By James A. Choury
Haven Ministries, April 2009
Words are excellent revealers of truth and are worth careful analysis and understanding. Of course, words come in different packages we call languages and each language comes saturated with a slightly (or sometimes radically) different culture. Words often come in phrases that convey a very special meaning. Very often a particular culture manages to capture a concept and put it into words better than others. Such is the case with the phrase “para cumprir” in Portuguese.
The Portuguese (and very similar Spanish) phrase “para cumprir” literally means “to fulfill” and usually refers to fulfilling an obligation. But when someone fulfills an obligation in this manner he does it with no genuine interest or concern. He does it so as not to be seen as negligent or irresponsible. He may even do it with apparent enthusiasm and willingness but his heart is not really in it. The enthusiasm and energy are part of the role playing. We are not called on to serve the Lord in any area simply “para cumprir”. What is not heartfelt and motivated by genuine concern and love is not pleasing or acceptable to God. Nor can it be truly effective in the long run.
Many years ago, while living in Denver, I drove by Washington Park on a nice summer afternoon. I was surprised to see a man shouting to passersby in cars and wondered if the man was emotionally troubled. I slowed down to see what he was saying and was interested to hear him preaching the Gospel in little sound bites to fast moving cars as they whizzed by. He apparently didn’t expect anyone to stop and wasn’t looking for personal contact or dialogue. I suspected that he was doing it “para cumprir”, maybe out of frustration for lack of a better approach.
In the intervening years I have witnessed others doing evangelism in very impersonal and non-relational ways. I’ve even done it myself. Many personal evangelism methods are purposely designed to be just that. They show little interest in the person being addressed. You might say they really don’t see the person as a person at all. They are after a “decision”. They have a set content to “get through”. The evangelist is told to avoid “rabbit trails” and get to the heart of the matter. The idea is that people are dying by the thousands or millions and there is no time to lose. They appeal to the guilt feelings of those who never witness to anyone. They promise a sure-fire method of getting it done.
I have been experimenting with a different approach. I talk to people and actually listen to them and address them as special creations made in the image of God. I really do want to know what they think and try not to correct them or contradict them before they even finish their thought. I let them finish the conversation when they want to and walk away if they so desire. I try to clarify a point or plant a seed of truth. I’m finding that people thank me for listening and giving them some new perspectives. Often they want to stay and talk more, even when they have a class to go to or some other obligation to fulfill.
When I enter into dialogue in a genuine person-to-person encounter with someone, I am impacted for hours afterward and sometimes for days. I pray for the person and look forward to further interaction with them. I may never see them again but trust that our sovereign God is able to “finish the work” in His time and in His way. I don’t feel guilty about the hundreds of thousands that are dying each day without Christ. I know my limitations and only want to do my part in God’s way; I want to see people as free agents with minds and wills of their own and responsible for the decisions they make without pressure or manipulation.
Homework Assignment: Make a conscious effort to mingle with unbelievers socially. Show some genuine interest in others. Ask them what they think about life. Don’t push. God will open the doors.