A new photo book memorializing the “MJ Dream Hike” is now available for purchase, with proceeds going towards the MJ Sharp Peace & Justice Endowed Scholarship at Eastern Mennonite University.
Photographers and hike participants Riley Swartzendruber ‘19 and Christy Kauffman ‘19, designed the book. It was originally developed as a keepsake for hike participants and donors, but those involved realized there were many more who were invested in the endeavor.
In 2017, Michael J. Sharp, a 2005 alumnus who was working in the Democratic Republic of Congo as a United Nations expert on armed groups, was murdered by unknown assailants. The story of Sharp’s life and work has been widely publicized around the world, including in documentary films and in a biography slated for publication next spring.
Two years after his death, 12 hikers — including Swartzendruber and Kauffman, then students at EMU, trekked to the top of Kilimanjaro. The group included MJ Sharp’s father John Sharp, EMU Provost Fred Kniss ‘79, Wilmer Otto ’73 and former Board of Trustees members John Bomberger ‘77 and Gerry Horst ’72.
Their efforts commemorated Sharp’s legacy and raised more than $136,000 for an endowed scholarship in his name that benefits Congolese peacebuilders studying at EMU’s Center for Justice and Peacebuilding (CJP). The scholarship’s total stands at nearly $215,000 – a sum which has enabled two graduate students, David Niringabo and Yolanda Emedi, to study at CJP.
“Christy and I are extremely grateful for being part of such a meaningful trip and we want to provide another way for MJ’s story to live on and grow,” said Swartzendruber.
The hike also included close friends and former colleagues.
“As one of his close friends in the Congo, considering the fact that I didn’t have the opportunity to be in Kansas during the funerals in April 2017, the hike was a good opportunity for me at least to have mourning,” wrote Serge Lungele, one of Sharp’s colleagues. “Whenever I think of the hike, I see MJ alive and this gives me a new motivation to work for peace, to work on MJ’s track.”
The books are for sale at cost, with supporting contributions from CJP and EMU’s Development Office.
“Making the book was important to us for many reasons,” Swartzendruber said. “Putting it together allowed us to reflect on our photos and decide what evoked the most accurate emotions we experienced on the trek. It gave us a good outlet for us to process what the trip meant. On a broader level, we wanted something physical to share with our fellow hikers, as well as to all the donors and folks who supported us through the journey.”