Sharp, Michael Jesse (1982-2017)

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Michael J. Sharp, February, 2017.
Photo by Zaida Catalán

Michael Jesse "M. J." Sharp: Mennonite Central Committee volunteer and United Nations contract employee, was born 29 October 1982 in Elkhart, Indiana, USA to John E. Sharp (15 July 1951- ) and Michele Lynn Miller Sharp (27 March 1954- ). Michael was the middle child in a family of two daughters and one son. Michael was kidnapped 12 March 2017, together with five other persons as part of a United Nations (UN) investigation into armed conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). On 28 March 2017 his body, along with the body of UN colleague, Zaida Catalán of Sweden, was found in a shallow grave outside the city of Kananga in the DRC's Kasaï-Central province.

Michael Sharp was raised in the home of a pastor and historian, and grew up in Mennonite centers like Harleysville, Pennsylvania, Scottdale, Pennsylvania, Middlebury, Indiana and Goshen Indiana--locations where his father pastored and then served as Director of the Archives of the Mennonite Church-Goshen. His mother was a physician assistant. M. J. graduated from Bethany Christian Schools in Goshen, Indiana in 2001. He went on to Eastern Mennonite University (EMU) where in 2005 he earned a BA in history, with a minor in German. He later earned a MA in Peace Studies and Conflict Resolution at Philipps-Universität Marburg in Germany.

After graduating from EMU, Sharp worked for three years with the Military Counseling Network in Germany, a project of the Deutsches Mennonitisches Friedenskomitee to serve U.S. soldiers based in Europe who sought discharge from military service for conscientious objection or other reasons. From August 2006 to early fall 2008 he was coordinator of the project.

From 2012 to 2015, Michael Sharp served as Eastern Congo Coordinator for Mennonite Central Committee. This included working with other agencies, such as the Peace and Reconciliation program of the Congolese Protestant Council of Churches, a program that sent people into the forest to persuade rebels to come home. It is reported that Michael's team pursuaded 1,600 rebel soldiers to return to their homes.

In 2015 M. J. began contract employment with the United Nations, serving as an Armed Groups Expert in the United Nations Group of Experts on the DRC. This group was appointed by the U.N.'s Security Council to investigate new violence in Kasaï-Central Province that began after government forces killed Kamwina Nsapu, a tribal chief and militia leader, who had resisted DRC President Jospeh Kabila. The UN Group of Experts on Congo, established in 2004, has consisted of six experts appointed by the UN secretary-general to monitor the Security Council's sanctions regime for Congo and to propose individuals and entities to be added to the sanctions list. The experts collect and analyze information about armed group activities, their networks, arms trafficking, and those responsible for serious human rights violations.

In March Sharp and his colleagues planned to document the militia's alleged use of child soldiers, to investigate massacres of unarmed civilians by government forces, and to seek dialogue with stakeholders such as militia leaders, religious figures and civil society groups to promote peaceful solutions. M. J. was the coordinator of this group.

At the time of his death, Michael Sharp's North American base was in Albuquerque, New Mexico as part of a semi-intentional community of persons who valued peace and cherished community known as the Plex. He moved there in October 2016.

An acquaintance from National Public Radio recalled that "Michael Sharp believed in the power of persuasion. The 34-year-old ... with a penchant for plaid shirts would walk, unarmed, deep into rebel-held territory in the Democratic Republic of Congo, sit in the shade of banana trees with rebels and exchange stories.... Of course, even Michael didn't believe that his strategy of 'getting to yes' under the banana trees could by itself resolve a 20-year conflict with complex international roots. But he believed that without those quiet conversations, the war would never end."


Bearak, Max. "'Courageous but not reckless': The tragedy of an American U.N. worker slain in Congo." Washington Post 29 March 2017. Web. 31 March 2017.

"DR Congo: Bodies of Two UN Experts Found." Human Rights Watch. 28 March 2017. Web.

Erdley, Debra. "Former Scottdale resident dies in Congo working as UN peacekeeper." TribLive. 28 March 2017. Web. 31 March 2017.

Heinzekehr, Hannah. "United Nations worker, Mennonite school grad, kidnapped in the DRC." 13 March 2017. Web. 31 March 2017.

Huber, Tim. "Bodies found in Congo; U.N. worker dead." Mennonite World Review. 28 March 2017. Web. 31 March 2017.

Huber, Tim. "Sharp pursued peace around the globe: U.N. worker killed on mission in Congo." Mennonite World Review. 29 March 2017. Web. 31 March 2017.

Jefferson, Lauren. "Alumnus Michael J. Sharp among confirmed dead in Democratic Republic of Congo." EMU News. 29 March 2017. Web. 31 March 2017.

Kriss, Steve. "We are still willing." Franconia Mennonite Conference. 30 March 2017. Web. 31 March 2017.

"Michael J. Sharp." 31 March 2017. Web. 31 March 2017.

Shepard, Maggie. "ABQ man kidnapped in Congo found dead." Albuquerque Journal. 28 March 2017. Web. 31 March 2017.

Stutzman, David. "Absent with leave." Sound off 3, no. 2 (June 2006): 5. 2 February 2010. Web. 3 April 2017.

"UN chief confirms the remains found in DRC those of the two missing experts." UN News Centre. 29 March 2017. Web. 31 March 2017.

Warner, Gregory. "Michael Sharp, who works for peace in Congo, is reportedly kidnapped." National Public Radio. 2 January 2015. Web. 31 March 2017. [This re-issued post links to a 5:21 audio clip that includs comments by M. J. Sharp on persuading rebel soldiers to return home.]

Warner, Gregory. "Remembering Michael Sharp: He risked his life to make peace." National Public Radio. 29 March 2017. Web. 31 March 2017.

Additional Information

Three episodes of a video blog by M. J. Sharp in 2013 can be seen at:

Author(s) Samuel J Steiner
Date Published March 2017

Cite This Article

MLA style

Steiner, Samuel J. "Sharp, Michael Jesse (1982-2017)." Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. March 2017. Web. 17 May 2022.,_Michael_Jesse_(1982-2017)&oldid=165493.

APA style

Steiner, Samuel J. (March 2017). Sharp, Michael Jesse (1982-2017). Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. Retrieved 17 May 2022, from,_Michael_Jesse_(1982-2017)&oldid=165493.

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