMU campus pastor. Burkholder attended Sharp’s memorial service in Hesston, Kansas, in mid-April and facilitated the campus service during Commencement weekend.
“He knew his work held danger,” said Burkholder. ”He was willing to take risks because he was convinced that working toward facilitating the resolution of conflict would build capacity for peace in the midst of violence. In short, he embodied peacemaking as a faith informed ethic and a way of life both personally and professionally.”
The recognition will memorialize an EMU alumnus who fully answered a call, said his former professor Judy Mullet, a person “whose life invites us to do the same, to step into complexity with full acknowledgement of the risks, but also with faith and with every resource at hand in the moment.”
At the April ceremony, Mullet shared the last email she received from Sharp. “I want to work in crisis zones,” he told her. “My experiences in Iraq, Afghanistan and Israel/Palestine over the last couple of years have made it clear to me that this is where I need to be.” He planned to work on a doctorate so that he could teach “after the need to work in war zones subsides.”
She noted the tension in his life — and in all of our lives — “between where you want to be and where you need to be,” between a calling and the risks of that calling.
After graduating with a degree in history and a minor in German, Sharp worked for three years with the Military Counseling Network in Germany. He then earned an MA in peace studies and conflict resolution at Philipps-Universität Marburg in Germany. From 2012 to 2015, he worked for MCC in the Congo, and became a contract employee as an Armed Group Expert for the UN later that year.
His home in North America was in Albuquerque, New Mexico. He is survived by parents John and Michele Sharp, and two sisters.
The Michael J. “M.J.” Sharp Peace and Justice Endowed Scholarship has been established to support students from Africa in graduate studies in conflict transformation at EMU’s Center for Justice and Peacebuilding. To contribute in M.J.’s memory, visit https://emu.edu/giving/endow/michael-j-sharp-endowed-scholarship/