Khmer in Laos

Photo Source:  Copyrighted © 2021
Kevin Morris, OMF International  All rights reserved.  Used with permission
Map Source:  Bethany World Prayer Center
People Name: Khmer
Country: Laos
10/40 Window: Yes
Population: 7,300
World Population: 15,899,800
Primary Language: Khmer
Primary Religion: Buddhism
Christian Adherents: 3.00 %
Evangelicals: 1.60 %
Scripture: Complete Bible
Online Audio NT: No
Jesus Film: Yes
Audio Recordings: Yes
People Cluster: Mon-Khmer
Affinity Bloc: Southeast Asian Peoples
Progress Level:

Introduction / History

The Cambodians, also known as the Central Khmer, are refugees from the war-torn country of Cambodia. Many now live in the southwestern tip of Laos, at the borders of Thailand and Cambodia. They speak Khmer (Cambodian), which is an Eastern Mon-Khmer language.

The great Khmer Empire, which flourished between the ninth and thirteenth centuries, encompassed present-day Thailand, Cambodia, Laos, and southern Vietnam. Its power declined when the Thai and Vietnamese conquered the Khmer and restricted them to the area that now known as Cambodia.

In 1970, Cambodia became the killing fields of the Vietnam War. Thousands fled to Thailand and Laos in hopes of finding a more peaceful climate. Unfortunately, Laos has also had many invasions, as well as a series of land wars. It was also the object of political competition between Vietnam, Russia, and China.

What Are Their Lives Like?

In 1975, the Khmer Rouge regime nearly destroyed Cambodia. To depopulate the cities, three million people were forced into the countryside to do slave labor. Widespread starvation led to the deaths of over one million people in the name of "the ideal of rural social reform." The people either fled north into Thailand, or took the "trail of tears" into Communist Laos where they did not find the sanctuary they sought. Instead, they struggled to find clothing, shelter, medical resources, and food.

Most Cambodians in Laos inhabit small villages. There, they grow rice in irrigated paddies. The villagers commonly use red and white checkered cloth to make everything from headdresses to pouches for carrying babies.

More men than women were killed between 1975 and 1979, creating a skewed sex ratio among the Cambodian. Today, mostly widows and orphans remain, requiring many women to perform the duties that once belonged to the men.

The Cambodians have a simple social structure. Each village has its own chief, and there is no political structure beyond the village. The village chief is the link between the people and the central government. Village leadership is usually divided; the chief has authority in secular matters, while the Buddhist monk has authority in religious issues. The Buddhist Wat, or temple, is the center of village life, and Buddhist rules of conduct are used to maintain social control. These rules of conduct include abstaining from lying, stealing, drinking alcoholic beverages, committing adultery, and killing living creatures.

The Cambodians have acquired the languages and cultures of their Laotian neighbors. Ancient Khmer influences on the Lao are strong as well, giving the two groups a common ancestral bond; yet the Lao see the Cambodian as a lower class. Traditional Khmer music reflects a tie to Indonesia. Folk dancing and the classical royal ballet are also popular.

What Are Their Beliefs?

The former Khmer Empire was influenced by India, from which it adopted Hinduism and Buddhism. Today, the majority of the Cambodians in Laos are Buddhist. However, relics of ethnic religions such as ancestor worship (praying to deceased ancestors for guidance) and spirit worship are very important to them.

Due to Buddhist influence, Cambodians also seek the middle path to nirvana, or ultimate peace through gaining merit in this life. Merit may be gained through supporting the construction of new Buddhist temples, giving food to Buddhist monks, and studying in the monastery. Peasant boys often became monks in order to gain an education in Buddhist monasteries.

What Are Their Needs?

The Cambodians left their homeland in search of peace. Unfortunately, the peace they desired has not been found in Laos. Many need food and shelter, as well as emotional healing from the fears and horrors of war. Most importantly, they need loving Christians who will introduce them to the Prince of Peace, Jesus Christ.

Prayer Points

* Ask the Lord to call people who are willing to go to Laos and share Christ with Cambodians.
* Pray that God will grant favor to any missions agencies that are currently focusing on the Cambodians.
* Pray that God will use the few Cambodian believers to share the love of Christ with their own people.
* Ask God to send Christian humanitarian aid workers to Laos to minister to the physical needs of these war-torn people.
* Ask God to call forth prayer teams who will begin breaking up the soil through intercession.
* Pray that strong local churches will be planted among the Cambodians of Laos.

Text Source:   Bethany World Prayer Center