‘Courageous but Not Reckless’: The Tragedy of an American UN Worker Slain in Congo

Remembering Michael Sharp and those who continue to fight for the mission of the UN.

By Max Bearak
An exceptionally bright and driven son of the Midwest was killed this month in Congo — his remains, along with those of a colleague, were found in a shallow grave on Monday — and to those who knew him, it is the unfairness of his death that is most crushing.
It’s not that anyone else might have deserved Michael Sharp’s fate: kidnapped and killed by unknown assailants along with a Swedish counterpart and a local interpreter. It’s that Sharp, 34, was “standard deviations above the norm” when it came to integrity and compassion.
“He just deeply cared about everyone and saw no difference between people of different nationalities,” said Rachel Sweet, a Congo-based researcher who has known him since 2013. She recalled that for the three years he volunteered for the Mennonite Central Committee in Congo, he received only a tiny monthly stipend — and even that he wanted to share. “He refused to eat anything other than beans and rice because that’s what everyone around him was being served,” she said.
Image: Michael Sharp visited Elizabeth Namavu and children in Mubimbi Camp, home to displaced persons in the Democratic Republic of Congo, during his time in the country. When he was killed, he was part of a U.N. mission. (Jana Asenbrennerova/Courtesy of MCC)