Passport for adventure

Peacemaker’s life makes a story to remember

Apr 10, 2017 by

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There are stories I don’t like to write because I don’t want them to be true. I wish the story about Michael J. Sharp wasn’t true.

When I heard he was abducted, I felt grief in my chest and hope in my head, but not surprise. Where else would MJ be but working at the epicenter of conflict?

I worked with Sharp for two years with the German Mennonite Peace Committee’s Military Counseling Network, living together in an intentional community in the village of Bammental, Germany. As wars seemed to churn endlessly in Iraq and Afghanistan, we were grateful for the opportunity to work actively to put a dent in militarism’s cycle of violence and make huge differences in a handful of conscientious objectors’ lives.

We traveled on several Western European adventures, and there are stories. For MJ, any experience was worth the effort if it resulted in a good story.

One late night we were rattling back to Bammental on a train. At a certain point, I realized the temporary rail pass I was carrying had expired, making me a Schwarzfahrer (fare dodger).

We slinked to the far end of the train to delay the conductor checking tickets. At the next stop, we leaped out the door, and MJ tried frantically to purchase a ticket for me from an automated machine. But it was too late. The last train of the night rolled on without us.

I don’t know if I walked five miles or more, but I do know he walked with me, late into the early hours of the morning. He didn’t have to. He had a rail pass, but he didn’t want to use it.

MJ had an American pass, too. He could have settled into a cozy, insulated bubble, concerning himself only with petty details Americans are so good at magnifying out of proportion. But he didn’t want to use that pass.

He was drawn to conflict because he was drawn to peacemaking. He found nothing passive about following Christ. In Germany he helped U.S. service members uncomfortable with their role find new life as COs. In Congo he helped negotiate the release of child soldiers as a Mennonite Central Committee worker who was able to build trust with militia generals. The United Nations took notice, and it was another chance to continue adventuring for peace.

His American pass should not be confused with his passport. He adored his, and nothing made him happier than new stamps from exotic locales.

Each inky set of arrival and departure imprints was a new set of stories. His last set won’t have a departure stamp, and the world is a far poorer place for it. But that doesn’t mean the stories have to stop.

Each of us has a role pursuing God’s peace and justice in our daily lives. It might mean getting uncomfortable abroad, or doing so right at home. If anything, it will make for a good story that lives on, so long as we remember.

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