Published by Herald Press on January 11, 2022
Genres: Non-Fiction, Biography
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A powerful story of one man’s radical commitment to peacemaking.
Michael “MJ” Sharp was a modern Mennonite armed with wit and intellect, but not a gun. The son of a Mennonite pastor, he demonstrated a gift for listening and persuading early in life. His efforts to approach others with acknowledgement rather than judgement gave him the ability to connect on a level very few managed. He also honed a deep commitment to peace, and after college he joined the Mennonite Mission Network and moved to Germany, where he persuaded soldiers to choose peace and free them of their violent systems.
At 34 years old, MJ was working for the United Nations Group of Experts in the Democratic Republic of the Congo—urging rebels to lay down their weapons—when he was murdered, likely assassinated alongside his colleague Zaida Catalán by those with government ties. This compelling account of MJ’s life, death, and legacy from longtime journalist Marshall V. King explores what compelled Sharp to travel the world working for peace and the ongoing impact of his life and death in the ongoing story of Christian peacemaking in a war-torn world.
A couple of years ago, I left the church I had been working at with the intention of traveling the country and finding what God had next for our family. I had worked at a non-denominational church and had previously attended a Baptist seminary. When my wife and I began considering what type of church we wanted to move into, we knew it needed to look different than our backgrounds, which had to a large extent embraced a politicized and nationalist version of faith. Unsurprisingly, we found ourselves increasingly drawn to what some have called “the left wing of the Reformation”—all the evangelical beliefs theologically with a commitment to social justice, racial reconciliation, ecological matters, and more. And thus began a journey to learning more about Mennonites—their theology, their people, and their outlook. Herald Press has been the best way to do that, publishing books on theological and social issues.
Disarmed is bit different from their usual fare, a journalistic biography of Mennonite missionary Michael “MJ” Sharp, who has killed in the Democratic Republic of the Congo in 2017. I knew nothing about Sharp before reading this book, had never heard of his kidnapping and murder, had no background whatsoever. What drew me to the story was the faithful commitment of a believer to Christian peacemaking amid a world of violence.
Marshall V. King, a Mennonite himself and an award-winning journalist tells Sharp’s story with a detail and precision that evokes a genuine care to tell the story and get it right. MJ’s story deserves to be told, to be remembered, to be seen as an example of someone following in the nonviolent footsteps of Jesus.
Disarmed is more than just MJ’s story. King weaves into it the theological and historical Mennonite background that MJ came from, helping ground MJ as more than just a singular radical, but someone who is part of a tradition and who had been backed and sent by both religious and secular authorities. King also relies on a number of interviews from figures associated with Sharp’s life to tell his story. This element not only provides the needed detail for the book, but shows the effect Sharp’s life had on so many people in so many different areas of life. King also does a good job establishing Sharp as a “regular guy,” someone who made mistakes, goofed off in college, and got into trouble. Living the life of a peacemaking activist isn’t just for the super-spiritual or ultra-holy, but is for the Everyman, as it was for MJ Sharp.
As such, Disarmed not only tells the story of MJ’s life but leads the reader themselves down the path of advocacy and nonviolence, knowing full well that the journey might lead (but not end) in death. It’s an informative, well-written, and compelling look at a modern-day martyr who truly followed in the footsteps of Jesus.