There are a lot of people who frequently like to imply that somehow I am “Dad” to a lot of kids in Cambodia. I feel like I need to dispel that, and this may rankle a few feathers in the process.
In Cambodia people don’t usually use the word “you” when talking to each other. Usually people use words that mean brother, sister, aunt, uncle, grandmother, or grandfather, but they rarely use the words for mom and dad to refer to people who are not their actual parents.
The word Mdai or Ma for mother and Obeuk or Ba for father are reserved for the people you love most and who are supposed to be responsible for you. For a Cambodian person to bestow the title of Mom or Dad on someone not actually their parent is a big deal. However, coming out of America and the west many people have taken to calling people in Cambodia their Cambodian “sons” and “daughters” and asking them to refer to them as mom and dad without realizing just how big a deal that is.
At Crossing Cambodia everyone just calls me Greg, which is how I like it. I am investing a lot of time, energy, and resources into many of these kids. Often times more so than their actual parents, but I know I am not their father. I have no say over their lives as these children are not legally mine. I am not in a position to jump up and race to their sides every time they fall and scrape their knees. Nor is it fair to my own children that would invest so much of myself into other children at their expense. The children I go home to every day still are and always will be the most important children in the whole world to me.
I also must face the harsh reality that every so often, I will become disconnected from one of these kids and to consider these kids as my own children means I will be setting myself up for extreme emotional pain and heartbreak on a scale I dare not fathom. That might sound selfish, and it probably is, but it is already incredibly painful when we lose our connection to one of these kids and in my imperfect state, I am afraid of the greater pain that will come if I start assuming the role of “Dad” to any of these kids.
I am not the Heavenly Father, I am not capable of pouring out unconditional love to so many without ever being drained. And so I am not “Dad” to any of these children unless they themselves choose to call me so on their own. That is a title that no one other than the individual child should ever put on me.
What I can do is find resources to care for them and create a safe place for them. I can find teachers and staff people who can care for and love these children and build individual relationships with them. I can be there in a dire emergency. I can push them and support them to strive for something more and I can put God’s love and compassion into action in their lives. And doing that as Greg, is good enough for me.