In Khmer, it refers to anyone who is not from Cambodia. It is a term used to indicate a foreigner. Someone who doesn’t belong. An outsider in a country. The term was used by Khmer people to us and by us to ourselves. When we were in Cambodia, we were the barang, and when we saw others like us, we would say, “Hey, look! Barang!” It’s as if we were greeting long lost family or friends. We would have conversations with our fellow barang even though we had only met 2 seconds before. It was as if, because of the mutual feeling of not belonging, our hearts connected and we felt a little bit of home.
In America, the feeling is the same but slightly different, or as the Khmer say, “Same, same, but different.” Here too, we are the barang, because, although our nationality is American, our citizenship is in heaven. In what is fabricated as being our homeland, we are really just strangers passing through. In fact, the times that we felt most at home, both here in America and across the sea in Cambodia, are when we were with fellow citizens of heaven. We said, “Oh look, more barang, like us!” and although we had just met, it was as if we have been part of the same family for eternity… which we have.
Coming home is hard. The Khmer Christians worship with such fervor and passion, pray in authority and power, and speak with truth and boldness. It’s the thing that we first noticed about the way they live. They don’t just do church, they are church. They live the Great Commission. And the amazing thing is that the same power that is at work in Cambodia is also at work here. It’s just harder to see its effects due to all the noise and distraction that surrounds our daily lives.
In Cambodia, the veil between the spiritual world and the physical world is thin. If anyone tried to deny the existence of the spiritual realm, they would be labeled as crazy. The people are hyper aware of the spiritual, as evidenced by the little gold spirit houses in every house, shop, and street corner. There the biggest question is, “Which God?” The existence of a spiritual being is not doubted.
In America the truth is the opposite. The veil is so thick here that the question turns to, “Is there a God?” People doubt the existence of a spiritual realm because America is so focused on the material. But the gods that the Americans worship are just the same as those that the Khmer worship. The Khmer worship spirits that they pray will provide for their needs. That will give them food, prosperity, and family. There are spirits in the rice fields, the trees, and the water. They worship the things that they think give them life. American gods take a same, same, but different form. Americans worship money, love, and success. Material goods that are just as vital to them as rice is to the Khmer. But both fail to see that the true life giver is not in the creation, but in the Creator.
So what is so amazing about the church in Cambodia is that they see Jesus as the most powerful spiritual being! As the only God worth serving, because in comparison to Him, all other spirits are nothing!
In America, because we are so privileged as a country, concerns like food and medicine and survival do not lay as heavily on our minds as the Khmer people. Therefore, it’s sometimes easy to just see Jesus as the Savior of our souls, and ourselves as the saviors of our own material lives. But what we learned from the Khmer church was a fresh view that reminded us that every material possession we own is a gift from God. A provision from Him. Because in the end, we are all barang. We are all foreigners and as foreigners, all our possessions are on loan to us for a time. Our homeland is in heaven and when we get there, whether we are American or Khmer, we will no longer be barang. We will be home.