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MJ Sharp: An Inspiring Man Who Gave Himself for the Lives of Others. His Life Points Us to Jesus.

A few days ago the world received the news that a Mennonite Christian peacebuilder named Michael “MJ” Sharp was killed while working for peace with the local church and the United Nations in the Congo. His best friend is a Church-mate of ours in British Columbia, Canada. His parents are friends of my wife’s parents. I feel pain with the church and their family. I feel brokenness. The world feels this pain. The world feels brokenness. No word picture can explain the sorrow that any death brings into the world, let alone the death of someone who was giving their life in service of lasting peace & reconciliation. I need to lament. We need to lament. No other response to injustice is more appropriate than lament.

“I can’t believe the news today
Oh, I can’t close my eyes
And make it go away
How long
How long must we sing this song
How long, how long”

Today we lament. We boldly proclaim that Christianity is not escapism from pain and injustice, it is faith and hope shining through pain. It is hope that the Creator God not only loves the world, but he entered it, he suffered everything that we suffer and invites us every day to find life with him on this side of his resurrection and defeat of final death. Everyday some people accept that invitation. But during Jesus time, the first time he spoke to the most powerful Jews and Romans, they killed God. Like the Apostle Peter said, “Humanity murdered the author of life…(1)”

How long
How long must we sing this song
How long, how long…

You killed the author of life, but God raised him from the dead and we are witnesses of that! I am a witness to that.

Wipe the tears from your eyes
Wipe your tears away
Oh, wipe your tears away
Oh, wipe your tears away

And when Jesus was raised from death, into new life he was the first born of the creators new creation! God started everything new again. Jesus’ love and self sacrifice was the fulcrum point of all of history. Violence, death and empire lose, love wins. The creator wins. History tipped the other way, like an hourglass.

We are on the side of life, death has lost. That is the message of all of Easter! Easter is the day, the Christian celebration that love wins, God wins. We are God’s people and the floodgate are open for all people to join the family, even former enemies! Come and see…

Now all of the sand that fell towards a broken creation is flowing the other way. New Creation is coming into the world and the church is called to be a first taste of it! God invited us back to him, now we invite everyone, all of creation back to the Creator God, be reconciled! Come experience new life, and freedom and hope again! From what I understand, that’s what MJ was doing.

The real battle’s just begun
To claim the victory Jesus won
On (2)

We see this played out in Revelations 12. MJ embodied this in a way that I hope my wife and I, my children, their families and the church globally can learn to be!

The words of our early church brothers and sisters in Revelations chapter 12 echo true today by our faith in Jesus being God walking with us, dying with us and raising us to life again with him:

“Now have come the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God, and the authority of his Messiah. For the accuser or out brothers and sisters, who accuses them before our God day and night, has been hurled down.

They triumphed over him by the blood of the lamb and the word of their testimony; they did not love their lives so much as to shrink from death.

Therefore rejoice, you heavens and you who dwell in them! But woe to the earth and the sea, because the devil has gone down to you! He is filled with fury, because he knows that his time is short.

MJ was part of the cosmic battle that christian scripture says frames all of history. MJ’s part was giving himself to Jesus by loving the enemies of who knows who? He was a ambassador of reconciliation just like the Apostle Paul said we are called to be(3). He was the presence of the Prince of Peace in the world by the stories he told, the friendships he built and horrifically by the blood of the lamb which he himself carried.

What did MJ do?

This National public radio article and interview with Michal demonstrates how he lived his faith and reconciled all things in the process,

I met Michael Sharp, an American in his early 30s, last year on a commuter boat crossing Lake Kivu. At the time, he was working with the Congolese Protestant Council of Churches in something called their Peace and Reconciliation Program.

Every few weeks Sharp and his church colleagues would walk, unarmed, to the base of the rebels known as the FDLR (Forces Démocratiques de Liberation du Rwanda). There they’d sit in the shade of banana trees to drink tea with the rebels and listen to their stories. Certain sensitive subjects — sexual violence against villagers, recruitment of child soldiers — were no-go, he says, because the aim was building rapport with the rebel faction. “The more we interact [with them] the more they trust us to turn themselves in to us.”

Sharp says the church program helped persuade some 1,600 fighters to lay down their weapons and leave the forest they’d occupied for two decades. To put that in context, that’s about about a quarter of the total rebel force when the church program started in 2007.

Michael was doing a beautiful thing, beyond the logic of the world. He was acting in the ways of Jesus’ new creation. Love was overcoming fear, love and service were overcoming enemies and making them friends.

In a recent interview pastor and New Testament professor NT Wright explained that the early church saw that God’s Kingdom of Peace comes into the world thought the sacrificial love and even suffering of Jesus’ disciples. Paul taught the church that his suffering was part of the kingdom of God coming into the world, his suffering and the persecution he received was building strength into the church to continue to endure.(4)

Eastern Mennonite University, where MJ graduated, also posted and article about MJ’s work. It reflects how effective this work was. His actions and witness were part of a program that moved 19,000 people to safety. Praise God! That’s good news!

To encourage Rwandans to consider repatriation, PPR field staff, called animateurs (facilitators), meet face-to-face with refugees, explaining their options for repatriation. Church leaders help the animateurs to make the connections because refugees, although distrustful of Congolese organizations, tend to trust the church leaders in the community where they live.

“It’s dangerous work,” said Sharp, an MCC worker who has served as a consultant to PPR for almost two years. As animateurs travel to meet with refugees, “They’re at the mercy of the armed group who controls that area.”

But despite the danger, the approach works. Over the past seven years, PPR has facilitated the repatriation of more than 19,000 civilian refugees to homes many have not seen for 20 years.

Today

Today as I opened up facebook and started down my timeline it was filled with tributes to, for and of MJ. Prayers from people who care, and news articles. The world can see what has happened. And its not right.

There is also another injustice in this. One person pointed out that no article has mentioned the name of the local translator who also died with them. The foreigners are newsworthy, but the local person’s name doesn’t matter? I imagine MJ would be furious with that idea. They were probably friends and that translator is also infinitely valuable in the eyes of God, I imagine MJ would tell us that.

I’ll end this with a post from another prominent Mennonite peacebuilder who works for the UN. Dr. Ron Kraybill’s thoughts and words give a lot of credibility to the heart and work of MJ. They are below.

Prayer & Hymn

I think I only met MJ once, at Jenna and Keiths wedding. I didn’t really know him. Today, I’ve learned so much about him. I pray that his family would experience the peace that is beyond understanding that only comes from Jesus Christ’s spirit. I trust that we the church will learn from MJ’s example and boldly go into the world to proclaim the good news of peace and salvation because the kingdom of God is here on earth(5)!

Another Mennonite Christian peacebuilder and MCC worker shared this hymn from their lament of a few different tragedies this week. I share it here as an invitation to you. Say it as a prayer alone, with your family, your community or sing the hymn.

Healer of our every ill,
Light of each tomorrow,
give us peace beyond our fear,
and hope beyond our sorrow.

You who know our fears and sadness,
grace us with your peace and gladness.
Spirit of all comfort, fill our hearts……….(refrain)

In the pain and joy beholding
how your grace is still unfolding,
give us all your vision, God of love……….(refrain)

Give us strength to love each other,
every sister, every brother.
Spirit of all kindness, be our guide……….(refrain)

You who know each thought and feeling,
teach us all your way of healing.
Spirit of compassion, fill each heart.

This is the post from Dr. Ron Kraybill:

As a Christian everything ends with hope: “The one who testifies to these things says, “Yes, I am coming soon!” Amen! Come, Lord Jesus!(6)

Rev 21:34 – Our Future Hope And a Vision For Joy

And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying: “Look! The residence of God is among human beings. He will live among them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death will not exist any more—or mourning, or crying, or pain, for the former things have ceased to exist.”

Endnotes

  1. Acts 3:15
  2. U2 – Sunday Bloody Sunday
  3. 2 Cor 5:19
  4. Col 1:24
  5. Isaiah 52:7
  6. Rev. 22:20
  • Richard Worden Wilson

    It is a sad thing whenever someone as kind hearted and committed to seeking peaceful reconciliation for combatants as Michael was is killed and the work he did is curtailed. The work he did was no doubt a very positive thing. But sometimes I think it is sadder still that there aren’t more with the willingness to tell others about the reconciliation with God and men one can experience, and the forgiveness for violent acts one can have, through faith in Christ, our savior. It is sad also when Christians equate secular goods with spiritual betters. Having been told that Michael participated in a Christian Peacemaker Team program I am reminded that that project uses the name Christian but prohibits proclamation or proselytizing for the Gospel of Jesus. In this light one might reasonably wonder whether the use of the name Christian is legitimate. Can one be a legitimate follower of Jesus and prohibit the proclamation of His Gospel? Of course there are many jobs in which one can’t act as an explicit witness to Jesus; I get that, I’ve been there. Still, as we memorialize Michael and his work, please let us relativize the significance of that work in relation to the superior work of Christ and the preeminence we ought to give to those whose priority it is to witness to Christ and His Gospel.

    • Hi Richard,

      I’ve never really worked with Christian peacemaker teams and I’m not sure of their reputation. I’ve heard all kinds of great things about them and their work. I also know that their goals and witness is very specific. Their goals are not to start new faith communities. I believe with many others like Dr. Chris Rice who works with MCC in South Korea that being a witness of Jesus way of biblical justice and peace is a calling into a community. A community of witnesses. Wherever we go we are called to gather with local Christians or patiently inviting others around us into a community of worshipful action that brings God’s shalom (peace/justice) into this world in tangible ways.

      There is no place for sepperating action and word. We cannot faithfully hide words behind actions or avoid actions by speaking too much. Actions reveal the depth and value of the words we speak. I love the saying, actions express priorities. It’s true, if we have good news to share about Jesus love and a loving community for all people then we’ll speak about it. If we don’t have that community, then lets get to work! 🙂

      I’ve spent years struggling with my own tension between evangelism and social action. I’ve reacted strongly for both sides at different times of my life. Today, I don’t believe that we can be faithful to Jesus’ example by honouring that old debate. John Stott said they are the two wings of a bird, the bird can’t fly if we remove one. I think that debate is the wrong way to move forward and help the church mature.

      Alan Kreider wrote an amazing article about this here [https://www.google.com/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=web&cd=1&cad=rja&uact=8&ved=0ahUKEwjCkba1oZ7TAhVCabwKHa_-D7gQFggkMAA&url=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.mennonitemission.net%2FDownloads%2FMissioDei16.E.pdf&usg=AFQjCNHvdb8dFSGkiXlqecPIxFk_sVdvoA&sig2=s3FWXnMaPk4mBLKnTTA1mg] and I agree with his approach. I hope that this is helpful in your own thinking. Let me know if you have any further thoughts and if you look into that article.