Hoyt Parks has helped build 24 churches worldwide and seen nearly 15,000 people turn their lives over to God — but that’s not enough for him.
At 81, he’s still spreading the gospel internationally and locally.
Amazingly, he has personally financed all of his 56 mission trips and all 24 churches.
"I worked for the railroad and retired five years early because God wanted me to go more full time in the mission field," Parks said. "I financed all of these churches except for $2,000."
The first church Parks built was nearly 30 years ago when he was a missionary through the organization International Crusade, now called International Commission, and took 30 trips with the group.
Rick Taylor, a Flowery Branch resident and an enlistment coordinator with International Commission, took his first mission trip to Argentina with Parks.
"Even where I go, they’ll hold church in someone’s home or just a building," Taylor said. "When he (Parks) goes and contributes and builds churches, it gives the local community some way to identify with the church and gives them someplace to actually come together and worship as a body of believers."
Taylor went to Argentina, Mexico, Latvia and Kenya with Parks and says he was hooked after his first mission trip.
"I like to travel to begin with, but what was exciting to me was to step outside the comfort zone," he said. "And really experience how other people in different parts of the world live. That has always been interesting to me and of course when we get back home we are always grateful to get back home, and we really realize how much the Lord has blessed our country."
Today, Parks plans his trips and travels on his own through the contacts that he’s made over the years and spends much of his time in Catacamas, Honduras. The last church he built there can seat 1,000 and must have a guard to protect the building.
"We have electricity and we have running water, but it doesn’t have to have heat or cooling," he said. "Everything has to be done by hand."
What Parks does today is completely opposite of his former life before he was saved. Parks collected antique cars and spent most Sundays playing golf while wife Tensie Parks was at church. At 44, Parks became a believer and spent every day since then spreading the gospel anywhere he can, including at the mall, grocery store or even Walmart.
"I never read the Bible then, didn’t know anything about the Bible, I thought that just by being good would get me to heaven. But I found out different," he said. "God came down and saved me and pounded on my heart, and cold chills went all over my body."
Tensie added, "I prayed for him for 20 years to be saved."
Hoyt and Tensie attend various local churches, but in the summer travel to the Great Smoky Mountain Campground Church every Sunday where Hoyt sings in the quartet and sometimes preaches.
"Sometimes I have to pinch myself," he said. "In 2007, I asked the Lord would he give me 10 more years to do this; that’s when I was 78. I’ve got seven more years and I’ll only be 88.
"I’m hoping I can still do that for seven more years, but if I get to where I can’t walk or talk I could still do it on the phone."
Although, Parks said, even when he is gone his life’s work will continue through his children.
"When I pass away Carol (Davis) and Darryl (Parks) will get quite a bit of inheritance and they are going to use that to help," he said.