As we walk in the wilderness of Lent and ready ourselves for Maundy Thursday and Good Friday … and Easter, this news has crossed my path. MJ Sharp, a United Nations peace worker who was a Mennonite devoted to humanitarian work and service, was found in a shallow grave after having been kidnapped while on a peacekeeping mission with the U.N. in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
I’m not sure if I ever met MJ, although it is possible. I might have been in Goshen, IN when he was there. I know some of his friends and might have met him when he was visiting them. I don’t know if this is why I am wrecked inside. Maybe it is because I have met young women and men with his same convictions and willingness to put themselves on the line to bring a little peace into the world.
MJ’s parents, John and Michele, said this after they knew their son was kidnapped.
In a March 14 interview with the Mennonite World Review, John was quoted: “I have said on more than one occasion that we peacemakers should be willing to risk our lives as those who join the military do. Now it’s no longer theory.”
Likewise, in a March 18 Facebook post, John shared: “We continue to wait in hope for M.J., Zaida and their four Congolese companions. Please pray also for the captors who are also victims of the violence that has taken six million lives and has made millions more homeless. They have families, too.”
“Please pray also for the captors …” Who says these things and means them? Those with a pure heart, I suspect.
The first time that I was wrecked inside because of a peacemaker’s death was when I heard about Tom Fox in 2005. Before that I never knew that this kind of work was being done. Sure there was MLK and others who led people, but this feels like a different kind of work. Christian Peacemaker Teams became my reference point for this kind of model of peacemaking. Mennonites became my go-to denomination for peacemaking theology and organizing. I know that no organization is perfect, but after having spent some time with folks from CPT and becoming close friends with Mennonites, I am still on board.
Tom Fox, MJ Sharp, and those like them are Jesus to me. They have gone to the violence to stand in the middle of it. They did not shrink back. This week’s scripture includes Jesus saying, “After they have flogged (the Son of Man), they will kill him, and on the third day he will rise again.” It was Jesus’ third time in Luke foretelling his death.
Tom, MJ, and others knew the risk they were taking. It was a risk of love. It was faith in action.
I am not sure when I started doing this, but the last line of my benediction, no matter what I say during the benediction, is always, “Go in peace, and as peacemakers.” I say that wanting it to be a blessing. I say it also as a prayer for those who are risking their lives to be peacemakers. So far I have stayed on the safe side of the line. Offering Blessing. Support. Love. In the end, it has never been my life on the line.
I don’t believe everyone is called to such a life, a ministry. For those who are, I am shaken at the presence of the anointed one in my midst … in the world.
We have lost a good man – the peacemaker, MJ. May his god-ness inspire, bring hope, and cause peace to be realized in this big, beautiful, and violent world we call home. As I continue my Lenten Wilderness Journey in the safety of my home, neighborhood, and church, it is MJ, Tom, and others I am following to the cross. I do believe in the transformative moment we call Easter, but for now … I am in the wilderness, waiting for the supper, the garden, and the cross. Not to glorify in it, but to be deeply humbled that some are willing to put their bodies in the middle of the violence for the sake of peace.