I Need A Friend

The year was 1971, which was probably the worst year of my life. I was in my second year of college and due to terrible grades, I was facing expulsion. My most soothing thought at the time was suicide. I couldn’t face being such a failure to my family who had made many sacrifices to send their oldest son and brother to the United States to become an engineer.

I lived on campus at the time. One day walking to the bookstore, deep in thoughts with my head down, I passed a student who was just coming out of the bookstore, whom I didn’t notice at first.

“How are you?” he asked
Not expecting any reaction, I said, “Not well!”

To my utter astonishment, he did something that I will never forget for the rest of my life.

He stopped dead in his track, turned around, caught up with me and looking straight into my eyes, he asked, “Is there anything I can do?”

I was surprised to see someone actually caring about how I was doing, especially someone I only knew by face (I wish I knew his name so I could look him up and thank him). Later, when I became a follower of Christ, I found out that he was also a believer and a part of an acting group called “His Players”.

I have never forgotten that simple act of kindness and have made a point of practicing that every chance I get.

Let’s fast forward to 1999 during my last year at Fuller Seminary. Once a year, the school had a “Muslim day of prayer” when students from what was then called, “School of World Mission” would gather together to pray for the Muslim world. I was asked to say a few words to encourage the students prior to Brother Andrew, who was the main speaker that day.

I started my talk by first thanking the students who had invited me and made a few comments about the great work that Bother Andrew’s ministry, The Open Door, was doing and then made the following statements:

I have been attending Fuller for the past 10 years —Yes, I am so smart that I managed to cram 2 years of graduate school into 10 years. The sidewalks on our campus are no more than 5 feet wide. I know! I’ve measured them! When you pass someone, your shoulders almost touch each other. However, there has hardly ever been a day when anyone of you passing me has squarely looked me in the eyes and greeted me. How can you care and pray for my Muslim mother whom you have never seen when you don’t even bother to greet her son whom you can see?

Needless to say, I was never invited back.

I wish I could say that young students at Fuller were the only group of Christians who acted this way. Years ago, attending a Christian convention in Atlanta, I walked up to a group of men on the street and said:

“Gentlemen, you must all be pastors.”

“How did you know?” one of them asked.

“Because I noticed you all kept to yourselves and never acknowledged a passerby with a simple greeting or a smile.”

Yes, I know I am harsh, but I believe, sometimes, that’s what it takes to wake the Christians up to the reality that, according to Jesus, the second greatest commandment is to love your neighbor as yourself and that that act of love can start with a simple smile followed by the heartfelt question, “How are you?”

I offer this to all passersby every morning as I sit at the base of the foothills across the street from our house while playing with Cocoa, my dog, knowing that my sincere smile and question can change the life of someone who might be thinking of killing themselves that day.

35 thoughts on “I Need A Friend

  1. I walked into RADIO SHACK yesterday. The guy at the counter (he was of some foreign nationality and had an accent) didn’t even look at me when I dropped my broken component on the counter. Before I said a word, I looked him in the eye and asked how his day was going. He didn’t even look up and said “terrible,” His mannerisms suggested that we move along with whatever it was I was going to ask him about. But I didn’t stop looking at him. I continued to ask questions and show concern. It turned out he was facing health problems. I didn’t ask him if I could pray for him, I just talked with him. It turned out later that we couldn’t diagnose the problem on my component because there was a variable of solutions. I needed to try out half a dozen different adapters. The man opened another box of the original product off the rack and handed me a sealed package of different adapters and told me to go home and try them out; “just bring them back later when you figure out which one works.”Sha, my first impression of this guy was that he was an A-hole. When I got the store and was waiting in line, that is exactly what I thought as I observed him dealing with other costumers. Turns out he is a really generous guy who would bend over backward for a friend.Crazy thing, I have heard two different young people mention lately that they, “were just waiting for someone to ask how they were doing.”Youre right Sha. People are hurting and lonely. And by “people” I think I mean all of us to some degree!Maybe pastors don’t acknowledge people the way you suggest because from my experience, pastors are the most hurting and lonely people around. No one asks them how they are doing either… never. Thanks for keeping it real!You are a gentleman and a scholar.


  2. I am encouraged by your post to pay more attention to people, and to ask what I can do when someone is having a bad day.I think that you WILL keep people from committing suicide and make such a positive difference in people’s lives by acknowledging them and asking questions as you sit with your dog.I’ve appreciated your caring way whenever I talk to you. It is like cold water to a thirsty soul.


  3. Shah, I wanted to let you know that this post reached me. It made me laugh as well as think deeply.Thanks for being so real and so vulnerable, and for breaking the ‘orthodoxy’ of the normal.I’ve been meaning to say hello for a little while now. I remember you guest-speaking in one of my classes at LIFE back in 98 or 99, I think. I don’t remember the content, but I do remember being impressed and thankful for you.Thanks for being you. You’re much appreciated.-Daniel


  4. I don’t understand why we are the emotional beings that we are but it’s a fact. It would seem that logic should get us all straightened out but it doesn’t work that way. I’m grateful for the simple ‘how are you?’ every time regardless of how insignificant of a question it seems… and I’m happy to ask the same in return and just listen… and care.Thank you for caring!


  5. Wow Shah, that was an awesome blog. I completely understand your need to be harsh with people. I don’t know if you remember me particularly from the idea camp but I was in that first workshop with my whole group of Armenians. I obviously can’t say that I always walk with a smile on my face but I do try. But I completely know how it feels to be on the other end of the situation. I hear all the time how Armenian adults and elders worry about Armenian youth but when they see me walk by, they only gossip about me rather then ever smile, let alone ever speak to me. I’ve learned to not let it personally bother me, but I still think it’s wrong in general.


  6. The wisdom of the day is to answer the question “how are you?” with “great. never been better” whether it’s true or not. They say to “fake it til you make it.” Why?! So some impersonal “universe” will bless us for thinking positively? I appreciate your honesty. And you do live out what you say as I experienced at the retreat last summer. Thank you, Shah. ~Heather


  7. I like how you added the photo to the post. Thanks for sharing… you remind me of God, who cares less about people’s immediate comfort than their ongoing growth and integrity.


  8. Once again Shah you mince no words and get to the heart of the matter. Thank you for that. I am convicted once again to make sure that I don’t simply look over the heads of those around me to the next thing but to live in the moment and care about those in front of me.


  9. I know this story, friend, but reading this post has made me pause and reflect, which is something I do not do enough these days. Thank you. It frustrates me that I act more like the hurried and uncaring people in your story, and less like Jesus – less like you. I would say that the world needs more Shah Afshars, but that could lead to big trouble! 🙂 Only kidding of course. Seriously though, you make me want to be more like Jesus, so thank you again.


  10. Justine, thanks for your comment. People are not always what you see of them on the surface. When I’m speaking to a crowd, I’ve learned not to worry about people’s facial expressions. Usually, the ones who show the least emotions are the ones who are most interested in what you are saying.Pastors are lonely because we made them lonely. We have put much too many demands on men and women who are JUST human beings. On the other hand, they are lonely because, for the most part, they have bought into thinking that they really are some kind of super humans who should not have any flaws. So, rather than being transparent and admit their short comings, they hide them. You are a good man. One who is doing his best to be Christ-like. Keep it up.


  11. Hy Laura, inch pe-se-sez? Of course I remember you. Your Armenian culture is much like my Persian culture, two-face.It’s all about appearance and keeping your honor at any cost. Let’s pray the second generation will be different.


  12. No, I don’t expect you to remember – I only have a vague impression myself. You were a guest speaker for Ray Wheeler’s ‘Disciplines of Life’ class. I may have notes somewhere (in a box).Understand about the joblessness. What else is one going to do with a Bible College degree and no desire to be part of the institution anymore? (For me, it was coffee first, and now computer software. Theology’s just a hobby now.)


  13. Heather, thank you for your kind words as usual. If it wasn’t because of you being so real, I was going to leave the retreat the first night. Thank YOU for being transparent. It’s so refreshing.


  14. Josh, you should cover that bald head of yours with a hat or a sheet. No, maybe a sheet is not a good idea since they might call you a sheet-head. Anyway, I do what I do because my Muslim parents raised me to care for people. If I remind you of God, I wonder what my parents would remind you of 😉


  15. Hey Dan, I think Jesus would do more brewing and less biking. Thanks for your kind words. Yes, you know the story because you heard so many times. I hope your doing well. Keep it real.


  16. Daniel, I was only kidding. I do remember that class. Ray interviewed as if I was a Muslim. Where do you live? Can we have coffee one of these days? I’d like to talk without having to type 😉


  17. I have a story to share with you about “needing a friend.”  It was from the time you made the way for me to go to convention in Jacksonville….  I was on a city bus one afternoon, going to visit a friend who just happened to in the hospital there…  Well. on the way there there were only 2 other people on the bus.  A teenage “foreign” looking boy and a teenage girl with her head covered.  I sat down right next to the girl, greeted her kindly and asked her where she was from.  She had to tell me three times, because I couldn’t tell if she was saying Iran or Iraq.  Finally to boy shouted to me that she was from Iraq and wanted to know why I didn’t know Arabic.  I warmly welcomed the girl to American and hoped she too was happy.  Then I told the boy I didn’t know Arabic, but I knew Turkish.  He then began speaking to me in Turkish!  Oh my, he was from Afghanistan and knew lots of languages.  We had a kind conversation and then I came to my stop.

    My friend was not at the hospital (some mix up), so I turned right around and got on the next bus to return to the convention center.  Oh, there was the boy with 3 other men.  I greeted the boy and sat down next to a black man.  We got to talking and I could tell he was from Africa, so I asked him where he was from and he said Dallas.  He told me he was here for a church convention and could only get a room miles from the convention and there were no rental cars available, so there he was on a bus.  I told him I too was there for the Foursquare convention and he was too.  He then said years ago he use to preach on buses when he commuted.  We went crazy!!  I asked to driver if my friend could preach on the bus – he said go for it!  His African accent was thick, so I am not sure who really understood him, but they saw the conviction and fire of love he had!  I translated what I thought he said into Turkish for the boy and his friends.  Then the Dallas preacher, the 4 Afghanistan guys and myself all got off at the Adam Marks hotel.  I introduced everyone.  The Dallas preacher asked the Afghanis if there was anything he could pray for them.  They were on their way to apply for work at the hotel and wanted prayer for a job.  They all got in a circle and held hand (I stood outside to circle – thinking it wasn’t quite right to hold the hands of Afghani men), the Dallas preacher prayed a great prayer, I translated and, and they all hugged afterwards — it was a God moment.  I never saw the Dallas preacher again at convention, even though I kept my eyes open for him – maybe he was an angel!

    I tell you that story because God is good all the time. And I want to say thank you for making all the arrangement for me to be at that convention, so I could get to witness all this good stuff and enjoy every minute of it..

    Lets pray that more folks will be bold to just befriend “foreigners”


  18. You goofball, you made me cry with your story. I don’t remember arranging for you to come to the convention. I don’t even remember being in Jacksonville. Where is Jacksonville 😉
    In any case, I’m so glad you were there to witness what happens when someone like you is bold enough to befriend a little foreign boy on a bus in Jacksonville.


  19. man we have the same heart. haha. man love is so underrated. love can express God more than sermons. love changed my life and has revealed God to me so much, i wish we would love everyday. i know sometimes its hard for me but if we all lovd as a body i think we wud be good


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