July 16, 2015

Two Degrees of Separation

Adventist Review/ANN

In 2007, Dan Weber created a mission video about the history of the church in Romania. He was a video producer for Adventist Mission at the time, so it was a routine task.

This video assignment, however, was a little different, because Weber’s father had been born in Romania, and his paternal grandfather attended seminary there. His family was actually German and lived in Romania only a short time, but as Dan researched and looked through the old Romanian photos, his father’s family crossed his mind.

“I found a really old picture of a bunch of guys sitting around with white beards,” says Weber. “I thought, ‘Wouldn’t it be cool if my grandfather was in that picture?’ ”

Archivists knew the photo was of graduates of the Romanian seminary, but they couldn’t identify the year it was taken or the names of the people.

“I ended up putting the picture in my video,” says Weber. “About six months later I got a call from my mom, and she was so excited. She said that her cousin was watching 3ABN and saw one of my videos and an interview I did about it. She said, ‘Do you know who was in that picture from Romania?’ I said, ‘I don’t know. Maybe my grandfather?’”

It turns out it wasn’t Weber’s paternal grandfather. But it
was one of his grandfathers—his great grandfather on his mother’s side. He had served as the education director for the European division at the time and had visited the school in Romania.

“I never expected that. It’s crazy how connected we all are,” says Weber, who is now the director of Communication for the North American Division.

Unexpected Friends

Weber isn’t the only person with a surprising story of connection. Most Adventists can think of a time when they’ve made an unexpected connection in an unexpected place.

“It feels like everybody knows everybody,” says General Conference Session exhibit manager Dean Rogers. There are times, he says with a laugh, when a close community can even seem too close.

“My niece was getting married, and the mothers of the bride and groom were talking about how they both knew this person and that person,” says Rogers. “Finally, my niece said, “Stop! Stop! You’re going to have me related to my husband!”

The Theory of Six Degrees

In the late 1920s, Hungarian author and playwright Frigyes Karinthy introduced the idea of six degrees of separation in one of his short stories. The theory is that everyone is six or fewer connections away from another person in the world. In other words, two strangers are just a few “friend of a friend” introductions away from making a connection.

The idea struck people as interesting, and in the decades to follow, mathematicians and researchers would try with various studies to measure the degree of human interconnectedness.

While some consider the theory of six degrees an academic urban myth, it’s hard to refute that it does feel like a small world after all.

And, just think, if it felt true in the 1920s—before Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn—how much stronger does that sense of connection seem now?

The Adventist Connection

There is 1 Seventh-day Adventist for every 393 people in the world. That explains why, when you tell a stranger you are an Adventist, they might respond that they had a neighbor who was an Adventist, or their grandmother took them to an Adventist Vacation Bible School, or they see an Adventist doctor.

That’s an astonishing connection within the wider community, but the connection within the
church itself is even more remarkable. Six degrees of separation? Hardly. It feels more like two or three.

Michael Porter, associate director for church engagement for Adventist Development and Relief Agency (ADRA) International, says the church’s strong social network makes his job not only a lot more fun, but also a lot easier: “I can talk to one of my friends and can get to just about anyone in the world.”

“We’re all so connected to each other,” Porter says. “It makes me look forward to heaven, when we’ll all reconnect.” 

Dwight Nelson plays the game with Bongie Moyo, left, of Bulawayo, Zimbabwe; Horacio Hernandez-Ble, center, of Silver Spring, Maryland, United States; and Anges Kala of Papua New Guinea. (Josafat Zemleaduch / AR / ANN)