Introduction / History
The Khmer (or Cambodians) in France are immigrants and refugees from Cambodia and Thailand. The Khmer Empire, which flourished between the ninth and thirteenth centuries, encompassed Thailand, Cambodia, Laos, and southern Vietnam. Its power declined when the Thai and Vietnamese conquered the Khmer and restricted them to the area that is now known as Cambodia.
In 1969, bombings, civil war between the Cambodian government and the Communist rebels (Khmer Rouge), and the Vietnamese invasion threw their country into turmoil. Famine followed, while the Khmer huddled in camps along the Thai border. Three million died in refugee camps; thousands of others escaped to sheltering countries, one of which was France. Today, the Khmer of France live in inexpensive houses in the suburbs of Paris. The older generation still speaks their native tongue, Khmer. Children who wish to learn to read and write Khmer attend classes run by volunteers.
What are their lives like?
For the Khmer who live away from their homeland, life revolves heavily around the Buddhist monastery. When they can afford it, Cambodians establish their own monasteries, so that they can communicate in the Khmer language and all the symbols are familiar to them. Monasteries in resettlement countries, such as France, differ from the Cambodian models in many ways. For example, the French monasteries look no different from the surrounding buildings or apartments. Religious institutions are run by charitable associations with elected presidents (monks), secretaries, and treasurers.
In 1885, the Khmer consecrated their first Buddhist temple, which was built more or less in traditional Khmer architectural style. Several monasteries have been built since then. One innovation that seems to be limited to Paris is the use of women as leaders of the congregation during services in the monastery. The scarcity of male senior monks is opening a door for women in leadership, although this is not welcomed by everyone.
The Khmer do not have sufficient space for large gatherings during their annual festivals, and supporters must hire community halls. In Paris, such festivals take place at the International Buddhist Temple in the Bois de Vincennes. In Cambodia, most people support the monastery nearest to their homes; whereas, in France, the choice of monastery depends on ethnicity, class, political persuasion, and attitude towards folk religions.
Other Buddhists, such as the Thai or Sri Lankans, maintain contact with the monks in their homeland. However, ties between the Khmer refugees and Cambodia were cut off in 1975. Therefore, there is no overall Khmer Buddhist organization in resettlement countries, only individual religious groups.
Many of the young Khmer in France have chosen to study either computer programming or accounting. They are often hired by the French government as bookkeepers and auditors for the monasteries. Whereas the young Khmer men in Cambodia often aspire to join the monastery, the Khmer of France show little interest in becoming monks.
What are their beliefs?
Although Khmer immigrants in France have remained Buddhist, the introduction to education and technology has steered many away from their traditional religion. In some temples, the monks support an interest in horoscopes and healing rituals, whereas the professional Khmer attend a temple where such practices are scorned.
What are their needs?
Khmer refugees have endured events that have forever impacted their lives: the horrors of war, flight from their homeland to refugee camps in other countries, a subsequent decision to remain refugees and not return to their homeland, resettlement in yet another country, and incorporation into a new culture.
Christian materials are available in the Khmer language. However, these precious, war-torn people need missionaries who will share with them the Gospel of peace.
* Ask the Lord to call people who are willing to go to France and share Christ with Khmer immigrants and refugees.
* Pray that God will grant wisdom and favor to any missions agencies that are currently working among the Khmer.
* Pray that God will strengthen and encourage the Khmer who have accepted Jesus.
* Ask God to use these new converts to reach out and share the love of Christ with their own people.
* Ask God to call forth prayer teams who will begin breaking up the soil through intercession.
* Pray that a glorious church will be raised up among the Khmer of France.