Why I Do This - Bill Park's Story
Bill Park has served on the Homes of Love Board for 16 years. He is the Board's treasurer and has led three Homes of Love trips to Vietnam. Before retiring, Bill spent more than 30 years as a professor in the Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics at the University of Tennessee. He and his wife Anne have four children and the blessing of many grandchildren.
My story with Homes of Love (HOL) started before HOL began, through our family’s close friendship with the Chesneys, the founders of HOL. Our families’ lives were woven together through many connections – church, school, summer swimming, and soccer. When we heard about their intent to adopt from Vietnam, we were glad to join their prayer support team. It was during this adoption trip in 1995 as they lifted off for their return that Debbie had a vision of helping more orphans in Vietnam, a significant moment in the initial vision for what would become Homes of Love.
Then in early 2004, my wife Anne and I were asked by our church to lead a youth mission trip to Vietnam and that summer set out with a group of 11 teens on a 12 day trip. We were partnered with Paul Cochran, who was invaluable, in part because of his own experience with travel and adoption in Vietnam. These were still early days of HOL and there were still concerns that local authorities may be suspicious if our interaction with the homes was too visible. As a result, we were only able to have two brief home visits after dark. In addition to home visits, we helped with several service projects and enjoyed other excursions that introduced us to the beauty and culture of Vietnam. Needless to say, upon returning from this hard but rewarding trip, Anne and I were hooked on HOL for good. I was asked to join the HOL Board later that year and have served as a member ever since.
Anne and I went back to Vietnam two years later on an HOL Friends and Family Trip. While we were there, we visited HOL camp for a day and experienced something very special – we got to meet our Extended Family child Lam, a nine year old boy at that time. We have continued our relationship with Lam over the years through letters and Facebook, and have seen him grow up into a fine young man who loves the Lord. While he has completed his university studies and has launched into independence, he continues to be closely connected to this HOL parents and younger brothers in HOL #5. The Friends and Family Trip also included visits to an orphanage and a rural village, allowing us to gain a better understanding of the plight of orphans and at-risk children in Vietnam.
I returned to Vietnam one additional time in 2009, leading a team of five other men, all of whom were engaged vocationally in business or education. As our HOL children were growing up, we realized it wouldn’t be long until they faced decisions about higher education and adult life. For this reason, we needed to learn about the challenges and opportunities awaiting our HOL children after high school. We were able to gain insight into how HOL could continue to support our children in pursuit of further education and training, and/or transition into the workforce. Today more than 64 HOL children have completed high school. Of those, 26 are currently in college or some kind of vocational training. To further support these launched young adults, HOL has a staff person in Vietnam whose primary responsibility is to work with those who have finished high school to support and counsel them, as well as to encourage and provide opportunities for them to stay connected with others from theirs and other homes.
So, that’s the story of my journey with Homes of Love from its earliest days. Partnering with like-minded folks here in Knoxville and in Vietnam (and now Cambodia and Zimbabwe too) to serve “the least of these” – orphans and at-risk children – and to see God’s Kingdom grow in and through them has been a true privilege and wonderful blessing to me and my family.