By Kevin Olson
For many years, the gospel made little impact among the Brao people of Northeast Cambodia. In recent years, though, that is changing as seeds planted long ago are now bearing fruit. Below is the story of one man who has started following Jesus nearly 20 years after first hearing the gospel.
I first met Reng in 1997. My wife Robin and I had just moved back to Cambodia, and were working with World Concern. My job was to help coordinate a literacy program among non-literate tribal groups in Northeast Cambodia, initially among the Krung and Brao people. One of the villages that had been selected was Piang, a Brao village. Kreg Mallow, the project manager for World Concern in Ratanakiri made the initial contacts in Piang, and together with the Field Director, decided to start a literacy class. As a coordinator, my job was to travel to each of the villages where we had literacy classes running, or where we were going to start a new class. So I made my first trip to Piang.
Reng was the village leader of Piang. At my first meeting with him, I noticed that he was quite drunk. Actually, many in the village were drunk. I began to notice that to be a pattern of Reng’s life, and indeed tribal culture as a whole. I once watched Reng fall off of a house, and then stagger back up the stairs in to the house and start drinking again.
During one of my regular visits to Piang in 1998, I happened to be sleeping in a house next to Reng’s family. From within Reng’s house, I heard what seemed like loud groanings. I couldn’t figure out what was going on, so in the morning I asked Reng. He told me that his son was sick, and that he was having a difficult time passing urine. We were able to arrange for his son to go to Ban Lung to meet with a German doctor who determined that the boy had a bladder stone. After that, we helped Reng’s son undergo surgery to have the bladder stone removed. That was the beginning of a relationship with Reng that has lasted for almost two decades.
Robin and I left Cambodia and World Concern in 1999, and began communicating with OMF about the possibility of us coming to work in Cambodia with them. In 2003, we returned to Cambodia as OMF missionaries; in January 2005, our family moved back to Ratanakiri, where we began doing church planting among the Brao and Krung.
We had contacts with believers in Ta Veng district, and found one who was from Piang, Reng’s village. He attended our church in the Ta Veng district center. That young man asked for permission to hold a Christmas celebration in Piang in December 2005. Initially, the village was not going to allow it, but when Reng heard that we were involved, he changed his mind and allowed us to have a celebration there. He never forgot how we helped his son. We made the event an evangelistic service, and showed the Jesus Film to about 150 people. Reng was among those who watched the film, but he did not express an interest in Christianity at all. Still, the service allowed many in the village to experience a clear presentation of the gospel message.
In 2006, the gospel began to break through in other areas of Ta Veng, especially into Tumpuen Rueng village. The gospel impacted the lives of an older couple, and through them began to impact their children. The husband, who had a cancerous tumor, died, but his widow continued to follow Jesus. Her daughter, Maum, also became a Christian, and her daughter’s husband Thung began to hear the gospel. Thung just happened to be another of Reng’s sons.
In 2009, the gospel began to impact Sieng Sai, a village next to Piang, and through that outreach, Reng’s daughter Tha became a believer. Soon there were about 10 people meeting for worship there. However, one of the believers experienced a trial through severe sickness, and that seemed to extinguish the light in that village for a season. Then in 2012, interest was renewed in Piang village, mostly through the evangelistic work of a national believer who was a zealous follower of Christ. The believers began to meet for worship, but only sporadically. In 2015, the believers started meeting regularly for worship, and the church started to grow. In November 2015 they held their first baptism service.
And then more people became interested, and the church needed to have another baptism service. As that national believer continued to share the gospel in Piang, more people were being drawn to Christ. It was during the teaching time leading up to the second baptism service that Reng confessed faith in Christ. He was baptized in March 2016, and has been a regular member of the church since.
The good works done through World Concern, and the kindness shown to Reng’s son provided an opportunity for the gospel to be presented. But it was the gospel that bore fruit in Reng’s life, and it is the gospel that continues to transform him. Lives are changing and the name of Jesus Christ is being honored among the Brao and Krung people of Northeast Cambodia.
By Kevin Olson