I love introducing people to the concept that when you read a story, it uses the same part of your brain that memory does,” says Kaleb Eisele, creator of Humans of Adventism (www.adventisthumans.com). “What you’re doing is simulating a kind of memory, a created, imagined memory, that creates an emotional bond to the person in the story. When you think about evangelism, when you think about loving your neighbor, when you think about connecting with other human beings, our capacity to love is increased by our capacity to listen to their stories.”
Eisele, a 29-year-old content developer, storyteller, and social media manager for the Oregon Conference of Seventh-day Adventists, found a unique niche missing within the church—that of forging connections through storytelling.
An English graduate of the College of Charleston, Eisele initially had a hard time finding a good opportunity that fit his skills and passions. He was also at a crossroads in his life about remaining in the church. It was during a job for a pest control company (which gave him time to write) that he developed the concept of Humans of Adventism.
Modeled after Humans of New York, of which Eisele is a fan, Humans of Adventism is all about hearing the stories, in their voices, of regular, ordinary Seventh-day Adventists, as they are, in whatever spaces they are in. “Humans of New York was something I followed like I read every single post every day when I was in college. I was following this during the time I had left the church and was looking for something community-oriented, very empathetic, very diverse. And Humans of New York was that,” says Eisele.
Humans of Adventism is all about hearing the stories in their voices, of regular, ordinary Seventh-day Adventists.
“I wanted to find Humans of Adventism as a reader. I didn’t want to start something,” Eisele adds. “I was just like, Hey, where can I read stories about Adventists that’s just about life and experiences? When I didn’t find it, I thought, How hard would it be to do this?” The idea seemed daunting at first—flying all over the world, taking photographs of everyone interviewed, etc. But then he realized he didn’t need to do it that way. What if he interviewed people by phone or videoconferencing and worked with whatever photographs they already had? The idea took off from there.
“Around the time I started Humans of Adventism, I was coming back to the church. But I came back to a [local] church with a mindset of viewing the church itself as a mission field,” says Eisele. “I got involved with my local church, and that was kind of separate from Humans of Adventism, but it was very much on my mind. What does my church need, and what does the denomination as a whole need? A lot of the answers were very similar—as in we can be very bad at connecting with each other and very bad at connecting with the world around us, from my perspective.”
In gathering stories from the diversity that is represented within Adventism, Eisele sees a common thread: “how little we know about each other.”
“There are a lot of different walls that we’ve built up, despite being a diverse church,” he adds. “Like our theology, our hymns, a lot of things that were sourced are still very Eurocentric, very male-dominated. Humans of Adventism has taught me how limited our perspective is, even across the same doctrines.”
Humans of Adventism as a project still has many things left to accomplish. Eisele has recently wrapped interviews with 41 people for a 10-part docuseries in production. Much like Humans of New York, its Adventist counterpart may be transformed into a coffee table book soon. “I don’t have an end plan for Humans of Adventism. Whether it takes on a new name or whatever, I believe I’ve been called to sit with people and listen and help tell their life stories, whatever that looks like.”
Loving your neighbor involves knowing their stories. “It’s a godly thing and a crucial part of loving your neighbors. Whether you’re trying to share your faith, whether you’re trying to connect with another person, listening to their stories is absolutely a crucial part of that,” Eisele says.
An integral part of this work involves the ability to challenge someone. Through that, Eisele believes that light can be shed on problems the collective church body struggles with. “My heart is not to tear down the church, but actually, through these painful conversations and owning up to them, we heal stronger.”
Wilona Karimabadi is an assistant editor of Adventist Review.