Michael J. “M.J.” Sharp, a United Nations official, was among six people kidnapped in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), according to a press release issued Monday by the Congolese government.
He was part of a UN panel of experts investigating ongoing civil conflicts in the country, according to Al Jazeera. A second UN worker, Zaida Catalan, was also kidnapped as well as four Congolese nationals, according to reports. Catalan’s nationality is variously reported as Swedish or Chilean.
Congolese and UN officials stated that search efforts to locate kidnapped individuals were underway. The group disappeared with unknown assailants in the Kasai region near the village of Ngombe on Sunday, according to Al Jazeera.
Sharp came to Eastern Mennonite University from Goshen, Indiana, and earned a BA in history with a minor in German in June 2005.
Calls for prayer for Sharp and his family, as well as the five others who were kidnapped, are circulating widely across the country. Alumni of EMU’s Center for Justice and Peacebuilding with connections to DRC have also been notified.
“I have mobilized all of our Mennonite members in Congo for prayers but also for advocacy,” replied one alumnus in an email this morning to CJP executive director Daryl Byler.
Judy Mullet, a psychology professor who kept in touch with Sharp after graduation, called him “a doer by nature” who “found his niche in helping others in the toughest situations. . . . He seems drawn by a passion to go where no one wants to go and engage complexity.”
Mullet remembered that Sharp’s passion and commitment to social justice led him to begin his church service career in Germany with Military Counseling Network, advising American service members who were “questioning the morality of violence as a solution to conflict.”
Reports by Reuters, AlJazeera and other outlets note that the Kasai region has seen fighting and rebellion since September 2016, after the August killing by government forces of Kamwina Nsapu. Nsapu was a tribal chief and militia leader who had resisted President Joseph Kabila.
Sharp has been serving with the UN since April 2015.
In January 2015, he spoke to NPR about his work alongside the Congolese Protestant Council of Churches, trying to persuade rebel fighters to lay down arms. The program had convinced some 1,600 fighters to give up arms. Prior to that, Sharp worked with Mennonite Central Committee as the Eastern Congo Coordinator. (Read an article about this work.)
The Mennonite.org reports that leaders from Mountain States Mennonite Conference (part of Mennonite Church USA) are hosting a prayer vigil on March 15, 2017, in Denver, and are inviting others to join in prayer from 10:00 to 10:30 p.m. EST (7:00 to 7:30 p.m. Pacific).