I've recently made friends with an Iraqi refugee through various circumstances. He's lived in the United States for 22 days now. Naturally, he has many fears, cannot speak English yet, and earnestly wants to provide for his family. The second time we met, he told me of the unfortunate, scary, and life-threatening circumstances which caused him to leave Iraq.
On the third time I went to his house, I was there to teach him how to use the Denver bus system, which is ironic because I had to learn how to use the bus system first in order to do so. What does a white suburban with his own car have to learn about public transportation, after all? To learn, naturally, I went to the internet and read all about it. My Iraqi friend doesn't have a computer or the ability to speak English, so he was at a little disadvantage you might say in learning the bus system.
I showed up with pen and paper in hand, so as to progress in some kind of conversation since I know no other language than English. His wife had an Arabic-English dictionary, so between the two of us we got along fine. In the course of that conversation, I realized he already knew how to use the bus. He showed me his bus pass and knew where to get on and off the bus for various stops, including his English classes and the grocery store. My friend is incredibly smart and resilient, and so I have much to learn from him.
As we were talking, my friend, whom I had only met twice before, tried to say something very interesting. "Day-veed, I live you."
"Again?" I ask. "I live you," he says. I look at him with a confused face. He then proceeds to retreat into his mind, trying to recall what he is really trying to say. Then he hurries his hands back and forth in a waving manner, as if to say he is going to try to say it again. Then the lightbulb goes off on his face.
"I love you."
Then a lightbulb went off in my soul. And he shook my hand vigorously and hugged me from across the table. In that instant, my new friend was communicating his most powerful need.
For all the talk of social action in politics and non-profits - alleviating poverty, health care for all, housing for the homeless- my friend's greatest expressed need was for human affection and the longing for friendship in a strange land. My friend communicated something quite profound about human experience as well. Humans are capable of deep goodness and love and longing for pure things. Christianity explains this by saying that all of humanity is made in God's image (Gen. 1, Col. 3:10-11). And yet, something is also off about us.
My friend's greatest expressed need was for friendship, but his greatest actual need is for reconciliation and restoration in a relationship with the Creator God. And because all humans are off, because all of us are broken (Christians call this "sin"), we need God to breach the gap of our estranged relationship and give us his version of that restoration (Christians call this imputed "righteousness"). So humans are both beautiful and deprave. Blaise Pascal, Christian philosopher of generations ago, referred to the paradox of humanity as "deposed royalty."
So while my friend demonstrated strong and meaningful emotions, he has a deeper need still. And for that matter, so do I.