Aside from all the Biblical teachings and concepts I have learned in the past year from John Sharp, I value most the learnings expressed through his vulnerability, encouraging me to develop new perspectives. I thank John for these teachings because, unlike concrete academic facts that fade after a few years, these learnings are life skills, lasting a lifetime.
John never shies away from vulnerability or realness. One week he openly shared with our Peacemaking and Justice class his story about the loss of his son, MJ. This glimpse into his life allowed us to share tears together. His words, “And still not a day goes by that I don’t think about MJ” pierced my heart. Sharing in this pain encouraged vulnerability in my life. I was selfish. Prior to his sharing, my actions felt insignificant. As John shared, his words encouraged me to accept God’s call to faithful regardless of the circumstance. Now, to this day, I am no longer afraid to die because through this story, I understand the greatness and goodness of God.
This part of John’s testimony also allowed me to experience a perspective change as he expressed potential restorative justice approaches for the perpetrators. For someone to want so much more for an individual than what they ‘deserve’ is truly inspiring. Most would want to inflict pain on the criminal because of the pain the criminal caused them, but John knows that no good will come from that solution. Understanding this approach has influenced my perspective on how conflict needs to be addressed. This is extremely valuable to my life because everyday conflict floods the globe.
Understanding new perspectives not only came from hearing John’s story, but also from his excellent ability to facilitate discussion. He initiated the perfect questions at the beginning of discussion days that allowed my peers and I to carry conversation among ourselves. I found this very valuable because I not only gained perspective from him throughout the year but also from my peers. Whenever I asked him a question within a discussion, he never provided the concrete answer I was looking for. Often, his response provoked more questions. At the time, I found this quite dissatisfying and frustrating, but looking back, I note the growth John allowed me to gain when responding in that way. I shaped my beliefs by answering the questions for myself instead of accepting an answer he could have provided.
What I learned from John changed my life. I now think in new ways. I view the world differently. I understand people differently. These are the fundamental values of my life and I am grateful for the way his lessons helped mold them. One day I hope to be able to forgive how John forgives. I hope for his humility. I hope for his grace. If all on earth possessed these qualities he has, the world would be a better place.
by Michele Hershberger, Professor of Bible and Religion
“Now this reminds me of a time when…” and with that phrase John Sharp launches into another story. A good story. And even though I’ve heard it before, in some Bib Lit class in the past four years, I settle in to hear it again, to chuckle at the misunderstandings, the foolish ways of some church person—John is careful never to tell a silly story about anyone other than his own people—to shake my head with a new understanding. One of his common stories is about himself. He was a confident sophomore at Hesston College, and he had all the answers due to his reading about the end times. In this confidence, John began a Bible study. But one day, another student stopped him cold. As John explained how God would protect the nation-state of Israel, at all costs, his Palestinian Christian friend said, “But where does that leave me?” John’s world got turned upside down.
Through his stories, John has shaped our hearts, opening us up to hear a new word from God. I will miss that part of John so much.
“Now this reminds me of an important detail…” and with that phrase John Sharp launches into a clarifying mode. Not only is the story important, but John also knows the importance of the right story, the whole story, the story set properly in its right context. John led a Hesston College group to Selma, Alabama for the 50th anniversary of the march across the Edmund-Pettis Bridge. While there, we would go to different museums and read panels that gave the short version of an important story. Gently, astutely, John filled in the details, retelling the stories as if he were telling the story of his own grandmother. When we participated in an interactive museum, John cried when he saw his dear friend Tony Brown “hanging” from a tree. Even though he knew it was staged, the weight of the hatred and murder of slavery days was more than he could bear.
Through his attention to details, John has shaped our minds, opening us to hear a new word from God. I will miss that part of John so much.
“Now this reminds me of…” and with that phrase John launches into a connection between the biblical world and his own. John is not only a good storyteller and historian, but he’s also a good pastor. Early this spring term John was introducing the inductive passage, Genesis 45, for Bib Lit. He was reading it out loud for the class when he got to the verse where Jacob realized that the son he thought had died long ago was actually alive. John stopped reading, lost in his own sorrow. We sat in silence. No explanation was needed, for everyone knew that John’s son M.J. had been killed almost a year ago. Then one by one, we started to talk—about what it means to give your life up for the sake of others, what it means to seek justice in places like the Congo, what it means to lose your son. The Bible story came alive for us in a new way that day—because John was vulnerable enough to live into his own grief.
Through his insistence on being transparent and authentic, John has opened a door for the Divine to shape our souls. I will miss this part of John the most.
There are many other wonderful qualities John possesses. I will always be grateful for the laughter he brought us, his care for students, his “sharp” wit. But most of all, I’m grateful for John the storyteller, John the historian—and John the pastor. There are few who can both experience deep grief and also let that grief turn them into more compassionate people. John is one of the few.