At home in a strange land

Have you ever tried to picture Heaven—to truly imagine the sights, sounds and feelings that will come with finally getting there? For Byard Parks ’92, Heaven is not some gold-plated, shimmery idea, it is a real place filled with laughter, music and the warmth of unique people sharing their experiences together. Heaven is home, and for a world-traveler like Parks, home is a sacred, treasured place—a place to create, to connect, to protect.

Parks, his wife and their two sons currently make their home in Turkey, though he spent much of his life growing up on Union’s campus in the heart of the United States. Beginning first grade at Union’s lab school, George Stone Elementary, the same year that it opened, Parks attended Seventh-day Adventist Schools of Lincoln throughout his elementary and academy years. He took advantage of Union’s program for high school students (advanced enrollment) and began his freshman year at Union with 27 credits already completed. He graduated in December 1992 with a degree in both International Studies with a business emphasis (a degree he helped create along with Dr. Ward Hill, professor of religion) and Theology. Even though his family made their home in Lincoln, he still found a home away from home in the McClelland household, a place he describes as “transcendently calm.” Parks recalled. “I felt more at home around the McClelland’s dining room table than any other place on earth. Their home was a holy, beautiful place that was also rollickingly fun. It was there the thought of laughter in Heaven first occurred to me.”

Remembering the multicultural nature of his own childhood home helps Parks understand and appreciate his ability to adapt to new cultures around the world. He recalls his parents were always part of the International Club at Union and international students were frequently guests in their home. A most unusual Midwestern upbringing, indeed, and it has certainly served Parks well in his endeavor to become a citizen of the world.

That adventure began the year he received his Golden Cord for serving in Pohnpei, Micronesia, as a student missionary. Parks remembers with time-tested accuracy the old, moldy house he was to call home for the year. During the first week of living in Pohnpei, he found a crab in his toilet—a far cry from the Nebraska plains he was accustomed to. Hanging food labels from care packages he received from the States on the walls of his room, Parks tried to carve out some semblance of normalcy in this topsy-turvy world he found himself. But no amount of Quaker oats, Skippy peanut butter or Worthington Super Links labels could help his heart land where his body had taken him. Parks ruminates, “What really helped to make Pohnpei home that year wasn't about decorating the old and moldy physical structure I lived in, but about entering the Pohnpeian’s homes and sharing what mattered most to them. As I ate bread and fruit from their tables, celebrated with them at their weddings and feasts, received greetings from locals all around the island, only then did Pohnpei begin to feel like home.”

It was a lesson he has never forgotten. Since graduating from Union, Parks has enjoyed traveling to many parts of the planet as a writer, a pastor and a sought-after revivalist. Finding a way to make a home for himself wherever he goes has been an exceptional part of his journey. For the last eight years, that place has been Turkey. Parks says his family is “following in the footsteps of the great apostle Paul and making the most of the opportunities that living in a Muslim country affords.” He met his wife while speaking at a music festival in Poland, and they moved to Turkey about a year after having their first son. Parks explains their family traditions are a unique blend of favored Polish, American and Turkish customs. One tradition that stays the same, no matter where they travel, is keeping the Sabbath. “The constancy of Sabbath is the glue that holds together our global home,” Parks said. This heritage begun here on earth, and is one Parks will no doubt celebrate in his Heavenly home.

“Cultural differences, no matter the constants that make life easier along the way, take time to become part of the fabric of a foreign-born life. Turkish evening meals, for example, begin around 9:00 p.m. and can last well into the night—not a great fit for a family with two young children.”

No matter the constants that make life easier along the way, it takes time to become part of the fabric of a foreign-born life. Turkish evening meals, for example, begin around 9:00 p.m. and can last well into the night—not a great fit for a family with two to entertain in their home. Always ready to adapt for the sake of truly making a home, Parks and his wife began to invite guests to start their day with them; gathering friends and visitors for breakfast, usually an 11:00 a.m. spread of bread, a variety of olives, cut cucumbers, tomatoes, olive oil, boiled eggs, white cheese, jams, a tahini molasses mixture and honey with cream.

This skill of adaptation is one Parks does not take for granted. In fact, for his trilingual, inarguably multicultural sons, it is the trait he describes with the utmost pride. One of the best parts of seeing other cultures up close is being able to adopt practices and values that make sense, to absorb the good from different cultures and leave behind the undesirable qualities. Parks describes a true sense of joy from seeing his sons greet an older man or womanby kissing their hand and putting it to their forehead—a Turkish symbol of respect. Incorporating the good and eschewing the bad isn’t the only benefit to making a home in a different culture. Parks says he has also been able to actually define his family’s values more clearly because the boundaries are so much more evident. He explains, “We don’t have other Christians near us; there are only a handful among the 3.5 million people in our city. This has made it possible for us to define life in our home very uniquely from the Bible alone.”

Of course, there are difficulties as well. The biggest of which, Parks laments, is maintaining strong bonds with those who are far away—grandparents, brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles, cousins. It is a struggle to keep extended family present in the minds of young boys growing up in a country with no blood relatives. But Parks says even in that they are fortunate. “Our families have encouraged our living in Turkey and make a great effort to keep the bigger sense of 'home' alive for our sons.” He also credits his parents, as well as his in-laws, with the outlook that this world is not our home; that our real home is Heaven.

And that is why Heaven is so tangible to this Nebraska-born Turk. Because he and his family have created this joy-filled, Sabbath-celebrating, richly cultural existence that brings their hearts into God’s home no matter where they find themselves on Earth.