Six Degrees of Social Media Separation


    In the last few decades, there has been much talk about “Six Degrees of Separation,” which is the idea that any person in the world can be introduced to any other person in the world, by being introduced through our networks of friends.  Statisticians have demonstrated that anyone in the US can be introduced to almost anyone else in the US by going through only two or three friends.  But as often as we hear such things, it is still amazing when it happens “in real life.”
    This week I received a private message on Facebook from a woman I never met.  And that was the beginning (or possibly the end) of an unusual series of connections through my life and through social media.  To understand the connections that led to this message, let me go back in time to high school.
    After my eighth grade year, my parents moved to the south side of Akron, Ohio.  At our new church I met Keith and Jamie Weaver, who would, within the next few years, depart for Kenya, East Africa as missionaries through Africa Inland Missionwhere they would serve for twenty five years.  After I graduated from college and began working in Cleveland, I was back at that same church and reconnected with Keith and Jamie during their occasional visits home. 
    When the time came for them to consider a return to the states, our church realized that no one (other than their children) had ever had the opportunity to visit them in Kenya.  Two women, Sandi, and my wife, Patti, volunteered and along with our missions committee, we decided that we would raise the funds to send them. 
    While Patti and Sandi were in Kenya visiting Keith and Jamie, they met Steve and Nancy Peifer.  Nancy was the librarian at Rift Valley Academy; Steve was the guidance counselor and also ran a feeding program at local Kenyan schools (Kenya Kids Can).
    With that as background, we return to the funeral preparations for my father.  As soon as it was available, I posted his obituary on my Facebook page and many friends, including Steve Peifer, posted their condolences. 
    The next day I had a private message.  The woman who sent that message acknowledged that we had never met. She had seen my name pop up when Steve had written on the link to my father’s obituary and it had seemed familiar.  She followed the link, read the obituary, realized who my father was, printed it, and showed it to her parents.
    What we discovered was that our fathers had sung together in college, he had been the best man in my parent’s wedding and my father had been the best man in theirs.  Our parents had exchanged letters and cards, but over the years had lost touch with one another.  She sent me a current photo of her parents to give to my mother, and I sent a current address so that they could send their condolences and reconnect.  My Mom was a little stunned when I handed her the photo and explained who it was.
    I know that we live in a connected world, but it was still exciting to see old friends reconnect because of two children on the Internet, two missionaries to Africa, an obituary, and social media.

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A Dream So Big



    My wife, Patti, and another member of our church first met Steve Peifer during a trip to visit Keith and Jamie Weaver, missionaries sent by our church to the people of Kenya.  There, Patti met Steve and worked with this beautiful wife Nancy in the library at Rift Valley Academy.  I first met Steve at my home church when we invited him to come and tell us about his efforts to feed hungry school children that he describes in A Dream So Big.  Since then Patti and I have answered a call to pastoral ministry and have not only followed Steve’s adventures through his regular emails, but have, on several occasions, invited him to speak in the churches where we were serving.  I don’t think that his story has ever failed to astound his listeners. 

     
    Steve is an average, middle class guy whose life was turned upside down and who, through no particular plan of his own, ended up in Kenya, Africa seeing things that most of us cannot imagine, and doing things that we would be afraid to do.  Throughout this story, Steve insists that he is not an amazing man, just a man through whom, God is doing amazing things. 
 
    In A Dream So Big, we meet Steve, Nancy, and their family before the adventure began, at home, in Texas.  We walk with them through one of the most difficult times that a parent can imagine, the loss of their child, Steven, and then follow them as they head to Africa.  At first, their African adventure is intended to be just a year away to sort things out and to process the pain and the trauma of losing a child, a time for their family to be together and to heal.  But, as Steve often points out, Africa changes a person.  After a year in Kenya, the Peifers feel called, if not compelled, to return on a more permanent basis, and it is then that the real adventure begins.  
    Not content to see children lying in the dirt at school because they are weak from hunger, Steve sets out to change the world, or at least his little corner of it.  Steve asks, and with the help of his friends and supporters in the United States, begins to provide lunches for two schools nearby.  Two schools become four, and then ten, and by the end of the book become a truly extraordinary number.  Providing food not only allows the children to be free from hunger, but gives them the strength to get an education and an incentive to stay in school.  Even with these successes, Steve is not content.  Building on the feeding program, Steve and his friends begin to build solar powered computer centers.
    Just because I said the word computer, do not be tempted to think that this is just another story about wealthy, white Americans swooping in to “rescue” Africa.  Those stories are old and they often are the picture of “Ugly Americans” with all the cultural insensitivity that you might expect.  That is not Steve’s story.  Steve builds a program in which the villages take ownership of their schools and their computer centers.  The parents know that when these children finish school and head into the city to find work, as most of them do, that they will find good paying, skilled jobs instead of living in the slums fighting with untold thousands of others for a handful of unskilled jobs.  The school children, their parents, and many others have seen Steve’s vision, and it is a vision that can break the back of poverty in Africa.  It is a vision that can change the world.
    I highly recommend A Dream So Big.  As you follow Steve, Nancy and their family on this amazing adventure, you will laugh out loud at the ridiculous situations in which Steve finds himself.  But you will also weep at the poverty and hopelessness that he sees all around him.  A Dream So Big invites you, not only to follow along, but to be a part of this incredible adventure.  I have no doubt that Steve Peifer is changing the world, one child at a time.  When you read this book, you will discover that you can too.
Steve’s book, A Dream So Big will be released next week and can be found on Amazon here: A Dream So Big.