In the rural southeastern mountains of Cambodia lies a subgroup of the Brao people called the Krung. Also known as the Kru’ng, Krr, or Kreung, only one percent of the Krung are Christian, classifying them as an unreached people group. While the Krung are minimally engaged, the Joshua Project describes the Krung as unreached meaning that evangelicals are under two percent with five percent or less professing Christians. The gospel of Jesus Christ, that is the healing message of hope, and peace without fear, must be strategically shared with the Krung people Cambodia’s uplands.
While Cambodia is being reached in other areas, the rural tribes where most people live have little to no Christian presence or access to Christianity. The Krung people are in desperate need of this message of Hope through Christ. Their animistic societies are somewhat isolated from surrounding people groups who could share the gospel. For example, the neighboring Jarai people have a more significant Christian presence, yet they also have a notable language, religious, and cultural barrier. There is an estimated 24,000 Krung people, only one percent of which are Christian. They share some cultural, religions, and musical ideas with other Montagnard Cambodian mountain people groups, making it easier for them to reach out to the other surrounding Montagnards than for a Westerner.
The Krung are located in both the Stung Treng and Ratanakiri provinces, and around the Laos-Cambodian border area. They speak Kru’ng 2, which is a language exclusively of the Krung. They depend on the forest and their upland rice agriculture for sustenance, while also farming cashew nuts and cassava to help provide income. In addition to agriculture the Krung hunt, fish, and raise animals. Agriculture and farming are essential to Cambodian society, but crop failure and the long held fear of lack of provision is crippling to the Krung.
Civil war has riddled Cambodia and the Krung have suffered greatly at the hands of the dominant Khmer people. The Khmer Rouge Cambodian Genocide, a particularly traumatic part of Krung history that remains fresh on the minds of most Krung over thirty. As the Khmer Rouge sought to indoctrinate the Krung and other indigenous tribes with Maoist beliefs, their cruel enforcement has left the Krung physically, emotionally, and psychologically scarred. This genocide has left many Krung people physically, emotionally, and psychologically scarred. During this tumultuous time, the Brao people split into two groups; one group immigrated to Laos to escape the Khmer Rouge madness. Those who stayed in Cambodia became what we now call the Krung. While this history is a large factor in the cultural and emotional distance between the Krung and Khmer, difference in religion, and the elevated societal status of the Khmer also extend the gap between the two people groups.
With the memory of the Khmer Rouge fresh and deeply burdened on the Krung people, they are wary of any non-Krung whom they perceive as seeking to impose new and contrary beliefs upon them. This is how Christianity has been most often understood, as a new belief imposing upon their culture and customs. The Krung Church is at a standstill. Of the one percent of Christians, only seventy five percent are evangelical. The message of Christ’s salvation can be easily obscured and confused with traditional beliefs and the few local Christians are not currently seeking to mobilize others and share the gospel.
Unlike the majority of Cambodian peoples, the Krung do not practice Buddhism. Their ethnic religions have developed strong animistic beliefs. Ritualistic sacrificing to the spirits, although changing as society develops, is still a large part of their religion and culture. They believe they must appease the spirits in order receive forgiveness, and wellbeing, and have enough rice to eat. They fear the spiritual powers while not realizing how the greatest spiritual power loves them and yearns for their devotion. Because of this stronghold of fear and constant sacrificial appeasing of spirits, combined with the hardships caused by the Khmer, and the general poverty, there is an evident lack of hope.
Due to the Krung’s fear of imposed beliefs, it is important in building relationships with the natives to come first as a learner. The missionary must demonstrate to the families and leaders that he will not force a religion, belief system, or foreign customs; rather he has come to bring hope within their culture. In seeking to reach the Krung, it is necessary to do a great deal of hands on learning about the culture, religion, and traditions, as the book knowledge available is extremely limited. The Christian must show he has not come to change the Krung culture, but to learn from it and help them embrace it without fear. While this will help the missionary share his message more effectively, it will also take down some of the guards put up around the Krung people’s hearts.
Using the knowledge of Krung animistic beliefs, spiritual fears, and lack of hope to the missionary’s advantage, he should use his life of visible hope to encourage the Krung. The Christian must demonstrate for them the hope he has in his live with a God who provides for all his needs, a God who does not have to be appeased, and a God who deeply cares for His children. Perhaps this hope in the Missionary’s life will peak the interest of those in a perpetual state of begging spiritual beings and the Holy Spirit will demonstrate his absolute power over darkness.
Humanitarian aid as a means to demonstrate the unconditional love of Christ will be helpful in pushing the gospel message forward with the Krung people. They have little access to education leading or healthcare. There is a great need for health education and care, especially in the case of preventable diseases such as HIV and AIDS, which are rampant in Cambodia. Sex trafficking is a serious issue as desperate families and individuals are easy targets for manipulation and exploitation. Agriculture is their main means of survival, thus the increasing amount of deforestation allowed by the government is alarming as it leads to soil erosion, crop failure and poor yield. This, in turn, leads to more poverty stricken and desperate Krung. Humanitarian aid must be used in tandem with evangelism, and not as an inducement for conversion, to truly transform the Krung people. This transformational development approach to human need can be used to impact Krung communities for Christ in a lasting way that will glorify Him, not simply relieve the immediate human need.
As most people struggle below the poverty line, with no training, or opportunities for effective loans, hope for breaking out of the poverty cycle is dim, if not nonexistent. In this situation, microcredit could be a very practical way to empower individuals to rise above poverty. Rather than simply giving them money or aid, loaning money to begin a business that will bring them a lasting income will preserve their dignity while also truly aiding them in the long term.
There is not an abundance of information on Krung religion; therefore initial evangelism will be somewhat limited. Missionaries must learn the deep-rooted cultural and religious customs and the meanings behind them. Finding, encouraging, and mobilizing the one percent of local Christians will be key to the early development of the Krung church. As the missionary becomes more a part of the culture and begins to develop relationships with locals he must continue to minister to needs, showing the love of Christ, and demonstrate his lack of fear of the spiritual realm in his daily life. Eventually he will be able to show the Krung people the powerlessness of whom they fear and seek favor from in way they can relate to.
Even though it is not illegal to convert, the Christian must overcome the cultural block towards outside beliefs because of the harmful memories associated ideas associated with new and different belief system. For example many imagine they must give up all of their customs and thus be rejected by family and culture to become a Christian. The missionary and local Christians must help people realize that Christ can be followed by the Krung people without committing cultural suicide. The Krung can still be farmers and agriculturalists, but they won’t have to fear and beg for good crops. The Krung can still live communally in villages and be lead by local elders, but they can have the transforming hope of Christ in their community. The Krung can still wear their traditional clothing and have their customary marriages, but they will worship a God who gave them salvation. They can still live by their tribal customs, but they don’t have to be burdened by ritual sacrifices. Helping the Krung retain their cultural identity is extremely valuable in aiding the multiplication of new believers and new churches.
“People do not want to sacrifice, but they cannot say it out loud, because they are afraid they will not get a good harvest.” ~ Mrs. Chan of Laak Village*
Building relationships with whole families and already established connected groups and group leaders is vital to the success of the birth and growth of the Krung Church. Including native Krung in leadership and turning leadership roles over to local Christians as soon as possible, will help give the Krung the ability to continue on once the missionary leaves. It will also avoid creating a sense of dependency upon outside help, and as the natives participate in leadership it will help to negate any ideas about the indoctrination of outsiders. Because the Krung are a traditionally a collective community that thrives off of unity and group cooperation, it will be imperative for the missionary to seek a group decision, preferably among the respected village elders, rather than individual converts. This will set the stage for success and multiplication, instead of the current Christian minority.
Another crucial aspect of reaching the Krung is translating the Bible into their mother tongue, Kru’ng 2 or Krr. Portions of the Bible are available in the Krung language, but not the whole Old or New Testament. Learning their language and translating the remaining portions of the Bible must be done for the church to truly mature, but as the Krung are generally an oral people, oral means of evangelism and evangelistic resources might be more beneficial initially. There are both audio and audio-visual gospel messages and biblical stories available, which will be valuable to the Krung missionary since very few Krung are literate and oral presentation of the Gospel will be understood and more easily reproducible.
In the future, as the Krung church grows and becomes more a part of the indigenous people’s lives, sound biblical doctrine must continue to be taught. As churches form around the already established community they must learn to look beyond themselves to reach out to other Krung communities and eventually other Cambodians. They will discover how the other Montagnard tribes of Cambodia can relate to them in numerous ways. They will of course encounter barriers as they learn to let Christ heal their wounds and step into the unknown of different cultural, language, and religious barriers and to use them bridges instead of blockades. With the guidance of the Holy Spirit and the hope of the gospel the Krung can become not only a reached people, but more excitingly a reached people group reaching out to others.
Through the strategic demonstration of the love of Christ, the affirmation of His power, the encouragement of local leadership, and cultural traditions, the gospel of Jesus Christ can enter and transform the Krung people. Someday the healing message of hope, and peace without fear, will be strategically shared with the Krung villages in Cambodia’s mountains as some brave follower of Christ declares, "and thus I make it my ambition to preach the gospel, not where Christ has already been named, lest I build on someone else’s foundation, but as it is written, 'Those who have never been told of him will see, and those who have never heard will understand.'" Romans 15:20-21