Church News - The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

Country information: Thailand

Published: Monday, Feb. 1, 2010

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Jan. 1, 2009: Est. population, 65,905,000; Members,15,874; Stakes, 1; Wards, 7; Branches, 32; Districts, 5; Missions, 1; percent LDS, .02, or one in 4,152; Asia Area.

Thailand is a constitutional monarchy located on the Indochinese and Malay Peninsula. The Thai-speaking population is 95 percent Buddhist and 4 percent Muslim.

In October 1853, Brigham Young called four missionaries to preach the gospel in Siam (renamed Thailand in 1939). They labored in India, Ceylon, and Burma, but only one, Elam Luddington, made it to Siam, arriving in Bangkok on 6 April 1854. The next day he preached a public discourse and after the meeting baptized James Trail and his wife. Luddington worked in Bangkok for another four months but had little success. He departed on 12 August 1854.

The Church's next formal activity in Thailand occurred in June 1961 when a few Latter-day Saint families from the U.S. began holding Church meetings in Bangkok. They were organized into a group in early 1962 with Max Berryessa as leader. The escalation of the Vietnam War led to increased numbers of military personnel being stationed in Thailand. Some were Church members. Servicemen's groups were established at U.S. Air Force bases in Udorn, Ubon, Thakli, and Khorat. On 21 January 1966, Jim McElvee, a serviceman, became the first known convert baptized in Thailand since 1854.

President Keith E. Garner of the Southern Far East Mission formed the Thailand District on 27 March 1966 with Stirling Merrill as president. In July, Merrill organized the Bangkok Branch with Gordon M. Flammer as president. Nangnoi Thitapoora was baptized on 11 September 1966. She was the first known Thai to join the Church. In November of that year Elders Gordon B. Hinckley of the Quorum of the Twelve and Marion D. Hanks of the Seventy visited Bangkok and investigated the requirements for registering the Church in Thailand. The Church was officially recognized there on 1 November 1967.

Six full-time proselyting missionaries arrived in Bangkok on 2 February 1968: Peter W. Basker, Craig G. Christensen, L. Carl Hansen, Alan H. Hess, Larry R. White, and Robert W. Winegar. They enrolled in Thai language classes and received further language assistance from Anan Eldredge, a young man who had joined the Church several weeks earlier. The missionaries began actively sharing the gospel on 6 March 1968. They saw the first fruits of their labors on 18 May, when Boonpluke and Rabiap Klaophin, husband and wife, were baptized. The Thai group was organized in Bangkok the next month, on 9 June. Missionaries were sent to Khorat before the end of the year. In January 1969, Anan Eldredge became the first Thai to serve a full-time mission in his native country.

Elder Ezra Taft Benson of the Quorum of the Twelve visited Bangkok on 1 December 1968 and presented a copy of the Book of Mormon to King Bhumibol Adulyadej. In November 1969, Thailand became part of the Southeast Asia Mission, headquartered in Singapore. Missionary work began in Chiang Mai and Khon Kaen in 1970 and in 12 other cities over the next six years.

The Church in Thailand suffered a major setback in July 1972 when two missionaries were arrested for disgracing a Buddha. They were imprisoned for six months.

The Church created the Thailand Mission in August 1973, which was renamed the Thailand Bangkok Mission the following year. Elder David B. Haight, an Assistant to the Twelve, dedicated the first Church-constructed meetinghouse in Bangkok on 28 August 1974, on property that the Church had acquired in 1967. At the time of the dedication there were 395 native members of the Church in Thailand, plus 335 foreign members.

In May 1975, mission President Paul D. Morris organized a missionary performing group in an effort to make the Church more visible. They performed on television, in schools, and at church functions. By the time the group was finally disbanded in July 1979, it had recorded five music albums and given live performances to more than 1 million people, including Queen Sirikit and King Bhumibol. When Queen Sirikit and Princess Chulabhorn visited the United States in 1981, the Church hosted them from 25-28 October, during which time the Tabernacle Choir performed a concert in their honor.

The Book of Mormon was printed in Thai in October 1976. Several people worked on the translation beginning when it was commissioned in late 1969, but Sister Srilaksana Gottsche, a 1968 convert, played a leading role throughout.

In November 1980, 10 welfare services missionaries, headed by Rita M. Edmonds, began serving at a new refugee camp near Phanat Nikhom. They taught western culture and English to Cambodian, Hmong-Yao, Laotian and Vietnamese refugees to help ease their transitions into life in other nations. The missionaries did not teach the gospel except by example. However, a number of refugees sought out the Church after reaching their destinations and were baptized. Missionaries continued to work at the camp until it closed in 1990.

Anan Eldredge became the first Thai to preside over the Thailand Bangkok Mission on 1 July 1988. In a meeting with district and ward leaders in October 1989 he challenged them to prepare to obtain temple blessings for themselves and families at the Manila Philippines Temple in six months. As a result, 201 Thai Saints traveled to the temple in June 1990 to be endowed and sealed as families.

Prior to 1992, missionaries in Thailand were required to leave the country every few months to renew their visas. Beginning in September 1992, the government granted one-year visas to Latter-day Saint missionaries and increased the number of visas issued. This enabled the Church to open several new areas and the number of convert baptisms increased. Elder Neal A. Maxwell of the Quorum of the Twelve and Kwok Yuen Tai of the Asia Area presidency organized the Thailand Bangkok Stake with Thipparat Kitsaward as president on 17-18 June 1995. Church membership passed 6,000 that year.

In July 1997, Latter-day Saint Charities sent 20 missionary sisters and couples to Thailand to assist English teachers in Bangkok schools. Bangkok Gov. Bhichit Rattakul, a non-Mormon graduate of BYU, informed the missionaries, "This is the first time in our history that any of our 429 Bangkok schools will have foreign teachers." BYU-Hawaii made an agreement with the Thai government in 1998 to provide between six-to-eight full four-year scholarships each year to some of Thailand's top high school students.

President Gordon B. and his wife, Marjorie, visited Thailand on 12-13 June 2000 and met with Prime Minister Chuan Leepkai and other government leaders. President Hinckley, in the first visit of a Church president to Thailand, also addressed a meeting of more than 2,600 Church members and friends. He reflected on his earlier visits and said, "Now it's been a long time since I was here and I have seen a miracle, a very real miracle."

In 2003, there were 38,731 members. In 2005, membership reached 14,652.

Sources: CultureGrams 2004 World Edition, 2003; R. Lanier Britsch, From the East: The History of the Latter-day Saints in Asia, 1851-1996, 1998; Siam Mission, Manuscript history and historical reports, Church Archives; Larry R. White, A short history of the Church in Thailand, 1993, Church Archives; Southern Far East Mission, Manuscript history and historical reports, Church Archives; Brief history of Bangkok Branch, 1961-1968, circa 1968, Church Archives; Southeast Asia Mission, Manuscript history and historical reports, Church Archives; "Thailand Chapel is Dedicated," Church News, 19 October 1974; Thailand Bangkok Mission, Manuscript history and historical reports, Church Archives; "Helping Refugees Begin New Life,"Church News, 21 March 1981; "Church Welcomes Thai Royalty," Ensign, January 1982; "Work, Sacrifice, Bring 201 Thais to Manila Temple," Church News, 11 August 1990; "Missionaries Assist English Teachers in Bangkok," Church News, 26 July 1997; "Six BYU-Hawaii Scholarships Available to Thailand Students," Church News, 29 July 2000; "'We Have Been on a Long Journey – But It Was a Great Occasion,'" Church News, 1 July 2000.

Stake — 1

(Listed alphabetically as of Oct. 1, 2009.)

No. / Name / Organized / First President

Asia Area

2064 / Bangkok Thailand / 18 Jun 1995 / Thipparad Kitsaward

Mission — 1

(As of Oct. 1, 2009; shown with historical number.)

(109) THAILAND BANGKOK MISSION

50/829-832 Muang Thong Thani

Chaengwatana Rd., T. Ban Mai, A. Pakkret

Nonthaburi 11120

Thailand